Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 7: Visit to CART (Centre for Appropriate Rural Technologies), National Institute for Engineering in Mysore.

Steve: Much as I appreciate being able to use various forms of high tech and IT kit, there is something especially appealing to me about very simple technology that meets real human needs and requirements in an elegant, ingenious and effective way So it was an absolute delight for me to meet Profesor Ravi Kumar who heads CART. He came over to me as a highly intelligent, well-informed, committed and modest man with a great sense of humour – a powerful combination! The toilet which turned poo into compost and the biomass stove which converted grass clippings and wood to charcoal while providing heat for cooking deserve special mention for their holistic approach to design. In addition to the low-cost eco-friendly technology which he talked about, two other points from his presentation stand out in my mind. Namely, that his designs were made available to anyone who wanted to copy them, and also that he refused corporate sponsorship so as to retain full control over his work and to not compromise the integrity of the organization by associating with any brands. Professor Kumar is providing practical and affordable solutions in a way which I found uplifting because it is “intelligent” in the best sense of the word – applying creative thinking to human needs and also recognising our intrinsic connection with the planet we inhabit with its beautiful mysteries. From what we learned at today’s meeting, in my book Ravi Kumar and his team are “the business” when it comes to the real meaning of sustainability (the social business of course!) – I’m looking forward to working with him in some way.

Isabel: One of the things I have been really struck by in visiting what we now call “social enterprises” in India is the commitment to a vision as well as an outcome. In many cases that vision is inspired by Gandhi and his insistence on “What we need is not mass production but production by the masses”. Professor Ravi Kumar mentioned Rachel Carson (Silent Spring) and Schumaker (Small is Beautiful) amongst the writers who he had been inspired by. His determination not to sell out to capitalism, with all the ills that it brings, but to plow an alternative and humane furrow was integral to the cheap and effective solutions to social problems that he and his students design. To me, this is what distinguishes social enterprise in India from social enterprise in the UK: the bigger vision of a return to a small-scale, land-based economy that India had until only a hundred or so years ago but that the West lost in the 19th century with industrialization. Low-cost solutions to rainwater harvesting, shelter and energy production pioneered by CART definitely have practical applications in the West. I have yet to meet the visionaries who can take India directly into a future of clean technology, leaping over the high-carbon emission phase of coal and oil-fuelled industrialization, but I am hoping that I will!

No comments: