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[JAKARTA] Leading alumni from an Indonesian technology institution have developed an unusual method for helping villagers benefit from research.

Successful educators, entrepreneurs and policymakers who graduated from Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) 30 years ago have set up a scheme in which academics visit villagers and find out what their challenges are. Solutions are then solicited by emailing descriptions of the problems to the ITB's alumni network.

The project, known as 'villages of innovation' has been piloted in two villages for two months so far.

The goal of the project is to bridge the gap between academics and villagers and tailor technologies to the latter's needs, Didi Ahmadi Djamhir, a field officer from the ITB's alumni team, told SciDev.Net. Didi said a team goes to the village and discusses the villagers' skills and needs.

"After the dialogue, we distribute the case to the alumni's mailing list and discuss the right solution."

The five-year programme — funded by ITB's class of 1981 and personal donations — also aims to use advanced technology to help people in rural areas improve their livelihoods.

A pilot project began in the village of Guntur Mekar in West Java, last month. The first technology to be introduced, an ITB-developed method to turn animal dung into biogas for alternative energy, is expected to boost the economic benefits of traditional cattle farming in the village.

"[Villagers] just pile up the dung without using it for other purposes. We hope that by applying biogas technology they will get other benefits," Nomo Ruswanto, a field coordinator from ITB's Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Agency, told SciDev.Net.

In the second project, in Cipanas village, the people were traditionally bamboo craftsmen. Alumni from the ITB's School of Design worked with villagers to widen the range of designs they produced.

In the future, the scheme aims to provide support for creating markets for a village's products.

It is now looking for alternative funding sources and ideas, and plans to expand to a total of 14 villages in the next five years.

Max Pohan, deputy minister for regional development and local autonomy at Indonesia's National Development Planning Agency, said he welcomed this kind of community-based programme.

"This is a very good programme for rural development, although it is still on a micro scale. But it may coordinate its activities with the regional development planning agency," he said.