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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Unintended Effects

Nabilah Deen

Jack has been working as a project engineer for a mechanical energy technology firm for a few years now, and has recently been promoted to review projects for in-need communities overseas. He has been put in charge of managing the current company’s charity projects, and determining how to distribute the funding for them.

Some of the projects are pretty straightforward in their mission and material requirement, but for one project, Jack isn’t sure whether the company should be funding it. The project’s mission is to provide new solar panels for an East African community but the project data suggests it is more practical to just install better lighting inside the homes. Jack wonders whether to bring up his doubts with his boss. Based on the company’s research on the community, the community desires better lighting system for their homes, and the solar panels would be an expensive and high maintenance project. Not to mention, there was a previous project that (when followed through) resulted in equipment being stolen from the same region to exchange for money.

Jack understands their local sponsor would gain a great advantage in featuring solar panels in the community. It would also foster a good business partnership between the two companies. However, Jack feels it is his responsibility to provide the community with a more simple and efficient solution to their problem, without diving into a large project that could possibly lead to negative side effects. Is Jack’s company wrong to provide technology to the community when they don’t need it?

Nabilah Deen was a 2014-2015 Hackworth Fellow in Engineering Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

August 2015

Aug 26, 2015