Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme is “Inspiring Change.” This makes for a particularly uplifting end to the week. Stories about powerful and influential women are filling up social media and it’s great. It’s also quite unusual.
Whilst the need to recognise gender in international development processes is now broadly accepted, when we talk about the needs and experiences of women, more often than not we are talking about victims. This dialogue is important because women are disproportionately burdened by poverty and the associated injustices that come with it. But what is often missing is a focus on agency and the contribution that women can make to bring about meaningful change in their own lives.
This is certainly what seems to have happened in international efforts to prepare for and manage disasters. The first phase of the Hyogo Framework of Action is one such example. A primary criticism of the framework so far is that despite its stated intentions to be gender sensitive “Inclusion of a gender perspective and effective community participation are the areas where the least progress seems to have been made.”
This is perhaps not surprising – including women in formal planning processes is often difficult in settings which have strong pre-existing patriarchal structures. However, the framework as it stands appears to view women first and foremost as a “vulnerable group” rendering the vital contribution that they make to protect their families and livelihoods insignificant or invisible. This attitude also undermines efforts to involve them in decision making and according to the HFA2 paper ‘Women as a Force in Resilience Building and Gender Equality in DRR‘, when efforts are made to increase the capacity of women, the focus is usually on women as carers or service providers.
With phase two of this framework (the HFA+ or HFA2) on the horizon, along with the setting of post-2015 Sustainable Development goals, we have a unique opportunity to change the narrative around women and disaster risk reduction.
Practical Action’s Vishaka Hidellage is a good example of how women’s agency can make a difference at local and global level. Not only was Vishaka instrumental in establishing Duryog Nivaran as a DRR network for the South Asian region, she has led by example ensuring that the network connects with communities – especially those that usually have little or no voice. Duryog Nivaran has been particularly successful at engaging women, especially the poorest and most vulnerable in a region dominated by entrenched views and limited opportunity. In recognition of this work, Vishaka now acts as a leader for women’s engagement in the global UNISDR process and is currently heavily contributing to the UNISDR programme of work on gender for the new global agreement.
Vishaka shows us the potential and the need for more women to step forward as leaders and catalysts for change. Duryong Nivaran continues to focus on the needs of the marginalised in the south Asian region and Vishaka’s presence on the global stage ensures that these voices are harder to ignore.
 The UN Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 : Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters Mid Term Review <http://www.unisdr.org/files/18197_midterm.pdf> p.44
Could you get by on just £1 a day for five days for ALL your food and drink? That’s the challenge we’re setting you from Monday 28 April to Friday 2 May 2014 as part of the Live Below the Line challenge.
What is Live Below the Line?
Live Below the Line is a campaign gives people the chance to gain a small insight into the challenges and choices faced by those living in extreme poverty, by living on £1 a day for food and drink for five days, whilst raising vital funds for charity.
1.2 billion people worldwide live on £1 a day for ALL their needs – food, clean water, shelter, education, health.
This is not about replicating poverty or pretending that changing your eating habits for five days will give you an understanding of what poverty is truly like, but the intention is to start conversations, raise awareness and raise funds.
The Live Below the Line rules
- You must spend no more than £1 a day, for the 5 days, for all your food and drink
- You can’t buy an item, such as a bag of pasta, and then only include part of the cost in your budget because you don’t use it all. You have to include the cost of the whole packet, even if you don’t eat it all. However, for items such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices, simply work out the cost of each item per portion and budget your shopping accordingly.
- You can share the cost of your food and drink with a partner or team e.g. between two of you, you have £10 for the 5 days to share the costs of ingredients (this makes it easier!) but no participant is allowed to spend more than £1 a day of their total £5 budget.
- You can’t grab a cheeky snack from the cupboard unless you include the cost of buying the item new in your budget.
- You can use food you’ve grown yourself as long as you account for production costs.
- No combination of any meals on any given day can exceed the £1 spending limit.
- You cannot accept free food and drink – you must ask for a donation instead
- You are allowed to drink tap water. It is recommended that you drink between 6 and 8 glasses a day.
Think you can do it? Then take Practical Action against hunger and join Team Practical Action for the Live Below the Line challenge – you could make a real impact by raising vital funds for our life-saving work!
Practical Action helps children and families to escape life threatening hunger, disease and poverty by using simple technology and sustainable long-term solutions.
We’ll make the challenge easier for you, with a whole host of recipe suggestions and fundraising tips. We’ll be doing plenty of blogging and tweeting and we’ll be on hand to answer any questions and give advice. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
So what are you waiting for? Sign up for Live Below the Line now!No Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Action’s approach means that, in addition to implementing projects on the ground, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to persuade policy makers to adopt new ideas (policy advocacy as its otherwise known). But what approach is most likely to change a policy maker’s mind? Obviously there’s no one answer to that but Oxfam’s Duncan Green has come up with an interesting list of observations in a recent version of his weekly blog. Duncan is writing about the results of a survey of 234 senior White House officials who served under Presidents George Bush Snr and Jnr or President Bill Clinton. You can read the full blog here if you like, but the key findings of the research are as follows:
- The more policy makers know about a subject the less they are likely to believe ‘experts’
- Policy makers listen more to people they know or know of (so personal relationships and, as our communications colleagues keep telling us, brand recognition are important).
- Policy makers don’t have time to read: “any research papers that exceed 10-15 pages are not useful”
- Newspaper articles are as important to policymakers as the classified information generated inside the government
- The internet has not yet become as an important source of information for policy makers as traditional print media (“old fashioned press beats social media”).
- The best story (not the best evidence) wins
I wouldn’t take these too literally – a good story may attract a policy makers attention but it’s no good if we don’t have the evidence to back it up when they start to ask questions. And social media can help to build awareness of who we are, even if it’s not referred to for ideas by policy makers. But Duncan’s overall recommendation seems to ring true to our experience, If you want to gain the attention of policy makers “tell better, clearer, shorter stories and you may actually be listened to”!! Or, as the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger used to tell his advisors: “Don’t tell me facts, tell me what they mean.”!!
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So it’s nearly the end of our financial year here in Practical Action. The great thing about this time of year is the chance to look at just how far we have come. At a recent video conference for our knowledge sharing service, Practical Answers, we did just that and we discovered fantastic progress and great innovation.
Taking our work in just one country as an example. In the last three months in Nepal alone our free of charge technical enquiries service has handled more than 5000 enquiries per month. This is a huge step change – as only a few years ago the whole service handling only 3500 enquiries globally in a year
The key to Nepal’s success has been taking the knowledge out to the people who really need it. “Reaching the very last mile”. We have a really constructive partnership with an organisation called READ Nepal . They have established 55 community library and resource centres across the Himalayan country – all are self-sustaining. Into about 20 of these libraries we have put a knowledge service, handling technical enquiries and running training and regular “focus group discussions” to tackle current issues with the local community. If an answer is not immediately available from the library, we seek help from local and district authorities. And if a question is particularly frequent we get a Kathmandu radio station to record a programme on the subject that can be played back to the community. I saw this once when there was great interest in mushroom cultivation as a possible additional source of income for people living on the margins. One innovation this year has been for one centre to start to provide real time weather forecast information to the local community to warn against extremes, and help the farmers plant and harvest at optimal times.
A further innovation in the last year has been the establishment of local knowledge management committees. These are made up of local government representatives , agriculture officers, sometimes the water authorities. Far from being bureaucratic they have helped give the service real sustainability. It’s great to bring these groups together and demonstrate how valuable simply sharing knowledge can be and what an impact it can have on people’s lives and livelihoods.No Comments » | Add your comment
We’ve all seen those slick adverts where the suave George Clooney is turned down by a series of beautiful women who are more interested in the coffee machine than him. What you may not know is that Clooney has used the large cheque he got from Nespresso to invest in Sudan, a country ravaged by war and poverty. He has visited Sudan on several occasions and takes a passionate interest in the plight of its people.
Clooney also takes a real interest in environmental issues but told the Guardian recently “I’ve been in a private jet and once you do that you pretty much undo any good”. So if he wanted to offset all those flights around the world Practical Action has the ideal project.
Practical Actions low smoke stove project in Sudan is delivering ten thousand cook stoves to women in El Fasher in North Darfur. This will allow them to replace their traditional wood and charcoal fires with modern, energy efficient and cleaner burning Liquid Petroleum Gas cook stoves, in the process saving precious forest cover. It could also help boost Clooneys female fan base there as it is being delivered in co-operation with the Women’s Development Network Association which represents over 50,000 women in Sudan, roughly the same number who log on to Clooney’s ‘official’ Facebook page each day.
The project has recently issued its first carbon credits, just in time for the start of climate week. The 35,359 credits are the first to be issued in Sudan and have been certified by the Gold Standard Foundation in Switzerland. They are also the first to be issued using new rules developed for verifying projects in conflict zones and refugee camps.
In Sudan charcoal costs a household around £20 ($33.50) per month, while using LPG costs roughly £7 ($11.70) per month. But the initial cost of the stove and the LPG canister are beyond most families so they continue to use charcoal and cut down the forest and scrub land. To overcome this Practical Action has introduced a micro-loan scheme operated by the WDNA. There is a loan repayment rate of over 90%, very high for an area where nearly half of the people live below the poverty line.
The project was started in 2007 with the finance put up by Carbon Clear who are also selling the credits. The project will save more than 300,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years and will ensure that climate finance reaches some of the world poorest people.
It will also improve their health by cutting down on smoke, another issue close to Clooney’s heart as he grew up on a farm and is the grandson of tobacco farmers. So if Clooney wants to help some of the poorest people in Sudan and at the same time reduce his carbon footprint he now knows which credits to buy. The women of Sudan would drink to that.
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Drew Corbyn is working at the MEGA micro hydro project in Upper and Lower Bondo, Malawi. He will be posting regular updates as the project progresses.
Lower Bondo – technical problems and rolling out connections
Lower Bondo has now connected upwards of 92 houses. This has been managed by a concerted marketing push and doubling the connection team. There was a survey sent round over Christmas which shows there is further demand, and the team will continue to connect more households.
In the last week the system has tripped on a couple of occasions, indicating peak demand is already exceeding capacity (we’re still investigating…). We need to move quickly with demand management – including promotion of efficient products and usage. This will take some time, and there is a risk that the imperative to rapidly increase connections will come at the cost of reliability in the short term.
MEGA’s new General Manager, Peter Killick is organising ‘starter packs’ for MEGA to sell, with all parts needed for a household to connect.
Upper Bondo – construction begins
100 distribution poles have been bought but the pre-payment meters are still with customs. We are continuing to negotiate for their duty-free release. We have written to the relevant Government Department to request a duty, excise and VAT waiver for all MEGA equipment. Whilst the existing renewable energy project equipment waiver should include this, it seems in practice customs only recognise solar panels). Taxes are proving punitive!
Work teams have been mobilised this week and site clearance and excavation of initial works (poles, de-silting basin, conveyance pipe, forebay) has begun. 100 distribution poles are being treated.
MEGA social enterprise
MEGA held the first board of directors and members meeting on 28th January – an introductory affair that covered the necessary legal formalities.
We also convened a Bondo committee meeting to introduce Peter Killick and myself, present the MEGA strategy and pre-payment meter installation followed by a question and answer session.
The construction plan sets out the schedule of activities to complete work by June. It is a very tight schedule, and includes a lot of activity starting in the next couple of weeks. Success will depend on a prompt end to the rainy season, strong contributions from the community and labourers and good progress on procurement.
A Ministerial thumbs-up
MEGA and Practical Action were invited to an energy symposium organised by the Scottish Government at the Polytechnic University of Malawi this Wednesday. Mr Hamza Yousaf, the Scottish Government Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development was the guest of honour. We were one of a number of organisation that were invited to present our work. We had five minutes talking with him about MEGA as he passed our display. He was interested to hear about the project and very supportive of micro-hydro as a technology and the enterprise model as an approach.No Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Answers is looking to build up its partnerships with a focus sharing knowledge on energy development. We want to establish an information service focused on small-scale energy delivered built on organisational collaboration.
Its objective is to bring together like-minded organisations working in energy for development with an emphasis on knowledge sharing for practical implementation of small-scale technologies for energy delivery. It is different to some existing networks in that it does not focus on policy and that its focus is on developing countries rather than more industrialised countries.
The advantage of bringing organisations together in respect the knowledge means that a better service can be provided for those in search of information to help implement energy delivery and that leaning can be shared between organisations.
Practical Answers is in the process of changing its structure, developing more services on the ground where it can have a real impact on those in poverty but it is also important to retain the global perspective. This global perspective allows Practical Action and other organisations to learn from each other and for that learning to take place across geographical boundaries. Practical Answers sees this as developing, as the petals of a flower, individual technological sectors, which most organisations will find familiar such as Water, Health, Agriculture and Energy to name a few. Each petal will group together those organisations that are interested and active in that particular sector. For Practical Action that would be a number of sectors.
For example; WASH Knowledge Point is a collaboration between WaterAid, IRC, REDR, EngineerAid and Practical Action which aims to pool the expertise of all the organisations in order to bring better information to enquiries and provide a better question and answer service in the area of WASH and humanitarian response.
Practical Action is now interested in developing a similar collaboration in the energy sector and wants to hear from any organisation that is active in sharing technical know-how and managing requests for information from others who may need guidance.
Objectives / What will it do?
- Combined question and answer capabilities of organisations bringing together a pool of expertise that would not be possible form one orgainsation on its own
- Introduce mechanisms for information exchange between organisations of existing knowledge materials and resources to make it more accessible (Open Data)
- Enable organsiations to work together to develop new knowledge materials that are of a very high standard through cross working. (peer production)
- coordinate efforts in promoting the issue of energy delivery for development
- leverage funding opportunities for energy projects
In 2014 Practical Action will hold a meeting of organisations (possible a virtual meeting or a series of meetings depending on the geographical and logistical considerations) which will bring the organisations together to work out what the potential for collaboration is.
Contact me if you are interested and have something to offer.
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Have you heard about IBMs super computer Watson? It was made to compete on the US TV game show ‘Jeopardy’ which it won! It has 200 million pages of content, can answer questions in natural languages and is said to be artificially intelligent.
It’s now being deployed in Africa to solve the pressing problems of agriculture, health and education. Such are the transformative powers of Watson the IBM project has been called Lucy after humankind’s first ancestor.
On March 3rd 2014 The Tyranny of the Experts written by the economist Professor William Easterly is published. He argues in it that there is an obsession with fixing the symptoms of poverty without addressing the systemic causes. Moreover that freedom and assuring people’s rights and thus choice are key to building sustainable development.
Maybe unfairly (and I have only read the preview of Easterly’s book available on Amazon) I would characterise there two approaches as ‘science will find a way though’ versus ‘democracy is the answer’. There are lots that I love and think true in what Easterly says but ultimately my concern is that we are seeking a one size fits all model.
We have to start with people and they are complicated – individually and even more so when we come together as societies. Data can help but ultimately you/we have to listen. Democracy is the best system we have, but asserting people’s rights is not enough. Rights without options or access can lead to massive frustration.
- We have to change our course – consumerism leading to our current 3 planet living, testing the finite nature of our planet is leading to ecological disaster. The impacts of climate change are being felt first and hardest by poor people living on marginalised land. Taking action on climate change has proven a struggle in a democracy where significant changes are needed now but the full impact won’t be felt for decades.
- Development should be at a human scale, we should start with people their choices and needs, looking at measures of wellbeing not just economic growth. People should have a voice and be listened to in development that impacts them.
- We have to share and set up rules that promote sharing not greed and gargantuan acquisition – a world where the richest 85 people have the same wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion is a world where something is very wrong.
- Technology has a huge role to play – but technology needs to know its place as a servant not the prescriber of solutions. Big isn’t always better.
- Above all warm words need to be matched by action. The world needs to prioritise sustainable development but also to fund it. That means taking tough choices when it comes to government spending – huge bonuses for bankers or bailing out people?
Reading the article in The Guardian about IBM’s Watson I was reminded of a passage in Small is Beautiful written in 1973
‘In the urgent attempt to obtain reliable knowledge about his essentially indeterminate future, the modern man of action may surround himself with ever growing armies of forecasters, by ever growing mountains of factual data to be digested by ever more wonderful mechanical contrivances. I fear the result is little more than a huge game of make-believe and an ever more marvellous vindication of Parkinson’s Law. …Stop, look and listen is a better motto than ‘look it up in the forecasts’ ‘
40 years on there is still huge wisdom – encouragements to pause and think – to be taken from Small is Beautiful.
But to go back to Watson – I love the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes – so what could be better than a Sherlock quote on Climate change (I may be stretching its meaning)
‘I think you know me well enough Watson to know that I am by no means a nervous man. At the same time it is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognise danger when it is close upon you’
The Final Problem
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How great it is to see Ravelina in Innocent’s video!
I met her last September when taking a group of Practical Action donors to visit some of our projects in Peru and Bolivia. She was rightly very proud of what had been achieved on the Allimpaq (‘to be well’) project where she has been trained in animal care and insisted that I wear her wide-brimmed hat (the same that she has on in the video!) whilst being shown around so as to avoid the sun.
We were delighted to have her as our dinner guest and (with her self-possession, sparkling eyes and teasing sense of humour) she was one of the most memorable people that we met on our trip.
As we were saying goodbye, she presented me with a ball of alpaca wool that she herself had spun and my wife is now busy knitting this into a hat. I will ‘model’ the outcome!No Comments » | Add your comment
Last week I went to a talk at my local history society by a local (Warwickshire) farmer, Graham Robson who recently retired after 80 years in the business. Both his film and the subsequent discussions were very thought-provoking. He took us through the dramatic changes in farming methods, crop selection, machinery and financing that had taken place in his time. It became clear to me that many of the changes he experienced also affected the small scale farmers that Practical Action works with in the developing world.
He stressed the importance of the soil – it’s a farmer’s basic raw material and maintenance of its structure and quality is essential. Many modern farming methods combined with more severe weather conditions pose a threat to the food security of the UK and the rest of the world as Robert Palmer shows in his paper in ‘Soil use and management’.
When Graham Robson learned to farm, he ploughed with two shire horses. Today, even a small tractor has 50 horsepower and the weight of this machinery on the earth compacts the soil, making is less permeable to rain. So water runs off more quickly making flooding more likely. Coincidentally, just that morning I’d read George Monbiot’s article in the Guardian voicing similar concerns. And this image clearly showed just how much of our precious soil is being washed away to sea.
Such problems are not confined to the UK. Small scale farmers around the world face suffer from soil erosion. In Zimbabwe Practical Action’s food and agriculture programme has developed some successful conservation farming techniques. These include planting in stations to enable targeted feeding and watering of crops and inter-cropping with ground cover plants such as pumpkins and melons to protect the soil from the heat, reduce run-off and increase infiltration.
Martha Sibanda from Gwanda in Matabeleland participated in training in these techniques and was delighted with the improvement in her crop yields:
“Crop cover is important for moisture conservation and reducing soil loss. What I want to do is to use a combination of practices which is why I have a dead-level contour, use basins and inter-cropping to try and maximize moisture conservation,” she said.
For farmers in the UK a tractor with caterpillar tracks is available which does less damage to the soil surface. Currently, only very large models are available but soon, Graham hoped, a similar one would be developed to suit small scale farmers.
The UN’s food and agriculture organization have designated 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. Small scale farmers around the world face similar problems, so it’s important that we work together to share information on some of the solutions.No Comments » | Add your comment