Archive for April, 2010

When is a new technology an “intermediate technology”?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by

Often when I talk about new technologies in the same sentance as international development…and then reveal that I work for Practical Action…I can see the “disconnect” in someone’s eyes.   After all Schumacher wrote about the need for “intermediate technology”.   In the sound bites of today’s world that must be somewhere between high tech and low tech…right?   Well no actually.  

Let’s think of a practical example, perhaps the most ubiquitous new technology of them all, the mobile phone.   Over half the world now has a mobile phone.  Sure there are differences: the latest iPhone or Droid that can update your blog on the move and find the nearest coffee shop is a world away from a phone with only voice or text connectivity.   Yet these phones have important characteristics in common.   The most relevant being that they can enable local innovation – a key success characteristic outlined by Schumacher for an intermediate technology.

But don’t just read my views (as a Practical Action insider), see John Mulrow’s recent article on think mobile, act local; and Ken Banks blog at Kiwanja net.  

One of the best models of innovative local uses of mobile phones is FrontlineSMS.   This is a free text messaging service used by many NGO’s and others throughout the developing world.  

Reference: Mulrow, J. (2010) “Think Mobile, Act Local”, World Watch, May/June 2010, pp22-27

Participatory Market Mapping podcast

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010 by

When I went to Nairobi in March, Ibrahim and I had a very interesting conversation with Alex and Jane from our East Africa office. They shared with us how they facilitated a Participatory Market Mapping workshop for charcoal markets in Kenya.

Click on player to listen, or download MP3 file (17.8Mb)

Ibrahim, Lucho, Alex and Jane

Further information on this podcast | Participatory Market Mapping | PISCES

River crossing

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 by

I’d read about tuins before I went to Nepal – they sounded like a brilliant idea, so I jumped at the chance of having a go on one.

In the dramatic surroundings I immediately saw the benefits they can bring, helping communities cross potential dangerous mountain rivers. I wasn’t prepared for the blisters though … unlike the tuin, my “office worker” hands weren’t quite up to the job!

Children Power

Monday, April 5th, 2010 by

If you are a parent you will know how persuasive children can be.  How often have you been Nepalese lady finishing building her toiletconvinced to buy something you didn’t intend to or to slightly change the way you live?  When my son was eight he point blank refused to eat any eggs that weren’t free range after ‘doing a project’ on chickens at school.  He’s left home now but I still buy free range!

So imagine how you would feel if your child came home to say that their school was working hard to persuade the whole community to become a Defecation Free Zone so please, please, please could you build the family a toilet?  That’s what the children in a number of schools in Nepal are doing, and it’s working.

54% of people in Nepal still defecate in the open.  Practical Action and partners are involved in a programme that transfers knowledge about the importance of toilets in controlling the spread of disease by working with schoolchildren.

I spoke to a 14 year old girl whose school had been successful in achieving this.  She told me that with her friends she went door to door to talk to people in the community about the project and how important it was for everyone to be part of it. She was very proud of what they had achieved.  And so she should be. 

Children power at its best!

Children at a secondary school in Butwal, Nepal


Find  out more about how Practical Action is working to improve sanitation amongst poor communities around the world

Climate change – what climate change?

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010 by

For many of us in the UK climate change is a bit of an abstract concept. We know it’s going on but we can put out heads in the sand, pretend it’s just not happening and just get on with our day to day lives.

The people of Nepal don’t have that luxury. For them climate change is a reality … it’s happening now, it’s happening to them and they need to be prepared for the effects. At Practical Action we are involved in a number of projects to support local communities in doing just that. 

I recently visited one of these projects, the Early Warning System (EWS) which has been set up to help vulnerable people who live near the Narayani river in Nepal prepare for flooding.  The support has been two-fold.

  1. Setting up the EWS.  Typical of a Practical Action project the concept is simple but effective. The level of the river is measured upstream.  If it becomes high indicating a potential flood selected villagers are informed by radio. They then set off sirens to alert the whole community, giving them 2-4 hours to evacuate.
  2. Providing training and support.  Villagers have formed a Disaster Management Committee responsible for passing on information they have learnt from Practical Action and partners on how to respond when the siren goes  off, ensuring everyone can get to a place of safety in time.

Watch my short video clip outlining how this project and others  help poor people in Nepal prepare for the effects of climate change:

Find out more by watching Practical Action’s video on how we are helping the people of Nepal adapt to the effects of climate change

Not your average day at work!

Thursday, April 1st, 2010 by

I recently went to Nepal to look at some of the projects Practical Action are involved in there. My visit to the renewable energy village near Chitwan turned out to be quite an experience!

Find out more about the work being done to help remote communities living in the renewable energy village in Nepal.