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  • What if you don’t have a toilet, build one now !

    Ananta Prasad

    November 23rd, 2015

    “Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes.” – E. F. Schumacher

    The curiosity was quiet evident on the faces of hundreds of people knowing the fact that, they were being gathered to celebrate World Toilet Day. People in general do not like to talk about ‘shit’ and that has been a global challenge now. Amidst the number of popular days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Water Day and many others we celebrate one more addition is now for Toilet Day and yet people have apprehension about that.

    Yes, in a country like India where more than 50 per cent people defecate in open, talking about ‘shit’ is treated as shitty here. In such a contest there are instances and places where defecating in open is being treated as social and cultural practice. In many villages women actually get chance to mingle with themselves while they go toilet to open field at the dawn.

    Mobile-Toilets-in-IndiaBreaking the barrier of such myths, Practical Action has been advocating for better sanitation practices. In its major initiative in urban wash, in India Practical Action has started intervening in the faecal sludge management for two major urban municipalities. Newly launched Project Nirmal is targeting on a holistic approach to fight against the menace of poor sanitation practices and also exhibiting a model faecal sludge disposal mechanism in both the cities.

    So on 19 March 2015, two major events were organised on the eve of World Toilet Day in both the cities such as Angul and Dhenkanal. women SHG members, school children and civil society members joined in large numbers to mark the occasion. In Angul, the Municipality Chairperson and other council members along with the executive officer graced the occasion and shared how the importance of toilet in public life is now a much-talked topic and why it is needed to have toilets.

    Issues starting from girls and women defecating only during dark like before sunrise and after sunset leading to social security is now a concern everywhere. There are instances of molestation of young girls midnight and also instances of life loss by insects such as snakes and other insecticides.

    There have been constant health hazards such as diarrhoea and children in india are being growing stunted because of open defecation. All these things were the points of discussion while the district collector and municipal chairperson and other senior officials in Dhenkanal urged to build toilet as an essential part of daily life. Like mobiles and other necessities toilet is something which every household must have and all the guests vowed for a message of toilet for all.

    This was also added by Practical Action representative talking about the proper disposal mechanism of human excreta and faeces by setting up a proper faecal sludge management system in both the cities with the help of municipalities and efficient community participation.


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  • Practical Action’s unsung heroes

    Carol Reesby

    October 16th, 2015

    Heroes come in many forms, and each individual will have their own definition of a hero. Some may think it’s a soldier fighting for their country; a firefighter entering a burning building; or the crew of a lifeboat launching into rough seas – heroes who risk their lives for others.

    toiletBut there is another type of hero – the unsung hero! Someone whose daily life may seem pretty unremarkable but who help to change the lives of thousands of people by one simple act – being a Practical Action supporter.

    It’s hard to believe in the 21st Century that people still have no access to basic services such as clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, have no electricity and still cook over open fires, are undernourished, and cope with the devastation of natural disasters. Our supporters are helping to change this. By supporting the work of Practical Action our unsung heroes make a difference to people living in extreme poverty in the developing world.

    Last year our supporters enabled us to change the lives of 1.2 million people. They helped to improve access to water and sanitation services for over 240,000 people; give 200,000 people access to sustainable electricity services; help 650,000 people improve their food security and livelihoods; and reduce the risk of disaster to 60,000 people – changes that could not happen without their support.

    This remarkable group of people are our heroes!  Their one small but beautiful act of generosity enables Practical Action to make a huge impact on the lives of millions of people. Without them our work wouldn’t be possible.

    To our many supporters we say a huge ‘Thank you’ – you really are amazing people and our unsung heroes!

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  • Pumpkins Against Poverty

    Amanda Ross

    October 1st, 2015

    Every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna to swell, resulting in devastating floods. These wash away fertile land and destroy homes and pumpkins against povertylivelihoods.  Every year hundreds of families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.

    Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede, the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops. Practical Action has been working with communities in the Rangpur area of Bangladesh to help landless families overcome seasonal hunger and increase their income.

    UK-AID-Donations&flag-4CLast month I visited Rangpur and met a family that have built a better life through growing and selling pumpkins, a highly nutritious vegetable.  I found it hugely inspiring that such a simple idea could make such a big difference.

    Today we’re launching our Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal to help even more families like Anwar’s. And the great news is that the UK government will match your donation, pound for pound, meaning if you donate between now and Christmas you will double your impact!

    Pumpkins offer Anwar a way out of poverty

    Anwar ul Islam, his wife Afroza and two children live in Rangpur District, an area afflicted by land erosion caused by heavy monsoon rains swelling the rivers from June to October. Anwar lost everything when floods swept away his house and land. He was earning less than £2 a day working as a cycle mechanic.

    Pumpkins against povertyBut with the help of Practical Action, Anwar has found a way to feed his family, improve their health and earn a good income.

    Once the rainy season ends and the monsoon waters drain away, large sandbars appear in the rivers. This land is common property but, prior to Practical Action’s intervention, had never been used productively. Working alongside communities who live on the river embankments, our teams have shown it’s possible to grow pumpkins in small pits dug into the sand filled with compost.

    Last year Anwar produced 600 pumpkins. After selling 450, he had enough to feed his family as pumpkins can be stored for over a year. With the income he bought a cow and some chickens and can now afford to educate his children. They have a secure home and he is passing on his knowledge to others.


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  • Why flexible funding is vital for innovative development

    Andrew Clenaghan

    September 3rd, 2015

    Co-authored by Barnaby Peacocke

    The Department for International Development (DFID) is undertaking a review of the way it works with NGOs between July and November this year. This week they have asked which type of funding models, in which contexts, are best to develop effective civil society that meet the common goals of civil society and organisations like Practical Action. This is our response:

    Flexible funding should play a central role in development. Arrangements can be designed to help partnerships get established, introduce social and technological innovation, test it across different contexts, learn through practice – including failure – and communicate this learning to decision makers and practitioners.

    How this should happen when development partnerships are increasingly looking to address complex challenges that require a systemic response tailored to a particular context is inherently unpredictable. So while effective design does improve the chances of better results and sustainability, genuine impacts are achieved where issues of power and exclusion are addressed alongside the better provision of access to products and service. Addressing this reality requires a range of process, technological, partnering, and paradigm innovations that have seldom, if ever, been funded through individual projects. By allowing development actors to move beyond the high entry costs and inherent unpredictability of short-term project models, flexible funding offers a unique vehicle by which NGOs, the private and public sectors can better absorb risk and explore long-term opportunity.

    Used well, PPA funding has been a good example of this. At Practical Action PPA flexibility has allowed investments in process innovations like ‘Participatory Market System Development’ and given space to learn and refine this and other initiatives. It has enabled investment into establishing long-term partnerships with the private sector in areas like risk financing, and with other NGOs in impact investment. It has facilitated our entry into new contexts to test alternative funding models and our ability to make learning about development practice available to others through knowledge services. PPA funding has allowed Practical Action to invest in the skills of technical teams on the ground and supported our global advocacy in support of the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. No other current funding vehicle has carried this wide-ranging ability to transform organisational practice.

    DFID can work towards flexibility and innovation in several ways:

    1. Tailor flexible funding to support systemic approaches and on-going adaptation: Access to goods and services depends on effective systems in which a range of public, private and civil society actors work. Collaborating agencies need the flexibility to respond to shifts in the ways social, financial, technological, institutional, environmental and policy arrangements operate in a system when particular actions are taken. It also requires a strong emphasis on iterative learning with constant feedback about what does and does not work.
    2. Create a mechanism that balances accountability and flexibility: this implies a focus on accountability to process indicators like the quality of relationships between partners, as much as it does to measuring target outcomes. Development partners should also be expected to report on areas of learning such new business models and strategies.
    3. Use strategic funding to accelerate organisational transformation. Ensuring flexible funding supports the engine room of organisations will be essential to its success: in building the skills of front line staff to build effective partnerships; empower women and girls; apply effective monitoring and evaluation strategies; capture and share learning will bring both quantitative and qualitative changes in peoples’ lives and a better respond to learning, and; avoid the tendency of project funding models to encourage overly positive reporting on achievements.
    4. Structure flexible funding to encourage cross-sector collaboration: Ensure a proportion of funds are used to target collaborative ventures. Given the importance that partnerships are given in development, it is essential that flexible funds include a strong reporting focus on collaboration performance and learning, across agencies, and technology sectors.
    5. Iterative funding arrangements: rather than apply for sequential project funding, flexible funds can be allocated over the longer term to agencies that show each of the above steps alongside independently verified evidence of success. Through this model, funding tranches can be planned into the medium to long-term under the understanding that specific allocations will be made to successful partnerships and withdrawn where limited success is shown. Overseeing this will require a combination of fund and technical management skills in the donor and implementing partners.

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  • A day in the life of Tillotama and Rabinarayana

    Ananta Prasad

    September 2nd, 2015

    By Ananta Prasad & Warwick Franklin

    Yesterday we visited two communities who will be included under a new water and sanitation project in Odisha, India. Leaving the hotel at 4.30am(!), we first arrived at Gurujang Jabardastpur in Khurda Municipality while it was still dark. Everyone was still asleep and the silence was deafening. The only noise being the barking of the semi wild dogs that patrolled the single street.

    Rabi Narayan & Tillotama Sahu Our first impression was of a few old people walking down the street with small pots carrying water. As we followed them, we could see a number of men defecating in the nearby field.

    Gradually as the sun came up, families awoke, began to light their indoor cooking stoves, wash off the dishes at the open wells and go to the field which they used as their toilets.

    We were invited to spend the morning with Mr & Mrs Rabi Narayan Sahu and Tillotama Sahu, and their young daughter (16) and son (7).  They were happy for us to film and photograph their daily routine.

    They showed us the well that they shared with five other families for all their household needs such as cooking, cleaning and drinking, and told us of having to go to a plot of land behind the house which was used as a toilet. Mrs Sahu explained that she and her daughter only went there in the early morning and evening to avoid male eyes. However, this brought with it the danger of snakes (particularly deadly cobras) and insects. They have to collect 35-40 bucket loads of water a day for the household.

    We saw the son leave for school and the daughter (who finished school last year, because they could not afford her education) begin to clean the house and prepare their food on a smoky clay stove, which filled our eyes and throats with choking fumes.

    Mrs Sahu working on her loom

    Mrs Sahu then explained her weaving work on a hand loom. Mr Sahu was then preparing to leave in search of work as a daily labourer.  She could earn 80p from making a saree  (5 hour’s work) while he could earn £3 per day for 8-10 hours physically exhausting toil. However, there was no guarantee of his getting such work.

    Mr Sahu explained that they had no savings and they spent what little they earned on food, electricity (a few light bulbs, two fans and a TV), medicines and the education costs for his son.

    Mrs Sahu and her husband looked forward to escaping from the shame of open defecation and the availability of clean water.

    We all felt a privilege to have been able to share a few hours with this family and look forward to their being part of the new project and enjoying a significant improvement to their daily lives.

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  • Factors make a case successful or failure

    Mokhlesur Rahman

    August 22nd, 2015

    Whenever we pay any field visit to see the intervention at the ground or understand how our beneficiaries are being helped, we always get stuck to one point ‘what works and what does not’. We realize that it is not a generalizable issue. It works very individual level. It also shaped by power structure of the community. As poverty is a multi-dimensional aspect, therefore, the factors that may help one person to get out of poverty may not work others.

    In a recent field visit to our largest project Shiree in Gangachora Upazila of Rangpur division, I personally observed some interlinked psycho-social parameters that contribute beneficiary to become successful or failure to get out of poverty. Even process of intervention supports are similar to everyone, but results and impacts have significant variations.


    The author is interacting with project beneficiary


    During the visit, I talked with number of project beneficiaries in the said location.  Based on the observation, in this post, I would like to focus dynamism of the problem and psycho-social parameters that contribute beneficiary to be successful (or even failure) in his or her livelihood endeavor.

    Some of the factors contribute to failure:

    As I observed, in brief, following are the elements for which the beneficiary could not secure expected progress as follows;

    • Dowry
    • Intra-household gender relation
    • Sickness ( physical unfitness)
    • Gendered exploitation in the society

    The first case we found is a divorcee mid-aged woman, who has been living with her mother in a river embankment in the said area. Her husband was working as guard in a cinema hall. He demanded BDT 30 Thousand as dowry which her family could not met. Thus, he divorced her but it was done through a cheating process. Her husband took her signature in a paper which he mentioned was for taking loan from a micro finance agency. But later she realized that it was divorce paper, in conspiracy with local marriage registry office, he cheated her and got married with another woman. She did not go to police station or any local elites as she believes nobody thinks for poor people rather it may welcome further problem. As in her words,

    Ki hoibo matbor ba thanay gele? Goriber jonno kei nai (nothing will happen if I go to local leaders or police station. Nobody is there to help poor people.


    The beneficiary is sharing her life struggles including how her husband divorced her


    Since then Yesmin has been living with her mother in maternal house with her 4 years old son. She has another sister who has some sort of mental disorder, and only brother lives in Dhaka and works in readymade garments. He hardly helps them. In his word; “how can I help three people by one’s earning? ” Thus, she leads a traumatized life because of cheating by her husband, got affected by some diseases like asthma and found no hope to regain her life spirit.

    However, Practical Action, Bangladesh through local NGO (UDPS) has selected her as beneficiary in 2012 and decided to provide supports so that she could uplift herself. She was given supports for pumpkin cultivation (in 100 pits) like many other female farmers. Initially, the pumpkin plant was good but after few days of work she became sick as her asthmatic problem was increased. Therefore, she contracted (on 50-50 crop sharing condition) another male farmer who could provide physical labour, but unfortunately he also cheated her while sharing the crops. Therefore, when she received supports from the project second time and she tried to do the cultivation by herself and her mother. Most of the works at field were done by her mother. It was not easy job for them. However, they were happy as at the end, they got good harvest of pumpkin, and sold them by 3000 Taka. By the income, she circumcised her son and maintained some other family expenses.

    Later when GMS (Graduate Monitoring Survey) identified her as less progressed beneficiary, project came up with further support. In April 2015, she was given a heifer (worth of BDT 13700; 13000 from the project and 700 was own contribution). Now, they are rearing it and hoping for good return from it.


    Factors contribute to success:

    Through interaction and observation, I found some factors that play significant role in uplifting beneficiaries’ economic status (including overall living standard).  Besides the support selection process, there are some socio-cultural and health issues that determined final outcome of the intervention at individual level. Some of such socio-cultural and health issues are mentioned below;

    • Relationship with family members and relatives
    • Supports from family members (son and daughter in law)
    • Alternative option for earning even for some times
    • Not consuming capital assets at any circumstance/ earning from sources to meeting daily expenditure
    • Physical fitness
    • Aggressive attempts to help own self

    How the above issues work at a individual level can be discussed by case studies description. Masuma Begum (60 +) is a beneficiary of the same project who has received a heifer support (worth of 1331o) in March 2013. Since then she has been rearing it. In the meantime, it gave birth a heifer and will give another one soon. The cow gave milk around five months. They sold the milk to the market and earned around BDT 5000. She bought a goat by 2500 Taka and some hens by Taka 600 and spent rest of the amount to build a cowshed. Now she has the following livestock;

    Cattle Present market value
    1. Cow 35000.00
    2. Heifer 20,000.00
    3. She goat 5,000.00
    4. Hen 1800
    Total 78,000.00


    Her only one son and wife of her son help her for maintaining and nurturing the livestock. When she goes to work or relatives’ house, they look after the livestock. This is not very common practices in normal circumstances. Therefore, I met her son and asked him what motivate him to extend such help. What I got as response was really surprising. He mentioned that

    dekhen, ami to ekmatro sontan! Uni to ar asob kobore niye jabena. Sob kichu to Amari thakbe. (look, I am her only son. She will not take these to grave. Everything will be mine.)

    Similarly, we met another beneficiary who has 19 goats who used to get cordial support from her neighbor and relatives. She never married and use to consider her goats as children. She loves rearing goats a lot, the goats also listen her call; which we found very inspiring!   


    The author is listening to struggles of a beneficiary


      Concluding reflection:

    As a development professional, we need to understand how things operate at the community level. Our better understanding would help design or redesign appropriate intervention modalities, and can potentially enhance positive impacts on beneficiaries.

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  • This slum was nothing like I expected

    Elizabeth Dunn

    August 21st, 2015

    I’ve just come to the end of a 10 day visit to Bangladesh, it was my first time to the country and I feel privileged to have been able to go and visit such a beautiful place and meet such remarkable people. What I like about working for Practical Action is that it works in partnership with communities and organisations to drive change and improve lives. And this is exactly what I saw in Bangladesh.

    putulAs part of the visit, I went to slums in Faridpur and Jessore in the south. I’m lucky to have travelled and seen quite a lot of our projects but I’ve never seen any urban work before and was very unsure what to expect.

    When people say the word slum, all the worst images come to mind, I had visions of cramped communities, sewage running between them, a complete lack of water and sanitation, not to mention the terrible smells. I could not have been more wrong.

    I should tell you before I carry on that Practical Action has been working with these communities for a few years. The people living in the slums are considered to be the lowest caste, they are hindu and considered by many to be unclean and uneducated. This means that life is even harder for them as they do not have the same opportunities as others do. They have always carried out the most menial jobs such as street cleaning and pit emptying.

    Before the project began, I was told that there was no drainage, so during monsoon season the water would rise and would wash dirty water into their small homes.

     They also had no waste collection, so they had no other choice but to live amongst their own rubbish, or to dispose of it on the streets.

    There were no schools and many people had no skills meaning they struggled to gain employment.

    This project has worked with the women, children and men of these communities to truly lift themselves out of this poverty. They still live in cramped homes but the feeling of ‘community’ and unity amongst them was something rarely seen. They all work together to help each other and not only are their living conditions changing, the impact is much much bigger.

    Training in useful and vital skills means that people can earn an income, people just like Rashida. Rashida explained “at the beginning I had nothing. From Practical Action I had training and I was able to start my business with these skills.” Rashida was trained in tailoring, she makes tops, dresses, shirts and just about anything! This training means so much to her, she said “I can send my children to school and invest in the future.”

    I also met a lady called Sukia, she told me that “the environment of the slum is better than before,” they had less toilets and no water. They were forced to collect water from other sources but this water was often dirty. But now, they have their own pump, which means that they no longer have to risk their health just to have a drink.

    I left feeling uplifted and inspired. These people were empowered and had the knowledge to continue improving their own lives. It was a true example of sustainability and I will be telling everyone about the great work that Practical Action and our partners are doing to support the amazing, strong and welcoming people that are living in the slums. Just like Sukia said, “you and me make a difference together.”











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  • Happy Birthday to us!

    Paul Smith Lomas

    July 20th, 2015

    Last week I went to a rather unusual birthday party.  There was plenty of the ‘normal’ birthday party stuff  – lots of people came – all dressed up in their smart clothes, we had a cake and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’.

    What made it unusual was that it a party for an organisation rather than a person.  This year we’re celebrating 50 years of Practical Action’s work with technology challenging poverty.  To mark the event HRH The Prince of Wales, our patron, hosted a reception at Clarence House (his London residence  just across the road from Buckingham Palace).

    HRH The Prince of Wales with Grace Mukasa, David Nash, Thomas O'Loughlin and Verena Schumacher

    HRH The Prince of Wales with Grace Mukasa, David Nash, Thomas O’Loughlin and Verena Schumacher

    We were reminded how 50 years ago, our founder Fritz Schumacher launched a movement to change the way in which development aid was delivered.  Firstly he published an article in the Observer entitled “How to help them help themselves” pointing out the inadequacies of current aid policies based on large scale capital transfer. The following February the Intermediate Technology Development Group was formally registered as a non-government organisation – now of course renamed Practical Action. Schumacher’s seminal publication “Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”, often cited as one of the most influential books of the 20th century, came later in 1973.

    From these simple beginnings Practical Action has grown to be the strong, relevant and effective organisation it is today.  Our unique mix of project work on the ground – working with communities to help them identify technological solutions to answer their needs in a sustainable way; systematically capturing our experiences and lessons, sharing them with people across the world; and working with policy makers to influence their decisions so that our work can reach many millions more than we could ever reach on our own.

    We still live and work with the same basic principles that inspired Schumacher’s words all those years ago. Our passion for Technology Justice remains true to that.

    50 years of Practical ActionAs is often the case, after meeting some of the many people who have been involved with Practical Action’s work in one way or another, I left the evening with a great sense of “walking on the shoulders of giants”.  I’m sure that I won’t be working for Practical Action in 50 years’ time, maybe Practical Action won’t .  However I’m sure that the principles and ideas that we stand by today will still be relevant as they are today and as they were 50 years ago.

    “Happy Birthday to us!”

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  • Supporters’ day out!

    On June 13th we held our annual Supporters’ day in London. Taking inspiration from our heritage the theme of the day was ‘Grassroots to Muddy boots’ it was a fantastic opportunity for supporters to get closer to the work their support has made possible – and what a day!

    Margaret Gardner opened the proceedings, followed by our Nepal Country Director, Achyut Luitel who gave an update on the recent Earthquake and, explained our involvement at present and going forward. There was an introduction from Muna Eltahir the new Sudan Country Director, who spoke about why she chose to work for Practical Action, and the work already achieved in Sudan.

    Supporters Day 2015

    Supporters Day 2015

    During lunch there was a drop in session giving supporters the opportunity to speak to our new Country Directors – Muna Eltahir, Sudan, Hasin Jahan, Bangladesh and Kudzai Marovanidze, Zimbabwe. We were also shown some great Technology Justice videos from the education team.

    Throughout the day we had some great workshops such as Doing it better led by Margaret Gardner and Kudzai Marovanidze, who spoke about Marula nut production in Zimbabwe. Supporters heard how we are working with women’s communities who earn their living from marula nut products.

    Supporters Day 2015Supporters Day 2015

    There was an interactive exercise that involved cracking Marula nuts using similar tools to the women in Zimbabwe.  The exercise highlighted the difficulties faced without the right equipment and support.


    Supporters Day 2015

    Rob Cartridge hosted a Project pitch session showing four short videos about Knowledge services in Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Peru. Supporters were asked ‘If they had £5K which project would they give it to?’

    Following the videos and the pitch about each one, they were then asked to vote – the winner was the Krishi call centre in Bangladesh. Supporters were really impressed with the examples they were shown and said “the work was amazing” and “I couldn’t believe it’s so cost effective”. 

    Everyone had a fantastic day and couldn’t wait to get home and spread the word – they were even tweeting from the venue.

    Supporters Day 2015

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  • Relief supplies arrive in Dhading, Nepal

    Amanda Ross

    May 15th, 2015

    Following the earthquake on 25th April, Practical Action’s Nepal team  has been working hard to help some of the devastated communities in Gorkha and Dhading.

    Distributing relief in DhadingWe’re focusing on:

    • Water treatment (to reduce deaths by disease, especially in infants)
    • Emergency shelters (for homes, and public facilities e.g. toilets)
    • Energy generation (lighting and heating, including for medical centres)
    • Solar communication technology (for mobile phone charging)

    Please help us deliver this help by donating to our appeal.


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