Approtec have it right. They “grew tired of seeing millions of dollars wasted on unsustainable projects that created dependency, competed with the local private sector and crushed entrepreneurial drive”, according to this article. They help instead by enabling local companies to design and manufacture products that make a difference. Their biggest seller so far is the Money Maker, a pedal-driven water pump capable of irrigating two acres of land.
The Money Maker (good name, huh?) contains no complicated mechanics, so it can be produced and repaired locally. This also means that it can be sold for 74$ (US). There’s even a light version with only one piston that is sold for 38$. This means that farmers are “changing their small subsistence farms into vibrant new commercial enterprises. With irrigation they can grow and sell as many as three to four high value vegetable crops every year, and ensure that the crop is ready for market when the price is high.” Farmers are increasing their income up to ten-fold.
But most importantly, this program creates no external dependency. If Approtec went away tomorrow, the pumps would still be manufactured and operated locally.
It is my belief, that this is the way to help (and not just in the third world). Their approach works because:
* Approtec delivers what is needed, not what they’d like to give. It’s very easy to give people the things that you think would work. You could try giving them high-tech pumps or modern farm equipment… but it probably wouldn’t work. The Money Maker works, because it fits the current situation.
* Approtec does as little as possible. It may have been even easier to manufacture the pumps in the US, and give them away in Africa for free, but that would have defeated the purpose. In fact they supply nothing but the initial idea, the business model so to speak.
* Consequently, there’s no dependency on Approtec. If they went bankrupt tomorrow, the pumps would still be manufactured, operated and maintained locally.
I think it’s a beautiful example, of what could hopefully be a new paradigm in foreign aid.