sustainability Archives — LIRNEasia

Multiple authors; truly multi-disciplinary; published in the center of gravity of our work. I am excited, even though it is still behind a paywall at the Economic and Political Weekly: There is a middle path that positions the citizens who are the ultimate beneficiaries of urban development as the primary sensors. Instead of seeing the city as a clock-work machine that can be perfectly controlled, this approach recognizes the inherent complexity of the system and supports incremental changes, following the Deng Xiaoping dictum of “crossing the river by feeling the stones.” Experimentation and learning are integral to the approach. This low-cost approach is especially appropriate for the organically developed, congested cities in developing countries where the costs of installing and maintaining city-owned sensors would be quite high.
Politicians are not known for strict adherence to truth, but I personally thought the Minister of Science and Technology Tissa Vitarana being a man of science was cut from different cloth. The first time he stated that the original telecenters set up under e Sri Lanka (Vishva Gnana Kendra or VGKs) were in urban areas and that after the government changed in 2004, the decision was taken to take them to rural areas (renamed as Nenasala), I blamed not him, but the flunkies at the ICT Agency who did not give him the true facts. None of the VGKs were in major urban centers, while some Nenasalas are in the centers of major cities (e.g., one inside the Dalada Maligawa premises and another inside the Natha Devalaya, in the heart of Kandy).
The world is awash in telecenter pilots.  I thought all the lessons that could be learned, have been learned.  Apparently not.  Google is bankrolling another pilot in Kenya, including a USD 700/month broadband bill.  So, for sustainability we’d need around 700 users spending a tad more than USD 2 per visit?
In 2006, Sarvodaya started a project with IDRC funding to help the burgeoning telecenters (under various names) learn from each other and solve the problems they faced in an environment marked by rapidly changing technology and consumer demand. As part of this effort, Sarvodaya Fusion organized two training sessions at the MAS Institute of Management and Technology in Tulhiriya. The presentation that Helani Galpaya and I did (Sujata and Chanuka ran a parallel session) included components on innovation in service industries, the external environment that made innovation so important for telecenter operators, and systematic learning from failures. Because we had to work with multiple languages, it was not possible to cover all the slides, which are here. One of the things we noticed was that there appeared to be two different kinds of problems: the first kind could be fixed through process innovation; the second kind was structural and required remedies that were outside the scope of an event like this.
We welcome the USD 71 million project to improve dam safety in Sri Lanka. LIRNEasia , together with several partners including the Sri Lanka Committee on Large Dams, Vanguard Management and Sarvodaya, did a lot of work on raising awareness of the impending dangers posed by ill-maintained dams, going as far as saying that a catastrophic dam failure in this reservoir-dotted country was not a question of if, but when. The repairs will, we understand, address the most serious risks raised by the LIRNEasia participatory research. However, due to ill-informed protests of the opponents of water-use reforms and the weak-kneed response of the government agencies and the World Bank, the component that would have addressed the sustainability issues was stripped out after one exchange. So we have postponed the day of reckoning, but not created a long-term sustainable system for safe water use.