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  • Innovation in last mile distribution


    May 22nd, 2018

    The Global Distributors Collective (GDC) facilitated an ecosystem event at the Skoll World Forum on 12 April dedicated to ‘innovations in last mile distribution’.

    Event hosts Practical Action, BoP Innovation Center and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship ran a panel with practitioners from the Shell Foundation, EYElliance and Danone Communities. The audience, which included a wide array of participants from the private sector, social enterprises, multinational institutions and NGOs, had a lively Q&A session followed by a world café.

    The event highlighted a range of key challenges and innovations in the last mile distribution (LMD) sector:

    The panel – Liz Smith (EYElliance), Meera Shah (Shell Foundation) and Valerie Mazon (Danone Communities), moderated by Emma Colenbrander (Practical Action)

    1. Working capital for inventory and consumer financing

    LMDs struggle to access working capital for inventory because they are not selling at sufficient volumes to attract the interest of mainstream debt providers, and are seen as too high-risk to lend to. They manage this challenge using different approaches, such as providing sales agents with stock on consignment, but innovation is desperately needed to facilitate better access to capital.

    The burden of providing consumer finance tends to fall to LMDs, but there is potential for manufacturers and intermediaries to play this role. There is significant opportunity to tap into MFIs, especially in countries like India where the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) sector is not as strong, but questions remain about how to de-risk this investment for MFIs. One innovation in consumer financing that Shell Foundation is exploring is digital lay-away schemes for customers to save towards down payments on products.

    2. Demand creation and behaviour change

    For complex products like eyeglasses and improved cookstoves, consumer education is needed to raise awareness and ensure adoption, but this is often expensive and inefficient. Broad campaigns can be a more cost-effective way of building demand and educating consumers than targeting individuals. Campaigns can be done nationally (such as those planned by EYElliance alongside governments) or on a local level (such as those done by Danone Communities using community ambassadors). Consumer campaigns must integrate LMDs on the ground in order to be effective and to ensure supply can adequately meet demand.

    Meera describes how LMDs are typically underinvested in compared with product companies

    3. Salesforce training

    All participants agreed that salesforce training continues to be an enormous challenge in the sector, especially given high churn rates in sales teams and the need to adapt training to different markets. Classroom training is of limited value, so ongoing mentoring and support (and a small sales manager/sales agent ratio) is essential. Innovative training providers are emerging in the sector to support LMDs and some companies (eg. M-KOPA) have set up their own training universities. However, these services are either exclusive or very expensive, and tend to focus more on technical skills rather than sales and marketing. There is huge demand for more innovation in this space.

    4. Opportunities to leverage economies of scale

    EYElliance represents an excellent example of how collective approaches can work in distribution. EYElliance is a coalition of multi-sector actors working at system level to create change in the vision sector. They have had success in distribution of eyeglasses by tapping into the expertise of many members and learning from distribution methods in other product categories such as antimalarials, solar lighting and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs).

    The following key opportunities were identified to leverage the power of the collective across the LMD sector:

    • sharing best practices and lessons learned through online platforms, in-person networking and exchange visits between LMDs
    • improving access to information, including by building a directory of certified peer-reviewed products
    • developing standardised metrics and measurement tools for M&E
    • bulk buying products to streamline procurement processes

    5. Potential of emerging technologies to transform the sector

    Liz Smith describes EYElliance’s collaborative model to achieve systems-wide impact in eyeglass distribution

    Technologies that help gather data for operational intelligence are increasingly being utilised, for example software that can digitally track consumer behaviour. The next disruptive technologies are 3D printing which will transform manufacturing, and blockchain which will enable LMDs to track inventory through the supply chain and more effectively assess impact.

    6. Product specialisation vs diversification

    LMDs that use sales agent networks to sell complex consumer products generally need to specialise. Specialisation tends to be the most cost-effective approach because different skills and knowledge are required for different product categories, and also because LMDs have so many other functions to manage – logistics, procurement, finance, etc – that end sales need to be simplified to the greatest extent possible. However, LMDs can still achieve diversification across their portfolio by specialising at the sales agent level (ie, each sales agent only sells one product category) or by focusing on promoting different products during different time periods, rather than offering a basket of goods all year round. It has proven difficult to combine distribution channels for consumer durables like solar lights with FMCG products, although retail channels have more success than sales agent networks.

    The hosts closed the session by showing great willingness to work on the discussion points raised through the Global Distribution Collective.

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  • कालीकोटका “वन्डर वूमेन” का लागी !


    May 18th, 2018

    कालीकोटको तिलागूफा गाउँमा चाँडै ग्रभीटिबाट सञ्चालन हुने रोपवे सुचारु हुँदैछ । यातायातको कूनै सुविधा नभएका कारण पाहाडको टूप्पो देखी सडकसम्म गाउँलेहरू आफ्नै काँधको भरमा सामानको भारी बोक्न बाध्य छन् । यस्तो कार्यभारको प्रमूख बोझ भने महिला माथी परेको छ । घाँस–दाउरा, मेलापात, बालबच्चा र घर खेतको जिम्मेवारी त छ नै, साथमा धेरै पुरुष बैदेशिक रोजगारका लागी विदेशिने हुँदा, महिलाहरूको शारीरिक तथा मानसिक बोझ आकाशीदो छ । त्यस माथी पाठेघरै खस्ने जस्ता समस्याबाट प्रताडित तिलागूफाका महिलाहरूका लागी यो रोपवे एउटा बरदान भन्दा कम हुने छैन होला । रेपवेको पर्खाइमा आँैला भाँची रहेका यहाँका महिलाहरूको जीवनका भोगाइहरू बूझ्दा त यि महिलाहरू पो साँचो अर्थमा “वन्डर वूमेन” हून जस्तो लाग्ने ।

    बाँदर पनि लड्ने भिरमा घाँस दाउरा गर्ने, आकाश छुने अल्गो रुखको टूप्पा चडि स्याउला काट्ने, नाङ्गो पाइताला लिएर बस्तू चराउन जंगल जाने, नौ महिनाको गर्व लिएर आफै भन्दा गरुङ्गो मलको भारी बोक्ने, बारीमा एक्लै बच्चा जन्माएर नवजात शिशु डोकोमा हाली घर ल्याउने…… यी कथाहरू यहाँका हरेक महिलाको दिनचर्या हो । यहाँका महिलाले छानेको जीवन त यस्तो होइन तर भौगोलीक कठिनाइ, सामाजिक मान्यता, गरिबी तथा यावत कारणहरूले गर्दा अहिलेलाई अरु कूनै उपाय पनि छैन । यद्यपि हामीले लाँदै गरेको रोपवेले केहि व्यथा त समाधान गर्ला, केहि घाउ त पूर्ला की । ओझेल परेका यी महिलाहरू, यी “वन्डर वूमेनहरू” को सम्मानमा समर्पीत एउटा भावनाः

    कालीकोटे “वन्डर वूमेनहरू” फोटोः अर्चना गुरुङ्ग

    आज मेरो आँसूले बनेको सागर बनी हेर 
    मेरा भत्केका रहरहरूको ढिस्को बनी हेर 

    मेरो घाउ अनि चोटको हिमाल बनी हेर

    मेरो मर्मले भिजाएको सिरान बनी हेर
    मेरो भक्कानोले फूटाएको पहाड बनी हेर 

    मैले कोर्न नपाएको कलम बनी हेर

    मैले देख्नै नपाएको बालापन बनि हेर
    मेरो कोखले गुमाएका बालखा बनी हेर

    तर कालो अधेरीमा जुनकिरी पनि बनी हेर
    त्यो चोटको हिमाल माथी उदाउने सूर्य बनी हेर
    मैले बुनेका सपनाको महल बनी हेर
    मैले भिजाएका सिरानले दिने आड बनी हेर
    त्यो नांगो पहाड भित्रको बल बनी हेर
    मैले संसार देखाएको कोपीला बनी हेर
    मेरा पाखूरा र पौरखकोे उर्जा बनी हेर

    मेरो आँखाले देखेको प्रकाश बनी हेर

    कूहिरो माक्रको ईन्द्रेनी बनी हेर
    बादल भित्र लूकेको किरण बनी हेर
    कालीकोटे भीरमा फूल्ने गुरास बनी हेर
    कर्णालीको तीरमा बग्ने बतास बनीहेर

    आज एक पटक तिमी ……….
    मेरो पसिनाले भिजेको पछ्र्यौरी बनी हेर
    मेरो सहासले कसिएको पटूकी बनी हेर
    मलाई सजाउने मूस्कान, त्यो गहना बनी हेर
    मेरो लामो रातको सूस्केरी बनी हेर
    मेरा दरफरीएका हातको रेखी बनी हेर

    मेरा ओझेल परेका कथा बनी हेर !
    मेरा ओझेल परेका कथा बनी हेर ! !

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  • Dragon’s Den with a twist: unlocking finance for energy access


    April 30th, 2018

    ‘Dragon’s Den’ has been a very popular TV format where entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas to potential investors, with versions of the show produced in nearly 30 countries.

    New investments are also needed in energy access. There remains a very large financing gap between the amounts estimated to be needed per year to reach the 2030 SDG goal of universal access to electricity and clean cooking, and finance currently flowing. Various reports documented this over the last year including the suite of ‘Energizing Finance’ reports from SEforAll, Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook, and the IEA’s Energy Access Outlook.

    What’s missing in the usual Dragon’s Den format is the voice of the consumer, who could ask questions about whether the product on offer will meet their needs.

    Practical Action at the SEforAll Forum

    SEforAll Forum 2018 logoAt this year’s SEforAll Forum, Practical Action together with CPI and Hivos are hosting a Partner Working Session on Energizing Finance: Thursday 3rd May, 14:30-16:00, Rossio room.

    As part of this we’ll be inviting two organisations with great financing products to pitch their ideas. The twist is, they will be quizzed not only by potential investors, but also by representatives of their customer base: the off-grid businesses who are so starved of money currently. The finance products we’ll be featuring are:

    • The Renewable Energy Scale-Up Facility (RESF), which works by delivering early-stage finance to businesses in increments as they achieve key development milestones, in exchange for the option to buy equity at financial close, at better-than-market rate terms.
    • Green Aggregation Tech Enterprise (GATE), which helps mini-grid developers by acting as an aggregator and providing other business development services to mini-grids. They commit to providing mini-grids with a standardized payment system, and offer a standardized documentation, payment and energy accounting system.

    These are just two of a range of 26 financing solutions brought together under the Climate Finance Lab which, since its launch in 2014, has mobilised more than $1 billion in sustainable investment.

    This opportunity for potential beneficiaries of RESF or GATE to quiz them is part of the bottom-up revolution in energy access that is so sorely needed if we are to stand any chance of meeting our SDG goals.

    What do we already know about finance for energy access?

    Practical Action worked with SEforAll last year on the Taking the Pulse’ report as part of the Energizing Finance series. Focusing on five high-impact countries, we interviewed a wide range of small and medium energy access enterprises and other stakeholders to understand the challenges they face in accessing finance and growing their businesses to better serve poor and remote communities. We heard time and again about the barriers of lenders’ conditions to qualify for a loan in terms of collateral, track record or data. We heard about the problems of borrowing in foreign currency rather than local currencies which make it all-but-impossible to offer stable pricing to customers, or where restrictions on foreign exchange can make it hard to guarantee year-round supplies. We heard about the urgent need for working capital and for the easing of restrictive government regulations particularly for mini-grids.

    The Taking the Pulse report highlighted the depth of the challenge in the clean cooking sector where current investments were so low they amounted to less than $1 per capita per year. In this cash-starved environment, companies are looking for ways to help customers borrow for clean cooking solutions, as well as better co-ordination and policy support for market-based solutions. The sector needs to recognise the opportunities in the fuels markets which may be significantly greater than in the stove itself.

    Poor People's Energy Outlook 2017 cover imageOur 2017 edition of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook similarly pointed to the gap between current levels of financing, and the amounts needed to meet the energy service needs of off-grid communities. We emphasised the need for energy access financing across the spectrum: meeting needs for electricity and clean cooking, and for household, productive uses and community services (water pumping, street lighting, schools, health care, government services etc). We highlighted the extent to which an affordability gap still remains, requiring the right sorts of public finance targeted to close this gap.

    We had a particular focus on the extent to which women are disadvantaged in terms of access to finance both as entrepreneurs and consumers. Levels of trust in their businesses are often lower, and they may be more affected by the requirements for collateral and track-record. And as consumers they may find it harder to access finance for purchasing products in their own right.

    Graphic showing barriers and solutions to women's participation in energy access markets

    Hivos and Practical Action alike will be bringing a clear focus to the Partner Working Session on our core questions of:

    • How will new finance solutions help bring energy access to those places currently not well served – remote and poor communities, where levels of affordability are low?
    • How will new finance solutions recognise and seek to address gender inequalities which disadvantage women and hold back progress on energy access?

    The closing panel for the session includes strong civil society representation from Surabhi Rajagopal, co-ordinator of the ACCESS Coalition, who will bring these messages and challenges to the discussion.

    We are looking forward to a fascinating and challenging event, and hope to see many of you there. The forum will also be very well covered on social media, so if you can’t make it in person, stay tuned all week for updates. #SEforALLForum

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  • Climate Change Adaptation – From NAPA to NAP


    April 22nd, 2018

    I assume by this time there is no need for defining and clarifying what climate change is. But yet there are still some ambiguities among many of us as to what it actually is, on which many of us still are not so convinced.

    When we say an increase of 1°C global (or national) average temperature, we do not usually believe that it affects us because we have diurnal difference of more than 10°C between minimum and maximum, and difference of over 30°C between winter minimum and summer maximum.  So we question ourselves why we are so panicking about just 1°C temperature change in our atmosphere?

    But the difference that we have in our heads is the daily or seasonal difference or difference in events, and climate change is about the average of these events. Naturally the average climate values should not change significantly over the year, the annual average values of temperature should remain the same despite their diurnal and season variations.

    In case of precipitation it is not just the annual average but also the seasonality, the form and characteristics of precipitation. So for precipitation, it is not just the annual average, but the average change in monthly and seasonal average values also matter.

    Using statistics

    We believe in statistics. When statistics tell us that there is a significant difference between two numbers, no matter how small it is, this indicates that there are certain disturbances and such differences will also have certain impacts around it as a consequence.

    Nepal climate data analysis carried out by the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) of Nepal recently indicates that even a change of 0.056° C per year in the maximum temperature over 43 years (1971 – 2014) is highly significant which could have potential impacts. So by this standard a change of 1° C is highly significant which will have a high impact on the environment and our life systems. Nonetheless there is still a belief that if there is a 1.5° C increase over 100 years, perhaps we can cope with it.  But if this happens over a short period of time, the impact will go beyond our capacity to cope.

    The result of DHM of 0.056° C per year increase is based on observed temperature data of 1971-2014. This shows over the last 43 years of time with 0.056° C per year, there is already an increase of 2.41 ° C in Nepal’s average maximum temperature. Unfortunately the report did not provide information on the average temperature, but the increasing trend of the minimum temperature over the same period is not significant, it is smaller than that of maximum, pulling down the mean average below 2.41 degree C, which could be still within our coping capacity.

    We have already observed the impact of such a temperature increase on the physical and social environments. The very obvious impacts we have seen are receding snow lines and declining of snow and glacier masses and an increase in the number and size of lakes formed from the snow and glacier melt water. As a rule of thumb rule the relationship between temperature and elevation in Nepal is such that for each 1,000 m increase in elevation, there is a drop of temperature of 5° C. So a 1° C average rise in temperature will recede the snow lines around 200m vertically with thinner depths of snow and glacier deposition.

    We have also observed an increased number of intensive flood events, an extended monsoon season in recent years, and erratic rainfall that affects agriculture, which is the main livelihood of two thirds of the Nepal’s population. These events have affected the poorest the most who depend on natural environment for their livelihood and have poor coping capacity.
    The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) brought the concept of NAPA (National Adaptation Programmes of Action) in 2001 specifically to support the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to address their urgent and immediate needs to cope with impacts of climate change. With the supports from the UNFCCC mechanisms and several other funding agencies, the LDCs including Nepal have prepared NAPA and are in the implementation process. NAPA is basically a response and coping approach based adaptation. Its actions are designed based on observed impacts of climate variabilities and changes. It enhances the autonomous adaptation process of the communities. So the NAPA focuses to restore the damages or impacts already being brought about by climate change and find alternatives if they cannot be restored. As for example, if there is a drought because of erratic rainfall or drying up of water sources, NAPA helps to find out alternative mechanisms to cope with the problem. Similarly, if there is damage due to flood, NAPA helps to build mechanisms to prevent from further damage of such floods, etc. So NAPA designs its action plans based on observed impacts of the events, it does not design its actions based on the anticipated impacts of climate change that is going to happen in to the future.

    In view of continuous increase in global temperature and erratic events of climate variables which have been anticipated to occur for next several decades, action plans under NAPA is not sufficient. NAPA is good for supporting autonomous adaptation which is more or less a natural process.

    Realising the inadequacy of NAPA to take action now to address the needs for the anticipated events of climate change in the future, which did not exist in the past several thousand years, the UNFCCC came with the concept of NAP (National Adaptation Plan) in Cancun in 2010. But still there exist some confusions between NAPA and NAP, many of us think they are the same or similar, and when we discuss on NAP, the discussions do not get differentiated from NAPA. There is a need of understanding the objectives of NAP first, which is to act now for reducing potential adverse consequences of climate change in the coming future, which is completely different from NAPA that takes the actions based on the observed events. In short NAP is forward looking action. NAP theoretically does not prepare plan to build irrigation canal to address the drought faced last year hoping the same will happen, this will be done by NAPA, but NAP asks to take actions now to address the impacts of anticipated drought in the coming years which might not necessarily be the similar that occurred in the past.
    In this context implementation of NAP needs more science based future climate information in addition to observed information. Nepal NAPA has refereed that Nepal’s temperature might increase by 1.2 – 1.4 degree C by 2030, 1.7 – 2.8 degree C by 2050/2060 and 3.0 – 4.7 degree C by 2090/2100 based on pre-2000 baseline and different models. Different models show there will be increase in temperature in the coming decades, but there is uncertainty in the magnitude of increase which results uncertainties in impacts as well. This needs periodic assessment and use of best science to minimise the uncertainties- both climate change and its impacts that helps identifying and choosing the most appropriate measures.
    The uncertainties are also amplified by developments in social, economic, cultural and political sectors. NAP needs periodic information on the best future scenarios of these sectors to make it more effective. Such information need to be ensured at federal, province and palika (local level government in Nepal) levels for effective development planning and implementation. The strong climate science will minimise uncertainty in future climate predictions or scenarios. A federal level climate science mechanism under the relevant ministry needs to be established, its capacity needs to be enhanced and institutional mechanism should be established that this federal level institution or organisation has access to province and palikas to ensure that province and palika level governments have access to such climate information and use it.

    In order to ensure integration of climate change in development and enhance the capacity, the existing provisions for NAPA can serve as foundation for NAP, but it is not sufficient. Institutional mechanism is required to ensure climate change integration in development at palika, province and federal levels. These institutions should be permanent as climate change is going to affect for next several decades. There are some institutional mechanisms at the federal level at present in Nepal, such as Climate Change Council under the chair of Right Honourable Prime Minister and Multi-stakeholders Climate Change Initiative Coordination Committee (MCCICC). But these mechanisms are not effectively functioning. Two actions are required to make them functional and effective 1) they need to be legally recognised by defining their roles, responsibilities and authorities in relevant acts, rules, regulations and legal documents, and 2) they need to have linkages with federal and palika governments. Currently they are not legally bound and they do not have local reach. It is not necessary that there should be a separate institutional mechanism for climate change from federal to province and then to palika levels, but the institutional mechanism for climate change can also be integrated with other existing mechanism like environmental or disaster management sectors given the functions can be delivered effectively instead of creating several such organisations mechanisms for different issues.

    The other core element of NAP is to integrate climate change into development sectors or in Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through strategies, policies, plans and actions. Climate change is not a separate issue from other development issues, rather it amplifies the existing issues that demands additional resources and capacities. The development sectors need to understand the future climate scenario, its potential impacts on respective sectors and the right technologies to adopt now that minimise and avert the potential future impacts on the particular sector.

    Technical skills need to be built in the respective sectors who will be affected by climate change and who need to take actions. As for example, water resources will be affected by climate change. Therefore the human resource working in water resource should know how the water resource will be affected by change in climate, when and where will be affected and what will be the magnitude of the effect. Based on these scenario they should have the knowledge, skill, technologies, capacity and resources to use before the impacts are felt to avert it or minimise the impacts. The sectors will require additional resources in addition to what they possess or have access now. Such additional resources need to be allocated to the respective sectors basically the financial resources. Monitoring is essential to ensure integration of climate change in development sectors with the additional resources being allocated so that they do not just address the issues based on the past events like done by NAPA, but also address the issue based on the future events that are anticipated scientifically.

    Clear policies, strategies and legal mechanism needed to ensure that development sectors integrate climate change into their development programmes and ensure resources and capacity required to address the future potential impacts of climate change. Nepal has already initiated NAP. It is a process to ensure climate change integration in overall sustainable development goals. The process needs to produce policies, strategies and legal instruments to ensure resources and capacity to address the potential impacts of climate change effectively in the coming decades. The process should not be delayed as the impacts of climate change do not wait NAP to be prepared and implemented. So sooner we integrate climate change adaptation in development, better we avert or reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on our sustainable development goals.

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  • Why I felt it was important to break the silence


    April 13th, 2018

    This year on the International Women’s Day, I felt like sharing my personal story relating to “Menstruation”. Yes, we bleed! It is not comfortable!

    Perhaps the most discomforting part is the practice of tiptoeing around it. Periods are the “one issue” we have been going to an extreme length to hide about ourselves. Everyone knows we are getting them, but we cannot talk about it!

    What we do during period?

    Women in Bangladesh, generally, do not talk about periods to men. Not even with their fathers or brothers. Women often feel too shy to go to a pharmacy and buy sanitary napkins in front of men. I have personally witnessed my friend refraining from buying them even at the situation of dire need, just because a man from her neighbourhood was in the pharmacy. My friend hesitated, and then decided to buy some cold medicine, which she did not even need, to justify her presence in the pharmacy to him. A couple of years back I would have done the same thing if I was in that situation. That is what how we were brought up – we grew up believing, “no one must know I get periods”.

    Growing up in a Muslim family, surrounded by Muslim neighbours and classmates, I have also practised and witnessed the strategy our mothers took to ‘hide’ periods from the male members’ of the family. Muslim women are excused from their Islamic duties of saying their prayers for five times a day, or fasting during the month of Ramadan on the days they have their period. Since ‘not praying’ or ‘not fasting’ would be a dead giveaway – all these women would “pretend” to pray, and wake up in the middle of the night[1] to pretend they will be fasting the next day.

    That was as far as the struggle of ‘hiding period’ from others goes. Now let me talk about the actual experience itself. It is important to understand that each woman experiences period differently. The struggle starts at an early age, from school days. According to the UN, only 1 in 3 girls in South Asia are unaware about menstruation prior to starting. It causes significant embarrassment and trauma. Those with irregular cycles might experience sudden bleeding, anytime, anywhere. Managing it, when it starts, is a whole other issue. According to the Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014, 82% of girls think that school facilities are inadequate for managing menstruation.

    Some women, including myself, experience extreme abdominal pain, on top of the obvious discomfort. The pain disrupts our daily lives – personally, socially, professionally we can no longer function the way we normally do. The Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014 showed that about 40% of girls miss school for an average of 3 days/month due to period related discomfort.

    I have been suffering from extreme abdominal pain during menstruation since 2015. Being a working woman since 2011, I have tried working through the pain since the beginning. My female colleagues from my previous workplace, though they sympathised, were strict on their position of keeping it hidden whenever a man walked by. My proposal for keeping sanitary napkin in the office, be it in the first aid box, or managed by our female admin official to deliver upon request, was met with serious laughter. To these women, a woman who did not take appropriate measure to face her period any day, any time, were committing a serious crime. In their eyes, a woman should be taking care of this issue by herself, the office should not be responsible for catering to her need relating to this.

    It is not surprising that the majority of professionals, even women, think this way. I have worked through pain, tried neutralising the pain with high powered painkillers for years. Four months after joining Practical Action, I finally gathered up all my guts to walk up to my manager, and tell him about my suffering. I honestly do not know that made me gather that courage. Perhaps the inclusive attitude from everyone at the office made me feel safe. My manager not only sympathised, but also asked me to write an application to “work from home” during those days. When I responded by saying that I did not wish to take any additional benefits only because I was a woman, he assured me that taking ‘work from home’ was not that at all. Rather, it was essential to take care of oneself to perform the best for the betterment of the organisation.

    I was soon shifted under another manager, due to a change in organisational structure. Luckily, my new manager, was equally supportive in this matter. Whether I wanted to work from home, or start for work a bit later than the usual time, he was totally fine with it.

    Gradually, some sense started to come to me. It soon hit me that I was discussing my issue with my managers who were men. I excluded the men who matter to me the most – my father and my elder brother. It took me 18 years to finally pick up the phone and call my father to ask him to buy me some sanitary napkin. Sure, he was not comfortable, nor was I. However, it was a call that was 18 years too late. It was a late realisation that there was no need to hide this. He witnesses my suffering on a regular basis. If anything, me opening up to him helped him understand my suffering even more.

    Why did I feel it was important to break the silence?

    I am sure, a lot of people are already labelling me as ‘shameless’ – speaking of womanly matters in public. Honestly, I do not care! It is a regular part of my life, a regular part of any woman’s life. It is important to discuss it in the open because periods can cause significant discomfort and trauma and no woman should have to face it alone. No woman should feel ashamed of such a regular natural phenomenon. No woman should feel the need to wake up in the dead of the night, “pretending” to fast in front of her male family members to successfully hide that she is on her period. No woman should feel uncomfortable about buying sanitary napkins just because a neighbourhood “chacha” is in the same pharmacy. To sum it up – no need to hide something that makes us who we are – women!

    When we celebrate women’s day each March 8, our focus should not be wearing purple, or holding a banner. All men and women should work on ensuring a friendly environment for both the sexes about raising the issues we face on a regular basis to those who do not face it, but are in a position to create an enabling environment for minimising it.

    [1] In order to fast during the month of Ramadan, one requires having food before sunrise, which is called Sahri

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  • The Climate Damages Tax, an idea whose time has come!


    April 12th, 2018

    Pollution must be brought under control and mankind’s population and consumption of resources must be steered towards a permanent and sustainable equilibrium. E.F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.

    According to the last global review[1] Natural Hazards resulted in 9,503 deaths, 96 million people being affected, and economic costs in excess of US$314 billion. Weather-related events were responsible for the majority of both human and economic losses. Almost 90% of the deaths in 2017 were due to climatological, hydrological or meteorological disasters. Nearly 60% of people affected by disasters were affected by floods, while 85% of economic losses were due to storms, mainly from the three hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that struck the Caribbean.

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Climate change is fuelling many of these catastrophic weather events[2]. Unfortunately vulnerable countries, communities and ecosystems are on the frontline of this catastrophe. Poor people now face, due to lack of meaningful progress to reduce carbon emissions, changes in climate beyond the ability of people and local ecosystems to adapt to – a phenomenon described as ‘Loss and Damage’. However, Loss and Damage remains a political concept, mandated during the UNFCCC negotiations as a separate article in the Paris Agreement, but it is hamstrung with its roots mistakenly seen as in technical climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

    This confusion is not helping anyone. It generates a sense that no one cares about the poorest and the most vulnerable. So it was great to see some progress at the recent meeting of the Executive Committee for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), held in Bonn two weeks ago. They recognised that a definition for Loss and Damage is necessary, if we are to start to do anything to respond to the threat. But a definition will not be enough, the Paris Agreement will also needs to mobilise money to pay for the consequences of climate change. For the WIM its core mission remains delivering finance for addressing Loss and Damage. The WIM must engage constructively to understand what finance and support vulnerable countries need, and identify sources and how it will be channelled.

    There are solutions such as deploying simple Early Warning Systems technologies such as these being piloted in Peru but they need financing

    But we all know the global aid budget is failing to keep pace with the growing global demands[3]. Climate change is exacerbating existing global problems, drought leading to failed harvests, flood removing homes and livelihoods and acidification of oceans depleting fish stocks to name but a few. These local catastrophes drive climate migration, populations are on the move and social and political tensions are rising. One way this could be defused would be to make some real progress on addressing Loss and Damage. It would make long term economic sense to reverse these trends but to do this we need money for action. Why not put the polluter’s pays principle into practice? We should ensure that the polluting companies pay for the damage they have caused. One way would be to equitably implement a “Climate Damages Tax” on fossil fuel extraction, which could raise billions of dollars a year, funded by the industry that is responsible for approximately 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions[4].

    So Practical Action are proud to be part of a movement proposing that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is put into action. It is now time for the industry most responsible to pay for the damages it has caused, and for vulnerable countries worst affected to receive the financial assistance they so urgently need. This requires the introduction of an equitable fossil fuel extraction charge – or Climate Damages Tax – levied on producers of oil, gas and coal to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change when these products are burnt. The substantial revenues raised could be allocated through the UN Green Climate Fund or similar financial mechanism, for the alleviation and avoidance of the suffering caused by severe impacts of climate change in developing countries, including those communities forced from their homes. Finally, despite additional financial resources, it is recognised that we still need to push for the urgent replacement of fossil fuels, with renewable sources of energy assisted by the economic incentive of increasing the rate of the Climate Damages Tax over time.

    If you want to learn more then please come along on Monday; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/climate-damages-tax-campaign-launch-tickets-44114116510

    If you agree the Climate Damages Tax is an idea whose time has come, join us by signing the declaration here: https://www.stampoutpoverty.org/climate-damages-tax/climate-damages-tax-declaration/

    [1] http://cred.be/sites/default/files/CredCrunch50.pdf

    [2] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/climate-change-is-fuelling-extreme-weather-events/

    [3] http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/GHA-Report-2017-Full-report.pdf

    [4] http://www.theactuary.com/news/2017/07/100-firms-responsible-for-majority-of-co2-emissions/

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  • Ever heard of a Floating Farm?


    April 6th, 2018

    Meet Shujit Sarkar, a 36 year old farmer from Bangladesh. Shujit is married to Shikha and they have four children.

    Shujit earns his income by farming and selling fish fingerlings. He doesn’t own land or a pond so he has to keep the fingerlings in the canal nearby. Unfortunately, during the monsoon seasons, the canal water overflows and the whole village floods. During the floods, Shujit can’t feed or sell his fingerlings. This means that he struggles to feed his family.

    This is a common problem in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Every year, the villages are devastated by floods caused by sea levels rising and monsoon rains. Their livestock and produce severely damaged or completely washed away. People have no choice but to try keep rebuilding what is lost.

    Fortunately, Shujit found out about a charity called Practical Action. Practical Action was already working in Shujit’s community, helping the community members to develop a sustainable solution to the problem. Shujit contacted Practical Action and was introduced to a new technology called a floating farm. A floating farm is an ingenious farming technique which works in the local context. The garden floats on top of the water and a fish cage is assembled below. The plants help filter the water which means the fish can thrive. The fish create waste which fertilises the plants to improve growth. It produces enough sustenance to feed the farmers’ families, with enough left over to sell.

    Shujit found this ingenious technology inspiring and wanted to invest in it. Practical Action provided him with the fish cage and Shujit bought 1,500 fingerlings. This is his first farming cycle and it has been very successful. What’s great is that the farming technique requires less effort and his wife is also able to help. She normally feeds the fishes and cleans the cage. Shujit now feels that there is hope for the future and the floods can no longer stop him making an income. In the future, he wants to build another fish cage and further expand his farming business.

    Want to find out more about floating farms? Have a look at our project page: https://practicalaction.org/aqua-geoponics

    Interested in supporting farmers like Shujit? Here’s a link to our support page: https://practicalaction.org/support/floating-farms

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  • End energy poverty


    April 5th, 2018

    Energy is one of the key indicators for development. Like other essential basic needs, a certain amount of energy is required for our survival. Depending on the context, livelihood patterns and way of living, energy needs are different. For example, nowadays, people in Bangladesh across all socioeconomic categories are using cellphones due to very high rates of penetration. So the energy requirement for charging cellphones has become a basic need for users.

    Bangladesh has achieved tremendous success in several sectors and has touched the base of being a middle income country. The Government has committed to supply electricity for all by 2021, and has increased production remarkably. But still 38% of people are outside the coverage of the national grid, of these 20% have no access to electricity.

    Solar power bangladeshAn electricity supply doesn’t necessarily mean a supply of quality electricity. If we can’t ensure 24/7 supply, we cannot make productive use of energy in hard to reach areas. A flourishing rural economy, promotion of entrepreneurship and local-level business, and the establishment of better market linkages, requires an uninterrupted electricity supply. For example, if someone wants to build a hatchery, milk chilling centre or even cold storage in a remote area, all of which could contribute to the growing economy for the country, a continuous supply is a must. . However, investment in the power sector in Bangladesh is predominantly made adopting a top-down approach. This traditional approach of planning requires to be revisited.

    Total Energy Access

    Practical Action is globally renowned for its energy-related work. Its global call for energy is titled as Total Energy Access – TEA. Practical Action wants to end Energy Poverty.

    One of its global flagship publication series is: Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO). The recent two publications of PPEO series refer to three countries, of which Bangladesh is one. These publications highlight the perspectives poor people on energy.PPEO Launch Bangladesh

    The previous publication in this series, PPEO 2016, focused on the energy needs of poor people living in off-grid areas of Bangladesh. These include household requirements, requirements for community services like schools, hospitals, etc., and also the need for entrepreneurship development. Apart from energy requirements, this publication figured out the priority of energy needs, affordability and willingness to pay.

    The latest issue, PPEO (2017), reflects on the investment requirements for poor people to access energy, followed by the needs identified in the previous one. The total energy requirements have been derived for each of the segments such as solar homes systems, grid expansion and entrepreneurship. Together with the investment patterns, it identifies the challenges associated with the investment, and suggested essential policy recommendations.

    Women’s energy needs

    Reflecting on our typical planning mechanisms, how much do we really think about the need of the poor people? Do we think of women in particular?

    Nowadays, women are taking up the role of farming and many of them are heading their families. Many women are emerging as entrepreneurs. Have we really thought about their energy needs? If we don’t offer them access to finance, build their capacity for financial management and provide hand holding support, they will simply lag behind. While investing on access to energy, we have to think the special needs of women, and how to ensure energy equity.

    The outcomes of the PPEO study should give policy makers the food for thought and inspire action to adopt a bottom-up approach for energy solutions for energy-poor people.

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  • FSM in Bangladesh: How to operationalize the Institutional and Regulatory Framework?


    March 28th, 2018

    Bangladesh is considered a role model in the world for its achievement in providing access to sanitation for all. Currently, more than 99% of people in Bangladesh use toilets. The positive progress has created challenges. Issues such as how to empty the toilets, and how to deal safely with the faecal sludge need to be addressed. Manual emptying by informal workers, and indiscriminate and untreated disposal lead to serious environmental pollution and bring adverse impacts on water quality and public health. The informal emptiers have a big role in the current Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) market system but their dignity and working environment is a big issue.

    Last year (2017), the Government of Bangladesh published an Institutional Regulatory Framework (IRF) setting out the roles, responsibilities and coordination of different agencies (i.e Department of Public Health and Engineering, Utility Companies – WASAs, Urban and Rural Government Institutes & private sector) to tackle the FSM challenges. The framework was developed collaboratively by ITN-BUET (Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management), Practical Action and others and includes many of the key issues Practical Action wanted to see promoted. The initiative is highly appreciated by the global development partners. The burning issue now is how to operationalize this framework and bring visible and tangible impact on the ground.

    The country is yet to develop solutions which are proven to be technically feasible and reliable, socially acceptable, financially and economically viable and can be managed by the existing institutions. However, a number of organizations is doing research, innovations, piloting and demonstration work to create the evidence of the whole FSM service and value chain – including containment, emptying, transportation and treatment of sludge for resource recovery and its market promotion. These endeavors, including our own in Faridpur, have created useful examples and provided evidence in particular circumstances but are yet to go to scale. One of the biggest learnings from these initiatives is that capacities are limited at all tiers i.e. grass roots, local, sub national and national level to improve FSM and to operationalize IRF.  

    The government is not short of resources, and could invest in scaling up solutions for greening the economy and for sustainable growth. The most recent example is the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge, the biggest infrastructural development project,  which the country developed without any financial assistance from external development partners.

    The time has come to think how we can build national, sub national and local capacity in an integrated, holistic and coordinated way to operationalize the IRF.

    A national capacity building program needs to address different aspects and engage many stakeholders. For example, changes in behavior and community practices for safe disposal of sludge is a big issue. Both social and electronic media has a significant role in popularizing messages to call for actions to stop unsafe disposal. However, the businesses are not properly orientated and they lack capacity.

    Informal groups, small and medium entrepreneurs and large scale private companies can play a big role in operating the business of improving the FSM services and treatment businesses. The local authority can invite the private sector and can create public private partnerships to leverage resources to improve the services. However, their institutional capacity is not up to the mark for design, development, management and monitoring this partnership.

    The professional capacity of consulting firms to design context specific appropriate FSM schemes is also an issue. The contractors that are responsible for construction of the faecal sludge treatment plant, secondary transfer stations and other physical facilities are yet to be developed. Similarly, the capacity of local manufacturers to fabricate pumps, machines and vehicles to empty and to transfer the sludge to the disposal sites is yet to be developed. Last but not least, finance institutions (including development banks, climate and green financing agencies, micro financing organizations) need to understand the sector better and focus on building their capacities to make sure there is enough investment to tackle the issues on FSM. The Department of Environment (DoE) needs to be on board for setting and regulating standards for improved FSM. Research & development capacity is extremely limited, especially when it comes to researching different aspects – particularly social, economic, environmental and health aspects. The Government should have a National Plan of Action for effective implementation of IRF on the ground.

    The emerging question is how to build this local and national capacity to optimize the impact from the current and future investment programs around FSM by the Government of Bangladesh and their lending partners Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. This capacity building is a big responsibility and cannot be delivered by any single organization alone.

    The country urgently needs to form a coalition/consortium of FSM organizations – led by Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. These parties can designate and hire credible organizations to make a good action plan for short, medium and long term in participation with all stakeholders. This consortium should utilize the comparative strength of each organization and the organizations should not compete with each other. Practical Action is keen to play a part in such a consortium, drawing from our experiences on the ground, and our knowledge of ‘where capacities are lacking’ and ‘what are the best ways of building them.

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  • Learning through experience


    March 26th, 2018

    “ All genuine learning comes through experience “John Dewey

    I earned two degrees while working in Practical Action. I often boast it as one of my biggest achievements in Practical Action. My colleagues sometimes quip “when did you work, then? “ – implying how did I balance the work and study. The fact is I never had to study. The learning I gathered in my work was enough to earn me the degrees. I went to universities just for accreditation (balancing the field visit schedules and the exam routines was tough though!!)

    As I am preparing to leave Practical Action after 11 years of service, I wish to keep some of the key learning on record. Let me start with the professional ones,

    Too much focus on delivery kills innovation
    Timely delivery of the project targets including the financial target is important and binding. However, too much focus on delivery limit innovation. Innovation is an iterative process. An idea or technology has to go through several rounds of refinements before it is ready for uptake. If we become too impatient about the delivery from the onset, we may end up promoting the crude ideas and unproven technologies which may not work in long run. Hence, if we expect our projects to be innovative, we should be careful to consider the fact right from the project design and negotiate with donors accordingly.

    We were able to do that in the Strengthening the supply chain  of construction materials project, which I have been managing since last 2 years. As a result, we have been successful to demonstrate various new technologies like CSEB, Stone Cutting machine and innovative idea like Demand aggregation. The project had 4 months of inception period fully dedicated to understanding the context and testing the new technologies /ideas. The inception period was extended by 2 months to allow the ideas to mature further. Actual uptake of the ideas / technologies started only after 9th month. However, it didn’t take long to catch up the financial and physical targets as the ideas were mature and strategy was clear by then.

    Successful demonstration of technology alone doesn’t automatically lead to uptake
    I spent major part of my tenure in Practical Action promoting Gravity Goods Ropeway. I genuinely believe it is a great technology. It holds enormous promise to help 100 of thousands (if not millions) of people living in the isolated hills of Nepal and other mountainous countries in the developing world. However, the technology didn’t tip beyond some isolated success cases and sporadic uptake by few organizations. On retrospection, I feel that our implicit assumption that the successful demonstration of the technology will automatically lead to replication didn’t work. We focused our efforts on demonstrating the technology, which we did really well. However, we missed to demonstrate the incentive that the uptake of the technology will entail to different market actors (government and private sector), except for the poor farmers. The farmers, however, lack resources to uptake the technology on their own.
    The hard learnt lesson, however, came in handy in the Supply chain project, in which we consciously demonstrated both , the technologies and the incentives they entails to different actors. As a result, the market actors (private firms) are scaling up the technologies /ideas in the project districts with light touch support from the project. The firms are spreading the ideas and technologies beyond the project districts on their own.

    Resource poor not the knowledge

    It may sound like a cliché but over the time I have truly started believing that the people we are working for may be poor in resources but are rich in knowledge. They may not present their ideas in the development jargons that we are used to hearing but they always offer the most plausible insight and most practical solution to any problem. Hence, when you feel you are running out of ideas ok  stuck in problems, go to them. If you have patience and right ears to hear them, you will always be rewarded with the most innovative yet Practical ideas.

    Attitude is more important than intelligence
    In last 11years, I got opportunity to work with several people – people with different level of intelligence (IQ) and different attitudes (EI). Just to paraphrase them in the terminology we use in Practical Action for performance evaluation – people with different level of technical competency and behavioral competency. Though, I eventually, learnt to enjoy working with all of them, my experience boils down to the following 2 conclusions,
    • People with right attitude are more important than with higher intelligence for success of any project. Hence, if you have opportunity to choose between the people with right attitude and higher intelligence, go for former.
    • When people are given which is often the case, work through their attitude rather than trying to change them. Attitudes are difficult to change if they can be changed at all.
    I feel vindicated after reading this article. It argues the importance of attitude over intelligence for personal success. But, same hold true of success of any project.

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