Tool vs. Machine
E.F.Schumacher, the economist who promoted “human scale” development, distinguished between a tool and a machine in this famous passage from the chapter Buddhist Economics in his book, Small is Beautiful:
… there are therefore two types of mechanisation which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave. How to tell the one from the other? “The craftsman himself,” says Ananda Coomaraswamy, a man equally competent to talk about the modern West as the ancient East, “can always, if allowed to, draw the delicate distinction between the machine and the tool. The carpet loom is a tool, a contrivance for holding warp threads at a stretch for the pile to be woven round them by the craftsmen’s fingers; but the power loom is a machine, and its significance as a destroyer of culture lies in the fact that it does the essentially human part of the work.”
It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character. Character, at the same time, is formed primarily by a man’s work. And work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products.
And of course, this is relevant to the introduction of technology into savings groups.
OGOS - One Group One Smartphone - is coming, and I believe that in five years we will look back on Savings Groups and wonder how we ever even proposed that groups operate without having access to a smartphone or tablet for record keeping and instruction. Tomorrow’s SG folks will look back in amazement - “Remember when they asked groups to keep records by hand? And remember when these trainers used to come again and again and again, and a lot of them didn’t really understand the critical messages that make groups work?!”
But - some will say - introducing technology into savings groups is changing them into something else, losing the human element. Is that so? I don’t think so.
The essence of savings groups is not bookkeeping. In fact, the emphasis on bookkeeping has been a drag on SG expansion. If we can avoid that, we can end the trail of tears that runs from the passbook or ledger, to the data collection, to the MIS, to MIS audits, and up to centralized data bases. That’s not what makes SGs great. The human essence at the core of Savings Groups is members supporting other members in attaining their financial and personal goals. Sometimes this is called commitment savings - people join a group because of the promise that members make to save regularly. They love that part. If we can get rid of the bookkeeping burden, so much the better.