Archive for September, 2018

The change we want to see for urban slum dwellers

Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 by

Last week the World Bank released an update of its ‘What a Waste’ report. It highlights how over 90% of waste in low-income countries is openly dumped or burned. This affects everyone, but impacts poor people the most. Rubbish is rarely effectively collected in their neighbourhoods. It causes pollution (including 5% of global climate change emissions), acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other diseases and blocks toilets and drains. It can exacerbate the impacts of flooding. Landslides of waste dumps have buried homes. The situation is only likely to get worse as the combination of urbanization and population growth, together with growing consumption, will lead to a 70% increase in global waste in the next 30 years.

The release of this report coincides with the meeting of our global leadership team, and with re-vitalising of a crucial internal hub drawn from expert staff from across the world, to provide greater leadership and collaboration in our actions.

Practical Action has been focusing on supporting urban poor communities for nearly 20 years in our programmes in Africa and South Asia. Our teams on the ground have witnessed these changes first hand, and have built up expertise over time on how to work effectively in these contexts with multiple stakeholders: helping slum communities to ensure their voices are heard, and local authorities to be better able to respond.

Our work over the last few years has focused on basic services: water, sanitation, hygiene and solid waste management. This is because we know that improvements in these issues makes a dramatic difference to the day-to-day realities of women and men. It helps them live healthier lives, less burdened by the struggle of inadequate services and unpleasant, dangerous conditions. It helps restore dignity and ensure they feel included as part of the city. But also it can be a ‘gateway’ to helping them go on to solve other problems they face. We know that there are challenges for urban Local Authorities, who can be poorly staffed and resourced, struggle with effective community engagement, and lack knowledge of the latest appropriate technologies, financing mechanisms or ideas for partnerships.

On the positive side, the existing informal sector already plays a huge role in delivering essential services in sanitation, water supply and rubbish collection and recycling (as work by WIEGO shows). The World Bank report suggests there are 15 million informal waste pickers in the world, and that if supported to organize this work can be transformed to provide decent livelihoods and support municipalities in delivering a good service. They can be at the heart of the circular economy, and models of green and inclusive growth.

Practical Action’s work has strong, concrete evidence:

Linking our areas of work

Practical Action is also increasingly trying to see the links between different areas of our work – for example linking our work on solid waste management with energy (biogas technologies), or with our work on improving soil organic matter (composting of faecal sludge and kitchen waste).

In our global strategy, we remain committed to improving the lives of urban poor communities. We are aiming to support the achievement of the SDG goals of universal access to these services in the towns and cities we are working in across Kenya, Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Our unique approach works with existing systems and stakeholders, puts poor people at the heart of everything we do, and identifies how the right kinds of technologies can be part of positive change. In a fast-changing world, we need to be agile to respond as these challenges grow. We need to find new ways to walk with some of the world’s most vulnerable people and communities through engaging positively with the private sector, and inspiring local authorities and national departments to be pro-poor in their thinking, actions and financing.

Internally we are committed to doing even more to promote peer-to-peer learning to challenge and inspire staff as they discuss compelling stories, exchange learning, plan together, and gather our evidence to engage effectively in national and international policy dialogues.

How to best finance ICT extension services in low and middle-income countries?

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 by

The inherent functionality of ICT to easily transfer information helps to overcome barriers of traditional extension services. ICT extension services improve quality of agricultural information, reduce travelling time for visits, enable frequent communication between farmers and agents as well as increase accountability. More important, ICT extension services can reach large target groups – e.g. rural farmers and nomads – who otherwise excluded from the system, and for a fraction of costs of traditional extension.

ICT extension services face barriers similar to traditional ones. Fiscal sustainability is one of them. The question of “who has to pay for the service” has become troublesome especially for NGOs. Should farmers as the end-users of ICT extension services pay their fair share? Should it be the responsibility of governments who have the mandate to provide access to information? What if private sectors take over the operation of ICT extension services?  This post explores the subject and different pricing models that have been created to serve end-users in low and middle income countries.

Pressure over fiscal sustainability

ICT extension services can be divided into two categories according to its value: commercial and noncommercial[1]. Commercial ICT extension services are typically private funded or private operated. They earn profit for medium term operation, i.e. over two years period, by charging fee from transaction (e.g. mobile payment) and information provision (e.g. membership fee). Noncommercial ICT extension services do not charge fee to end-users – e.g. low income farmers. The focus is non-monetary benefits such as knowledge improvement and behaviour change. By design, noncommercial ICT extension services are fully dependent on public funding, either from governments and donors.

Fiscal sustainability remains a concern. Especially for noncommercial category that are often perceived as inefficient and financially unsustainable, mainly due to higher operational cost (than commercial ones), budget shrinks and weak political commitment[2]. Pressure to find alternative revenue streams has increased even though the circumstances are not always aligned with commercial goals. The flaw in the argument of “fiscal sustainability” is the focus: it often concentrates on how ICT extension services can make money instead of business model development/improvement.

Business model for ICT extension services

The concept of business model goes beyond economic value. Business model has other interconnected elements: the value of proposition, customer, internal capability, competitive strategy and growth[3]. These factors have positive or negative implications toward the use and repeat-use of ICT extension services, and ultimately its success. The value of proposition and customer elements are closely linked with system quality, information quality and service quality[4]. System quality is the desired characteristics such as usability, availability, reliability and response time, e.g. download time. Information quality deals with content issues such as personalized, completeness, relevancy, easy to understand and secure – if ICT extension services equipped with online payment. Information must include weather, price, tips, products and so on. Service quality is the overall support provided to customers, delivered internally or outsourced. Poor support will translate into lost customers or lost end-users.

Business model should be carefully planned and implemented in all stages of ICT extension service development [1], not by the end of funding circle. The pilot (proof of concept stage) designs a prototype, followed by rigours user acceptance testing for small target groups. Typically, services are available for free, and with main goal to gain access to market. If successful, stage 1 (scalability stage) will improve and expand services to larger market. For commercial ICT extension services, membership fee or transaction fee is applied in this stage. Noncommercial ICT extension services pledge to funders for increased financial support. ICT extension services have to demonstrate high value to justify the costs of scaling up. ICT extension services may need to cease their operation if evidence suggested otherwise. Stage 2 (sustainability stage) is when ICT extension services become profitable. While marketing efforts become a priority to attract investors, business plan has to focus on improving the quality of services to reach the scale required for profitability.

Pricing models for ICT extension services

Creating business case for ICT extension services, especially those aiming for the bottom of pyramid “BOP” consumers, is tough. The World Bank report on Mobile Apps for Agricultural and Rural Development[1] validates this thesis. Only 15 percent (out of 92 studied apps) generates revenues over shares of SMS, transaction fees, or membership fees. Other 85 percent is dependent on government, donor or CRS funding for startup and operation costs. Table below gives example of pricing models, some overlap with each other, employed by ICT extension services (see table).

Table: Pricing models of ICT extension services. (Source: adapted from the Qiang, et al., 2012 and GSMA, 2016).

Charging fee to end-users, known as business-to-customer “B2C” approach, seems reasonable but difficult to apply in practice. Firstly, many end-users are farmers with low disposable income. Take into consideration, farmers still need to pay for capital costs, e.g. mobile phone, data connection or mobile credit, to access (noncommercial) ICT extension services. Secondly, farmers’ ability to pay and their willingness to pay do not always translate into actual payment. The experience of Tigo Kilimo, an agricultural value added service in Tanzania, demonstrates this dilemma[5]. Users increased by ten times within five months when SMS fee was removed. But when asked how much the service should cost, 80 percent of surveyed users agreed that the service should not be free (see chart). Thirdly, ICT extension services that rely on direct revenue from end-users can only attain fiscal sustainability through scale [6]. iCow service in Kenya charges farmers KES9 ($0.09) to receive 3 SMS tips per week; iCow’s  fiscal sustainability depends on recurring payment of 150,000 regular users and expansion into the region.

Chart: Tigo Kilimo user’s willingness to pay (source: GSMA, 2018)

To date, viable for B2C approach where end-users pay periodic subscription or through pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model are SMS, USSD, IVR and helplines. Any of them requires partnership with Mobile Network Operator (MNOs), and for two main reasons. End-users of ICT extension services are also MNO customers. MNOs are equipped with advance technology to reach the scale, both existing and potential end-users living in rural areas, and in a position to quickly implement the pricing models.

Rather than relying on single revenue from end-users, ICT extension services can opt for businesses-to-business (B2B) transactions. Typically, ICT extension services cross subsidies end-users in exchange for marketing purposes by adopting B2B approach. It is also possible for commercial ICT services to combine B2C and B2B approaches.

Digital Green which operates in several countries earns B2B revenues by creating videos, training and technology platforms for government, donor and private companies[7]. Digital Green determines pricing based on factors such as type of organisation, duration of engagement and support needs. For example, Digital Green covers costs of technology development and training while the government pays for the capital cost and operational cost. When working with private companies, all expenditures including technology development, training, capital and operational costs are covered by the partners.

The question whether ICT extension services are best financed by the private, public or through joint efforts depends on its characteristics and local situations[8]. This requires research, planning and investment. In principle, ICT extension services should balance the different interests, needs and motivations of stakeholders. Regardless the option, farmers should have control and protection about the information and services they need and receive. Furthermore, technology adoption and advancement should be supported with broader regulatory intervention to foster innovation and to minimise commercial risks.

Reference: 

[1] Qiang, C.Z., Kuek, S.C., Dymond, A. and Esselaar, S., 2012. Mobile applications for agriculture and rural development.

[2] Magesa, M.M., Michael, K. and Ko, J., 2014. Agricultural market information services in developing countries: A review. Advances in Computer Science: an International Journal3(3), pp.38-47.

[3] Morris, M., Schindehutte, M. and Allen, J., 2005. The entrepreneur’s business model: toward a unified perspective. Journal of business research58(6), pp.726-735.

[4] Delone, W.H. and McLean, E.R., 2003. The DeLone and McLean model of information systems success: a ten-year update. Journal of management information systems19(4), pp.9-30.

[5] GSMA, 2016. Agricultural Value-added Services (Agri VAS) Toolkit 2.0. How to design, develop and market next generation VAS for the rural market. Available at: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/mAgri-VAS-Toolkit-2016.pdf [Accessed on 15 August 2018].

[6] GSMA, 2015. Agricultural value-added services (Agri VAS): market opportunity and emerging business models. Available at: https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Agricultural-value-added-services-market-opportunity-and-emerging-business-models.pdf [Accessed on 15 August 2018].

[7] World Bank, 2017. Agriculture ICT Extension Services. Available at: https://www.innovationpolicyplatform.org/system/files/4_Agri%20ICT%20Extension_Agri_Nov20.pdf [Accessed on 1t August 2018]

[8] Anderson, J.R. and Feder, G., 2004. Agricultural extension: Good intentions and hard realities. The World Bank Research Observer19(1), pp.41-60.

My kind of heroes … the unsung WASHeroes of Gulariya

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018 by

“An ounce of practice is generally worth more than a ton of theory.”
Ernst F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered

Monday, 25 May 2015 was a memorable day in Gulariya – the day the town declared itself ‘Open Defecation Free.’ This milestone was achieved through the construction of more than 11,000 toilets. A huge crowd gathered to enjoy music and dancing. Faces beamed with joy, as everybody came together to celebrate the fruits of their hard work. It was hard to believe that just seven months before only half the households here had toilets and people went to the bushes or river banks for open defecation.

I met my kind of heroes on visits to Gulariya during Practical Action’s Safa and Swastha projects there. I got to know them – their characters, their tone of voice, and their situations that gave me the opportunity to dream of La La Land.

The conversations, the twists and the plots – the highs and lows made me feel like a small boy boasting and jumping around.  I gathered their practices, learning and wisdom as real knowledge to share with others.

The Mask of Zorro

This hero, a down-to-earth family man, puts on a home-made mask containing the spirit of  sanitation. He becomes a natural and confident leader which allows him to lead a team at a plastic recycling facility. Under the mask, he can explain the various processes of faecal sludge treatment plant components. He easily explains the sludge drying bed, what it does and how it functions.

The sludge drying bed separates solid and liquid part using sand and gravel layers, solid part gets dried in top of sand and liquid part goes to the tank (anaerobic baffled reactor)” he says.

 

 

 

Wonder Woman

My hero, is full of doubts about what to do with unusable plastics. But she pushes on, when others would have quit. She still separates plastics which have no commercial value.  She wrestles with her own image to stop being a hero, doing her best in the current circumstances.

 

 

 

The Filter-Man (Khamba Pd. Gharti)

This hero is a normal man who became an entrepreneur by chance.  He became involved in the biosand filter business after learning basic construction techniques. He started his own business named “Kritag Raj Biosand Filter Industry”.  This hero is a cheerful character and there is a charm hiding under his rough exterior, full of joy and hard work.

 

 

The Entrepreneur (Nilam Chaudhary)

The entrepreneur hero is full of contradictions. She operates an inclusive public  toilet facility, and was assigned to operate this facility by her husband after he signed an agreement with the municipality office. Being a housewife, she was forced by circumstances to change.  Although initially afraid she is now very proud of her work.

 

 

 

The Ring-Man (Ayodhya Pd. Godiya)

This experienced mason started working at the age of thirteen. He started his own ring construction business after learning about the sanitation business in couple of training programmes. He had had his doubts, fearing that his plans might not work. But he kept pushing on, providing rings for toilet construction and has helped his own municipality become open defecation free.  My hero, got recognition from the municipality and his children feel proud of the work he has done.

So tell me about your hero … who is he/she?

Time to Adopt Disaster Impact Assessment in Development Initiatives

Sunday, September 9th, 2018 by

In the recent pasts, it has been observed that human activities play prime role in creating disasters. The impact of 2015 earthquake in Nepal took lives of 9,000 people and completely damaged nearly 500,000 rural and urban houses. The 2015 April earthquake in Nepal destroyed and damaged properties worth more than USD7b, which is over 1/3 of the GDP. The main reason to such a huge loss and damage was due to weak housing and infrastructure that were built without paying proper attention to potential impacts of earthquake. The monsoon flood in 2017 affected nearly 1.7 million people and completely or partially destroyed 190,000 houses. The 2017 monsoon flood damaged properties worth nearly USD600m, which is around 3% of the country’s GDP. The reason behind such damage was again weak structure built on the flood plains without assessing the potential impacts of the flood. This year (2018) flood in Hanumante River in Bhaktapur (Kathmandu valley) damaged over 500 houses, nearly 30 factories, over 100 shops, schools and hospitals. The reason behind this damage was building human settlement on the riverbed encroaching right of river with no assessment of potential flood and its impacts. Despite the knowledge that flood would enter, the structure were not built safe from flood. In these events, human error was clearly observed as a key reason to disasters.

 

The Sikta Irrigation canal in Banke district of Neal is costing the government millions of rupees every year to maintain it because the design did not pay adequate attention to the potential impacts of the flood to it. The irrigation canal not only gets affected by flood, but it also creates flood in the downstream communities where the people did not experience such flood in the past.

 

We have been observing that the rural roads in Nepal built without any design and assessment has created thousands of landslides and debris flow downstream taking lives and properties of the people. The roads themselves are also affected by landslides and flood costing to government thousands of money to maintain and compensating to households who have lost lives and properties.

 

We can go on and on for several such development interventions and initiatives where they bring disaster to local communities and the development initiatives are not safe from the disaster as well. So a brief review of how the development initiatives are designed and implemented clearly tells us that at the design phase there is a serious error with no assessment of potential disasters the development initiatives can bring and the potential magnitude of disaster that these development initiatives have to face. Until the disaster impacts are seriously assessed as a mandatory process for every scale and type (large and small, public and private) of development initiatives, the investment will create problem by bringing disaster to nearby communities, and they will also be affected by disaster that require high maintenance cost making the project a waste of resources and unsustainable.

 

So the time has come to make Disaster Impact Assessment (DIA) for each development initiatives small or large, private or public, mandatory. A DIA will assess the potential disaster that the development intervention can create in the development site where there was no such disaster in the past. Potentially the development initiatives can create floods, inundations, siltation, debris flow, landslides, soil erosion, river pollution, loss of habitat and resources, fire, health/ disease epidemics, accidents, problem of waste, or any such hazards that can bring disaster to the nearby communities where such hazards did exist in the past. The impact of disaster could be far lasting and wide spread. The DIA should assess such potential disasters that the development interventions will potentially bring or create. The value of impact of such potential disasters (risk) should be assessed at the designing phase together with cost of humanitarian activities, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction because of the potential disaster that could be brought by such development interventions. The cost /impact should also accommodate the social, environmental and cultural cost due to potential damage to these resources by the disaster created by development interventions.

 

The DIA should also assess the impact of disaster on the development initiatives and interventions if the development activities cannot be avoided from that particular location. As for example Sikta Irrigation project was a must in that particular location, but it gets affected by flood annually. As it is not built adequately strong to resist the impacts of flood, it gets destruction annually by the flood. It seems the design did not assess such potential floods, as a result each year it has to bear millions of rupees for repair and maintenance. This is an example from many such projects. The thousands of private, government and public building destroyed by 2015 earthquake was primarily because the risk of earthquake was not properly assessed and proper protection measures were not adopted timely. The houses built on the river bed in Hanumante River in Kathmandu valley did not pay attention to the risk of flood, so they got affected by flood.

 

So it is time now that we have to learn from the past where we did not assess the potential disaster of development initiatives and intervention to local communities and environments, because of which they created man-made disasters. Similarly because of lack of assessment, these development interventions and initiatives have been adversely affected by disaster and the government has to pour millions of taxpayers’ money on their repair and maintenance annually.

 

DIA will look at the disaster risk aspects of the development initiatives and provide following recommendations

 

  1. The appropriateness of the particular development intervention or initiative in that particular location. The cost of potential humanitarian activities, post disaster activities such as rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction, and the cost of repair and maintenance of the initiative compared to the anticipated benefits from the development interventions
  2. If it is feasible then the assessment will provide recommendations to prevent potential disaster that the development interventions can create to the community and the environment, at the project period and throughout the life of the initiative
  3. The assessment will also provide recommendations for the protection and resilience measures to be adopted for the development initiatives to be safe from the potential disasters that can affect them. This will include measures to adopt at the time of development and construction, and after the completion at the time of benefit taking from the initiatives.

 

However the DIA should not be like EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) which has become like a ritual. The DIA should be done by an independent study / assessment team commissioned by the government. It is government’s responsibility to protect its people and their properties, and the properties of the state.

 

The DIA will need robust tools and methodologies. It is not to prevent development initiatives from happening, but to enhance the value for money of the development initiatives and interventions, and protect lives and properties of the people, and that of the state. It should be part of designing process and should not take unnecessarily long time that delays the development process.

World Water Week 2018: highlights from an urban WASH fanatic

Monday, September 3rd, 2018 by

Practical Action Publishing was in the forefront for us this year at World Water Week in Stockholm. The event is a key point in the WASH calendar with 3,700 delegates over a packed week of discussion and learning.

Water a cross-cutting issue for all our programmes

Our exhibition stand was a reflection of the depth and breadth of Practical Action’s engagement in water and sanitation issues across the organisation. We featured a range of Practical Action Publishing materials from manuals, to experience-sharing books, to more weighty academic texts. We included materials from the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance and our Urban WASH and Waste programme. We were joined by Nazmul Chowdhury from Bangladesh, whose attendance was sponsored by the Securing Water for Food programme, featuring our work on sandbar cropping. I was delighted that the opening plenary featured aQysta and their river-powered irrigation pump which we helped pilot in Nepal under our energy programme.

The materials we featured and the team of staff were a small illustration of the ‘One Practical Action’ we are aiming for in our global strategy.

 

New materials launched with high-profile partners and authors

Practical Action Publishing were featuring three books in particular:

Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment. Written by Kevin Taylor, a world expert with many decades of experience and described as, “one of the most pragmatic and experienced engineers I have ever encountered” by a key adviser from the World Bank. His book is set to become THE go-to text for people designing the details of appropriate, low-cost treatment plants, and was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Bank.

Scaling up Community Led Total Sanitation: From Village to Nation, by Kamal Kar, a founding father of the CLTS movement. He charts what he sees as the next stage for the movement as we move to SDG 6 and the global elimination of open defecation. The book will be available from January 2019.

Associated with this, we featured and promoted Innovations for Urban Sanitation: Adapting Community-led Approaches written with the CLTS Knowledge Hub at Sussex University and PLAN International, and drawing on innovative experiences from Practical Action’s work in Kenya and Nepal. It is a guide for practitioners wanting to adapt CLTS methods to work in urban contexts.

All of these books are or will be available FREE to DOWNLOAD in perpetuity. The World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have ordered 1,800 copies of the Faecal Sludge book for distribution through their networks globally. And they can be purchased at very reasonable rates.

As our content development manager Clare Tawney pointed out, the Faecal Sludge book is an illustration of what Publishing aims for in all our work: to provide high quality materials useful to practitioners as much as academics, widely available and distributed, for free or at affordable prices.

Our promotional push including on social media resulted in a spike in page hits and downloads. My twitter account @lucykstevens had 13,500 impressions, 21 new followers and 57 re-tweets.

Insights for Urban WASH programming

While the conference was very diverse, I was following strands and networking with like-minded organisations on global trends in the WASH sector: learning about the state of play on approaches, financing and policy. I was reflecting on the contribution our own projects and programmes make to this, and the extent to which the needs of the urban poor are being addressed. I spent an intense three days listening, discussing, contributing and networking with old friends and new: partners, funders and policy-makers.

My personal highlights

  1. My week started with a ‘Morning of Systems’ hearing from the partners from ‘Agenda for Change’. This set the tone for the week as the WASH sector seeks to move from delivering taps and toilets to changing the official, government-led systems and capacities which will see these things delivered ‘for everyone for ever’.
  2. Reflections from DFID’s policy team that the tide is turning. Policy-makers have heard and understood the urgency of addressing the needs of the urban poor, and there may even be a danger of forgetting the needs of rural communities. The AfDB is launching a new Africa Urban Infrastructure Fund, and AMCOW includes ‘safely managed’ sanitation which they understand as dealing with on-site urban sanitation in their strategy to 2030. The question remains (as stressed by SWA chief Catarina de Albuquerque) how to make the best use of available resources.
  3. Insights into the continuing fragmentation and dysfunction of parts of the system. From Uganda we heard how well civil society has been organised, but that connections are still not always made between Ministries. In many countries responsibilities for sanitation are still separate from water, and those for sewered sanitation separate from on-site sanitation. Cases where on-site sanitation is taken on as the mandate of a city-level utility are celebrated as a rare exception.
  4. The hilarious interference of pathogens (willing participants kitted out in bright t-shirts) at WSUP’s session on faecal pathways, reminding us of the routes to exposure (the sanipath tool is useful) and the importance of multi-pronged strategies to reducing this, including the on-going role of good hand and food hygiene.
  5. The growing confidence and maturity of container-based sanitation service providers, with good cross-learning happening. We need to think more seriously about how these services could be part of a diverse range of options available to households.
  6. WSUP’s useful framework for the enabling environment for urban sanitation which helped to crystallise much of the good work Practical Action is already doing in this area.

What was missing?

  • Very limited discussion on hygiene. Few sessions featuring it in the search function of the app.
  • A disappointingly low level of discussion on gender issues in the mainstream sessions. There seems to have been almost no attempt to understand what the gender issues might be in pit emptying and faecal sludge treatment services, and it rarely comes up in discussions.

There remains much for us to do as Practical Action and at times I felt frustrated by our lack of resource, profile and global reach compared to other larger or more specialist organisations.

However, I left the conference feeling encouraged that the work we are doing is in tune with current debates in the WASH sector. I will now be better able to guide our future programmes, and help our project teams discuss their work in ways which chime with current thinking. Our work is not at a huge scale, but it is innovate, linked well to existing systems and service providers, and adds new insights to the body of practice globally.