Archive for March, 2015

Mobiles for Development: Virtual Reality, or Reality?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 by

Women in Bolivia use feature phones to access market information

Mobile phones, smartphone apps, mobile internet connectivity and mobile payments are frequently touted as silver bullets in the fight against poverty. Through a combination of frugal innovation and disruptive business models, mobile phones have become increasingly affordable and accessible to an ever-widening customer base. They are often considered ubiquitous among even very poor communities by designers and development practitioners, with statistics suggesting access to mobile phones across developing countries to be at 51%. (more…)

Providing a place of knowledge

Monday, March 9th, 2015 by

I was excited to get an update from the team about the plans to officially launch the Kibera Library, which are currently underway, and which we expect will pick up momentum in the coming month. The project, since its inception in 2011, has grown into an important resource for the community within and around Kibera.

We partnered with the community of Kibera to lobby the government of Kenya for land to construct the library. We then invited the partnership of Kenya National Library Services (KNLS) to manage the facility as a sustainability measure. All the while, our friend Dr Caroline Lightowler remained in close contact with the local community to identify viable location for construction of the library facility. She has remained our contact with our development partners – the Alistair Berkley Trust Family.

The products and services at the centre are meant to preapare the young for the future

The products and services at the centre prepare the young for the future

During the early stages, the team was really challenged by people who believed that the facility would better be used for other purposes, including setting it up as a health centre. The Alistair Berkley Trust came in as a donor, and funded this unique pilot, which would challenge the notion that knowledge is a secondary need to people, especially vulnerable communities. The Trust funded the first and second phases of the library, which was opened to users in 2012. The second phase is currently being kitted with equipment.


A resource for the community

The library has proved to be an invaluable resource to the community which is increasing beyond access to available literature. It has provided a well-equipped centre, with the support of additional donors and well-wishers, where about 20 schools from the area can have their library lessons and interact with a variety of books and content that bring their lessons to life. It currently has a stock of 11,213 books on its shelves. In addition, it now has huge following by an adult population that has interest in livelihood based subjects – trade and life skills that can be applied day-to-day.

The facility has also provided a place where the imaginations of young children can be stimulated in reading sessions and the love for books planted in their young minds. A group of girls from the neighbourhood schools came together, using this space as their base to regularly meet up and talk about everyday issues that affect them. And most recently, the space has given more than 280 young people an opportunity to come together, and get training in life skills that they need and a chance to graduate into the National Youth Service system.

One thing became clear to me; the infrastructure we helped set up was a crucible filled with a lot of potential and topped up with a lot of uncertainty about the direction it would take at the point of inception. And by working closely with the staff members in the library and opening up to listen to the community’s most pertinent needs, we have been able to demonstrate the impact information access can have in improving livelihoods and providing alternatives to securing better livelihoods for people.

Facilitating knowledge exchange, embracing openness and stimulating imaginations on how information can be converted into currency has helped adopt the library as an essential part of the community. The number of community members using the facility has grown to an average of 300 people per day. The staff there now regularly gets all manner of requests for information that might seem trivial, but which has the potential to change lives.

The finished facility of the Kibera Library

The finished facility of the Kibera Library

Services now provided include the Tablet Hour program (computer programs for children on Tablets) where children can learn how to access educative software preloaded for revision by e-Limu, who collaborates with Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) curriculum development department. It also provides adult, junior and institutional lending; reference; user education; outreach to primary schools; special programs including mentorship for pupils; inter-library lending; consultancy services; advisory library services; practical training for students on attachment; HIV/AIDS information dissemination; and language programs through book clubs.

The direction the library and particularly the knowledge node, is taking speaks to the importance of our work as knowledge brokers, and the importance of making our knowledge products as relevant as possible to the people we serve: our beneficiaries. The facility is used to organise motivational talks for the youth; it hosts a girls’ club as well as inter-school reading club competitions, talent shows, debates, and reading tents to name a few. A cultural corner in the library will help preserve collections of indigenous artefacts, knowledge and content.

Our vision is a region where all people have the necessary knowledge, skills and opportunities to access equitable, affordable technology, both through the hardware we provide, which is an important enabler, but also through the technical knowledge & skills that help them improve their well-being. The needs may vary greatly, depending on the context, but we need to work even harder to ensure that all of our programmes take a deliberate effort in growing our knowledge activities, in order to reach as many as possible with the lessons we take with us from the field. The growing utility of Kibera Library is a testament to the impact access to knowledge, as a resource, can have to a community.

By doing this, we will ensure that we will continue to respond to the most pertinent needs of the communities we serve. We look forward to its official launch, and to working with even more like-minded programs and organisations such as the National Youth Service, to build on this momentum and change lives.

Women making it happen

Monday, March 9th, 2015 by

Here are some of the women and technologies that help to #makeithappen at Practical Action

Dreaming of a better day

Monday, March 9th, 2015 by

The work of women in Kassala state is mostly confined to the home due to cultural, religious and social restrictions. However, with the decline in their socio-economic situation, women are breaking through the traditional norms and coming forward to participate in development activities outside the home. Currently some rural women in Kassala state have an anchoring role in the management of their families as well as participation in different income generating activities like food processing, tailoring, small animal and poultry rearing.

For the last 10 years Practical Action has been working with women in Kassala State by providing them with necessary knowledge and training coupled with credit both in cash and kind in a revolving fund cycle to enhance their income earning opportunities, social empowerment and hence an overall improvement in their individual and family living conditions.

457During my recent visit to Kassala I visited the women group in Tarawa village. The women of the village said they had to depend on others for even small personal expenses. Now they are capable of earning enough money not only for their personal expenses but also to contribute to household expenses. Many women are now even able to send their children to primary, secondary schools and colleges. I got these answers direct from them during my visit.

Kuther Edris Yeagoub, 39 years old, married with 8 children (4 boys and 4 girls). Her husband is a casual labour. Currently he is sick and staying at home.  Previously Kuther worked in collecting fabric remnants from tailors’ shops and stitching them into baby clothes. She received training in marketing, book keeping and business management.  With a loan of SDG 1,500 (£180) she started her business; she bought baby clothes for SDG 1,500 and sold them for 2,000. She started selling her produce in neighboring villages and paid back the loan in 6 months.  Now she is planning to buy a sewing machine and expand her business.

“I feel proud that I have my own work/income resource that helps me to feed my family and participate to support other women in the group and the rest of the women in the village. Even though, tradition continues to be an ever-present constraint that impedes women’s development. But I know the future holds better news for us,” said Kuther.

Another of the women received training in agro-processing.  As soon as she completed her training she started to practice the skills she had gained, making jam and local beverages for home consumption and selling them to her neighbours. Then she contacted some shops in her vicinity to help her sell her produce. As her produce is of good quality and her price is less than the market price the demand increased, she received good revenue and profit. Now her income has reached SDG 250/ day. Another woman managed to make a lot of money through selling perfumes. She has managed to buy new bed sheets and new clothes for her children for the occasion of “Aid El Fitr” which she could not afford previously. There are now so many successful stories from women that I cannot tell them all.

Making it happen: practicing what we preach on gender equality

Sunday, March 8th, 2015 by

Today is International Women’s day, themed around the call to #MakeItHappen. Tomorrow, leaders from around the world will be meeting in New York to begin the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 20 years since the first world conference on women in Beijing. So it’s fitting that Practical Action has chosen these two days to launch our own internal gender minimum standards, which will be applied to all of the work that we do.

As an INGO with a commitment to improving material and relational wellbeing, Practical Action has to take gender seriously. If we don’t, we won’t do our job properly. We know that poverty is gendered. Women overwhelmingly and disproportionately bear the burdens of unfair economic systems and unfair access to resources.

Women dairy farmers listening to a session on animal diseases and their treatment - part of a gender sensitive markets project

Women dairy farmers listening to a session on animal diseases and their treatment – part of a gender sensitive markets project

A gendered approach means recognizing the different needs and experiences of women and men. Although we clearly need a gendered approach in all that we do, this can be uncomfortable. Gender is inherently political, even on a local scale. For NGOs that work with and for poor communities, a gendered approach can feel too prescriptive, not respectful of cultural differences. But gender inequality is as damaging a social arrangement as poverty and in general we feel no embarrassment about striving and advocating to rid societies of the latter.  To use culture as an excuse for not acting on injustice would be a disservice to the people that INGOs work for. As the Nigerian feminist activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi reminds us, culture is not a fixed force, it is made and shaped by people.

The UN’s successful #HeForShe campaign, recently launched by Emma Watson, has been a promising reminder of the importance of collective action on issues of gender justice. Some of its imperatives should be applied within the development sector. In a recent study, Emily Esplen (lead policy analyst on gender equality and women’s rights at the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate) found that despite the rhetoric and international agreements, grassroots women’s organizations remain staggeringly under-funded and under-represented. And so it is as important as ever that those with greater leverage act now.

Practical Action is an organization that has always believed in working for the benefit of both men and women. For these reasons we are excited to embark on a more ambitious and confident phase of our gender work in which we will hold ourselves accountable to coherent and consistent standards. Standards that will bring us closer to achieving our vision of Technology Justice: a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice, in which technology is used to the benefit of all.

Practical Action is always seeking opportunities to improve our work and collaborate with others. If you would like to know more about the gender minimum standards that we will apply to our work or think we could benefit from your organization’s experience in this area, please get in touch.

The long road to equality for women

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 by

International Women’s Day is of paramount importance to all of us here in Sudan and for the world in general. If we look at our contribution and the importance of women in life, I think we deserve to celebrate them not just once a year, but every day, every hour, every second that we live.

In Practical Action today we are launching a new gender policy which will have four minimum standards that should be applied to all activities undertaken by Practical Action all over the world.

In Practical Action we believe that all women and men, girls and boys should have the means and freedoms to achieve their rights, including being able to choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value.

When we look at the current women’s status around the world and especially Sudan, we realise we have a very long road to walk to reach our destination.

  • The destination where all women are economically empowered and have the right to decide where to go and what to do freely.Women blue nile stoves sudan
  • The destination where husband(s) understand that marriage is a partnership and companionship not exploitation and manipulation.0
  • The destination when the parents do not automatically choose the son over the daughter to get an education, which is entirely unjustified, but it should be fair and based on comprehensible reasons of ability, skills, ambition, enthusiasm and commitment.
  • The destination where the family law and all other laws obtain equal rights for women and men.
  • The destination where the Female Genital Mutilation is in the rubbish bin of history and the sexual rights of women are granted.
  • The destination where the basic maternity health care is provided to ALL pregnant and lactating women.

We need to look at each vulnerable woman as a representation of all women, and all the time we have is just now, and this is the best way to reach the destination and to make our dream a reality.

I guess this is a very long journey we are on, even longer than the journey Nelson Mandela took to attain his vision. Indeed, I strongly believe we can reach it.

How Practical Answers is Contributing to Make it Happen #IWD2015

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 by

Last week I got an email from one of my colleagues about our office’s plan for the women’s day celebration. After I read that email I started pondering upon this year’s women’s day theme – “Make it Happen” and a question popped up in my mind – What does that “it” in “Make it Happen” mean? I wasn’t able to find an answer to it immediately until I participated in Practical Answers’ Review and Refresher Training Workshop where I met 16 women or I should say 16 empowered women out of total 22 focal persons of Practical Answers Programme whose primary job is to collect and find answers to community people’s enquiries through interaction, knowledge materials and local experts.

Practical Answers' Focal Persons

Practical Answers’ Focal Persons

I was there to see the impact that Practical Answers has left on its beneficiaries but was amazed to see that this programme has not just brought positive change in its beneficiary’s life but also of those who are working to bring that change in them. Yes, I am talking about our focal persons and to be specific, the female focal persons. I had met them one year back during a similar workshop. They were very shy back then; they were hesitant to speak in front of people and only few people knew them in their villages. They had no idea about the modern day communication tools like email and internet and they were financially and socially dependent on either their father or  their husband. And after one year I could see that their lives have changed completely; they have now become “Heroes” in their villages. They are outspoken and very smart compared to last year.

Sarita Sapkota, Gardi Community Library and Resource Centre, Madi Chitwan

Sarita Sapkota, Gardi Community Library and Resource Centre, Madi Chitwan

I talked to a few of them during that workshop and the experiences they shared with me were very interesting and inspiring.

“People used to know me as someone’s wife and daughter but now they know me as Sarita Sapkota. The happiness that you get when you are able to create your own identity in a society like ours is priceless. Practical Answers helped me create an identity that I had always dreamt of.” – These were the words of Sarita Sapkota who is working as a focal person for Practical Answers Programme at Gardi Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC) in Madi, Chitwan in Nepal. Sarita also shared that after working as a focal person she understood the value of knowledge and information.

Saraswati Chaudhary, Janachetana CLRC, Kailali

Saraswati Chaudhary, Janachetana CLRC, Kailali

Saraswati Chaudhary from Janachetana CLRC in Kailali shared a similar experience. She said, “Everyone in my family used to work outside and earn but I was the only one who was limited to household chores. Hardly anyone knew me in my village but these days whenever there’s an event in my village, people invite me as a special guest. They thank me and respect me for the work that I am doing. I feel like I have achieved something in life.”

These focal persons go door-to-door to collect enquiries, form different groups and hold interaction and training programmes. They answer people’s enquiries and thus, have become a living encyclopaedia for the community people. People say that sharing knowledge creates a lasting legacy and it seems like these focal persons have actually created a legacy in their own way.
Across the world, women are joining hands in solidarity and support, sharing knowledge and empowering themselves to build an equal society and so are our focal persons.


Jyoti Ale, Sauraha CLRC, Chitwan

Jyoti Ale, Sauraha CLRC, Chitwan

“We have changed people’s life through knowledge sharing, we have empowered people and whilst doing so, we empowered ourselves too,” says Jyoti Ale from Sauraha CLRC. She adds,“Before working as a focal person for Practical Answers, I used to feel backward and worth nothing, but now I can proudly say that I am supporting my family financially as well as contributing to bringing positive change in people’s life.”

Practical Answers receives thousands of enquiries each year and the majority of enquirers are women. The focal persons form many Practical Answers Groups and the majority of the group members are women and that shows that women are getting empowered. They are coming out of the four walls of their kitchen and actually getting one step closer to reaching a position where men are standing right now in a country like Nepal.
My participation in Practical Answers Review Workshop gave me an answer to the question that popped up in my mind that day. For me, that “it” in “Make It Happen” means “Empowerment”. Practical Answers answers everyone’s query in real!
This year, on women’s day let’s make a resolution to Make Empowerment Happen to change women’s life, to bring them forward and end injustice and discrimination.
Happy Women’s Day!!

Women’s group lifts displaced families out of poverty

Friday, March 6th, 2015 by

When I started working at Practical Action on a project improving women’s status in the east of Sudan it was the first time I was introduced to this type of work with organizations and was wondering how organizations could manage societies with such limited funds?  What was their role in developing and securing poor women’s livelihoods?

The answers to my questions came during one of my visits to a displacement camp called Waw Naar, the location of one of the women’s development association branches. The camp was unplanned and was notorious for selling wine and housing criminals. The surprise came at my second visit as it had changed completely starting from changing its name from Waw Naar to Waw Nour as well as the life style which was changed to a modern life.

Sabella Waw Nour SudanI found many women’s associations working on revolving funds, health, education and construction. I was certain that development could be achieved with limited funds such as group sharing when it becomes a registered association and Waw Nour Women’s Association is an example.

Two remarkable women from Waw Nour

Sabella worked as midwife. I visited her house and found a wooden bedroom and she told me her story that I will tell you in brief.  Sabella told me that she was trained in carpentry which was a very tough work and men were mocking  me because she was a woman.

“Practical Action did me a favor as I became a carpenter and made my own room with my bare hands as well as a carpenter shop that afford job opportunities for many people. If a woman has the willpower she can do wonders.”

Amna Waw Nour SudanAnother woman called Amna Alhaj Sapoon  was a displaced person from the Nuba mountains and was living in Waw Nour, with her five children. She was jobless with no social position before she came to Practical Action. She joined the women’s development association and trained in food processing.  The change at her life started from that point. She created her own business processing food and selling vegetables and was trained on managing her business properly. Her life style changed as she bought and built a house as well as supporting her husband and educating her children at school. She became the chairwoman of Waw Nour women’s development association. She tells us proudly that her second son came first in the Intermediate school exams and she was selected as the ideal mother. Amna’s motto is “Women are an effective tool for change”.

Let us fight to make markets work for poor women

Friday, March 6th, 2015 by

8 March is International Women’s Day and I would like to reflect about the change made in women’s lives during my time working at Practical Action in Sudan. I was fortunate enough to gain diverse experience and learned many different sides of women development achievements. I am so proud of the impact of Practical Action’s work towards technology justice mainly in improving rural women’s capability to move beyond subsistence livelihoods.

HibiscusThere is, of course, no reason to be complacent. The gender gap in Sudan remains significant and when we consider women’s rights across a wide range of areas, including economic, social and cultural, it is clear that there are still very tangible barriers to women’s access, success and equality in many fields. One of those barriers is the lack of a level playing field in market access. This needs to be addressed through engagement with private and public sectors to provide fair terms of trade to poor women.

In my experience working with poor women, economic poverty is a function of markets.  The pro-poor market is attempting to draw lessons from experiences in how women can and should engage with private and public sectors to meet their goals of addressing (economic) poverty through intervention in markets. We should challenge ourselves to assist these women in their right to access the market as entrepreneurs through framing the local economic development agenda.

Making markets work for poor women by:

  1. Helping poor women access financial services such as savings and credit on market terms that are non-exploitative and reliable
  2. Collaborating with the private sector to enhance their understanding of the poor and encourage the expansion of market networks ‘for’ and ‘with’ women
  3. Facilitating women’s to exercise their right to ICTs for markets.

I believe in the power of women and suggest that we should help them more to have a unique and critical role in fostering collaboration between the private sector and poor communities.  We should engage with public policy makers in making markets work.

Let us appreciate women, especially those who have the biggest but quietest influence in our lives, It can be mothers who balance work and home beautifully or grandmothers and we should continue to think about how to make life better for them?