Archive for April, 2011

Gadgets for you or for all?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by

The gadget show live at the NEC is expecting 100,000 visitors.   All, no doubt excited by the prospect of ever newer faster, smarter, smaller gadgets that will transform our daily lives.   Or will they?   To truly transform our lives there would have to be some quantum leap in functionality that the gadget could deliver.   But this is unlikely to be the case with most of the gadgets at the show.   Most of the visitors will, I imagine, already have a digital camera, a music player, and a mobile phone.   So will the newly acquired gadget simply be a fashion accessory?

What would a gadget do for someone living in poverty in a rural area of Nepal or Zimbabwe without access to electricity?   Here a gadget may enable a family to access clean drinking water, irrigate their crops or cook dinner without creating smoke that would damage their health.   The key difference between “them and us” is that for “them” there is often no choice.   There is either no money to buy a gadget or no gadget available.   For “us” the choice is almost too much…overwhelming amounts of gadgets, with varied prices and functions.

My hope is that those who take an interest in gadgets will pause to think about “them” and ask “how can we make technology choices open to all in the world?”

Gadget Show – Preview Day

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by

Just back from the Gadget Show preview. Nervous! We look like an interloper in amongst all the very flash stands and people trying to sell – a nice interloper though. Of course we are confident – if people want to look at some of the technology that will change the world then our stands the place. But next door to vacuum cleaning robots and across from 3D gaming, our pottery refrigerator and solar lantern look homespun in a temple of glitz.

Gadget Show 2011

Gadget Show 2011

We need to be there and it’s brilliant that we have been offered the stand for free. The team have worked so hard to make our stand interactive with geek glasses (made from our logo!), a video showing technology in use, a great vibrant stand, examples of some of the smaller technologies we use in our work, etc. We want so much for people to get that technology isn’t all about flash it’s also about life changing, poverty reduction.

If you are going to be at the Gadget Show do come and see us. We have Ortis Deley from the Gadget Show spending some time with us tomorrow – he’s a fan!

Today made me think of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade – you know the part where they Indy and the Nazis are each trying to find the Holy Grail? The Nazis choose the gold, most precious looking cup, while, Indiana Jones selects the smallest and simplest and so saves his father’s life.

Small really is beautiful. If you have a ticket and are attending do come along and join us! We would love to see you.

We’re at the Gadget Show Live 2011!

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 by

One of the UK’s biggest tech expos, the Gadget Show Live, returns to the NEC in Birmingham this week to showcase the latest must-have gadgets. And we’re there – showcasing some of the gadgets that we use to transform the lives of poor people across the world!

Background: We’ve got a big engineer and technologist following, so we’ve been thinking about events we could go to where we could to talk to them and share knowledge about technology.

Then last month Gadget Show presenter Ortis Deley became a Practical Action supporter, after hearing about the work we do through one of our supporters. We were also introduced to the Gadget Show Live organisers, who offered us free stand space. Result!

It has been a hectic few weeks trying to get everything done in time but when we arrived on site yesterday afternoon I knew it was worth it.

Hall 12 was a building site – with hundreds of people frantically constructing stands, laying down carpet and putting up lighting rigs – but the atmosphere was electric and there was a real buzz of excitement.

Our own stand suppliers Bell Stone Associates were busy installing our TV screens, on which we are playing a video featuring our technologies and Ortis. He’s filming his bit on our stand before the show opens at 10am. We’re looking forward to seeing him and the 100,000 people expected at the show this week. Make sure you come and see us at stand F32 in Hall 12!

To give or not to give

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by

David Cameron’s announcement last week that the UK Government was committing £650 million of aid money to Pakistan to help improve its education system has caused much controversy in the media over the past few days. There have been editorials and articles for and against the decision, but with the latter outnumbering the former by far. Two common themes amongst those against have been (a) that in such economic tough times we cannot afford aid and charity should instead start at home and (b) that concerns over corruption and extremism in Pakistan make it an inadvisable target for aid in the first place.

Whilst both of these sentiments are to an extent understandable they are, I believe, misplaced or short-sighted. There is a clear moral case that we have a duty to try to help the more than 2 billion people trying to exist on less than $2 a day (a good proportion of which lives in South Asia). There is also a clear needs-based case that education is an area desperately in need of investment in Pakistan with, according to Unicef  only 54% of the adult population literate and less than 40% of boys and 30% of girls of secondary school age attending school.

But leaving aside these two compelling reasons for us providing support, there are still plenty of enlightened self-interest arguments to bring to bear to support the decision. One of these directly refutes a couple of the most commonly cited arguments for not providing aid to Pakistan. Simply that education is a great area to start in the fight against both political extremism and corruption. An educated population is less likely to succumb to extremism and an educated population is better able to hold its own government to account and demand transparency and good governance.

We have to take concerns over corruption and over the possibility of development assistance being diverted or used ineffectively seriously. But we should use this concern as a spur to continue to improve transparency and systems of accountability, not as an excuse to walk away not just from our responsibilities but from what, ultimately, is an investment in our own interest.

Marathon man

Friday, April 8th, 2011 by

30 years ago I ran the first London Marathon for Practical Action. I squeezed through the gate in Greenwich Park with about 7,000 others and ran into the unknown. Some had tried to sell me extra life insurance and my boss said “don’t make it an excuse to be late on Monday”.  I joke not!

I remember overtaking Jimmy Saville with his cigar, but later was overtaken by a man on a penny farthing bike, and then a very tall guy striding (walking!) like a giant along the embankment.  I got home in about 3 hours 58 mins. 

The next week my boss introduced me as a hero and I raised about £300 for Practical Action.

I went on to run the London Marathon in 3h 28m a few years later and then the Paris & New York marathons. 

Despite injury problems during January and February, I aim to complete the London Marathon on 17th April, even if it takes 5 hours.

Having not run a marathon for 12 years, and having a few “Anno Domini” injuries, this year I will again run (or jog slowly) into the unknown as I take on the marathon for the last time.

Remembering how lucky we are to have running water, energy and good food,  can you help me by giving to Practical Action (who found me a place)  –  even if it’s only £3 or £30 or perhaps £300 (I hope some  corporate organisations will help)?

A hand up or a hand out?

Friday, April 1st, 2011 by

The UK NGO network BOND has published a report called ‘Finding Frames – New ways to engage the UK public in global poverty’ which looks at UK public views on global poverty and development and what influences those views. The underlying message is quite stark – we are not building a movement for change.
Since 1997 around 25% of the UK public have reported being very concerned about global poverty. The Make Poverty History movement in 2005 managed to raise this to 32% but it has since fallen back to 1997 levels. Moreover, the quality of the public engagement on poverty is low. People see the causes of poverty as internal to poor countries themselves (corruption, war natural disasters etc), and the relationship between us and the developing world fundamentally being a charitable one – with the UK as a ‘powerful giver’ and the developing world a ‘grateful receiver’.
The report points out that the UK public has an important role in fighting global poverty – providing a licence for UK public spending on aid; making a difference individually through their own personal actions, whether it’s giving to causes or buying fair trade; and opening up the space for debate on how things need to change in the future to tackle the causes of global poverty.
The report is quite hard on the NGOs themselves as contributors to the current state of public engagement. Certainly, fund-raising literature that focuses only on starving babies or disasters does little to explain the real causes of poverty, or to promote the very real successes that have occurred over the past 20 years – lifting large numbers of people out of poverty, putting children into education, improving health and reducing infant and maternal mortality. Such material also fails to get across the really positive image that is a reality of much aid – people being helped to help themselves.
Recently, Practical Action tried a different tack to communicate more positive messages about development to the general public. We used a spoof video (donated free of charge to us) to reinforce the message that the people we work with in Africa, Asia and Latin America are looking for a hand out not a hand up. Over 75,000 people watched it and then went on to see the follow up message about what we think development is really about. If you are interested you can still do the same by clicking on the following link: Fat of the land
The support of the UK general public is absolutely vital in the fight against global poverty and it is incumbent on all development NGOs, including Practical Action, to find more effective ways of engaging on this. I’d be very interested to hear if you have ideas on how we could do this better.