Climate change | Blogs

  • Climate change – the last call?

    Margaret Gardner

    December 6th, 2015

    Not a history lesson but a reminder of the urgency of moving from talk to practical action.

    In 1972 a group of scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a highly respected US university) published a report ‘The last call’.  In it they argued that the planets resources were finite and we were getting close to the limit.  We could slow down, change course, find a new pattern to our existence slowly or continue as now eventually leading to catastrophic change.

    Whichever way change was coming.

    A few months ago I sat in the House of Commons and watched a film about the report and what followed. The Club of Rome published a book called ‘The Limits to Growth’ which sold 30 million copies. President Carter embraced the idea and talked to the American people about change. But President Reagan who followed revoked the idea, insisting growth was good, growth was essential to the American way of life.

    Forty plus years on it was a history lesson. But in some ways the Carter – Reagan tension continues played out on a bigger, now global scale.

    Change is happening.

    flooding in BangladeshFor many poor communities catastrophic change is already happening with the increased frequency and strength of cyclones, more flooding, more drought. In Ethiopia they are facing the worst drought for 30 years. In Zimbabwe when I was there earlier this year I heard people talking about changes in rainfall patterns that were devastating harvests.

    In the UK this weekend in the North of England and Scotland we’re experiencing severe flooding. And over the past decade in the UK we’ve seen record breaking rainfall (and our records go back to 1879). It’s impossible to link any individual severe weather event with climate change – but these increases in the severity of rain i.e. harder, more intense rainfall, tie in with the predicted impacts.

    The reality is that poorest and therefore most vulnerable people – whether in the developing world or in the UK – feel the impact of climate change first and hardest . We need to take action.

    The Time for Change is now.

    The perceived tension between protecting our planet and economic growth continues to polarise the climate change debate. But if we grow in a way that destroys our ability to inhabit our planet – how does that make sense?

    As world leaders gather in Paris for the UNFCCC meeting I read in the press that there’s optimism a deal can be agreed – not enough to keep warming below the vital limit of 2 degrees but a step in the right direction.

    I also read that we may have hit a peak in emissions.

    And that renewable energy is now outperforming fossil fuels.

    Maybe change is starting?

    But for change to happen it needs to move beyond political agreement

    Agreement in Paris will be a first step in the right direction. But even if there is agreement the ‘devil will be in the detail.’  Fine words are relatively easy but implementation more difficult – and sometimes easy to ignore, or just too difficult to make happen.

    So sadly to repeat the words of MIT 43 years ago – change is coming, it will happen, we can plan or we can have it forced upon us but the days of choice are getting shorter and the human stakes much higher.

    I believe that if we care about poverty reduction, about people and our planet, we will make immediate, deep and binding change happen now. And plan so that what I hope will be the amazing rhetoric of the UNFCCC conference, the great agreement becomes experienced reality.

    This next week is a time of opportunity – lets hope our world leaders step up and make change happen.



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  • From adaptation to mitigation at COP21

    Chris Henderson

    December 4th, 2015

    Week 1 – agriculture and adaptation

    COP21 got off to a rousing start, with some inspirational speeches by heads of state and world leaders. The objective was to inspire and guide the negotiators, however, the promises made appear to have been quickly dampened by national interests resulting in slower than expected progress, and even weakened options.

    Terrace training Shagra A Nairobi Work Programme

    The first week was dominated by matters concerning agriculture, forests, pastoralism and risk and adaptation. The Nairobi Work Programme on Adaptation (NWP), which feeds adaptation learning into SBSTA, the Subsiduary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice, discussed and presented a range of case studies for successful approaches to adaptation.

    But simply putting case studies on websites is totally insufficient. NWP, SBSTA and their members need to facilitate genuine knowledge transfer systems, which can ensure that all stakeholders, including smallholder famers, can access and utilise this knowledge for effective and inclusive climate change adaptation.

    The need for Technology Justice

    Parties remain cautious over agriculture and its potential to disrupt the negotiations. Factors underpinning this anxiety include concerns about developed nations expecting agriculture to be used for mitigation, and the need – and right – of developing nations to have unrestricted development of their food systems and land use. We continue to advocate for Technology Justice to inform all these decisions. In agriculture, this means greater use of agroecological practices and systems approaches (knowledge and markets) to ensure a just transition for developing countries.

    Human Rights Sidelined

    Ultimately, the revised draft text released earlier this week is a negative development. The removal of human rights language from the main text to the non-binding preamble undermines the notion of the expected agreement being rooted in justice for all global populations, both now and in the future. This is likely to be a major debate over the coming days as civil society pushes back against this development.

    Week 2 – mitigation and energy

    Solar energy in NepalAccelerating energy access

    The focus in week 2 moves from adaptation and agriculture, to mitigation and energy. While much of the focus is likely to be on the big-emitting nations and technologies, Practical Action will be calling for negotiators to recognise and prioritise the importance of the agreement in shaping future energy access approaches for the 2 billion under-served poor populations globally. This is the biggest opportunity of the century to help developing countries leapfrog towards clean, renewable energy technologies, with a focus on decentralised energy systems to reach the poorest and most marginalised communities.

    Gender and social justice

    The second week is also the key moment for gender with Tuesday 8th December, gender and climate change day.  This is late to influence the negotiations, although if negotiations are progressing slowly the events held on this day may still be able to mobilise political will.  The negotiations are stalled currently due to a failure to reach agreement on gender.

    What is clear is that the agreement must tackle inequality and put climate justice, human rights and gender equality at the heart of the new climate deal. Climate change is a gross social injustice exacerbating inequality and burdening poor people with impacts that they did little to create. We are not going to eradicate poverty and injustice without tackling equity in all its forms.

    Other relevant blogs

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  • Flood early warning systems save lives and reduce losses

    Mokhlesur Rahman

    December 1st, 2015

    Despite making significant progress in social development, Bangladesh remains at high risk of natural disasters like flood, river erosion, cyclones, tidal surges and drought. Due to changing climate, all these are expected to increase in intensity and frequency. In addition, temperature, erratic monsoon rainfall, sea level and salinity intrusion are all expected to increase which will have a severe impact on lives, livelihoods and food security, particularly for poor people in Bangladesh. Thus, working to help them adapt is a key step. As grassroots development professional, I see there is a gap and international actors have much more to do. We expect COP21 will highlight some of these issues.

    Our efforts on adaptation

    flooding in SiragonjWe have been working with poor communities to strengthen their ability to use technology to cope with threats of natural disasters and environmental degradation. One of the many approaches is to focus on improving vulnerable communities’ ability to prepare for natural disasters so that they can survive and rebuild lives and livelihoods after disasters. Working through a project titled From Vulnerability to Resilience: Capitalizing on Public Investment‘, funded by Zurich Foundation, in Sirajganj district. The project tries to improve resilience capacities of 52,942 households of 15 flood-vulnerable Unions by effective use of weather forecasts, flood early warnings and technological innovations and improved disaster governance. Recently, we conducted a monitoring visit to understand the level of impact and how people are adapting. I came across two examples from the project that really impressed me and which I would like to share with experts of the field which might serve as food for thought.

    CASE1: Simple Information can save life and reduce loss

    Abul Hossain is a 60 year old poor farmer from Belkuchi Upazila of Sirajganj district. He is a dyeing worker but also works as day labourer in the agriculture sector. He has 4 sons and 3 daughters. He does not have enough cultivatable land to provide a livelihood for family members. He has 3 cows and 4 goats as alternative means of livelihood. His house is close to the Jamuna river and every year his house is affected by flooding, so during monsoon he is scared. In previous years, his house was damaged by flood. Thus, he had to leave house with his cattle and goats to take shelter on higher land. But, this year, he was alerted by an early warning message from a local volunteer.  On 10 August 2015, he received a message that informed him flooding was coming in 5 days. So, following the instructions of the volunteer, he raised his cattle plinth. As a result, his cattle were saved and unaffected from the flood.

    CASE2: Early SMS saved to decide
    18964Anisur Rahman is a farmer of Kaliahoripur Union of Sirajgonj, who lives near the flood prone river Jamuna. On the land he got from his parents he cultivates various seasonal crops. Beside crops cultivation, he also has a small pond when he breeds fish during rainy season. If luck favours him, he gets a good harvest; sometimes the floods take away all his fish. Some indigenous fish also  enter into the pond what he uses for his family consumption. This year in August 2015 he received a short message by mobile phone from Bangladesh Water Development Board, brought to him by project volunteer, Asanur Begum. The message informed that over the coming 5 days there was a possibility of the water rising. Swiftly,  he caught the maximum number of fish from his pond and sold them in the nearby market.  After he sold the fish, he saw his pond overflow with flood water.  For Anisur this simple message saved his livelihood.


    Natural disasters cause extensive loss and damage to the lives and livelihoods of people living in flood prone areas like Sirajganj district of Bangladesh. On one hand, we need to continue and strengthen our efforts to prevent natural disasters.We also need to innovate technology and its application so that people can reduce damage and loss. Localized early warning messages offer one such effective technological application which has been very effective for reducing disaster loss and damage to disaster prone areas of Bangladesh.

    Can we expect a global agreement will give more attention to this area and help climate vulnerable people to better adapt?

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  • Will COP21 deliver a Paris Protocol?

    Colin McQuistan

    November 25th, 2015

    Have the global negotiations for a new climate agreement switched from a marathon to an egg and spoon race?

    We are now in the final leg of the marathon negotiations for a new climate agreement. At the last meeting in Bonn, the negotiators were expected to intensify their pace, but by the end of the meeting it was clear no one had sped up, if anything the pace had slowed. We are now entering the final sprint to the line. In 5 days the 21st Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in Paris. Without a sprint finish it is unlikely that an effective Paris Protocol will be signed.

    Great Climate RaceThe Great Climate Race is just one example of what communities around the world are doing to tackle climate change. A fund raising run/walk to raise money for community solar power, because climate change is a race against time!

    So what are the core stumbling blocks in the way of delivering a Paris Protocol?

    The first barrier is a long standing one around whether developed and developing nations should be treated differently. The issue known as “differentiation” remains a significant hurdle. To be effective the new agreement must build on the original convention text around common but differentiated responsibilities. But it must update the text to match today’s reality and be dynamic to evolve as the world changes. Historical emissions must not be ignored, but the changing dynamics of global emissions means that the text must be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances.

    The second barrier is around finance. For poor and developing nations allocating sufficient resources will be vital to deliver the agreement. At the Copenhagen COP in 2009 developed countries committed to mobilise jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020. A lack of clarity around these contributions, double counting of existing development assistance and the role of the private sector all continue to hinder progress in this respect.

    Egg-and-spoon raceThirdly, Loss and Damage continues to divide parties. Some countries hope to see it embedded within the heart of the agreement, while others suggested it should be removed. Lack of action to reduce emissions will lead to a greater need for adaptation. Lack of finance for adaptation will lead to accelerating Loss and Damage. The logic is clear, but still Loss and Damage fails to receive the recognition and importance it deserves.

    The Paris COP is supposed to light the way for governments to finally deliver an effective global response to the threat of climate change. However, to avoid another failed UN sponsored global conference it will be vital for politicians to put in the additional legwork to make the Paris Protocol a reality.

    We don’t just want an agreement, we need a robust agreement that delivers. Human rights, gender equality and the issue of a just transition must be central to the agreement. A human rights centred agreement offers a holistic approach that makes the connections between the economic, social, cultural, ecological and political dimensions, and links what we are doing to tackle climate change with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction.  Is this too much for our children to ask for?

    Further information

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  • Solar Power Cart: One stop solution for post cyclone energy need

    Ananta Prasad

    November 3rd, 2015

    We tend to think of development, not in terms of evolution, but in terms of creation. ~ EF Schumacher

    Based on a trolley (3-wheeler) this new innovation of a Solar Power Cart “Soura Ratha” can produce up to 1KW green energy which will provide hassle free power supply in emergency situations. On the eve of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Day and Odisha Disaster Preparedness Day, the first prototype of the Soura Ratha is publicly displayed at the Exhibition unveiled by the Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Patnaik here at Bhubaneswar. It is noted that during disaster, once charged, this innovation can provide emergency energy for continuous 72 hours.

    IMG_5824 (Cópia)It was the occasion of National Day for Disaster Reduction, 29th October when the team Energy, Practical Action, Odisha decided & influenced its partners to demonstrate a model of Solar Power Plant on wheels, the first of its kind in the state. The Solar Power Cart so developed was displayed b state level function at Bhubaneswar, which was inaugurated by the Honourable Chief Minister of Odisha. The project was taken up in collaboration with Climate Parliament and sponsored by Odisha Renewable Energy Development Authority (OREDA) & Odisha State Disaster Management Authority (OSDMA). The design & development partner was Desi Technology Solutions, a private firm who had been partnering with Practical Action since long

    The cart is designed to meet the energy requirement in the inaccessible disaster prone areas in specific & as required by the community in general. It is proposed to be placed at the Cyclone Shelters already built by OSDMA and operate from there as per local need. The idea is that the solar panel and the battery bank along with the appliances would be loaded on a hand pulled cart and can be taken to various unreached areas and provides energy solution such as illumination, water pumping, clear water logging by pumping out the stagnate water in emergency, charging of mobile phones, running emergency communication equipment etc.

    Designed technically to serve at the Cyclone shelter centres, it is well equipped and first of its kind innovation. The senior officials from state administration appreciated the initiative during their visit today and this may be considered for a larger level implementation in the state. This has technically be designed to be stationed at Cyclone Shelter centres which the government can plan to take it forward.

    IMG_5782 (Cópia)“Accessing energy and power for basic needs like charging mobiles or emergency lights or using water pumps for water was always a challenge post disaster. Even during Phailin in 2013, there was complete power back-out in most of the places in Ganjam District for more than a week. To address this issue and to be well prepared before disaster, this new innovation will be much helpful and ideal,” adds Mr Sanjit Behera, Energy Expert from Practical Action.

    In addition this Solar Power cart has additional features such as the movability is not dependent on any fuel and it’s a hand pulled cart easily installed and can also be dismantled as and when required. This is a compact solution loaded with appliances and can provide services like Illumination, water pumping, charging of mobiles, laptops and charge lights etc. This has an indigenous and futuristic design which can work both in Solar and grid power. “Though it has scope to further modification, but it is of low cost looking at its usage and needs easy maintenance,” said Mr Behera from Practical Action.

    Now the cart had been displayed at a state level annual science exhibition organised by Sri Aurobindo Bigyan Parishad where more than 500 students & parents from all across the state participated and learnt about the cart, the real use & utility of solar energy for humankind. The cart is also roaming around the city educating the masses about its usage and use during emergency.

    This innovation has also been featured in different publications such as The Hindu, The New Indian Express, The Pioneer, The Orissadiary and many more.

    Written By Sanjit Ku Behera.

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  • Reflecting on technology in the lead up to COP21, Paris

    Aaron Leopold

    October 16th, 2015

    These videos outline the background to the UNFCCC meetings held recently in preparation for the vital COP21 climate change talks in Paris at the end of November.

    Technology needs assessment

    Over the past year developing countries have been identifying their priority technology needs, to provide a basis for a portfolio of environmentally sustainable technology development.


    The opportunities of decentralised renewable energy


    In depth technical paper to facilitate detailed planning

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  • Knowledge for Life

    Colin McQuistan

    October 13th, 2015

    An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory” EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful

    IDDR2015 sm

    Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) a celebration of efforts to reduce disaster risk worldwide. The theme selected by UNISDR is “Knowledge for Life”, to celebrate the contribution of local knowledge to building resilience within communities. But we must not forget that 2015 is a critical year for several other reasons.

    2015 has been a landmark year for global negotiations aimed at placing planetary wellbeing on a sustainable trajectory. In Japan in March, governments met to discuss Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and agreed the Sendai Framework for DRR[1]. In September in New York, the member states of the United Nations (UN) met to agree the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[2]. The final mile of the marathon 2015 negotiations will take place in December, when the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) aims to deliver a global climate agreement.


    These processes must recognise the value that local knowledge can make to solve global problems. This is in spite of the fact that many indigenous communities are not responsible for these problems. In a recent special report[3] the causal links between climate change and extreme weather events such as heat waves, record high temperatures and heavy precipitation were documented. Inaction to tackle climate change has resulted in the greatest impact being felt by the poorest and most vulnerable.

    Today, as we examine the potential for indigenous knowledge, it is a good time to recognise the wealth of information often overlooked by established science and especially policy makers. Local indigenous knowledge has taken generations to evolve, respects local carrying capacities and is strongly linked to local culture. As a result it is seldom written down and therefore rarely interfaced with scientific based enquiry. We need to make more of the potential to link indigenous with scientific knowledge and the development of technologies is one crucial area.

    Blog IK diagram

    Transferring existing technologies will not be enough. More systemic, locally designed technologies will be required that respond to local challenges. These must integrate local knowledge and build on traditional skills. Transposing technology from elsewhere can lock in risk. For example infrastructure designed in temperate climates may not work in the tropics, materials will vary and local skills to maintain will differ. Practical Action has worked for 50 years with communities in South America, Africa and South Asia to better understand the development challenges they face, central to this work has been valuing indigenous knowledge through the evolving concept of technology justice.

    • More than 226 million people are affected by disasters every year. Over the last 40 years, most of the 3.3 million deaths caused by disasters occurred in poorer nations.
    • In 2000-2010, over 680,000 people died in earthquakes. Most of these deaths, due to poorly-built buildings, could have been prevented.
    • Only about 4% of official development assistance was invested into pre-event risk management, for every dollar spent on preparedness the returns are considerable.
    • Between 2002 and 2011, there were 4,130 recorded natural hazards, in which more than 1.117 million people perished and a minimum of US$1,195 billion was recorded in losses.




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  • Multi-faceted poverty and contextual intervention: Tale of Ranjit

    Mokhlesur Rahman

    October 12th, 2015

    Poverty is a multi-faceted problem:

    In recent development discourse, poverty alleviation programmes acknowledge poverty has multi-dimensional aspects. Impact evidence from around the world demonstrates the same. Thus, development interventions need to understand those aspects when designing solutions. Therefore, it is not surprising, while agriculture inputs support work for someone, light engineering may work better for someone else. And some others may find cattle rearing or small trading are more suitable for their livelihood than any others. Over the last 6 years, the Extreme Poverty Programme of Practical Action, Bangladesh has learned how to design development interventions in this context. The learning has been guiding us to identify and develop appropriate solutions for poverty alleviation in the context of river erosion.

    Solution never goes through liner line:

    In my last blog post, I tried to convey how skills training can play an important role in reducing poverty at an individual level and can support reducing disaster risk and vulnerability at the community level. Similarly, in another blog, I stressed how local led technology and agricultural inputs support to river eroded poor people help to drive out of poverty. To add to these, I am going to focus on how light engineering can also help people to challenge poverty and move towards self-reliance.


    Ranjit is repairing a cycle in his shop

    Tale of Ranjit:

    Ranjit Ray is a youth of 24. He lives with his mother and brother at Hudur Bazar in Rajpur union of Sadar Upazilla of Lalmonirhat district in Bangladesh. The family has been living on the embankment since 1994. In early 2013, Ranjit was selected as beneficiary and give training on light engineering. Subsequently, in May, 2013, he also received training on repairing rickshaw-vans. After his training, he rented a small shop adjacent to his village Hudur bazar at the rate of BDT100/per month. Since, then he has been running it. Now, it is going well and on average, he earns BDT300 (US$ 3.80) per day.


    Ranjit is repairing a rickshaw

    With this income, he repaired his house at a cost of BDT 2000 (US$25) and leased 10 decimal of land for BDT 12,000 (US$ 152). He has ensured access to safe drinking water and installed an improved latrine. At present, he also has good clothes to wear and can obtain better food. Social acceptance has been increased within his local community. He dreams of establishing a small business for spare parts. To materialize his dream, he has started saving from his income. Looking back to his past, he finds the training was very effective and changed his life.  In his words,

    “If every young person had vocational skill development training and tried to utilize their own skills, s/he would become self-reliant. I am grateful to OVA and Practical Action, Bangladesh for bringing such change in my life.”



    Poverty has structural as well as functional concerns. Being a development professional, we cannot bring or expect change in structural spheres overnight. It takes time. However, we certainly can bring some changes in functional areas. Our development interventions provide evidence to claim ‘the vicious circle of poverty’ can be prevented! We should keep trying to do that!

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  • Volunteerism, Community Services and Story of Abdul Khaleque

    Mokhlesur Rahman

    October 4th, 2015


    Volunteerism has a long history in Bangladesh. It was mostly local led and initiated by local youths. It was very much context, time and location specific. Different local youth clubs took different initiatives like building bamboo bridges, road construction in remote areas, providing non-formal education teaching in a school, organizing drama and sports competition etc. However, since the emergence of development organizations in Bangladesh, volunteerism had been practiced widely for addressing different local and national problems. Even there are some cases of success (like in disaster management), but mostly NGOs facilitated volunteerism is a failure attempt. This write up is focused on narratives of an individual volunteer- Abdul Khaleque who has been providing volunteer services to his community and can be considered to be a successful volunteer.


    Khaleque measuring the water level

    Khaleque measuring the water level

    Mohammad Abdul Khaleque (38) lives in Belkuchi Upazila of Sirajganj District. He is from a poor but large (8) family. In 1997, when his father died, he left only 10 decimal of land and a hut for all the family members. In the following year, his mother also died. Therefore, they were in a very miserable situation. As in the meantime, his only one sister got married and other four brothers started living separately. Therefore, after death of his parents, he started living with one his brother’s family. Due to poverty, he could not continue his schooling after grade seven. When he was 21, his brother and other relatives arranged for his marriage and he got married and started living with his wife separately (not with his brother’s family). He used to earn his livelihood by selling manual labour but it was not easy for people like him who always get affected erosion of Jamuna river. There was no adequate job round the year. Thus, his family suffered from a shortage of food.

    Skilled Volunteerism:

    After starting the V2R (Vulnerability to Resilience) project in Sirajganj District in 2009, he was selected as a Skill Volunteer (Livestock) to provide support for building resilient community. To provide appropriate support, he got 18-day training (15-days-long basic technical training on livestock health services and 3-day training on disaster preparedness and response) in 2010. As input support, the project also provided basic equipment to perform the duties of a Skill Volunteer (Livestock). Similarly, under TAM TAM project, he has also been selected and trained up as a ‘Gauge Reader’ (water level measuring) on August 2014 by Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC) of Bangladesh Water Development Board. He also got equipment support for disseminating the Flood Early Warning. Therefore, as a volunteer, he collects water level reading 5 times daily and send to the FFWC. FFWC gives message to all enlisted community.   Still today, he continues with these activities.


    Khaleque is providing livestock services as paravet

    Family livelihood:

    For his livelihood, he provides livestock treatment services to community people. In the meantime, because of good services, people started calling him from 7-8 neighboring villagers. Providing services on livestock, every day on an average he earns BDT400-500 (approximately USD 5-6). Through this income and confidence gained working for community, he managed to save some money and make assets. As of today, he built a ten shed house spending BDT 1,75,000 and has taken mortgage of 66 decimal land by BDT 75,000. He also purchased 2 cattle by BDT47, 000 for fatting. For safe drinking water, he installed a Tube Well and set up a latrine for sanitation.

    He told me:


    Khaleque is at his medicine shop

    “I am grateful to V2R Project that enlightens my life. Now, my children are going to school regularly. I have built linkage/networking with Government and Non-government agencies and departments to improve quality of services. I have established a medicine pharmacy in my house.”      

    In future, he plans to continue and expand the livestock treatment activities and medicine pharmacy. He will buy motor cycle for providing services to more people. Even he started working as volunteer but now people know him as livestock Paravet. He feels so proud for it and happy with present life.


    Once upon a time when volunteerism was community led and it had its own mechanism for existence. However, while NGOs started applying customized volunteerism (like driving their priorities, paying certain portion of the expenditure and asking contribution for others from community) has polluted the spirit of volunteerism. However, there are still some good examples where NGOs support for developing skills of the community volunteer and linking with income earning opportunity. Abdul Khaleque is one such volunteer who received training and supports for developing his skills to earn his bread. Till today, it has been working!

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  • Knowledge systems, chains and grids

    Rob Cartridge

    September 28th, 2015

    Last week I was pleased to attend the launch of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) manifesto at DFID. It’s a really handy guide to the role of knowledge brokers, how they should go about their tasks and why they are so important. Whilst the launch of the manifesto has conveniently arrived ahead of COP21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference), I think the models and lessons from this document have wider importance for knowledge brokers across all sectors.

    In particular, the necessity to understand the needs of the audience is one of the main items highlighted by the CKB. This seems a straightforward observation, but it’s easily forgotten because the links between knowledge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ are rarely as simple as they appear on paper. I found this recognition particularly relevant to our work: the ‘chain’ between the creators of knowledge and those that will find it useful is complex. It’s also full of gaps, with actors often possessing neither the will nor the way to pass knowledge on.

    courtesy of Jerry Manas

    courtesy of Jerry Manas

    For knowledge brokers like Practical Answers, we must act effectively in both directions: communicating the needs of our consumers to our suppliers whilst formatting, contextualising and organising information to make knowledge accessible and appropriate for our users. A great point raised during the meeting, and an approach that we strive for in Practical Answers, was that constantly asking questions is the key to success in knowledge brokering!

    The CKB have also previously talked about a ‘Climate Grid’: a network of brokers, working in a co-ordinated way (digitally and offline) to make sure marginalised communities get access to the knowledge they need.  But I wonder if it’s better to see the whole process as a knowledge system, albeit a complex and ever-changing one. It was clear at the meeting, for example, that people who are running large programmes for DFID are both knowledge creators and knowledge users. A chain, focussed on brokers, tends to underestimate the other influencing factors in the whole knowledge system. When it comes to climate change, everyone is exposed to messages from a whole host of actors beyond formal knowledge brokers, including the media, the private sector, scientific organisations, governments and their community: not to mention special interest groups and lobbyists. In such a complex system, it’s vital to understand these gaps, dynamics and needs to provide knowledge that those on the front line of a changing climate can use.

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