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Publications by Demotech : Demotech and the one man behind it all...
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Demotech and the one man behind it all...

by Joel Roszmann, published in the November issue of 'Eloquent'

Along side the Maas, just a hundred meters or so downstream from the Wilhelminabrug, and a stone?s throw away from the market place and city centre, stands an old building. Adorned in its welded iron dragons the ancient factory now known as the Landbouwbelang is an impressive site, one that is rather hard to miss. Living inside this imposing structure, on the second floor behind grimy windows and cracking bricks, there is a seventy-two year old man with short white hair and friendly eyes. His name, is Reinder.

Reinder only came to Maastricht a few months ago. While originally Dutch, he has lived and worked all over the world, and has quite a story to tell. Reinder?s chosen profession is in design, and his life-long mission has been to bring mechanical, technological solutions into the world. He strives to do so, however, with little to no resources. In case this isn?t enough, he claims to have uncovered a whole new, unexplored field of economics based in the field of his life work. This ?new economics? does not only affect third world circumstances, but becomes a practical base for necessary changes on a global scale. He is an advocate of ?Open source technology? as a method for exacting these changes, and applying those new economics.

In 1970, fed up with his job at the Bicycle factory, which he found enjoyable but not progressive enough, Reinder took the first steps towards starting his own organization focused around finding creative, imaginative solutions to some very basic social problems. He first worked on deficiencies he found in the Netherlands, designing a new public transport system, a home-grown toy factory, and alternative self-sustaining lifestyle options. His ideas met with brick walls: "People are very creative about why NOT to move", he says lightheartedly, "they say: its a great idea... but no, we won't do it because ....". After two years he abandoned his efforts to make a change in Dutch Society. Reinder went searching for a society that would be more accepting of change, and found it in the 3rd world.

1973 marked Reinder's first publications and his first truly successful innovative design, the Tin Bicycle. Entered in a Japanese Bicycle design contest, the Tin Bicycle was expected to be sturdy, collapsible, easy to carry, and be produced at minimum cost in an environment rich in craftsmanship but poor in capital. The Tin Bicycle met with what Reinder would call marginal success. While it received funding for design completion, it only held potential for change on the micro level. He decided to put the project on the shelf in preference of an invitation to redesign water pumps.

"After 30 years, at last I can teach anyone to make a pump, at no cost, on location, using local materials. And, it will be better than any other pump they might be offered", Reinder pronounces with happy pride. While it met with slow acceptance, Reinder did what million dollar development agencies couldn't do. He taught local people how to build their own water pumps. By now, there are a hundred thousand pumps functioning in poor countries based entirely on Reinder's design.

Since the seventies, Reinder has been working on designs of all sorts. He has traveled the world, lived in universities, cities, villages, and on the road spreading his wisdom about how technology has to work.

"Consumerism is the bias that guides our advancing technology", he states with confidence. The distinct lack of higher thought that goes into finding realistic solutions to life's basic challenges is, in his eyes, appalling. Educated people have their minds in the first world, surrounded by economies, markets, distributors and wages; there is a whole new economics that exists in poverty, an economics that demands innovation centered on the use of limited resources. These economies, based on 'informal technology', can and do benefit from higher, university educated thinking. Victor Papanek's book 'Design for the real world' explains how such educated thought can be applied to all primary circumstances. There are no simple problems, and thus, no simple solutions. Whatever the circumstances, be they developed or underdeveloped, highly educated and complex thought must be applied in designing the appropriate solution to each challenge.

However, the third world difficulties ARE NOT receiving this thought, and have been left attempting to mimic western solutions. Our universities are not training students for designing solutions for third world circumstances. Even more disturbingly, this educated thinking is being mislead in the third world. In Africa local groups in the late 20th Century have mistakenly learned to speak the language of the experts and foreigners in order to attract precious aide-dollars; the best men and women became preoccupied with that western bias, in order to gain money from foreigners. Africa is not Western Europe, and the same designs will not apply there, no matter how much money is flying around.

This is Reinder's new economics. Development Economics as a field has always been concentrated on how to increase the capital base flowing around impoverished countries. How do you get more goods to go around? Reinder goes right back to the basic question in the introduction of every economics textbook; how do you make the most out of limited resources? Reinder's paradigm is simply this: through design, high technology and enlightened/educated thinking, the standard of living can improve without expanding the resource base. The resources people need are right there, they just need to find them, and figure out how to use them.

This idea did not come out of thin air, and is not as simple as it sounds. These theories are present in Ghandi?s work, who promoted ?village level technology?, putting people in charge of their own production.

Reinder first encountered the concept of base-level technological development in Indonesia. Reinder had been working at the university there, when, upon offending some officials, he cut off relations with the university and started to work with a student group (Yayasan Mandiri at Bandung technical University) working in local villages. The student group implemented the Demotech designed rope pump immediately, and encountered massive success, and because of this attracted quite a bit of media attention. The students were able to accomplish what the university had not: an immediate improvement in the local standard of living.

Reinder had proved that this new approach functions in third world circumstances. Could it be applied within modern, developed economics? Indeed, it must. Reinder's technological approach is centered around improvements of the standard of living without expanding the resource base. Because the developed world is not ecologically sustainable, such innovative processes will become essential to maintain our standard of living in the long term. Who says that we are ecologically unsustainable? DTO (Duurzame Technologische Ontwikkeling), funded by the Dutch government and supported by several Dutch universities, concluded that:

For the world to be ecologically sustainable, we must see a 20 fold reduction of the resource base used by the developed world.

Conclusion: In the near future, the western world will become reliant upon the redesign of its technologies to support its standard of living. Reinder's economic paradigm, as applied in the third world, must be applied in the developed world to attain a sustainable economy. The alternative is an inevitable reduction in the standard of living.

From this philosophical standpoint, Reinder was moved to return to the first world and begin working towards those ends. Demotech?s focus became split between Activism and Design; spreading the message of the need for change, and finding the tools with which that change could occur.

Activism started with collaboration with EYFA (European Youth For Action) a student group with similar environmental goals. Demotech designed tools for gaining media attention for activist groups, helping them changing people's minds. The DemoUnit design, available on the demotech website, is an example. Reinder applied his competencies in design to support these political associations that shared his values.

Demotech is also proving that innovations in lifestyle through design are not at all imaginary. Reinder quotes many existing examples. Linux, an alternative operating system to windows was developed by programmers in their spare time. Hang-glider technology was built and tested by gliding enthusiasts personally for its own sake, not by a large corporation. "If people can figure out how to build houses as easily as building a hang-glider, the problem collapses".

This approach is called open source technology; individual and anonymous participation in the group process of design that shares knowledge without claiming intellectual property. Open source technology is the cooperative process that made creating Linux and Hang-gliding possible. Through internet technology, this process has the potential to become Easy, Effective and Fast. Any design can be accomplished this way, by any group of individuals, regardless of location or background. Steven Weber, author of 'The Success of Open Source' points out that this process allows designers to become engaged as a hobby, and seldom requires funding. Look up 'De Twaalf Ambachten' for proof of success using this approach. Design is being developed using 'Open Source Technology', which Demotech has embraced as a key tool for effecting change. In his publication 'Missing tools for U.N. Rights, Duties and Responsibilities, Article 9 part c', Reinder explains how using the internet makes is possible for individuals to engage themselves in research around the globe. Demotech is making good use of this technology to inspire people around the world towards the process of innovative redesign as a method towards sustainability.

Open source will NOT replace consumer-based, corporate innovation, but can and must function parallel to it. Why? Because open source technological development is currently the most effective known means for creating designs focused entirely upon the people and environment; technology centered the VALUES of the population. In contrast to open source, corporate design must be owned and sold to succeed. Open source design must instead be functional, and useful. Sustainability technology, as described by Reinder as necessary for our society's future, for both the developed and underdeveloped world, will best be developed through open source.

Where are the solutions which need to be embraced? Not only in Demotech. The best place that new ideas can come from are the minds of young, enthusiastic university students like the ones walking up and down the Tongersestraat every day. ?Free your minds!? Says Reinder, break down the restrictions of conservative thought and look for new ideas. Find the essential ideas that are left behind by corporate designers. Find better ways for people, here and everywhere, to live. The number of different spiders in the world and the diversity of their webs is proof enough that there is always a new solution to an old problem.

Combining a bit of technology, a few student minds, a wider political and philosophical vision, and NOT very much money has been proven to work. It works in both the developed and underdeveloped world. There is, within everyone?s reach the potential for a global leap in technological and social evolution; new internet technology, among many other factors, makes it increasingly possible and likely. The questions are interdisciplinary in the extreme: you need designers to invent, economists to produce, exchange, and distribute, sociologists to organize, psychologists to examine new thinking, politicians to encourage and promote ? it only works if everybody is involved.

Re-designing the way we live can have one simple end result: more joy for all. Because, at the beginning and the end, isn't that what economics is all about?

Demotech work has always benefited from student participation in work placements and otherwise. Reinder expects that this will continue in Maastricht. For more information, contact: or check out the 'Get Involved' section of the Demotech Website,

  • Demotech's website:
  • Victor Papanek, 'Designs for the Real World'
  • Yayasan Mandiri ? Student organization in Indonesia we worked within 1980, still active.
  • European Youth For Action ? Student group in Europe working towards environmental goals.
  • DTO Duurzame Technologische Ontwikkeling, Dutch university project on sustainable development.
  • Steve Weber, The success of Open Source

    Publications by Demotech : Demotech and the one man behind it all...
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