Esther Dyson, Chair woman EDventure Holdings remarks AMMACHI Labs

Esther Dyson , Chair woman of EDventure Holdings, is one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs whose focus is emerging digital technologies. She visited AMMACHI labs last winter and has written an article entitled “ India’s Feet and Minds”, in Project Syndicate, a web-based journal that publishes commentaries by some of the world’s top researchers and thinkers and mentions AMMACHI lab’s work.

Indian businesses and other institutions are finally beginning to see opportunity in addressing their country’s problems – which brings me back to plumbing. The training program I have in mind is part of a broader initiative that I saw at Amrita University, founded by Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (known as Amma).

I was lured to the computer center at Amrita’s Ammachi Labs by a haptic simulator – in essence, a device that lets you feel directed pressure and vibrations (accompanied by an infernal noise!), like when one is cutting plumbing pipe. But in fact, sexy as the technology is, I was more impressed by the overall notion of practical courseware – and not just in plumbing – that could give millions of people marketable skills at a fraction of the cost of conventional vocational training, ultimately in many other fields, such as welding, carpentry, painting, and the like.

The plumbing course includes taps and faucets, how to lay and cut piping, and, finally, “plumbing ethics.” What was that? I asked.

Partly, it addresses safety, cleanliness, and how to charge for one’s work; but it also concerns respect for plumbers and the dignity of the individuals taking the course. In India, plumbing is a low-caste job (because it is connected with toilets and human waste); the course tries to fight that perception and instill pride in its students.

As it happens, plumbing is fraught with social significance in India; many girls do not go to school, owing to inadequate or broken plumbing. The course teaches women as well as men, and many of the women plumbers work in female sections of schools, hospitals, and other institutions where male plumbers are unwelcome or forbidden.

And that is just plumbing. The lab acknowledges that online videos alone cannot effectively train most people; but they can provide a baseline of competence, to be supplemented by local training and practical exercises. 


September 20, 2012

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