Why does Fritz Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful still have resonance?
Easy to say – it’s the economy stupid! And there would be some truth in that.
Fritz argued that an insistence on reducing everything to mere monetary value so narrowed our world view we became blinkered to things that really count. Our planet, the social value of work, relationships, science that serves people rather than scares them, wisdom. He argued that people need a scale of engagement that they can understand, not something so huge that it’s impossible to comprehend.
Richard Branson claims Small is Beautiful is the most influential book he ever read. At first this had me perplexed but ultimately when I consider his business model you can see the influence – the small building to the big, the multitude into one.
In international development currently there is an obsession with the big – big scale solutions, low transaction costs, multi donor – multi country projects, large scale private sector engagement. I am not saying any of these things are wrong but there needs also to be a consideration of the individual, the human, the understandable and the sustainable.
Water points are a huge problem around the world – there aren’t enough and even more of a scandal are the number that are broken. People in local communities can be trained to repair and maintain but because of the obsession with numbers this is often seen as a distraction and so doesn’t happen. The merry go round continues – water points that break down are abandoned and replaced with more new water points that they in turn break. Just looking at this you can easily see the advantage of local capacity to repair. The small is beautiful, Practical Action approach.
In a world where the economic problems feel massive, where science though exciting is also scary, where huge numbers of people are still living in poverty – I think it’s easy to see why small is still beautiful.
That’s not to say that big isn’t sometimes best – but as Fritz might say let’s not forget the small.