Marvin Olasky

The exhibit has a truly radical ethos. Some well-intentioned folks ask why would anyone have to work something like a stair-climber for hours to pump water when we have motorized pumps? But in the words of Martin J. Fisher, cofounder of KickStart International, affluent people "buy time-saving and labor-saving devices, and many of those aren't that relevant for the poor. They have a fair lot of time and labor. What they dont have is very much money." KickStart International says it has helped 230,000 people to sweat their way out of poverty.

Should we give these pumps to the poor? No: KickStart insists on selling its pumps because "no giveaway program can be sustainable. By selling our pumps, we create a sustainable supply chain." Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises, tells reporters, ''When you give things away, you lack discipline in how you design them because you don't have to get feedback from the customer."

The Cooper-Hewitt exhibit emphasizes small: Dont build hydroelectric dams; construct cheap shelter that people can buy to protect themselves from the elements. The exhibit embraces using human power rather than machines and gasoline, because machinery requires continued infusions of Western cash. The goal is for local economies to function independently: People power can crank radios, pump water and drive bicycles.

The Cooper-Hewitt exhibit displays ingenious inventions but also forces us to confront our own charitable notions. Do we emphasize giving to the poor rather than letting those who are able-bodied glean their sustenance through hard work? Do we ignore sustainability and create long-term dependence?


Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit www.worldmag.com.
 
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