From technology to talk – how to develop business in poor, rural areas in Colombia

To transfer technology solutions – from a university to a rural, low-income area – is not a straight forward act. Deycy Sánchez Preciado, researcher in Innovation Science at Halmstad University, has identified three features that enable this technology transfer to local producers. It is all about understanding, trust and time: clear roles of the participants and networks are crucial, as well as prior experience in technology transfer projects, along with intermediary organisations.

”The goal is to improve the conditions for how the producers receive new technology and knowledge. This can lead to a development of their production activities and finances, improve time efficiency or a better use of natural resources”, says Deycy Sánchez Preciado who defended her doctoral thesis on the subject earlier this year.

Interaction between parties

Deycy Sánchez Preciado’s research addresses the technology transfer process in rural, low income economies. The case in focus aims at improving silk, fish, and coffee production in Cauca, a region in Colombia. Technology transfer refers to the movement of objects and knowledge from for example a university to a producer or a cooperative – and Deycy Sánchez Preciado’s points out that little has been known about how the two parties interaction.

An example of such technology is a new design of a fish pond. The fish pond is easy to clean and reduces contamination and water usage. Another example is to use waste, or by-products, from the fish production to produce pellets to feed other fish. Pellets production is nothing new – but this small-scale production with leftovers from ordinary fish production creates a niche market for other smaller companies.

Deycy Sánchez Preciado has 10 years research experience in Science and Technology for small scale producers in rural environments. She started working with a project in Cauca on the business side regarding the competitiveness of the region. Through the project Deycy Sánchez Preciado came in contact with Jonas Rundquist, Associate Professor at Halmstad University at the time, which led to the start of her PhD-studies at Halmstad University.

Enablers of the transfer

Deycy Sánchez Preciado has identified three very relevant – but previously not so much dealt with in the technology transfer literature – features which are enablers of technology transfer in rural low-income economies.

Firstly, the importance of intermediary organisations, which often are non-governmental organisations (NGO). The local producers or businesses analysed in this study have limited market reach, small financial margins and they also handle low value-added products. Therefore, there is a large information and knowledge gap between the transferor of the technology and the producers. An important factor is also to make the process fit the fish-, coffee- and silk-producers – not the other way around. For this, intermediary organisations are crucial as they facilitate the interaction, or work as a form of brokers. Also, the technical expert often has limited knowledge about how to bring his or her findings to such a rural context, so different from the university environment.

”Many of these producers only have basic skills when it comes to reading and writing, and they might not have an everyday, common knowledge that they share with a researcher from a university, who has developed for example a new fish tank design. The producers are used to work in practice, they grow fish and sell it in the market, but they are not used to strategic decisions or creating a business plan. So, the technology transfer is relying on the intermediary organisation to wrap the information in a way that the producers can understand.”

Networks are crucial

The second feature is closely related: the importance of networks and well-defined roles of other participants to make the technology easier to understand for the rural producers. It can be NGO:s, universities or companies, who focuses on the process rather than just getting new products out on the market. The process can be about looking at local needs or contexts. For example: Can producers use a new design of a fish pond or is the material needed to expensive? Is the local market mature enough to be interested in an improved product? Is there infrastructure to support an increased production of fish?

Thirdly, the technology transfer is dependent on prior experience, many years of previous work together, which enables the complex relationship between the participants, ie the researchers, producers and the intermediary organisations. There is a mutual understanding in which technology transfer is not a ‘short-term fix’ for production and growth, but rather a part of a long-term strategy to create a culture of innovation and technological learning.

”Somewhat surprising I found that non-technical aspects of the relationship between the participants are important. Working together over a long period of time creates trust and generates knowledge of the terms of conditions under which the producers work, so that the intermediary organisation can give adequate support.”

Soft values count

Soft values – not only knowledge about technology, fish, production and businesses – are very important, and the way the intermediaries and producers evolve together after years of collaboration.

”Most important is that the producers feel comfortable talking with people outside their own community, it creates a link that is more important than the technical aspects. And the producers can forget a technical aspect but they don’t forget you and that you are part of their team.”

To continue this research, Deycy Sánchez Preciado is part of a team that is writing a proposal to study the use of participatory tools to implement construction technologies in Ethiopia.

Text and photo: Kristina Rörström

Note: Deycy Sánchez Preciado dedicates her doctoral thesis to her grandparents, and to Jonas Rundquist, associate professor in industrial organisation at Halmstad University, who passed away a few years ago.

Read more

Read the thesis: Developing Technology Transfer Processes in rural contexts: The case of Cauca in Colombia External link, opens in new window.

University of Cauca External link, opens in new window.

About the thesis – publications

This doctoral thesis is based on the five papers listed below and an introductory text consisting of 10 chapters. The five appended papers are the following:

Theodorakopoulos, N., Preciado, D. J. S., & Bennett, D. (2012). Transferring technology from university to rural industry within a developing economy context: The case for nurturing communities of practice. Technovation, 32(9), 550-559.

Theodorakopoulos, N., Bennett, D., & Sánchez Preciado, D. J. (2014). Intermediation for technology diffusion and user innovation in a developing rural economy: A social learning perspective. Entrepreneurship & Regional Development, 26(7-8), 645-662.

Sánchez Preciado, D. J., Claes, B., & Theodorakopoulos, N. (2016). Transferring intermediate technologies to rural enterprises in developing economies: a conceptual framework. Prometheus, 34(2), 153-170.

Sánchez Preciado, D. J. (2018). Enabling transfer of intermediate technologies - A rural business project case in rural Colombia. Submitted to Journal of Rural Studies.

Sánchez Preciado, D. J., Holmén, M. & Ljungberg, D. (2018). Evolution of systems of technology transfer in rural developing economies. Submitted to 17th Conference International Schumpeter Society.

Deycy Janeth Sánchez Preciado is an Assistant Professor in Industrial Organisation at Halmstad University. Her thesis in Innovation Sciences is called: Developing Technology Transfer Processes in rural contexts: The case of Cauca in Colombia.

She is a part of the Research Group Regional Models for Competitiveness at the University of Cauca and Productivity and Innovation Regional Centre CREPIC (Colombia).
Deycy Sánchez Preciado is a lecturer and researcher in Management of Technology at the University of Cauca.

The area of Innovation Science at Halmstad University has a focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, learning, corporate governance, management, business development and marketing, especially from an international perspective.

It includes studies of how internal and external factors affecting innovation processes and how ideas achieve success in the market that is becoming innovations

This may involve studying the management of development processes in order to achieve its strategic goals or studies of market or other external conditions for the contractor, company, region or industrial innovation and economic growth.