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Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium (2006)

Chapter:Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia

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Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia

KURT L. KORNBLUTH

University of California, Davis


PHILIP OSAFO-KWAAKO

Zambian Ministry of Commerce

Lusaka, Zambia

…the most exciting part about these new features is that they do not cost more and we can still deliver a wheelchair for $41.17. Isn’t it astounding that God would lead us to a new manufacturer with an innovative approach to our design needs?

From the Free Wheelchair Mission’s Website, June 2005

The statement above summarizes a major challenge faced by DISACARE1 Wheelchair Centre in Zambia, an organization that fabricates various models of wheelchairs. At a retail price of US$280, DISACARE makes only a slim profit above net costs. DISACARE provides an interesting example of the implementation of an appropriate-technology project that attempts to use locally-available resources to address technological needs.

Since its modest beginning in 1991, DISACARE has grown from a two-man team to an organization with 23 employees, many of them disabled, who now have expertise in wheelchair fitting and manufacturing, machining, training, accounting, carpentry, and sewing and tailoring. DISACARE is a local Zambian nongovernmental organization (NGO) that has proven itself fiscally responsible and maintained excellent financial reporting to its donors. The organization

1  

All the data cited in this paper were collected by the authors from DISACARE.

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

provides employment for people with disabilities, as well as advocacy and sports programs. DISACARE’s mobility-aid devices are durable and well suited to Zambian conditions, and donors have heralded the organization as a model development project that could be replicated in other economic sectors and other regions. Nevertheless, DISACARE faces some serious challenges.

As a starting point for a discussion of the value of DISACARE as a social-investment scheme, we assess the organization’s net benefits, taking into account non-market objectives, such as local skills training and capacity building and poverty-reduction among the disabled. We focus on several key questions. First, was DISACARE a viable development project? Second, was DISACARE a good investment from the point of view of donors? Third, did the intended beneficiaries (the disabled in Zambia) benefit from the DISACARE project?

DISABILITY AID IN ZAMBIA

After independence, most African states pursued state-led industrialization strategies aimed at strengthening local industries and spurring economic growth. In most cases, “infant, import-substitution industries,” established under highly protectionist economic policies, were inefficient, resulting in large fiscal deficits and rising debt levels. By the 1990s, most developing countries in Africa were in economic decline. Among the adjustment schemes proposed by international donors were a number of market-liberalization programs intended to stimulate general economic growth (Thirlwall, 2003). By the end of the 1990s, however, the anticipated economic growth in most countries had not been achieved. In fact, levels of poverty and inequality had increased in most communities. In addition, most southern African states were subject to an additional drain on government revenues because of the growing prevalence of HIV/AIDs, with donor policies shifting accordingly (Saasa, 2002).

As a least-developed country (LDC) in southern Africa, Zambia, where support for particularly disadvantaged groups is provided mostly by informal family networks and NGOs, remains highly dependent on the international donor community for support of social-investment schemes. In fact, for most sub-Saharan African countries, official national disability policies are either nonexistent or have not been implemented. In a survey of national disability policies in 83 countries (industrialized, middle-income, and developing countries), the United Nations (UN) Social Commission for Social Development observed widespread gaps in support provided to persons with disabilities in developing countries. For example, in Zambia, Michailakis (1997) reports the absence of regulations for making public buildings accessible to people with disabilities and a lack of coordination and dialogue on disability issues.

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

DISACARE WHEELCHAIR CENTER

In 1991, Zambia was among the poorest countries in southern Africa, and people disabled by polio had no wheelchairs or prospects for mobility devices. David Mukwasa, grandson of then-Zambian president Keneth Kaunda, and Felix Sulimba, a medical student, both polio victims, envisioned DISACARE in the early 1990s. The two approached the Finish International Disabled Development Association (FIDIDA), and over the next decade, FIDIDA’s partner organization, Finish Association of People with Mobility Disabilities (FMD), which played a large role in shaping and supporting DISACARE. They also approached Kenny Mubuyaeta, a polio victim trained in metal fabrication, who left his job in the Copper Belt in northern Zambia and moved to the capital, Lusaka, to join DISACARE and take up the challenge of building wheelchairs.

In a small rented garage, DISACARE began by repairing shopping carts and wheelchairs. Kenny and David, working often without pay, continued trying to get business and raise money. In 1991, Keneth Kaunda’s government gave DISACARE a large plot of land in Libala, on the outskirts of Lusaka. In 1995, money was raised from international NGOs for construction of a workshop and small dormitory-style living quarters. In 1996, the workshop in Libala was officially opened. Since 1991, Kenny and David have convinced many local and international organizations to help DISACARE.

Products

DISACARE currently provides a number of locally built mobility-aid products, including: the Kavuluvulu, a standard folding wheelchair outfitted especially for Africa; a tricycle wheelchair, which is specially designed for long distance journeys; a cerebral palsy (CP) wheelchair, which has cushions and tray tables for CP users; and a sports wheelchair, which is specially designed for outdoor sports, such as basketball. DISACARE prices cover all costs, including labor, materials, overhead, and capitol depreciation.

Disability Advocacy

DISACARE currently operates as a trust governed by a board of trustees with the following mission: “To provide mobility, empowerment, and self-sustenance for persons with disabilities.” DISACARE is the only domestic manufacturer of wheelchairs; the company also repairs and customizes wheelchairs. In addition, DISACARE has been a major advocate for people with disabilities. The organization provides appropriate mobility aids, as well as training and employment. DISACARE has greatly increased the visibility of people with disabilities in the community. Both Kenny and David have polio but drive cars, and DISACARE workers have broken the stereotype that disabled people are

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

unable to work and are simply beggars. Twice a week, wheelchair riders gather at DISACARE to play wheelchair basketball.

Sales of Wheelchairs

DISACARE began repairing wheelchairs in 1991 and gradually started production in 1993. As a result of poor marketing, high overhead costs, and weak purchasing power in the domestic market, however, sales reached a peak of 200 in 2003, but have gone down since then. DISACARE must sell between 180 and 240 wheelchairs per year to pay salaries. However, to be self-sustaining, the company must sell more than that.

TABLE 1 Wheelchair Sales and Repairs

Year

Wheelchairs Produced

Wheelchairs Repaired

1991

15

1992

200

1993

5

120

1994

7

100

1995

8

60

1996

12

60

1997

20

80

1998

50

100

1999

70

60

2000

80

50

2001

115

40

2002

190

50

2003

197

40

2004

100 (Aug)

20

TOTAL

854

995

 

Source: DISACARE, 2004.

The Competition

Wheelchairs produced in Zambia face stiff competition from wheelchairs imported from Asia. In addition, DISACARE has high overhead costs and, because it uses local materials, it does not take advantage of cheaper imported raw materials. The basic DISACARE wheelchair costs $280, is locally repairable, and lasts from two to five years, with proper maintenance. Although this seems inexpensive compared to a typical folding wheelchair, which costs $500 to $1,000 in the United States or Europe, many aid organizations prefer to donate cheaper Chinese-made wheelchairs, although they often have poor ergonomics, are not suitable for local conditions, and have a short life (six months to two years). Nevertheless, many donors have opted to buy them because, at $75 to $200 apiece, they can provide them to more clients for the same cost.

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
Providing Employment

Providing employment is an important objective of DISACARE. As DISACARE has expanded its operations in the past decade, it has increased the size of its workforce to 23, boosting employment in the local economy. DISACARE is an affirmative-action employer, and more than half of its workers have physical disabilities.

Capacity Building

Donors and volunteers have built the capacity of DISACARE by supplying experts to train staff members in wheelchair design, accounting, fundraising and administration, and sports. As a result, the DISACARE staff not only understands the needs of people with disabilities, but also is adept at running day-to-day operations.

TABLE 2 Capacity Building

Year

Specialty

Comments

1991-1997

Prothetist

FMD volunteer

1993

Wheelchair designer

WWI paid consultant

1997

Wheelchair sports

FMD paid consultant

1997-2001

Wheelchair designer

WWI paid consultant

1997-present

Wheelchair designer

WWI paid consultant

2001, 2004

Product designer

DEKA volunteer

1999-2001

Administration/Fundraising

VSO volunteer

2002

Administration/Fundraising

VSO volunteer

2002

Accounting

VSO volunteer

 

Source: DISACARE, 2004.

Financing of DISACARE

Throughout its short history, DISACARE has relied heavily on external donor support for financing and capitalization (Table 3).

Current Assets

Much of the donor investment in DISACARE, such as the buildings and land near Lusaka, is still owned by the DISACARE trust. The estimated current value of DISACARE’s assets is shown in Table 4.

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

TABLE 3 Sources of Funding

Year

Donor

Monetary value

Description

1991

FIDIDA

$80

Tools

1991

Meal-a-Day

$3,500

Tools, equipment

1991

Dutch Embassy

$3,000

Equipment and materials

1992

Gov’t of Zambia

$200

3.5 acre plot

1992-1997

FMD

$10,000 (est.)

Equipment, materials, machinery

1993

FMD

$15,000

WWI training

1995

Beit Trust

$25,000

Accommodation blocks

1997

FMD

$1,000

Basketball court

1999

Abillis

$5,000

Office equipment, materials

1999

British Embassy

$7,000

Office equipment, materials, building

2000

German Embassy

$9,000

Lathe

2001

Irish Aid

$11,000

Milling machine

2001

Danish Embassy

$8,000

Materials, equipment

2001

Beit Trust

$6,000

Workshop extension

2001

FMD

$4,500

Vehicles

2002

US AID

$5,000

Office equipment, furniture

1998-2002

FMD

$60,000 (est.)

Wheeling wheels project

2003

FMD

$8,000

Capital, building, shop upgrade

2003

Barclays Bank

$400

Machine tools

2004

FMD

$1,000

Vehicles

TOTAL

 

$182,680

 

 

Source: DISACARE, 2004.

TABLE 4 Current Assets, December 2003

Item

Value

Land

$25,000

Buildings

$80,000

Sports toilets

$2,500

Basketball court

$2,000

Inventory

$12,000

Containers

$4,000

Machinery

$30,000

Office equipment

$10,000

Cash

$7,000

Furniture

$2,000

Vehicles

$7,500

TOTAL

$182,000

 

Source: DISACARE, 2004.

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

SUMMARY

Whereas many donor investment projects end up bankrupt after five or ten years, the current assets of DISACARE are roughly equal to the total donor investment. A brief summary of the benefits and costs follows.

Costs to Donor Community
  • Total cash investment equals $182,000.

  • In-kind services are provided by volunteers.

Benefits to Zambian Disabled Community
  • More than 1,750 disabled people have been provided with wheelchairs.

  • Currently, 26 Zambians are employed.

  • Industrial capacity in Zambia has increased.

  • Capacity in the eastern/southern African region has increased.

  • Awareness of people with disabilities in Zambia has increased.

Including repaired wheelchairs, DISACARE’s has provided mobility for 1,750 people with disabilities in its 14-year lifetime. This translates to $182,000/1,750 people, or a little more than $100 per person.

REFERENCES

Michailakis, D. 1997. Government Action on Disability Policy: A Global Survey. Stockholm: Liber Publishing House.


Saasa, O. 2002. Aid and Poverty Reduction in Zambia: Mission Unaccomplished. Uppsala, Sweden: Nordic Africa Institute.


Thirlwall, A.P. 2003. Growth and Development: With Special Reference to Developing Countries. London: Macmillan.

Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×

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Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
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Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
Page40
Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
Page41
Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
Page42
Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
Page43
Suggested Citation:"Challenges in the Implementation of Appropriate Technology Projects: The Case of the DISACARE Wheelchair Center in Zambia." National Academy of Engineering. 2006. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2005 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11577.
×
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This volume includes 16 papers from the National Academy of Engineering's 2005 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering (USFOE) Symposium held in September 2005. USFOE meetings bring together 100 outstanding engineers (ages 30 to 45) to exchange information about leading-edge technologies in a range of engineering fields. The 2005 symposium covered four topic areas: ID and verification technologies, engineering for developing communities, engineering complex systems, and energy resources for the future. A paper by dinner speaker Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is also included. The papers describe leading-edge research on face and human activity recognition, challenges in implementing appropriate technology projects in developing countries, complex networks, engineering bacteria for drug production, organic-based solar cells, and current status and future challenges in fuel cells, among other topics. Appendixes include information about contributors, the symposium program, and a list of meeting participants. This is the eleventh volume in the USFOE series.

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