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STEM V: Appropriate Technology in Africa

Date: 18-20 October, 2019

Location: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

A conference intended, in part, as a memorial and tribute to Dr. Moses Kizza Musaazi, late of Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, who was a master of the “Appropriate Technology” approach that serves as the central conference theme.

“Appropriate Technology” refers here to efforts of scientists and engineers to help people on the Continent provide products and services for themselves from locally sourced and led efforts, as an alternative to “Global North” and other foreign suppliers whose products generally involve significant overhead in the international market. Appropriate technology is based on sound scientific and engineering  fundamentals, and usually involves rethinking technical problems to come up with alternatives to the standard solutions. The emphasis is on close proximity of the engineer/scientist to the user population and a resulting intimate understanding of what their technical problems are. It is also based on a philosophy of creativity and “less can be more”, where designing solutions with, say, severe materials sourcing or distribution constraints, can be more challenging, but the results more transformative for the user population and rewarding for the engineer/scientist.

Dr. Musaazi was driven by a concern to empower communities, to unlock their creative potential, circumventing systemic hurdles to such potential from the global marketplace or inequitable local mores. He was particularly sensitive to the problems of young women in developing societies whose communities’ traditions may not have adequately valued their advancement or their potential contributions to their societies. For all these reasons and more, Dr. Musaazi has been a source of inspiration to all of us in STEM-Africa and at the African Studies Center since before even our founding ten years ago. He has been a long term collaborator on experiences for U-M students, especially undergraduates, who participated in joint appropriate technology projects with his team.

We see STEM-V as a chance not only to pause and express our appreciation for Dr. Musaazi and his work, but also to help with our colleagues to guarantee that Musaazi’s great work will be continued and his insights will be taken up throughout the developing world. We will be gathering some of the best practitioners from the Continent and their collaborators here to assess the current state of appropriate technology approaches, from the engineering/ scientific perspective, but also in terms of local innovation and entrepreneurship viewed as vital to the effective distribution of creative solutions to on the ground problems and empowerment of the user communities, and especially of women. In particular we hope to discuss and highlight the interfaces in place (or possible in the future) between locally liberated entrepreneurship and the more global markets around them. Finally, we would like to highlight U-M student experiences with appropriate technology projects to help ensure that such fruitful opportunities will remain for our students.