Archive for April, 2011

Gadget Show highlights

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by

We use ‘gadgets’ to transform the lives of poor people across the world so we were thrilled to have been invited to appear at the Gadget Show Live 2011 – one of the UK’s biggest tech expos.

Gadget Show Live NEC 2011


Anyone who’s ever been involved in a show like this will know how much hard work goes into it but somehow, miraculously, it all comes together at the 11th hour. The Practical Action stand was no different – it was like Challenge Anneka trying to get everything done from scratch in a month but the stress was worth it!

Almost from the moment the show opened its door, it was packed. Lots of people visited our stand each day, taking great interest in the technologies we had on display. Find out more about these technologies here.

”Really glad I stumbled across you. These (technical briefs) are the best thing I’ll take home with me today.” Engineer at the Gadget Show

Gadget Show presenter Ortis Deley has recently become a Practical Action supporter and spent quite a bit of time on our stand. He even made a video with us. You can watch it here.

We asked visitors to unite and help us ‘exterminate’ poverty using the innovative use of technology. The daleks even joined our call!

Our geek glasses went down a storm with lots of kids (and big kids!). Our geek quiz was also a big hit!

Despite the flocking crowds on the Practical Action stand, we managed to slip off and see what else was on offer. The answer – lots and lots of toys!

Here are the top 5 toys from the show:

Vuzix Wrap 920 AV video glasses

Engage X-Desk

Gocycle Electric bikes

Touchscreen tablets

NVidia 3D vision

There was an overwhelming amount of gadgets, with varied prices and functions. So much choice that I found it hard to choose just one thing to buy! It made me realise that we’re lucky to have such a choice…not everyone has that luxury. How can we ensure that all of humanity can have a choice about the technology they use. We need to continue that conversation and we hope you will join us at the Geek Club, an online meet-up to talk about using technology to challenge poverty. It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded people, share ideas and learn more about our work. So why not give it a go?

Imagine you are a 14 year old boy or girl…..

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 by

…..and think about how closely you agree with the statement ‘I should only eat food grown in my country ’ was something the President of the West African Farmers Federation ( ROPPA) was asked to do at the kick off meeting for a new EC project on African Agriculture called EuropeAfrica2.

Along with about 20 other attendees he took part in an activity called a belief circle. Designed by Practical Action Education it will be one of a number of educational activities to raise awareness of  how food choices we make in Europe affect  farmers in Africa.  It’s a three year project and Practical Action will be working with partners from Belgium (VECO) and Italy (Terra Nova) to produce material for schools which can be adapted to fit the needs of a number of European countries.

A belief circle can be used to stimulate discussion on a number of issues related to international development including sustainability in engineering.  Looking at the enthusiastic response of the president of ROPPA it certainly stimulates engagement!

Happy Birthday Mr Schumacher

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 by

In my house the ritualistic making of tea always causes something of a debate. The traditionalists amongst us prefer a brew from a pot of tea whilst others (myself included) like it best when it’s a single cup (or ‘tea bag tea’) as we call it… (although obviously all tea is tea bag tea!)…

Anyway today whilst at a brilliant training course at the Directory of Social Change in London I spotted that the kitchen stocked a healthy supply of Traidcraft tea bags. And the strap line on the side of the box was ‘small is beautiful’…Clearly the marketers had one cup tea bags in mind (as well as Schumacher’s book of the same name I assume?)

My first thoughts were (and I’m a little ashamed to admit this!) of irritation. “That’s Practical Action’s ethos- you’re stealing it!” I thought, in my naivety. And then after my hot head calmed down and I had a few moments of reflection I was immensely proud that this wonderful idea of Schumacher’s is branded onto an ordinary box of tea.

Schumacher isn’t just on tea – at the moment it seems that everywhere I turn I am coming across people and organisations who have been influenced by his great theories. Tonight I even discovered that the first charity for which I worked (the fabulously revolutionary Reader Organisation) takes some of its thinking from Schumacher’s writings on education.

This year Practical Action is celebrating 100 years since the birth of Schumacher. More than ever I feel so privileged to work for the charity which he founded and so incredibly proud that I can tell the world that small is beautiful was Schumacher’s idea. And that that idea is helping to transform the lives of millions of poor people around the world.

PS – if you’d like to watch Practical Action at the Gadget Show, click here:

Perspectives on Global Food and Farming Futures

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by

Perspectives on Global Food and Farming Futures – next steps for policy ( the Beddington report ) by Patrick Mulvany, Senior Policy Adviser, Practical Action and Chair, UK Food Group. His contribution at the Westminster Forum on Food and Nutrition on 31 March 2011, follows a cautionary comment at the time of publication of the report in January 2011, which can be found here on Practical Action’s website.

The almost formulaic Westminster forum on food and nutrition, sponsored by the Crop Protection Association, did not facilitate discussion about the need to radically change the food system to one that is healthy, lower input, biodiverse, ecological and sustainable and in the hands of the people who produce most of our food – the hundreds of millions of small-scale food providers in all regions – who are striving to realise foodsovereignty.

The Forum achieved what it was designed to do. It generated a sense of well-being among decision makers, big science and industry participants, as reflected in food industry blogs, that ‘business as usual’ – the continued strengthening of corporate power over food supplies and supporting research systems, especially for biotechnology – is not threatened by this government project. Indeed, the Forum demonstrated that the report opens opportunities for new funding and political support for UK science and industry.

The Beddington report was an expensive exercise in undermining the landmark UN/World Bank sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), approved by 58 governments. IAASTD, in its 22 Findings, called for a radical change in science, technology and practice towards a more agroecological and knowledge intensive form of food production in order to eradicate hunger, improve equity and restore the environment, all of which are being damaged by the increasingly promoted industrial food system. Practical Action was one of only 6 NGOs on the governing Bureau of this assessment.

Token contrary voices were included in the Forum. One was mine and an edited extract of my contribution can be found here

I ask this question, for whom is the Report designed?  It is clearly designed to impress somebody, but who?  Is it the Chief Executive Officers who gathered in Davos at the World Economic Forum?  Is it Government Ministries and programmes?  Is it industry?  Is it in fact a bid for funding and for acceptance of new technologies, particularly GMOs, wrapped in green clothing?

I think there are some serious questions to be asked of this report. It is not really acceptable to many of us, and I am sorry that it has not been able to build properly on the IAASTD process, neither in content nor in process.

Small Is…Challenge goes Global

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by

On Global Youth Service Day, April 15, Peace Child International launched Practical Action’s Small Is…Challenge to its worldwide audience.

 The content of the challenge remains similiar, for young people to learn about inventions of the last 100 years – then to develop an idea for a technology or concept that could help up to lead more sustainable lives in the future.

 The young people who have developed the top ten most impressive ideas will be invited to present their ideas to governments, UN officials and other young people gathered at the Rio2012 Summit or at the UN preparatory meeting in New York in November 2011.

For details of the challenge and how to enter go to:

Please help us to spread the word about the challenge to friends and colleagues who work with young people around the world.

National Curriculum Review – We have our say

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by

Practical Action Education has put together a response to the National Curriculum Review.  We believe this is a really important opportunity for us to have an input into what the curriculum of our future generation will look like.

Our overriding wish for the outcome of the review is that through all subjects and at all stages the curriculum should be framed as if all people including those in the developing world matter.

The review asked specifically for us to comment in what concepts and principles (rather than specific knowledge) should be in the science, maths, and English and PE curriculum.  We commented on the science curriculum in particular and put forward a strong argument for sustainability to be an integral part of science teaching. Sustainability provides opportunities to help students gain insight into the link between their actions and the lives of others in the South.  It is also something both parents and students have identified as important.

To find out more please read  our response to the National Curriculum

I’m a social Geek, what kind of geek are you?

Sunday, April 17th, 2011 by
Gadget Show Live NEC 2011

Practical Action at the Gadget Show Live

At the Gadget Show at the NEC today there were lots of gadgets and gizmos to tempt you on every stand.  One of show’s presenters, Otis, was also there he was encouraging people to join up to a new club, Practical Action’s ‘Geek Club’.  At Practical Action we are calling all ‘geeks’ who love technology to unite and help us help tackle poverty by the use of technology in the developing world.

Delegates at the show can take part in an online quiz to identify what kind of geek they are – uber geek , collector geek, work geek or social geek.  Joining the club gives them an online space where they can talk about technologies they like, find out about what technologies we use at Practical Action, and suggest technologies they feel would be useful in developing countries.

Anyone, including students, can join the club and find out what kind of a geek they are and it’s completely free.  If you want to find out more please go to

Being a social geek I’m now going to tweet a link to this blog (you can follow me @juliepollard1),check out #GadgetShowLive  and update my facebook status!!

Gadget Show Live winners!

Saturday, April 16th, 2011 by

Last week we gave you the chance to win tickets to the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham.

To win a pair of tickets and see the latest and greatest gadgets around, we asked you to tell us “What is your favourite Practical Action technology and why?”

We had some fantastic answers, including lots of love for the floating gardens in Bangladesh:

“My favourite Practical Action technology has to be the floating gardens in Bangladesh. It’s simple and yet revolutionary for a group of people who are only able to choose between moving away for work or starving until the monsoon floods recede from their land. This technology not only uses locally sourced and totally eco-friendly materials, but it takes very little investment for a guaranteed source of food and possibly income. What was once an unavoidable vulnerability for these communities, and has the potential to only increase with climate change, has been greatly mitigated against by this brilliant little idea!”

“My favourite Practical Action technology is the floating gardens. I think that this is a fantastic solution – something which seems so easy when you think about it but it’s clear that without Practical Action this wouldn’t be in place, providing a key solution to counties such as Bangladesh in the monsoon season.”

Well done to Susan Corless and Jessica Mordue who won our competition!

If you’ve already got tickets for Sunday then come and see us at stand F32 in Hall 12. Join the Practical Action Geek Club and see some other examples of ‘gadgets’ we use to transform the lives of poor people across the world.

We’d love to hear your Gadget Show Live highlights and what you think about our presence. Send us a tweet to @practicalaction or leave a comment below.

Gadgets old and new unite old and young

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by

What do robots, 3D gaming, BBC computers, podcasting, zeer pots and cooking stoves have in common?   Judging by the evidence, albeit anecdotal, at the gadget show live in Birmingham today the answer is there is something about technology that either interests you or it doesn’t.   This doesn’t depend on the age of the technology or the person.   Technology is of interest to a wide group of people, albeit that most were “dads and lads”.  It became clear that a person’s interest in gadgets also gave them insights into the challenges and opportunities posed by introducing technologies into developing countries.   My pre-show scepticism appeared to be unfounded…it was a really worthwhile day: from a personal point of view in terms of the rich conversations I had; and from a professional point of view in terms of the contacts I made.   This is ample demonstration that an organisation like Practical Action sometimes needs to take well judged risks in order to reach audiences that have hitherto appeared uninterested, or unaware of our work.

Our special 3D glasses were a big hit with kids and all agreed that they gave a 3D view without the aid of electricity – an interesting juxtaposition with the nVidia stand across the aisle where people had to wear special (hi-tech) glasses to see the screen in 3D.   The cooking stove was a big hit with visitors from Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon amongst others.   All were deeply touched by the health hazards from smoke in the home.   The humble mp3 player coupled with a solar charger captured many people’s imagination.   Most people guessed the function of the zeer pot and instantly appreciated the way in which such technologies could be adopted locally.   Those interested in camping wanted a solar lantern for their tent.

The show was the start of a conversation with a group of people who are fascinated by technology.   Many visitors wanted to take the short questionnaire to determine what kind of geek they are: social, work, collector or uber – if you are interested in joining the geek club more information can be found by following the link.   We need to continue that conversation to ensure that all of humanity can have a choice about the technology they use.   Please join us in that conversation…

Biofuels and ethics

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by

Are biofuels ethical? Well the Nuffield Council for Bioethics seems to think not at the moment.

They are calling for a certification mark to ensure that the needs of local people in the developing world for food and the sustainable use of land are given priority over the wants of companies. The companies are seeking to meet the EU directive that says that by 2020 10% of Europe’s fuel should come from biofuels.

Potentially, bio fuels could be a prime example of technology injustice – the wants of rich consumers or governments overriding poor communities’ basic needs.

I once overheard a conversation, in which a biofuel manufacturer was discussing with a senior person from a government development support agency what percentage of an African countries land could be turned over to bio fuel production for Europe. I believe this was an initial conversation and seriously hope that it went no further.

At Practical Action we are not 100% anti biofuels – we have examples of where small scale local production or production from waste material can work well for poor communities. But the production of biofuels at the expense of food, the transportation costs of raw materials around the world and the unsustainable use of fertiliser and pesticides must all give us cause to pause .

Even more importantly, the assumption that big companies, or even the EU, can decide the fate of huge swathes of the developing world with only the wants of EU citizens considered must be challenged.

I understand that the EU has started along this path with the best intent BUT poor people have to be considered, consulted, listened to and not overridden because they lack power.