Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.
At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.
Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.
But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.
1. Covered shelters:
The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:
“Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”
With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.
2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:
With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing. In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.
“We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”
3. Breeding pens:
We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:
Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.
4. Market access and product diversification:
In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price. Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.
5. Training and knowledge:
Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.
It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I was recently inspired by a talk by Danny Budzak at the International Data and Information Management Conference (IDIMC) in Loughborough. Danny works for the London Legacy Development Organisation and is responsible for their knowledge management. Many of us were recently inspired by Chris Collison’s case study on IOC knowledge management so I was interested to hear Danny’s take on the reality.
But in fact, the main thing that stuck in my head was Danny’s description of how office life has changed over recent decades. It’s not so very long ago that important documents were typed and filed by professionals – people trained in filing, records management, knowledge management. The fact that a typist may be employed to type a report, and that the opportunity for editing was limited to the use of Tippex, inherently built in quality assurance processes that have long since disappeared.
Nowadays we are all office managers and knowledge managers. We are responsible for our own digital filing and usually for creating our own filing structures. This is all well and good, when you are creating and capturing knowledge that only you will use. But if you are capturing knowledge that has a wider value – say expertise on how to deliver a development project, then you need to design a system which will allow others to find and retrieve that knowledge easily.
But how many of us have had any training in the design of such systems. The use of metadata or version control? How many of us have actually even had proper training in the use of excel or word?
Danny summed up his talk with a great phrase that I will return to. Complexity doesn’t have to be confusing. It’s so easy when faced by burgeoning big data and masses of junk mail to shut ourselves off from the potential sources of knowledge and wisdom. It is the job of the knowledge manager (and we are all knowledge managers) to make sense out of this chaos and confusion and bring order to the complexity.No Comments » | Add your comment
Last week I was pleased to attend the launch of the Climate Knowledge Brokers (CKB) manifesto at DFID. It’s a really handy guide to the role of knowledge brokers, how they should go about their tasks and why they are so important. Whilst the launch of the manifesto has conveniently arrived ahead of COP21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference), I think the models and lessons from this document have wider importance for knowledge brokers across all sectors.
In particular, the necessity to understand the needs of the audience is one of the main items highlighted by the CKB. This seems a straightforward observation, but it’s easily forgotten because the links between knowledge ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ are rarely as simple as they appear on paper. I found this recognition particularly relevant to our work: the ‘chain’ between the creators of knowledge and those that will find it useful is complex. It’s also full of gaps, with actors often possessing neither the will nor the way to pass knowledge on.
For knowledge brokers like Practical Answers, we must act effectively in both directions: communicating the needs of our consumers to our suppliers whilst formatting, contextualising and organising information to make knowledge accessible and appropriate for our users. A great point raised during the meeting, and an approach that we strive for in Practical Answers, was that constantly asking questions is the key to success in knowledge brokering!
The CKB have also previously talked about a ‘Climate Grid’: a network of brokers, working in a co-ordinated way (digitally and offline) to make sure marginalised communities get access to the knowledge they need. But I wonder if it’s better to see the whole process as a knowledge system, albeit a complex and ever-changing one. It was clear at the meeting, for example, that people who are running large programmes for DFID are both knowledge creators and knowledge users. A chain, focussed on brokers, tends to underestimate the other influencing factors in the whole knowledge system. When it comes to climate change, everyone is exposed to messages from a whole host of actors beyond formal knowledge brokers, including the media, the private sector, scientific organisations, governments and their community: not to mention special interest groups and lobbyists. In such a complex system, it’s vital to understand these gaps, dynamics and needs to provide knowledge that those on the front line of a changing climate can use.No Comments » | Add your comment
Practical Action is a charity with a difference. We believe in local solutions that can grow to scale, people centred development, sharing every ounce of our knowledge so the maximum benefit accrues (helping others to share their experience too) and working to help end poverty and protect our planet.
We are also different in our approach to fundraising.
I’ve been Marketing and Communications Director at Practical Action for 15 years – I’m told that sticking around in such a post for so long is rare – but each year as I’ve learnt yet more about Practical Action’s work my enthusiasm has grown. Normally I talk about our projects on the ground or the people I’ve met, but today I want to talk about our fundraising. I love the appeals, project updates and newsletters my team pull together. They do a great job. The team are really connected with and passionate about the work of Practical Action. I hope you can sense that in everything we communicate.
As well as sharing stories from our work we also try and listen. If you ring Practical Action (01926 634400 between 9am and 5pm) or send us a letter or email, there will be someone here able to answer your queries. Every year we run a Supporters Day where donors come together with our international directors, programme workers, etc. It’s a brilliant event with real in-depth sharing. It’s also vital for the fundraising team providing a special opportunity for them to mix with, put a face to and listen to a large group of our supporters.
We believe that in supporting Practical Action you become part of our community.
It’s for that reason that I can categorically say that during my 15 years in charge of fundraising Practical Action has never sold or shared supporter, enquirers, or other data. And our commitment to you is that we never will.
We will write to you regularly – when we last researched the frequency of our mailings we were pleasantly surprised how most people said that we had the frequency about right. On the other hand if it doesn’t work for you, just call us up and we can customise to your needs (best if you don’t request ‘no mail’ as years ago when we changed our name I met a donor who was very grumpy about not being informed, but we were keeping to the instruction not to contact her).
As a Practical Action supporter I hope you know that your contribution is invaluable to our work – however the news stories that have been in the press about other charities over recent weeks make me want to say it again.
We – the whole of Practical Action and the people we work with – value your support. We also have a great team of fundraisers who genuinely care about what we do and the people who support us. Our promise is to honour this joint endeavour. We will be passionate when we talk about our work – what we do, our cause, the changes you and Practical Action can make in people’s lives – are just too important, too exciting to communicate in a way that’s dull. Alongside that passion for our work our commitment in all our communications is to be fair and honest – and to listen.
And if you want to talk with me directly my email is Margaret.firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from you!2 Comments » | Add your comment
On June 13th we held our annual Supporters’ day in London. Taking inspiration from our heritage the theme of the day was ‘Grassroots to Muddy boots’ it was a fantastic opportunity for supporters to get closer to the work their support has made possible – and what a day!
Margaret Gardner opened the proceedings, followed by our Nepal Country Director, Achyut Luitel who gave an update on the recent Earthquake and, explained our involvement at present and going forward. There was an introduction from Muna Eltahir the new Sudan Country Director, who spoke about why she chose to work for Practical Action, and the work already achieved in Sudan.
During lunch there was a drop in session giving supporters the opportunity to speak to our new Country Directors – Muna Eltahir, Sudan, Hasin Jahan, Bangladesh and Kudzai Marovanidze, Zimbabwe. We were also shown some great Technology Justice videos from the education team.
Throughout the day we had some great workshops such as Doing it better led by Margaret Gardner and Kudzai Marovanidze, who spoke about Marula nut production in Zimbabwe. Supporters heard how we are working with women’s communities who earn their living from marula nut products.
There was an interactive exercise that involved cracking Marula nuts using similar tools to the women in Zimbabwe. The exercise highlighted the difficulties faced without the right equipment and support.
Rob Cartridge hosted a Project pitch session showing four short videos about Knowledge services in Bangladesh, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Peru. Supporters were asked ‘If they had £5K which project would they give it to?’
Following the videos and the pitch about each one, they were then asked to vote – the winner was the Krishi call centre in Bangladesh. Supporters were really impressed with the examples they were shown and said “the work was amazing” and “I couldn’t believe it’s so cost effective”.
Everyone had a fantastic day and couldn’t wait to get home and spread the word – they were even tweeting from the venue.No Comments » | Add your comment
The Supporter Services department at Practical Action are dedicated to providing excellent care and service to our supporters. As a team we work tirelessly “behind the scenes” and in all our communications with supporters to ensure we meet our high expectations. We were extremely thrilled this week to learn that one of our team has been recognised for her hard work and dedication and has been selected as a finalist under the category ‘Charity Support Function Hero’ for this years Charity Staff and Volunteers Awards.
Gerry Corkhill has worked in the Supporter Services Team for over 10 years and diligently processes an ever-increasing stream of donation functions from our fantastic supporters and keeps up with the fast-paced digital world of fundraising. She, like all the team, is always eager to assist our supporters with any enquiry they have, no matter how small, and aims to provide the highest level of care possible so we are delighted to share the news that one of our unsung heroes has been shortlisted from hundreds of nominations from across the UK.
We are really proud of Gerry and our Supporter Services Team and hope you are too; as normal if you require any assistance from us regarding your donations or have any enquiries about our work or how you can support Practical Action please do get in touch, you can contact us on Email Supporter Services or Tel +44 (0)1926 634506
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Practical Action would like to ‘Thank you’
In today’s world most of us live life in fast forward, whether it’s rushing to get the kids to school or nursery, the daily commute to work battling the rush hour traffic or hoping today will be the day I get that seat on the train – but how many of us actually stop long enough to say THANK YOU!
Today all of us at Practical Action would like to take the time to stop, and say a huge THANK YOU to all our supporters who make it possible for us to help poor communities change their lives for the better.
Your generosity never ceases to amaze us. So to all of you who support us financially, give talks on our behalf, hold coffee mornings, include us in personal events by donating gifts in lieu of weddings, anniversaries, and birthday presents, take on amazing challenges like climbing Kilimanjaro, cycling around the world, half marathons, and those who still think of others by leaving a legacy or an in-memorial gift.
From all at Practical Action we say a big THANK YOU!
PS: See some of the work you have helped to support and listen to a personal ‘Thank you’ from our Country Director, Veena Khalequein Bangladesh.
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Listening to the news this morning I realised that the two young girls in India, aged 14 and 16, who had been gang raped and murdered died as they had gone into the fields looking for a discreet place to go to the loo. Somehow it made it even sadder. Sanitation is a pretty easy fix given money and will to provide latrines, sludge management and hygiene education. It’s truly do-able.
The girls remain nameless as it’s illegal under Indian law for the media to identify the victims. The fact that we don’t know their names seems somehow wrong – but that may just reflect our news norms in the UK – we want to sympathise personally and share in grief and support. It also makes them representative of the millions of young girls who each day risk attack just by looking for somewhere to go to the toilet, walking to fetch water or firewood for their families, or carry maize to a mill for grinding.
Women are frequently at risk – you only have to look at some of the other stories from India.
But the stories from India are not alone. Also on the Today Programme this morning were reports of a woman in Sudan convicted of changing her religion from Muslim to Christian, who has been sentenced to death (commuted for 2 years – and hopefully for life!). She was forced to give birth in a prison cell (rumoured to have been shackled throughout). And a third which told the story of a pregnant woman in Pakistan stoned to death in public by her own family for marrying the wrong man. The man she married had already murdered his first wife by strangling but was let off prison as his son forgave him.
The school girls kidnapped in Nigeria are no longer in the news.
What draws these stories together is a view of women and girls that somehow says we are lesser – viewed as unimportant, as processions or to be controlled. We have no voice.
At Practical Action we work on the practical things in life – like loos. We also work with people trying to help them – women and men – gain voice. We call this material and relational well-being – material well-being is about having the things you need for a decent life, relational well-being is about having a say in your society and how things are shaped. Both are needed for sustainable development.
I was horrified by each of these stories.
But strange attitudes to women, women somehow invisible are not just something that happens in countries far away from those of us who live in the UK.
Not on the same scale but a story closer to home had me shouting at my Twitter feed the evening before. It was an image of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron meeting Jimmy Carter to talk about how we remember those people who died in the holocaust – the meeting consisted of lots of men in suits. Not one woman. 2 million women died.
(I do know there are women on the Holocaust Commission – my question s why when there are 7 people visible around the table are all of them men?)
And finally – on my catch up weekend – I came across the just released list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. Angela Merkel is ranked number 1 – probably politically not completely aligned with me but even so as a woman taking centre stage she made me smile! And it felt very good to read a news story about women, women with power and influence, that could make me smile.
Let’s remember the girls in India. Let’s work to make women more visible, let’s work to make women around the world less afraid, let’s aim for an equitable view of women and men.
I want to hear great stories of women doing brilliant things as I listen to my radio in the morning – not stories of oppression that just make me so sad. And I want those great stories to be because we have a world in which women are free to flourish.6 Comments » | Add your comment
The run up to last Christmas was the most exciting and exhausting time for me as a media officer at Practical Action.
We had been chosen by The Guardian to be one of four charities to benefit from its Christmas appeal, Future Africa. At the same time, our Safer Cities Christmas appeal was in full swing. This was being match funded by the Department for International Development and had a substantial communications commitment from us, in which we promised to reach 400,000 members of the UK public with our message.
Since then, I’ve had calls from other charities eager to know how we managed to get chosen by the Guardian, what we had to do and whether it made a big difference to us, so here is the excitingly titled: “Guardian and Observer Charity Christmas Appeal: The Inside Story, in bite-sized chunks” (it sounds better if you read it with a US TV announcer’s voice)
- We were in the right place at the right time. The Future Africa theme was dreamt up by the bigwigs at the Guardian, and it fell perfectly into our work, helping the poorest people in Africa via clever technological solutions to the problems they face every day.
- Make your own luck – because I like to think we did that. Although the Guardian chose their charities without a formal application process, I phoned them in autumn and discovered they were planning on doing a technology-based agriculture appeal. I then wrote an email detailing just how well we fitted into that category and listed our relevant work. I can’t say for certain that even got to the right people or led to anything, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
- We had to work effectively across our teams. When we got a call from the Guardian, they asked us to put together a list of our technologies we use in Africa within 24 hours. It was a daunting task, particularly as I was going on leave the following day, but thanks to regular updates from our international teams and with the help of fundraising manager, Matt Wenham and our programme teams, we were the very epitome of dynamism and managed to get a comprehensive list submitted quicker than you can say ‘everybody panic and start shouting’.
- For a couple of weeks, our plans were thrown into disarray and it was absolute madness. The Guardian decided they wanted to focus on our Zimbabwean work and gather the stories within a fortnight. It was a very tight deadline and imperative that we had a discussion about what was feasible from the point of view of the team out there. Due to the political situation out there, The Guardan used the very fine services of Zimbabwean freelance journalist Ray Ndlovu and we identified two projects we felt would showcase how technology can help development – knowledge transfer via podcasting and the use of hydroelectricity to power change in the Himalayan region of Zimbabwe.
- It felt like we were a hair’s breadth away from disaster at times. Martha Munyoro, our communications officer in Zimbabwe had already booked leave at the time of the trip and the team there requested that I stepped in to help. Again, thanks to the hard work of Killron Dembe we arranged the trip and managed to help Ray file to fantastic stories detailing the impact of our work in Zimbabwe.
Was it worthwhile?
- On a purely financial basis, the cash was very welcome, but not game-changing. The appeal raised around £340,000. Half of that went to the Guardian’s project in Katine, which they run with Farm Africa and we shared the remaining cash with the two other charities featured, Worldreader, Solar Aid.
- But it was about much more than just up-front donations. We also gained details (with permission) of some the people who donated to the appeal, which gave our fundraising team the opportunity to contact potential supporters and ask them if they would be interested in making regular gifts.
- We also gained fantastic exposure from the Guardian and Observer. The appeal was featured daily in the newspaper and on the home page of the Guardian’s website. The Guardian editor, and one of the most respected men in journalism, Alan Rusbridger, mentioned our call for Technology Justice in an editorial piece and dozens of Guardian journalists took part in a telethon event where they voluntarily gave up their time to speak to people over the phone in return for donations – a truly admirable effort by them all, and a great way of raising our profile amongst their staff.
So there you have it, the inside view of one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, few months of my professional career. I’ll give a similar insight into the DFID match-funding process when my hair starts growing back.1 Comment » | Add your comment
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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