Fixing the World on $2 a Day

Posted on July 18, 2008  Comments (3)

MIT’s Guru of Low-Tech Engineering Fixes the World on $2 a Day

The charcoal project is the responsibility of Mary Hong, a 19-year-old branching out beyond her aerospace major this semester. She and the other students, coincidentally all women, are enrolled in Smith’s D-Lab, a course that is becoming quietly famous beyond the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass. The D is for development, design and dissemination; last fall, more than 100 students applied for about 30 slots. To prepare for their field work, D-Lab students live for a week in Cambridge on $2 per day. (Smith joins in.) Right now, eight more D-Lab teams are plying jungle rivers, hiking goat trails and hailing chicken buses in seven additional countries—Brazil, Honduras, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, India and China. In Smith’s view, even harsh aspects of Third World travel have their benefits. “If you get a good bout of diarrhea from a waterborne disease,” she says, “you really understand what it means to have access to clean drinking water.”

Despite their simplicity, Smith’s creations made her a minor celebrity at MIT, and in 2000 she became the first woman to win the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. The same year, she began teaching full time at the university. It was nearly 30 years since German economist E.F. Schumacher had published Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, the book credited with launching the appropriate technology movement. Schumacher argued that many of the infrastructure projects funded by the World Bank and other organizations hadn’t improved lives on the village level. “He rightly and aptly pointed out that big solutions don’t fit for villages. You have to make it small,”

Related: Smokeless Stove Uses 80% Less Fuelappropriate technology postsEngineering a Better WorldBill Hunter

3 Responses to “Fixing the World on $2 a Day”

  1. Thomas Wright
    July 21st, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

    That sounds like a really great idea. Made me wonder whether I could pitch the concept to ‘SPRU’ (Science & technology Research Unit) at my university (Sussex). I reckon it’d go down really well with IDS (Institute for Development Studies) too. Come to think of it, Sussex is the perfect UK university for this kind of thing. Thanks for the post!

  2. Curious Cat Engineering Blog » Engineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Sheller
    October 3rd, 2008 @ 8:48 am

    The basic concept for the maize-sheller was first developed in Guatemala by an NGO called MayaPedal, and then refined by Wu last semester as a class project in D-Lab: Design, a class taught by Department of Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer Amy Smith…

  3. Curious Cat Engineering Blog » Reducing Poverty
    October 15th, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

    We have highlighted various uses of appropriate technology, many of which help those in poverty improve their lives…

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