Low-tech Solutions More Likely to be Rooted in Communities

‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;’ a sentiment by English metaphysical poet John Donne in the early 17th century might well be a prophecy for our current times. We know that ‘freak’ wildfires in California do not have ramifications for the United States alone, but have set-off alarm bells ringing across the world. Similarly, change-makers taking on the onus of addressing such aberrations cannot do this all by themselves. They need to forge strategic alliances to grow their circumference of impact. To understand the role of low – technologies in development cooperation, we spoke to our network  member and a Jury member of empowering people. Award 2019Iana Aranda, President of Engineering for Change, a New York based organization working with the international engineering workforce to improve living conditions for underserved communities.

What role can low technology play in improving living conditions?

Technology plays a significant role in improving quality of life for underserved communities worldwide. While solutions range from low-tech through high-tech, the unifying goal is to impact and improve the human condition in terms of health, economic opportunity, education and climate resilience amongst others. At Engineering for Change (E4C) we belive the design and delivery of affordable, appropriate and sustainable technology-based solutions with local communities has more potential to improve the living conditions worldwide than traditional aid models alone. None of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved without technology-based solutions.

What is your criteria for choosing good low/appropriate technologies?

At E4C we define appropriate solutions as demand-driven products and services demonstrating sustainability and impact. We worked with our expert community to define the key criteria governing fit-for-service solutions and visualized our findings below in order of increasing importance (as shown by size of the circles).

© Engineering for Change

Your organisation partners with Siemens Stiftung’s empowering people. Award 2019.  In what way does this initiative contribute to creating a sustainable global impact?

We are proud to be partners of empowering people. Network (epNetwork) and Award since 2015. The empowering people. Award serves as an ecosystem enabler by infusing financial support, global recognition and capacity building into the sector and acting as a catalyst for indigenous innovation.

Why is it important for you to collaborate with partners like epNetwork?

E4C has been collaborating with epNetwork to deliver knowledge as a public good. We combine the network’s business insights on technology-based solutions with engineering information in our Solutions Library to elevate the innovation quotient worldwide. We also extend opportunities for further funding, networks and technology support to social enterprises across our communities. For example, the start-up Evaptainer were introduced to us following their receipt of empowering people. Award in 2016. We featured their signature EV-8 refrigeration unit in the Solutions Library and invited them to participate in the ASME Innovation Showcase (ISHOW) where they went on to win in the USA competition.

Low-tech solutions are predominantly small solutions how are they creating impacts for millions of people?

Low-tech solutions are particularly driven by end user needs and more likely to be rooted in the communities which they serve. This approach embodies the principles of sustainability and can often lead to meaningful impact. The technology for development sector has evolved and integration of methodologies such as Human-Centered Design as one example have shifted perception of what constitutes a sustainable solution. Putting users at the core of the solutions development process focuses designers on co-creation of solutions, understanding the context and delivery of value-added solutions rather than jumping to a high tech approach as the immediate answer. Solutions that have scaled and showed sustainability are regarded as succesful and that includes low tech approaches.


Iana Aranda is the President of Engineering for Change, LLC – a knowledge organization and global community of over 1 million individuals. Ms. Aranda drives a multidisciplinary and human-centered approach to international development enabled by digital platforms, partnerships with technical societies and knowledge infusing engineering consistency, innovation and talent to deliver sustainable solutions. She has over 12 years of experience in academic, research and nonprofit sectors focusing on the intersection of engineering design, business development and social responsibility.

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