Tools for Self Reliance
Tools for Self Reliance (www.tfsr.org) is an international development charity in the United Kingdom which recycles and refurbishes tools and sewing machines and supplies them to partners in Africa in conjunction with training programmes.
TSFR has a network of volunteers in the UK who repair donated tools and prepare boxed sets suitable for use by artisans and small-scale enterprises in Africa. The main recipient countries are Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Malawi.
The original values behind the establishment of Tools for Self Reliance were outlined in a book, Questioning Development by Glyn Roberts. This argued that Northern volunteer-sending organisations should analyse "underdevelopment" in terms of power, and should act in solidarity with manual workers in the Third World. In November 1978, Roberts and other returned volunteers joined with students in Portsmouth in house-to-house collections of unwanted tools. In June 1979, a first consignment of 1,400 refurbished tools went to SIDO, the Small Industries Development Organisation in Tanzania. Tanzania was selected because of its development philosophy and policies, outlined most notably in the Arusha Declaration (1967) by President Julius Nyerere. Many who got involved with Tools for Self Reliance found the principles inspiring. (One of these pioneers was Eddie Grimble who, thirty-four years later, is still actively involved!)
The tools idea took off very rapidly, with collecting and refurbishing groups forming in England, Wales and Scotland, and soon an influx of tools threatened to overwhelm the tiny volunteer administration based in Gosport. Much of 1979 and 1980 was spent trying to form an efficient yet democratic organisational structure for the NGO, and also seeking premises large enough to cope with the storage, refurbishment and shipping of tools. In 1980, Tools for Self Reliance was registered as a non-profit company and a year later, with support from Peter Gardner and the Minstead Lodge community, it raised a loan to buy a dilapidated property at Netley Marsh, near Southampton. It gained charitable status in 1982.
Throughout much of the 1980s Tools for Self Reliance struggled to survive, with 60-70 volunteer groups across the country putting in thousands of hours of practical and administrative work. Schools, universities, Rotarians and churches backed them up with tool collections, transport and money. Funds were always limited, though the situation occasionally improved thanks to a successful BBC Week's Good Cause appeal by Bishop Trevor Huddleston (1983), and support from Quaker and other foundations. Conflict arose in the mid-eighties when certain local groups wished to restructure the organisation and locate its headquarters further to the north.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s most of these problems had diminished and the organisation was providing some 40-50,000 tools a year to seven countries in Africa and Central America. Tools for Self Reliance built up long-term partnerships with indigenous organisations as they, in turn, gave training and support to the young and unemployed, to women's groups, to disabled people and refugees. Another key area was the promotion of village (blacksmith) tool production and repair, and, through its overseas partners, Tools for Self Reliance sponsored tool-making competitions, conferences and exhibitions, at the district, national and international level.
Tools for Self Reliance always aimed to be more than a vehicle for technical assistance by insisting that simply providing tools and training will not solve world-wide poverty, which has deeper roots in the unfair distribution of power between and within nations. By the mid 1990s, similar organisations had formed in Europe, Australia and Japan, and Tools for Self Reliance was taking its message to international conferences such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Geneva, 1990) and the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen (1995).
- Keeping Something Alive by Glyn Roberts and Mark Smith, (Brill Books, 2008, 128 pp. ISBN 978-1-906274-07-8) answers the question, "How - and why - did Tools for Self Reliance actually begin?". It goes on to describe the organisation's ups and downs during its first 17 years.
- Tools for Self Reliance, Registered Charity no. 280437 at the Charity Commission
- Make Poverty History: Who We Are. Accessed 11 February 2011
- Questioning Development 1974, Returned Volunteer Action, ISBN 0 906415-18-7