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
Energy literacy is a relatively new term being used to describe knowledge of the basics of energy. It has strong associations with sustainability and the efficient use of energy by consumers.
Every practitioner wants to install a energy scheme that is sustainable and wants that energy to be used efficiently, rationally and productively. A number of different approaches, tools and guidelines have been developed over time to facilitate this.
The energy team in Practical Action Latin America began to use the description ‘energy literacy’ back in the early 2000s in our project in rural Latin America called “Sustainable energy options for poor isolated communities in Latin America.” This work was building the capacity of rural and isolated communities in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, to understand, assess and articulate their energy needs. It involved providing information on energy options and issues to rural communities to help them make appropriate energy choices.
Right at the start we realised that people in those communities had no idea what we were talking about, when we used the terms “renewable energy” or “sustainable energy.” They could hardly identify electricity and had no understanding of the terms “efficient cooking” or “clean cooking.” We realised that to get their attention we needed to provide very simple information and simple explanations with practical, visual examples.
Our objective was that when we left the communities, local people understood the basics: Energy sources, small scale renewable energy technologies, micro hydropower, solar PV, micro wind systems, tariffs, reasons for tariffs, life span of the energy systems; they could also recognise the difference between grid and off-grid electricity and others. We applied the term “energy literacy” to this process of providing simple information to communities with little or no knowledge on energy
Once people know the basics about energy and understand that implementation costs are high and that every energy scheme requires operation and maintenance, they become more responsible for these aspects their energy generation system as well as its replacement when it ends its life span. And this makes a vital contribution to its sustainability.
We also learned from this project that, “energy literate people” can assess their needs and can engage more effectively with local and regional authorities and demand their needs in a more organised and coherent manner. Several communities who benefited from that project with “energy literacy”, they had been able to fine tune their demands and already have energy access.
I’d be interested to hear what you think about the concept of energy literacy. Could it be useful and how could it contribute to the sustainability of off-grid systems?3 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
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
I know the Olympics are over but last Friday I felt like we had won the gold medal!
We found out that that we had been successful in securing funding from the EC for a three year project. Practical Action will be managing the project with partners in Cyprus (CARDET), Poland (CCE) and Italy ( Oxfam Italia) as well as Engineers without Borders ( EWB) and the Centre for Science Education (CSE) in the UK.
Our project Technology challenging poverty: Make the link will focus around integrating issues around technology justice into science and design and technology education.
Students at both primary and secondary school will ‘make the link’ between:
- science and technology and global poverty reduction
- their own behaviour and the impact on the developing world
We are really exciting about what we will be able to achieve with this funding. It will enable us to not only produce a fantastic new range of support material for teachers but also include teacher training and a real opportunity to shape the policy and practice of science and D & T teaching within a large number of schools throughout Europe.
Watch this space!!
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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
I’ve been very short-sighted since I was 8 years old. An optician seeking somebody to blame told me it was my own fault – I’d read too many books when I was younger. As my mum is also very short-sighted, I think it was more a case of bad genes.
So for the last 17 years, I have worn contact lenses and glasses. There is nothing more excruciating than losing a contact lense behind your eyeball, and nothing more infuriating than losing your glasses in the middle of the Indian Ocean when you’re on holiday. My short-sightedness has meant a lifetime of horrible eye infections, irritated eyes after long days of writing, and innumerable pairs of lost lenses and glasses.
Six months ago, after a particularly severe eye infection, I was told by an eye specialist that I would never be able to wear contact lenses again. I have spent the first half of 2012 wearing very big glasses. They were cool glasses, but mostly they felt like a huge barrier: between me and the rest of the world. So I decided to do something about it.
12 days ago my life was utterly transformed by laser eye surgery.
Waking in the morning and being able to see – actually see – the world in all its magnificence feels miraculous. Everything is more beautiful, more colourful, more perfect than before. I have had 12 whole days of 20/20 vision but it still seems unreal, as if tomorrow when I wake, my world might be a sleepy blur once more. I feel so overjoyed – and very lucky – that modern day technology has fixed my broken eyes.
When I was in Sudan I met a woman, Randa, who also couldn’t see. But her poor vision was nothing to do with short-sightedness. She was going blind because of the smoke caused by cooking on an open fire in her kitchen.
Randa is from a small village in North Darfur called Kafut, and has cooked with wood for her whole life. This means walking for maybe three or four hours to collect firewood, which she then carries on her head.
Cooking with firewood means that Randa’s whole house is constantly polluted by toxic smoke. Her house is made of hay, and the inside is burnt black. Randa’s lungs are also blackened by smoke, and like all the other women in her village she has suffered from countless chest problems.
But the cruelty of the smoke is that it is stealing her sight, and Randa is beginning to go blind.
Since working with Practical Action, Randa has been introduced to a new kind of cooking, using a stove which uses a clean energy source: liquid petroleum gas. The benefits of this are multifarious: not only is it cheaper for families, it also reduces the pressure on the dwindling supply of trees in North Darfur.
But for Randa, the most wonderful thing about her new stove is that it does not aggravate her eye problems:
“The LPG stove has totally eliminated the smoke… I think it has saved my sight. Before my eyes would stream constantly but now this has stopped. And I can breathe easily.”
Randa belongs to the Women’s Development Association in her village, and she is now educating other women about the benefits of cooking on an LPG stove, and also helping to distribute 19 stoves to families across her village, and 61 to other communities nearby.
Meeting the beautiful, determined Randa , and listening to her story, confirmed to me that simple technologies – such as a new stove – really can be life-changing. I know Randa was thrilled that the stove had saved her sight.
But how I wish that she’d never had to lose it in the first place. And that like me, she could benefit from wonderful new eyes.
What fills me with fury is the injustice of it. Because Randa’s near-blindness wasn’t inevitable. It need not have happened. I know that Practical Action’s work is helping her now, but for thousands of other people, it’s already too late.
Nelson Mandela once said “overcoming poverty is not an act of charity, it is an act of justice”. I think he is right.
We are not being charitable by helping. We are helping to restore some sense of justice to this world of ours that is so unbalanced and just so unfair.5 Comments » | Add your comment
Let me introduce you to my Granny:
She was born in Ireland in 1921. When she was a child, the passing of a car caused excitement and she had never seen an aeroplane. In summer she walked five miles to school in bare feet and stopped going altogether when she was in her early teens because she had to look after her six younger siblings. Dublin, 60 miles to the south, was a day away and people who had left for America to find work were rarely seen again.
Fast forward 80 years…
I am delighting in her reaction to my mobile phone (‘Bejesus’), my instantly emailed messages to friends around the world (Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’) and anything to do with the internet (‘I just don’t understand how it can work’).
My Granny died five years later and trying to understand the concept of wireless broadband and Skype would have made her brain explode anyway. But what makes me remember this conversation in particular is her question afterwards: “Why, despite all this, are there are still millions of poor people in the world (‘cos it’s disgusting’)?”
Fast forward ten more years…
I’m writing this while travelling on a train at more than 100 miles an hour. At this speed my home town of Coventry is an hour away from London and people travel more than 200 miles every day for eight hours’ work.
That alone is staggering, but a pint of strong cider (it is 10pm) combined with the fact I can simultaneously travel, blog and surf the internet fills me with awe.
My Granny was right, of course. It is disgusting that I can do all this while people elsewhere can’t feed their children. Yet her life gives me hope. Hope, because there are parallels to draw between some developing countries now and the Ireland of the 1920s. She was born into a civil war and poverty, but she gave her children a full education and got (what was then) a high-tech factory job. Her children, nieces and nephews became teachers, professors, doctors and nurses.
This is due to the technological progress made in her lifetime. The development of infrastructure and technology has made farming, travel and communications more efficient in Ireland and enabled the Irish to solve their political and economic problems and (banking aside) focus on what they do best.
Similar economic development has been repeated elsewhere – in Portugal, Turkey and China. And as I sit here I think if I can help enable us to achieve technology justice in every region Practical Action operates in, my Granny’s wide-eyed wonderment would finally be complete.No Comments » | Add your comment
Hello, a quick introduction first! I’m Sam and I have just started at Practical Action as an Energy Campaigner. Prior to joining Practical Action, I have been doing a lot of campaigning on various issues, including fuel poverty in the UK. One thing that has struck me in this role is that although the difficulties facing people in the UK and people in the developing world seem worlds apart, with the issue of access to energy there are many similarities.
Of course, there are countless differences – in the UK, we do have access to modern clean energy supplies; and we don’t have to hunt for firewood to cook our food and the smoke from that cooking doesn’t damage our health.
But even so, fuel poverty does exist in the UK; many people cannot afford to heat their homes, and cold homes cause many winter deaths and long term health problem. UK government figures show illnesses caused by cold homes cost the NHS more than £850 million a year.
It is scandalous that, in the 21st century, energy poverty exists across the globe; particularly when solutions are readily available.
In the UK, this means making our building stock energy efficient. In the developing world, Practical Action provides many clean and sustainable ways for people to access energy.
So, perhaps the issue of energy access does highlight the similarities between the UK and the developing world. Showing that everyone, no matter where they live, can struggle to access the energy they need to live full and healthy lives. As the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development begins, we have a fantastic opportunity to offer sustainable solutions for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the UK government’s mantra for the times of austerity, “we’re all in this together”, was applied to all people of the world? And they demonstrated this commitment by using their voice at Rio+20 to ensure the conference backs the UN’s call for Sustainable Energy for All by 2030?No Comments » | Add your comment
Last night I went to see Avengers Assemble 3D. I’ve been looking forward to it all week and it’s been one of the most eagerly anticipated films of 2012.
With Ironman, Captain America, Thor and The Hulk blended together with more special effects than seem necessary, I was looking forward to two-and-a-half hours of pure action. What I wasn’t expecting was to start thinking about Technology Justice.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, I don’t want to ruin it for you so I’m avoiding any spoilers – please read on. In summary, the storyline is the battle for ‘The Tesseract’ – a sustainable energy source with unknown potential. This battle would have torn the world apart if it weren’t for the band of super-humans and a demigod who stood in the way.
I’m not saying our world is at war over energy, but there certainly is an unbalance. Whilst I was sitting in a dark room with silly glasses on with 200 others, there were 1.3 billion people with no access to electricity. And yes, it’s a shame that they won’t be able to see the theatrical delight that is Avengers Assemble, but there are far more basic needs that these 1.3 billion people don’t have access to. What if someone needs seek medical attention after dark? Once they get to the medical centre, there may be no power for lighting or refrigeration to keep the medication cool, or to adequately light a surgery room.
That certainly seems like an injustice to me.
Now these 1.3 billion people don’t have a Hulk to fight for their technology justice. They have Practical Action, and we want to see a world where everyone has access to clean sustainable energy (not necessarily The Tesseract) by 2030. If you want to see a world of technology justice and want to be a superhero then check out http://practicalaction.org/energyforall.1 Comment » | Add your comment