News and campaigns | Blogs

  • KnowledgePoint en Afrique de l’Ouest

    Mary Allen
    January 29th, 2015

    Gestion des Connaissances pour le Développement (GC4D): Collaboration des Bureaux Régionaux de l’Afrique de l’Ouest de WaterAid et de Practical Action pour le partage des connaissances à travers KnowledgePoint.

    kp-logo-large

    En effet, pour assurer des interventions durables, novatrices, appropriées et efficaces, nos méthodes et idées font permanemment l’objet d’analyse, d’amélioration et d’adaptation. Nous publions des brochures, notes techniques d’information, revues, bulletins d’information et pages web en vue d’optimiser les idées qui peuvent transformer des vies. Nous apportons des renseignements techniques, entretenons des relations avec la presse écrite et audiovisuelle, influençons le contenu des supports d’apprentissage dans la perspective de sensibiliser et motiver les jeunes.

    Le cadre d’échange, KnowledgePoint offre une excellente et extraordinaire opportunité de partage des connaissances. En plus, il répond convenablement aux besoins des individus en quête d’informations fiables. L’objet de la mise au point de KnowledgePoint est non seulement pour étendre l’impact de nos interventions à des millions de personnes mais également toucher beaucoup d’autres par le biais d’une approche de partage des connaissances et de changement concret des politiques.

    Comment accéder à KnowledgePoint On peut très facilement s’inscrire et y accéder en allant sur le lien http://knowledgepoint.org/fr/questions/

    5 Bonnes raisons d’utiliser Knowledge Point

    (i) Simplicité et facilité d’utilisation

    (ii) Réponse aux questions: informations fiables et actualisées;

    (iii) Interactivité avec la possibilité de poser des questions et rechercher des documents/outils en français ou anglais

    (iv) Diversité de thématiques

    (v) Archivage des discussions permettant une communication asynchrone

     

    KnowledgePoint en appui à la réponse mondiale contre Ebola

    Différentes organisations à travers le monde ont soutenu les efforts d’éradication de l’épidémie Ebola qui sévit en ce moment en Afrique de l’ouest. En effet, en juillet 2014, l’Organisation Mondiale de la Santé (OMS) avait convoqué les ministres de la santé de sept pays à une réunion d’urgence pour convenir d’une stratégie pour coordonner les appuis techniques nécessaires contre l’épidémie. En aout, Ebola fut déclaré par l’OMS comme une urgence de santé publique mondiale. Puis, l‘OMS a publié une feuille de route sur l’orientation et la coordination de la riposte internationale à la crise. A l’heure actuelle, l’assistance provient de la Chine, du Cuba mais aussi d’organismes d’aide et des gouvernements de certains pays occidentaux. Cela n’a néanmoins pas empêché l’épidémie de se propager, ni le nombre de cas de doubler chaque mois.

    C’est en guise d’appui aux efforts de maitrise de la propagation de cette crise que WaterAid, Practical Action et d’autres ONGs ont utilisé KnowledgePoint pour créer un site qui servira de cadre de ‘Questions &Réponses’ sur Ebola. La mise au point de ce site a aussi connu le concours de UN WASH Cluster, de l’OMS, de la croix rouge internationale, du centre américain de lutte contre la maladie et de Médecins Sans Frontières.

    Lien de KP sur Ebola: http://ebola.knowledgepoint.org/fr/questions/.Tout un chacun peut apporter des réponses aux questions mais il y a également un groupe de 11 experts disponibles (voir ici : http://ebola.knowledgepoint.org/en/users/by-group/337/ebola-wash-tg/).

    WaterAidwww.wateraid.orgTel: +221 33 859 08 30 KP
    www.knowledgepoint.org
    Practical Action
    www.practicalaction.orgTel: +221 77 881 27 81
    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso

    Peter Rinker
    January 29th, 2015

    This is a guest blog by Peter Rinker, who works for Geman NGO Movement e.V.

    It began with an internship during my studies with the German NGO Movement e.V. in April 2009. Together with the young Burkinabés Faical and Hamed Ouédraogo I started to test the potential of clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. Up until then, we had just heard some stories about the successful dissemination of pot-in-pot refrigerators in Northern Nigeria by Mohammed Bah Abba. Even our first tests with quite improvised clay pot cooler prototypes showed that there is a really big cooling potential, thanks to the hot and dry air in Ouahigouya in Northern Burkina Faso. So it became our main goal to work on the dissemination of clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso. During the following months, we researched for adequate designs and collaborated with female pottery makers to produce the desired clay pots. In the final phase of the three month internship we made efforts to spread the popularity of the clay pot cooler among the local population through presentations with women groups, a lottery at a vegetable market and the creation of flyers and construction manuals.

    Two vendors of vegetables with a clay pot cooler at the market in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

    Two vendors of vegetables with a clay pot cooler at the market in Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

    In 2012, Lisa Buehrer studied and evaluated the impact of our efforts of 2009. She discovered that some people who got a clay pot cooler for free in 2009 were still using it. Others used it till it broke due to playing kids or fallen tree branches. But in general people were very satisfied with the cooling function, the prolonged life of fruit and vegetables and the flexibility they gained, due to the possibility to cool and store their food. Regarding the target group, Lisa Buehrer discovered that all users can benefit from using clay pot coolers. The highest potential benefit however, was for women selling vegetables in the city of Ouahigouya (the results would probably be different in a rural area, where self-sufficient farmers profited highly from the technique, as the example of Abba in Nigeria showed. But due to the very limited resources of Movement e.V., the zone of direct intervention is focused on the city of Ouahigouya and the surrounding villages). The female vegetable sellers normally buy vegetables at a village or a big market in the city and sell the produce again for a slightly higher price in front of their houses in the different parts of the cities. The prolonged lifetime of produce stored in the clay pot cooler made them profit from multiple effects. The method of storage means their goods are of a better quality for longer, which limits the degree to which they have to sell their goods for a diminished price. Thus, they have more flexibility in buying and selling the goods, which enables them to follow other activities, while securing their income through less food losses. Besides the elaboration of the target group Lisa Buehrer continued also the promotional work at local markets and headquarters of NGOs to increase the level of awareness of clay pot coolers.

    All the work of Movement e.V. so far showed that the clay pot cooler works very well in the hot and dry conditions of Burkina Faso and that there are millions of people who could potentially benefit from it. The problem we identified after these two three month internships (which is very short and on a very low financial level in comparison to other development projects) was, that there was nearly no independent dissemination of clay pot coolers after our departure. Obviously there were different causes, which had prevented such an independent development. During my studies of sustainable development, I came across the concept of social entrepreneurship, namely understood to be made up of business-driven solutions for social or ecological problems. This concept seemed to be highly promising because it comes with several positive aspects. Firstly, the incentive for local people contributing to the project in a poor country like Burkina Faso would be higher if they can increase their small and irregular income. Secondly, a self-sustaining business model would be the best condition for a project that can become independent from external support in the long run. Thirdly, if this social business model works in Ouahigouya, there would be potential for replication in other regions and contexts, which would serve our overarching goal of bringing clay pot coolers to millions of beneficiaries around the world.

    As I was still very convinced of the major benefit of clay pot coolers and the promising model of a social business in mind, I decided to work for Movement e.V. a second time as a voluntary project manager after finishing my studies. Implementing and testing the idea of a social business model for the clay pot cooler in Burkina Faso became the mission of this project stay. We worked a lot on the production side. Around twenty people were trained in producing the customised pots for clay pot coolers. While we thought in the beginning, that it would be an option to produce clay pots in the city, we had to dismiss this option after our first clay pot cooler workshop. It became clear that pottery, given the very hard work it is, is generally not profitable enough to be attractive for people of a bigger city like Ouahigouya. Pottery seems to be one of the worst paid metiers in Burkina Faso. It is a dry season activity of woman in rural areas, who start it after the big harvest at the beginning of the dry season.

    Therefore, we decided to leave the production to groups of female potters of the surrounding villages. This comes with more efforts for logistics but has positive side-effects on the situation of these women and their families.

    In the city of Ouahigouya we formed a team of four young and intelligent guys, aged between 20 and 30, who had no formal jobs. They earn a bit here and there and support their families with their income. The clay pot cooler project gives them the opportunity to be trained in the various skills needed to be a self-employed entrepreneur. Selling clay pot coolers is not their main job but it adds something to their revenues. Another aspect is the positive reputation in the local community due to their engagement in the clay pot cooler initiative.

    We elaborated quite a flexible social business model. Every team member is paid according to the amount of time and work he contributed to selling the clay pot coolers. This makes allowance for unforeseen circumstances in the availability to work on the project. The team orders clay pots for the clay pot cooler from the women groups in the villages. After the delivery of the clay pots to the city there is still some work to do. The outer clay pots receive a logo and phone number, to increase the popularity and the French name of the clay pot cooler: ‘Canari Frigo’. Additionally, they have to apply a layer of cement to the small clay pot and sieve sand (all details on the construction and use of the clay pot coolers can be found in this technical brief: see link at the bottom). Following these steps, the clay pot and the sand can be brought to customers and be installed directly around their houses. It is important that the installation comes with brief and clear explanations about how to use the clay pot cooler. You can have the best technology but you will only enjoy the full potential benefit, if you are using it in the right way. This is one reason, why we still prefer to do the installation ourselves at the customer’s homes and not to sell the customised clay pots at the market.  However, selling on markets could work well in the future, when clay pot coolers are more established and everybody knows how to use them.

    Fresh vegetables stored in a clay pot cooler

    Fresh vegetables stored in a clay pot cooler

    This social business model is still an experiment, but we think it goes in the right direction.

    The main challenge at the moment is to drum up enough demand for clay pot coolers. While the demand was quite good during my last project stay it slowed down afterwards. The reason is probably that we were present at many events and occasions during my stay, as it was my main job to work full-time on this clay pot cooler project. The calculation of the price of a clay pot cooler was made very tightly and did not include a share for promotional work to keep a payable price for a big share of the population. We obviously underestimated the need for additional marketing, promotion or subsidies for such a new product. That is why we sent Joris Depouillon from Belgium to Burkina Faso in April 2014, to regroup the local team and elaborate a strategy and measures with them to increase the demand for the clay pot coolers.

    In autumn 2014, Michael Bührer, the founder and president of Movement e.V., is in Burkina Faso to work on various projects conducted by Movement e.V., as well as on capacity building for the newly founded local partner NGO, Movement BF. Regarding the clay pot cooler project, it became clear that this social business-based approach still needs support; financial support for subsidising the sold clay pots and institutional partners to strengthen the promotional work. Several measures can contribute to a higher popularity of clay pot coolers. When more and more people get to know this innovative technology and its benefits a turning point can be reached, where clay pot coolers become a standard product on markets and promotional work can be reduced almost entirely.

    Besides all the efforts to disseminate clay pot coolers in Burkina Faso, we try to spread our detailed knowledge on clay pot coolers through the publication of multilingual construction manuals via different channels like Wikipedia, social media and various networks. We are willing to share our knowledge and experience with all interested persons or organisations to inspire them to build or spread the use of clay pot coolers and prevent that everyone has to reinvent the wheel themselves.

    Please let us know when you are starting some kind of clay pot cooler project. This allows us to get an idea about the impact of our efforts for know-how transfer.

    Click on the links to read the Technical Briefs – English and French.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • The dream of all

    Refaat Bashir Mohamed
    January 28th, 2015

    Since we are working closely with poor people, we try to put ourselves into their mindset. In the early morning when I wake up my main concerns are food, the kids’ breakfast and pocket money to go to school.  Similarly I always worry  not only about the pressing need of daily consumption, but also the needs of my neighbours. This has pushed me strongly to think positively towards our needy and most vulnerable people.457

    Our community based organisation, the Kassala Women Development Network (KWDAN) and Elgnadoul Network  approached women households groups with the highest levels of need to help them to create a new dawn in their lives.

    The team was astonished by their preparedness and their strategy to cope with off farm livelihood options. We did not apply our academic and development methods, we simply we stood alongside them and started to listen and learn from them. Their system of managing credit funds depends on trust among the whole group.

    Barack-Obama-QuoteProudly they said:

    “Our challenge is to sustain life by providing livelihoods options such as poultry and  goats. Now through the generous support of Practical Action we no longer depend on small, seasonal gifts from our relatives. Milking goats and selling eggs has enabled us to be self-supporting women.  Our kids are proud of us. This is the best thing that has happened to us,  it is just like Obama’s slogan about the change we need.”

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Knowledge Point in West Africa

    Mary Allen
    January 27th, 2015

    Knowledge Management for Development (KM4D): WaterAid and Practical Action West Africa Regional Offices working jointly for knowledge sharing through KnowledgePoint

    kp-logo-largeWaterAid and Practical Action prioritise knowledge management and research (action and collaborative). We continually review, refine and adapt our methods and thinking to make sure our work is sustainable, innovative, relevant and effective. To maximize the life-changing potential of ideas, we publish books, journals, newsletters, technical briefs and web pages. We offer a technical enquiry service, communicate with the print and broadcast media and influence the content of learning materials to educate and inspire young people.

    KnowledgePoint as a platform of exchange is an amazing and interesting way to share knowledge and to respond effectively to people’s needs for reliable information. It is designed to help us expand our work to deliver direct impact to millions of people whilst reaching many more though our knowledge sharing and practical policy change.

    5 Good Reasons to use KnowledgePoint

    (i) Simple and easy to use

    (ii) Answers to Questions reliable and updated;

    (iii) Interactivity and possibility to ask questions and look for documents/tools in French or English

    (iv) Diversity of topics

    (v) Discussions archived: which allows an asynchronous communication

    KnowledgePoint access is easy and registration is very user friendly. Go to the link: http://knowledgepoint.org/

    KnowledgePoint – Providing support in the Global Ebola response

    Organizations from around the world have responded to help stop the ongoing Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in West Africa. In July 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an emergency meeting with health ministers from eleven countries and announced collaboration on a strategy to co-ordinate technical support to combat the epidemic. In August, they declared the outbreak an international public health emergency and published a roadmap to guide and coordinate the international response to the outbreak. Currently, aid agencies and governments of some western countries as well as China and Cuba are providing assistance. However, the epidemic keeps spreading and the number of confirmed cases in doubling every four weeks.

    As part of their response to this crisis, WaterAid and Practical Action and other NGOs are contributing to the efforts to control the spread of the disease by setting up a KnowledgePoint site for questions and answers for Ebola responders in collaboration with the UN WASH Cluster, WHO, International Red Cross, US Centre for Disease Control and Médecins Sans Frontières.

    The link to the Ebola KP: http://ebola.knowledgepoint.org/ and although anyone can respond, we have a panel of 11 technical specialists here: http://ebola.knowledgepoint.org/en/users/by-group/337/ebola-wash-tg/ .

    WaterAid

     

    www.wateraid.org

    Tel: +221 33 859 08 30

     KP
    www.knowledgepoint.org
    Practical Action
    www.practicalaction.org

    Tel: +221 77 881 27 81

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Pushpo Rani is economically empowered

    S M Alauddin
    January 27th, 2015

    Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to climate change because of its geographical location. Coastal areas in Bangladesh are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as, cyclones and tidal surges, salinity intrusion, sea level rise, coastal flooding and water logging. Shrimp cultivation in the salinity prone coastal area became the dominant livelihoods measure since mid-eighties. But, cultivation on the same land for a long time along with rapid salinity increase caused severe decrease in production, while crop cultivation is not possible due to high salinity in soil. This has caused acute employment problems and increased poverty in the coastal area.

    pushpaThe devastating Cyclone Sidr (2007) and Aila (2009) killed over 16,000 people and devastated millions of people’s lives and livelihoods. The coastal people still have not recovered. Practical Action Bangladesh undertook some interventions with support from the Asian Development Bank in the south-western Shyamnagar and Kaliganj Upazilas (Sub-districts) of Satkhira District.

    Ms. Pushpo Rani (from Atulia UP, Shyamnagar) lives with her husband and two children. She is a tailor and had been making bags out of plastic for the last 2/3 years with support from Sushilan–a local NGO. Her husband also works with her part of his time. Their earnings were poor from bag making. Because of her skills and experiences, she was provided with support for ‘smart bag making’ and accordingly, started working since Jaisthya (mid-April 2012) last.  The bag is of thin cotton and synthetic cloth. It can be folded and kept in a pocket, office bag or vanity bag like a money bag/key holder.  Along with tailoring, she has a business of making printed cloth. Now, they employ 50% of their time making bags and the other 50% for tailoring at home.

    Ms. Pushpo Rani prepares ‘smart bags’ of two qualities- one with good quality cloth,  the other with slightly lower quality cloth. The better quality cloth costs Tk.50/yard, while the lower quality cloth costs Tk. 25/yard. She produces 2 bags with 1 yard of lower quality cloth, and 4 bags with the better quality cloth. So, for each Tk.50/-, she prepares 4 smart bags  of better and lower quality bag. She sells the better quality bag for Tk. 30-35 each (but mostly for Tk.30/-), and the lower quality bag for Tk.20-25 each and makes a profit of Tk.120/for the better quality one,  Tk.80-100 for the lower quality one. These are profitable. They have the capacity to produce more bags, but, there is insufficient demand in the local market. The demand, however, is gradually increasing as they are trying to contact shopkeepers at growth centres around Nawabeki and Munshiganj including Shyamnagar- the Upazila headquarters. They have a plan to produce more bags and expand the market, if there is higher demand. They are able to produce 15-20 bags every day/each i.e. 30-40 bags together/day.

    Since scope for income earning is poor in the area due to salinity increase and wide scale shrimp cultivation, the ‘smart bag’ making with an outside market chain could be a good option for household based income generating. Ms. Pushpo has been contributing significantly to increasing her household income, which, is expected to lift her out of poverty.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Potentials of ICTs for Empowering Rural Women in Bangladesh

    Mokhlesur Rahman
    January 24th, 2015

    Food for programme development thoughts

    ICTs (Information Communications Technologies) particularly mobile phone and internet penetration shows a gradual increase in Bangladesh. In the table below, it indicates, during August 2013-14, in the case of mobile phone services 8.228 million people added to the connectivity, and 458.369 thousand people to the internet connectivity. During August 2012-13, an additional 13.821 million people were connected with mobile phone services and 6833.325 thousand people to the internet. This illustrates that following the global trend, in Bangladesh, new uses and expansion of ICTs- are fast becoming an essential part of everyday life, irrespective of location, sex, class, education and profession.

              Table: ICT Subscription Status in Bangladesh

    Period

    Mobile

    Internet
    August 2014 117.577 Million 40832.387 Thousand
    August 2013 109.349 Million 36249.018 Thousand
    August 2012 95.528 Million 29415.693 Thousand (as July 2012)

    Source: BTRC, 2014; ( www.btrc.gov.bd; accessed on Octtober 7, 2014)

    However, relevant literature suggests that ICTs expansion and usage are not equally dispersed. Until the recent past, there was more growth in urban areas than rural. However, after 2010, the phenomenon has begun to change. As a result of that, in both computer and mobile phone, we see growth in rural areas is more than 4 times for mobile phones and 6 times for computers compared with urban areas.

    Potential Impact of ICTs
    As I understand women empowerment is a process (rather than end) towards gender equality; thus in this piece, I will be focusing on some of the issues I found contributing towards this process for rural women in Bangladesh. The points I am going to share below have been pulled out from different research findings, observation reports and diary notes that I was part of during 2009-14.

    1) Decision Making: Regarding the ability to take decisions, it has been found that to some extent women have the ability to decide what things they what to buy, particularly to make small and large purchases. More specifically, they use ICTs (mobile phones in particular) to get information on certain things before they buy. They use mobile phones to consult with doctors about what medicine to take when they fall sick. It helps to feel them that they are connected with loved ones. Husbands or father s(or other heads of the household) appreciate this activity since it minimizes their expenditure and helps to retain savings.

    4th Blog

    2) Position within family: Having the opportunity to communicate with others through mobile phones, people are very much influenced by the behaviour of other people. Through easy interaction with the wider community, men’s dominating attitude towards women is gradually changing. Research findings demonstrate that women have more freedom from male domination. Whether a wife and husband live in same home or either live outside for livelihood or any other reason, in most cases they talk to each other before taking any important decision. This is now possible because of the mobile phone. To them, women’s involvement in major family decisions has been seen as important since women no longer are dependent on men for their livelihood, now they have opportunity to earn from outside if they wish.

    3) Mobility: In this area, a very interesting change is been found. The need for women’s physical visits to their parent’s home has been taken away by mobile communication. Now they visit, when they have a special purpose. In addition, the duration of  their visit is also decreased. On the other hand, visiting doctors’ surgery and market place for buying/selling things, visiting UP or other government service provider offices has increased significantly. This pattern of mobility clearly indicates that people have better aware of their rights and wellbeing.

    4) Economic health: When women are connected by any communication device, it encourages them to know about others. For example, while they communicate with each other, they ask about others’ lives, about their cultivated crops, the price of the salable crops, sickness of any livestock, or family members- what happened, how he or she was cured etc. Evidences indicate that these communications promote women to be owners of assets to face any unwanted situation if occurred. It is also found that rural women now prefer to have assets (a piece of land, cattle, goat etc) in their name. They see it as their fall back support. Additionally, many women shared that they got job information over a mobile phone (although the job itself is gendered), and their partners are very positive about it. In contrast with income, women save very little. The reasons are; firstly, they earn very little so hardly can save from it. Secondly, men stop providing many essential items for women such as cosmetics and toiletries when women start earning. Besides this, sometimes they need to spend for socialization and children’s demands. The fact is that men do not directly tell women not to save but do not encourage them to do so.

    5) Political awareness: ICTs have great contribution in building political awareness among grassroots women. Talking over a mobile phone, most village women are to some extent informed about what Union Parishad is supposed to do and what services are available there. Even though most of the time these are unavailable or distributed considering political or other social belonging. It is noteworthy to mention that during elections women do use mobile phones to consult with their friends, relatives and like-minded people for whom to vote and information about the contestants. In few cases women also do use to network building or motivating voters if they contest in election.

    6) Legal awareness: Grassroots women are not found to be well informed about legal rights. But they do have some basic information regarding criminal activities and gender issues. It is found in discussions with different local communities that all women know violence against women is a punishable crime. They do have the right to get legal support in case of dowry or marital rights violation. Furthermore, they also stated that they know from where they may get support or whom to communicate– which justify their basic legal awareness.

    The above six points are few of many such impacts that ICTs can make in uplifting women’s situation in a context like Bangladesh. I understand and have evidence of concerns associated with ICTs use (which I will cover in another write up). However, the above points may help us developing programmes around the above issues.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Energy Access – Why the current financing model will fail

    Simon Trace
    January 22nd, 2015

    This is my second post from Abu Dhabi, where I have been attending the World Future Energy Summit as a guest of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. For the second year running Practical Action was shortlisted for this prestigious $1m prize in recognition of our work on helping poor people in the developing work access clean energy (we finished runners up again in case you didn’t see my last blog!).

    DSC00206 (1)One of the recurrent themes of the conference sessions I have attended over the past week on energy access has been finance. I have written in this blog before about the general lack of funding for energy access, particularly off grid technology. The International Energy Agency (IEA)[i] has estimated that, if we are to achieve universal access to energy services by 2030, around 64% of the additional finance required will have to be invested in off grid systems, for example solar home systems or local mini grids powered by generators or renewables such as solar, wind or micro hydro. But there’s little evidence that much investment is going anywhere except into the traditional areas of big power stations and extensions to the grid, neither of which is expected to provide much benefit to those in remote rural areas who lack electricity at the moment. The Sierra Club, a US based environmental NGO, carried out an analysis of the major development banks energy lending portfolios for example[ii], which showed that the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank did best, with 25% of their lending on off-grid infrastructure (but still way off the 64% figure needed according to the IEA). At the other end of the scale, the Asian Development Bank had only 7% of its portfolio invested in off grid and the African Development Bank 0%!

    But there is another type of finance gap now appearing. In addition to the general lack of availability of funding it’s also becoming apparent that there is a real affordability gap in the model currently being promoted by the development banks, donor agencies and sector specialists.

    What this year’s Zayed Future Energy Prize winners MKOPA and runners up SELCO have been doing brilliantly in Kenya and India has been developing viable businesses to make solar lighting available at a cost which is increasingly affordable to those on low income – solar lanterns for households on US$ 1 -3 per day income and small solar home systems that can run 3 or 4 lights, charge a phone and maybe even run a small TV or radio for those with an income of as little as US $3 -5 a day.

    But this is not yet energy access in the real sense. If we start layering in the energy services people really need to make a difference to their livelihoods – maybe refrigeration to preserve food or mechanical power for productive use (grinding, milling, pressing, drying or storing crops, pumping water etc), the power requirements go up dramatically, way beyond the capacity of current affordable solar home systems to supply.

    This is where larger capacity communal mini grids come in, and there was much talk about these at the World Future Energy Summit. But the recurring motif in those discussions was the need for a business model that would bring in private investment to finance mini grids because “public subsidy was never going to be sufficient”. The problem is there are two enormous holes in that argument:

    Hole 1: The idea that mini grids are financially attractive investments in their own right. The reality is that there is a massive gap between what would need to be charged as a tariff to recover costs and what poor people have at their disposal to spend on energy services. A recent report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California[iii] covers this ground nicely. It estimates the basic electricity needs of rural household for full energy access at around 80 kilowatt hours per month (based on using a fan, 4 LED lights, a small TV, a small refrigerator and the equivalent of 4 hours a day of power for a mechanic device such as a small irrigation pump or equivalent). Using an assumed cost of around $0.24/kwh (which is quite optimistic for small mini grid type supplies) that comes to a monthly cost of at least $20 per household if full cost recovery is required. Typically low income households spend around 10% of their income on energy (50% of which is on cooking fuel). This translates to budgets available for electricity of around $7.50 per month for households on $3 – 5 per day and less than $1.5 per month for the extreme poor on $1 a day or less. These figures from the University of California are very rough, but they serve to make an important point. The costs of mini grids would have to reduce by at least 60 to 90% to make the tariffs affordable for the poor but still keep the systems as viable investments for private capital.

    Is it any wonder the banks can’t find investors to take out loans for mini grids?

    Hole 2: The idea that there simply isn’t enough money in the world to make public subsidy viable. We are told that there is no possibility that public finance could be used to close the gap because there simply isn’t enough to go around. But at the same time, the IEA tells us that currently more than $500 billion[iv] is being put into public subsidies for fossil fuels every year (with others such as IRENA putting the figure much higher at as much as $1900 billion in 2011[v]). So the fossil fuel industry is being kept on a massive publicly funded life support system while the poor are told that the off grid systems they need to access a basic level of energy services can only ever be provided through private investment.

    Conventional wisdom abhors subsidy, but in Bangladesh, where the most successful solar home system programme to date exists with around 4 million households supplied, provides a great example of how subsidy can work, making technology affordable and getting markets moving and costs down. According to a World Bank study[vi], the Bangladesh programme started off with an average subsidy of around 25% per unit in 2004, reducing to less than 10% by 2013. The interesting thing there was that the cost to the consumer for a system was less in 2013 than it was in 2004, despite the reduction in subsidy. Why? Because technology got cheaper and the scale of the programme drove innovation and cost reductions that, together, exceeded the reduction in subsidy over the same period.

    It seems time for the development banks, donors and the energy sector as a whole to take a long and really honest look at the financial models being proposed to ensure universal access to energy. Its time to face up to the reality. Private capital and good business models are definitely needed. But universal access to energy (not just for light but energy for the productive uses that will help people work themselves out of poverty) will not be achieved without public finance playing a very significant role to close the affordability gap as well.

     

    [i] IEA 2011, Energy For All, Financing access for the poor, page 25

    [ii] Sierra Club / Oil Change International 2014, Failing to Solve Energy Poverty: How Much International Public Investment is Going to Distributed Clean Energy Access?

    [iii] LIGTT, Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, University of California, 2015, 50 Critical scientific and technical breakthroughs required for sustainable development – Energy Access pp 26 – 29.

    [iv] Bloomberg, Nov 112, 2014 Fossil Fuels With $550 Billion Subsidies Hurt Renewables

    [v] IRENA sourced from: LEVELLING THE PLAYING FIELD AND SAVING MONEY WITH

    RENEWABLE ENERGY

    [vi] World Bank (2013)  The Benefits of Solar Home Systems – An Analysis from Bangladesh Policy Research Working Paper 6724, page 10

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Competition finalists show way forward for renewable energy

    Simon Trace
    January 19th, 2015

    I am writing this in Abu Dhabi, where I am attending the World Future Energy Summit as a guest of the Zayed Future Energy Prize. For the second year running Practical Action was shortlisted for this $1m prize in recognition of our work on helping poor people in the developing work access clean energy.

    Zayeed2

    Receiving finalist certificate from Chair of judging committee and former President of the Republic of Iceland, HE Olafur Ragnar Grimsson

    Today was the day for announcing the winners and, unfortunately, I have to report that it was also the second year in a row that we didn’t win the prize! However, given out of nearly 600 organisations considered for the award this year, only 30 made it as finalists (and only 5 in our category of non-profits) I think we can all be very proud of getting so far and the deep respect for our work that these 2 nominations in a row implies. Coming on top of Practical Action winning UNFCCC Momentum for Change awards in both 2013 and 2014 for its work on climate change, these nominations show just how much attention our work is getting internationally at the moment.

    The very worthy winner of the Zayed Future Energy Prize for non-profits  this year was an organisation from the Philippines called “Litre of Light” that converts plastic bottles into sky lights and solar lanterns and I’d like to offer my sincere congratulations to them. Congratulations also to MKOPA, the innovative Kenyan solar home system providers that use credit payments via mobile phones to help people afford solar lighting and who won the SME category. Panasonic won the large company category whilst ex US Vice President Al Gore was also recognised with a life time achievement award for his work raising awareness of climate change. You can see information on all the winners here and the other finalists (Practical Action included) here.

    As was the case last year, the finalists represented 30 really positive stories about people demonstrating how things could be different and how renewable energy is the future in many different contexts. It was also interesting to hear this message repeated over and over again in the opening ceremony for the World Future Energy Summit itself. Solar photovoltaics are, it seems, increasingly becoming cost competitive with conventional sources for power generation. One example given was a very recent contract let for a 200 MW solar park in Dubai at a cost of just under 6 US cents per kwh – one of the cheapest renewable projects ever and around 3 cents per kwh cheaper than gas! What was also interesting, particularly given this conference is taking place a major oil producing region, was that there seemed to be consensus amongst today’s speakers that renewable energy was a technology whose time had come and that even the current falling oil prices were unlikely to make a difference to that position.

    I will be the conference for the rest of the week, speaking at a couple of side events, and will report back on anything else of interest I see.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Can business work for poverty reduction?

    Margaret Gardner
    January 15th, 2015

    As someone passionately involved in fair trade for more than two decades I believe business can work for poverty reduction – but we haven’t got it right – yet!

    I really welcome the renewed debate on business, its impact on poverty and ultimately  how we make business do good. Its great to see DFID – UK Aid taking a lead on this, even if I personally would want to offer up some challenges!

    So in this blog I’m going to summarise some of DFIDs  thinking on economic development – their five pillars for action –  and in the sprit of equity offer up my own five challenges.

    In this this presentation from David Kennedy, UK AID (DFID)’s First Director General for Economic Development he sets out ideas how the developing world can be transformed through economic development – if you have 15 minutes its well worth a listen.  To help make this happen, DFID will structure their economic development work around five pillars.

    • The rules of international trade – for example those established through the World Trade Organisation.
    • Supporting the enabling environment – ‘having the things in place that give investors confidence’.
    • Catalytic investment via The World Bank, CDC, etc.
    • Working with the private sector.
    • Marrying up economic development with DFID’s broader themes – girls and women, sustainability, etc.

     

    I understand that choices have to be made and priorities set but would still want to offer challenges to DFID and others thinking about how to make this work. Its vital plans address:

    1.  Support for the role of Civil Society and others in holding business and governments to account?
      I’m thinking here of recent examples such as slavery in the Thai prawn industry supplying major UK retailers, or compensation paid by Shell to villagers in Nigeria for the impacts of two massive oil spills – described by the Guardian a ‘David v Goliath battle’. And the BAFTA nominated film Virunga which explores the fight to save Africa’s oldest national park from oil exploration.In each of these cases civil society – local people, NGO’s, the media – has sought to hold business to account and see the rules worked out in reality. I don’t see this as anti-business, this is pro-good business.  I know from talking with many people involved in big business who support fairer trade that they would love a ‘level playing field’.  Rules need to be enforced or they lose their meaning and make it even more difficult for good business to compete.book
    2.  How do we cater for Small is often Beautiful?
       It may be that because David Kennedy was talking at scale (macro level for those of you who like more formal language!) he didn’t specifically delineate the types or size of business DFID particularly want to target although the suggestion seemed to be a focus on international and big! Local, small scale business has a huge role to play in poverty reduction and in delivering wellbeing. Funding mechanisms that support small scale local business are vital.If he, or anyone else would like to know more about the realities of this work, Practical Action Publishing’s new book ‘The Business of Doing Good’  – insights from one social enterprise’s journey to deliver on good intent, is a great read. The book points to lessons for microfinance and other social purpose organisations using the market place to tackle pressing social challenges.

    http://developmentbookshop.com/the-business-of-doing-good

     

    1. The ultimate challenge: our planet is finite, unlimited growth is not possible
      At some stage very soon we have to say enough is enough, we have to tackle inequality, live within our planetary boundaries.  Wellbeing and happiness are not all about money and consumerism we need to find a way to shape business to help drive the transition to a truly sustainable development.But we’ve known this for quite a long time.  Fritz Schumacher, Practical Action’s founder, talked about it in his seminal work ‘Small is Beautiful’ half a century ago, yet robust action still isn’t happening.  Development money can be a catalyst for change and the push needs to be towards future proofed businesses – those with lower impact even in the developing world.
    1. We’re not starting from a level playing field
      The rules of trade and the reality of business power are skewed towards developed nations and large scale. This is accepted by all, and why we invest in institutions such as the World Trade Organisation. How do we make sure that in helping business engage in poverty reduction we don’t just increase the divide between the powerful and the disempowered.
    1. Celebrate success and keep pushing fair trade forward
      Shout about the organisations and people doing brilliantly. Push for change by rules, holding people accountable so they comply and by celebrating real stories of change.  Good news stories are great!

     

    Thanks to David for starting this debate. I would encourage everyone who shares Practical Action’s mission – of tackling poverty in the developing world to engage in the discussion – it couldn’t be more important!

    5 Comments » | Add your comment
  • Fascinated by the Incas

    Amanda Ross
    January 15th, 2015

    I had the good fortune to study ancient history – a subject that fascinates me.  However, my studies only covered classical civilisations so my knowledge of the Incas is minimal.  So when I was in Peru in December and visited some Inca sites, I was enthralled and keen to learn more.  I’m delighted that the BBC has just begun a new series ‘Masters of the Clouds’ which will enable me to do this and especially to consider how technologies of the past can help to deal with modern problems such as climate change and disaster resilience.

    "Pisac006" by Alexson Scheppa Peisino

    “Pisac006″ by Alexson Scheppa Peisino

    From the first episode it became clear that the Incas knew a thing or two about climate smart agriculture. They developed complex water harvesting and terracing systems which enabled them to produce enough food to store surpluses in their vast granaries against hard times.  As a result of having a secure food supply the population increased and the Inca empire was able to expand to cover nearly 690,000 square miles – from modern Colombia to Chile.  Practical Action is using similar techniques in the high Andes to support farmers who face low rainfall today as a result of climate change.

    Alpaca farmer stands by his irrigation reservoir

    Alpaca farmer stands by his irrigation reservoir

    Earthquakes are a regular hazard in this region is earthquakes and the Incas developed building techniques to minimise the effects.  Leaning their walls slighting inward, excellent masonry skills and rounded corners have ensured that Macchu Picchu’s stone walls still stand despite 500 years of shaking.

    Once again Practical Action looked to the past when helping with the reconstruction efforts after major earthquake, using traditional quincha techniques for greater stability.

    Technology also proved to be their downfall.  Inca soldiers armed with spears and bow and arrows were up against the Spanish forces equipped with horses, cannon and firearms.  Smallpox and measles also brought by the invaders devastated the population and the Inca Empire folded. I’m looking forward to finding out more this week.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment