Women must be the reason for technological innovation, says Sanjit “Bunker” Roy

© Barefoot College

Women’s empowerment should be at the centre of any technological transfer, says Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, founder and director of the Barefoot College, after the extremely lively UNESCO conference on girls’ and women’s education, on 27 October 2011. Mr Roy outlined his vision of what he called ‘tele-women’ – an organic form of rural communication that involves women, particularly grandmothers.  ‘They are mostly invisible, but they are there – in market places, on buses, and so on. They represent a non-institutional form of communication,’ he explained, adding that his organisation had installed solar power in over 20,000 households in rural India, Africa and other countries in the developing world.

He said the sustainable use of solar energy in villages needed to revolve around grandmothers, ‘most of whom’, he explained, ‘were the real solar engineers’. He argued that, while most entrepreneurial solar engineers were urban-based, most grandmothers would remain in their villages, forming a nucleus of skilled human power that could be relied upon in the maintenance of solar equipment.

He added that his organisation had trained over 300 grandmothers in African countries, who have since become reliable ‘engineers’ to maintain solar installations in the villages.  Asked about how different such e-learning centres would be from community multimedia centres, he explained that the e-learning centres would be solar-powered, genuinely community-led, and dependent on local expertise. He added that the initiative would target the remotest parts which are ordinarily cut off from conventional means of communication.

Mr Roy further argued that the sustainability model of the initiative would centre on establishing enduring public-private-people partnerships that would bring together governments, private companies and the concerned rural communities. He said that the purpose of such partnerships would be to ensure that technological solutions revolved around tapping into the potential and ability of the community to solve their own problems.

Mr Roy also said that his organisation was developing a partnership with UNESCO and other organisations aimed at establishing e-learning centres – an amalgam of ‘workshops that would be equipped with television and solar power for the education of rural communities, especially women and girls’. He added that his was a ‘new perspective’ that was ‘not based on the entrepreneurship model’, but focused on ‘demystifying technology’ and delivering sustainable skills and jobs for the community members, especially rural women.  He expressed hope that the e-learning centres would benefit from UNESCO’s multidisciplinary approach to sustainable development, incorporating organisation’s areas of competence such as education, sciences and communication.

Fackson Banda

Editor, Delegates’ Information Bureau, 36 GC UNESCO

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