But what I really meant was unassuming, simple yet effective.
In Gularia, Nepal we’ve been working with the community to transform all of their homes together into a healthy village – clean water, toilets, decent cooking facilities, promoting hand washing and good hygiene etc.
One innovation, which I’ve seen many times before, is the use of a concrete slab with a small raised wall to protect a water point from contamination. It works, its effective and therefore we’ve done it time and time again. In this case the protection was yet more vital as nearly all of the houses had a small cow shed attached and protecting drinking water from contamination by cow dung is vital.
The silly but great – so simple but I haven’t seen it used in this way before – was a wooden drying rack for pots, utensils, etc. placed immediately next to the water point. It meant that when women washed cooking utensils there instead of putting them on the potentially contaminated floor they stacked them on the clean rack. And so kept everyone safer.
Women talked about how learning about simple ‘kitchen management’ was part of making a healthy home. Not silly but true.
Small effective solutions that together are life changing.
I bet some of you reading this would have thought ‘silly’ too but then thought ‘silly but strangely wow – simple but effective’No Comments » | Add your comment
I was told a couple of weeks ago by communication staff here at Practical Action that I needed to have more of a ‘blog personality’ – as the director responsible for communications, amongst other things, I didn’t take that very well!
Three weeks later, over breakfast this morning, I decided to read some of my back blogs. I have to admit that my blog personality is committed but moderate, caring, occasionally gently humorous. What they may be getting at is that in reality I am passionate, feisty, committed, enthusiastic and well up for an opportunity to shout about Practical Actions work.
I blame my English teacher at secondary school! One day when she’d had enough of me talking at the back of the class she laid into me with a fierce critique of my writing describing it as gothic and overblown! Wuthering Heights was my favourite book at the time so you can see my inspiration. Ever since then my writing has mellowed! I don’t like being shouted at and 30 years on I’m still trying to please her.
I’m telling you this for two reasons – firstly to get your advice – do you think I should be more cutting, passionate, critical, political – or what in my blogs – good to hear. If you challenge me to write in a certain style I am sure I will give it a go.
Secondly because it’s so important to realise that what kids learn at school stays with them often for the whole of their life.
This is why I am so pleased to tell you that Practical Action has just been awarded funding from the EC to help school kids (or should I call them students) learn about Technology Justice. What makes science fair, what are the global issues where technology plays a role, how can technology be used to tackle poverty in the developing world. It’s a fantastic opportunity to help kids learn and to build a society here in Europe that cares about people, poverty reduction and about technology justice.
What’s inspirational is how keen students are to think about technology justice – Have a look at some of the materials we’ve produced so far – they love this!
And I do realise this is another gentle blog – at the end of a long and very busy day being mellow comes naturally.2 Comments » | Add your comment
As many people who read blogs from me and other people involved with Practical Action, we have a particular focus on technology, and how it can help to solve some of the world’s poverty issues. We have some great projects helping millions of people around the world to get access to electricity through small scale technologies like micro-hydro power schemes; manufacture improved stoves (like the one on the left); to access agricultural extension information through pod-casting; to grow food in flood zones with floating gardens; and to turn sewage and kitchen waste into fertiliser & cooking gas. I could go on but I won’t.
We believe that technology has the power to help millions of people to escape poverty, but today 90% of the world’s investment on new technologies is spent helping to fulfil the desires of middle class consumers, who want the latest app, or a slimmer smart phone. Not on the needs of the 2 billion people without access to sanitation, or the 2.7 billion without access to modern energy.
We’re currently recruiting for a Policy Adviser who can help us to make this point to more and more people. To technology companies, to academic institutions and government officials. We’d like to work with others to build a movement for change. We know it will take time, but we’re convinced that by working with others, we can make a much bigger difference than by working on our own. Filling this position with the right person will be a good start.
We actually tried to recruit once before. In the first round, we decided not to hire anyone, but I was struck then by the fact that so few of the applicants had any experience of development. It made me wonder whether there are too few agencies like us who are working to harness the potential of technology.
This makes me only more enthusiastic to try to get someone into the post, and to help us share our views, and experiences with more people than we currently do.
If of course there is anyone who reads this, and would like to apply here is the link http://practicalaction.org/senior-policy-and-practice-adviser, I’d love to hear from you.
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“One of the most fateful errors of our age is the belief that ‘the problem of production’ has been solved.” E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful, Economics as if people mattered.
The global food system is close to breaking point: growing populations and dramatic changes in dietary habits are fuelling increasing demand. Whilst increasing severity of natural disasters and escalating competition for water resources are further complicating the situation. The food system’s vulnerability is characterised by soaring food prices and more frequent food crises.
So, the question facing us today is how can increasing demand be met when conventional yields are flatlining? Is the solution to be found in the research laboratory, or is there a cheaper, sustainable and already tested solution staring us in the face?
Today, over 500 million smallholder farmers, fishers and agro-foresters supply food, fuel and fibre to almost 2 billion people living in the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.
A recent visit to the people living in Wokin Kebele in Amhara region of Ethiopia highlighted the difficulties that these people face in accessing support. The government extension office was over one hour drive away on an unmade road and was staffed by a handful of government officials who have significant demands placed upon them. As a consequence the villagers that I met were self-reliant. They used basic technology and largely renewable inputs. If these smallholder farmers were to receive one tenth of the support available to farmers in developed countries, their production gains would be considerable.
The potential for production gains with more investment is show in the entrepreneurial way that these farmers have innovated using their own resources. I visited one farmer who had developed a new plough to cope with increased water logging in low lying fields and met a second who had started to plant small areas of Teff (Eragrostis tef), a traditional Ethiopian staple, as warming winter temperatures allowed cultivation of the crop in an area that was previously unsuitable.
However, to encourage further local innovation as a vanguard to smallholder-led growth, a major transformation of the global agricultural system is required. This would reward innovation and optimise production by making the most of each unit of existing agricultural land.
The first step of such a transformation would be a change in the way in which small scale production is viewed, recognising the benefits of the diversity, traditional skills and potential for crop improvements that smallholder systems present.
The second step would recognise the potential for human agency and requires a change in the future choice for smallholder farmers. Smallholder producers should be offered appropriate rewards that recognise their role as custodians of the planet. Rather than repeating the mistakes of the past and driving smallholders off their land through the gradual conversion of small-scale into large-scale industrial systems, a new and alternative agricultural future for smallholder farmers should be promoted. A future that meets their livelihood aspirations while delivering a global food system that doesn’t cost the Earth.
What I saw in Ethiopia reconfirmed my belief that by improving the capacity of the poorest performing producers, the largest gains in terms of global food production can be made. Importantly these gains would be delivered where they are needed most.
This BLOG is based on work undertaken while Colin worked for Oxfam and was originally published on their Policy and Practice website. http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/No Comments » | Add your comment
There is a man I meet by the road on my way to work who makes me envious. He sits by the trench surrounded by a heap of waste polythene bags he collects every morning. This heavily dreadlocked man does not show even a trait of fear on his face. The lines on his face instead represent a proud ‘general.’ He reminds me of the feeling one gets when a beautiful woman walks by a boys’ dance party; either smiling at the angels in the sky or just speaking to the invisible souls that seem to be seated around him. On chilly mornings I see him lighting a fire whose smoke engulfs the air above his head as he shifts his knees beside it. In most times, I have found him puffing his cigarette away, the ensuing smoke forming either burbles or singular lines that seem to draw the faces of fond ‘brethren’ who passed on in one of the past world wars. As he reclines on the heap behind his head, I can hear him speak like one contented warrior, “It is well, it is well.” I have not had or felt in the distant past such a moment of contentment as this man. They call him Jahman Shepherd.No Comments » | Add your comment
On Tuesday this week I attended a conference in London sponsored by DFID, the Omidyar Network (set up by the founder of the on line shopping empire eBay) and WIRED magazine. The topic of the conference was the use of new communications technology (social media, mobile phones and the web) to promote open government, transparency, participation and development. It was a high profile conference with a video message form the UK Prime Minister and a speech by the new UK Secretary of State for Development Justine Greening. More information on the conference itself can be found at www.openup12.org or on twitter at #OpenUp12 . DFID is clearly interested in this area and used the occasion to announce a new $50m fund created together with USAID and SIDA called Making All Voices Count to support the development of web and mobile technologies in developing countries that can empower citizens.
At the conference there were some interesting examples of social media being used to promote transparency. The Ushahidi platform which was initially developed after the violence of the 2008 Kenyan elections was one. It allows individuals to post information by SMS, MMS or via the web about election irregularities, intimidation, violence etc. to create a real time map of problems that is available on line and which can be used to force government to take action. Ushadhidi has since been used in the Ugandan and Congo elections and in various disasters including the Haitian earthquake. The Ushadhidi platform (and another simpler version called crowdmap which can be set up and used in a few minutes) are open source and can be downloaded and used for free and have the potential to be used for non-emergency situations as well where you want large numbers of people to contribute to information that could be displayed on a map (for example – latest market prices for tomatoes at different town centres or the location of broken water points or villages without electricity connections). There was also an interesting presentation on the use of Facebook and Twitter in Nigeria to co-ordinate political protest.
One thing that struck me during the many presentations and discussions was that, just as in the real work, in the digital world there are many technology injustices. For example, depending on whose statistics you believe, in Africa, out of a population of over 1 billion people, somewhere between 400 and 750 million people have access to a mobile phone. But the cost of use, the level of connectivity, and the availability of electricity to recharge phones means that 90% of those people use less than 1 MB of data a month (in comparison the average data consumption in Europe and the US is between 150 and 400MB per person per month). This means most people are not really able to use the technology to access and exchange information beyond the most basic level.
It also means that when we are talking about a new wave of political engagment through the use of social media, be it during the “Arab Spring” or the co-ordination of political protests in Nigeria, we are talking essentially about political engagment by a relatively small ‘middle class’ urban group, who has the connectivity and who can afford the telephone bills. There is a danger, as one participant of the conference noted during a question, that we overestimate the power of social media to change the balance of power and give voice to the marginsalised. Its use (at least at the moment) is just as likely to simply accrue more power and voice to those who already have it.
There is also a digital technology gender injustice to contend with as 300 million more men than women have access to mobile phones world-wide.
Practical Action is certainly not Luddite in its approach to new technology. Around the world we are increasingly using social media and the web in our programme work, most obviously in Practical Answers, where we see the use of the web and YouTube videos in Latin America to provide information to farmers, podcasting in Peru, Zimbabwe and Nepal to get recordings out beyond the reach of the internet, SMS messaging for agricultural help lines in Nepal and Bangladesh, and mobile phone networks being used to provide advanced warning of floods in Nepal.
But we need to remeber that social media technology alone is no panecea and cannot, without other parallel action, overcome the more fundamental causes of poverty. You can’t join a twitter protest campaign if you live in a place that has no electricity to charge your phone!No Comments » | Add your comment
I arrived home from 17 days in Bangladesh at 9.30 pm last night.
It was a brilliant trip, great to see Practical Action on the ground, the positive impacts our work is having on the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, to speak with our effective, and often inspirational, staff and to hear about how our knowledge sharing work is taking the benefits of our work to many millions more. The multiplier effect – leveraging every ounce of benefit from our work to the benefit of poor communities.
We do a great job and we should be proud.
But as I try and capture my impressions I am also left with the sense of so much need. The expressionless faces of the girl textile workers plodding into factories, the beggars some with obviously drugged babies, the people living in make shift tents by the side of the road – the black plastic covering ripped by rain and storms. Conversations about extremely high malnutrition in children –the figure quoted was nearly 50% – and the already felt impacts if climate change.
Together – Communities, Practical Action, and our supporters – we are doing great things – helping people make a living, get enough food to eat, access clean water, decent sanitation – but we also have to be humble and say we are not doing enough.
That’s not to down play our vital work but returning home to my healthy family, my safe home, my brilliant job the contrast is extreme.
While in Bangladesh we had a meeting where the Dhaka based team sought to share Practical Action’s learning with others and to learn from other NGOs. Care, Action Aid, IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), World Fish Centre etc. were there.
One guy who came to the meeting was A. Atiq Rahman – he was amazing, inspirational. Look him up on Google and you get a sense of how fortunate we were to have him there. Brilliant that he is a friend of Practical Action. He spoke of how in the late 70s we believed we could change the world and now with the impact and wisdom of age we look for smaller steps. Of how those small steps are vital but not enough – we still need to change the world but no longer have confidence in how. Politics being by the nature of democratic terms of office, the art of language not action and short not long term views.
Practical Action believes that we have to change the world. We believe 100% that the work we are doing to make people’s lives better is vital but we also believe that we need to find a way to deliver technology justice.
My reflection on my visit to Bangladesh is that change is complex but can happen. What’s great about Practical Action is our work but also our vision, our values and inspiration.
Schumacher in Small is Beautiful – to paraphrase said – we need to act to protect our world, to find meaning and a quality of life more fulfilling than consumerism, to find a new way of doing development – and when asked who should lead he said – each and every one of us whether rich or poor, young or old powerful or powerless – to talk about the future is only useful if it leads to action now.
My overall reflection on my visit to Bangladesh is to echo Schumacher !2 Comments » | Add your comment
The book, which is published by Practical Action Publishing, taps into Duncan’s wealth of real-life examples of what has and hasn’t worked, to argue that motivated people working with a democratic government should drive international development, rather than looking at our traditional charity models.
I have to confess, I travelled down to Oxford with a degree of trepidation, spending much of it wondering how I, with less than six months experience working in development, could possibly carry off an interview with one of the most influential development thinkers around.
Fortunately, Duncan is not only an optimist who offers a vision of how poverty can be beaten, he is also highly engaging. During the interview he offered his personal views on Technology Justice, Schumacher’s economics, geo-engineering and the controversial subject of enabling economic development while being mindful of climate change.
You can watch Duncan’s full interview, first with me and then with Toby Milner, managing director of Practical Action Publishing by clicking on the links below:No Comments » | Add your comment
Siemens Stiftung is a foundation committed to enlarging basic services and social entrepreneurship, promoting education and strengthening culture. They have used some examples of Practical Action’s work to illustrate the type of technologies that they are suitable for submission for their “empowering people. Award” detailed below.
It is often true that the smallest things can have the greatest impact. With the “empowering people. Award” the Siemens Foundation has initiated a worldwide competition to identify low tech innovations for basic supply problems in developing countries.
The Foundation is calling on inventors and developers worldwide and inviting them to enter simple, appropriate technical products and solutions in the following categories:
Water & Waste Water
Waste Management & Recycling
Food & Agriculture
Housing & Construction
Information & Communication Technology
Entries should be submitted online on the project website. Entries will be professionally evaluated and an international jury will select winners.
Following the competition, the technical innovations will be categorised in a database, which will offer international practitioners in developmental cooperation a speedy and comprehensive overview of operational solutions in the categories defined.
The Foundation will also honour the best entries in an Awards Ceremony which will take place in Summer 2013.
The deadline for entries is 12 pm on 31st December 2012.
For more information visit www.empowering-people-award.orgNo Comments » | Add your comment
We recently carried out a survey to find out how teachers use on-line resources and what they think of our resources in particular. We were thrilled that over 400 teachers took part. Thank you so much if you were one of them.
We found out really useful information that will help us work out more accurately how many students our material reaches and how it shapes students attitudes towards global poverty and subsequent behaviour.
14% of teachers share resources through social media
On average a teacher will share a resource with 53 students
23 % of teachers said our resources often increased students understanding of the role of technology in reducing poverty
35% of teachers said our resources often led to students leading a more sustainable lifestyle, a further 60% saying it they did ‘sometimes’
We also found out that once they know about us they become strong supporters, visiting our site on on average once a month
What was most heart warming was all the quotes from teachers saying how much they value our material.
‘ ..flexible yet detailed, simple to access and adapt with enough information that you can write a lesson plan in a few minutes using the information available. I frequently use Practical Action’s resources when being observed. Topical, up to date and best of all the students love them!
‘When using the tomato challenge students were surprised to see how technology can really help the poor.’
There is often an ‘aha’ moment when students make a connections between theoretical subject specific knowledge, a real work example and how it works for good’
‘..using the resource Moja Island I received an ‘outstanding’ observation’
We also asked teachers if they would be willing and able to introduce the concept of technology justice – the right of every one to have access to the technologies they need to live a life they value, without harming others now or in the future – into their teaching. To our delight a whopping 65% said they would definitely or be quite likely to do so. As Practical Action begins a movement towards technology justice we take this as a really good sign and will begin including it in our future educational material.No Comments » | Add your comment