Archive for November, 2018

Turning to technology at COP24

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 by

Negotiators have spent the last 18 months deliberating two elements which will guide the work of governments, institutions, and UN bodies around the world on using technologies to tackle climate change and its impacts. The Technology Framework, and Periodic Assessment, will set out how Parties will support developing countries to access and develop the technologies they need to take transformational action on adapting to the increasing climate change impacts they face, and to create low-carbon growth in their economies.

At least, that is what they are meant to do. (more…)

The Global Distributors Collective: Tapping the Untapped Potential of Last Mile Distributors

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018 by

Written by the GDC partners

       

Co-written / endorsed by leading last mile distribution companies

       

     

 

This week sees the launch of the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), a new initiative to support last mile distributors in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This article from the founding partners – Practical Action, Hystra and BoP Innovation Center – explains why the GDC seeks to make last mile distribution the first priority.

Last mile distributors are on the frontline of the fight to ensure no-one gets left behind. Sometimes they sell one kind of product but often they sell a range that can include solar lights, cookstoves, water purifiers, nutrition products and productive assets such as water pumps. Most companies selling these kinds of products focus on wealthier or more densely populated areas. For example despite the high risk appetite of leading impact investor Acumen, just 38% of their off-grid energy companies’ customers live in poverty (below $3.10 per day). In contrast, last mile distributors are often the only companies selling to the poorest customer segments, in risky and remote areas. There are thousands of them operating across the globe. No-one knows exactly how many exist or how many customers they are reaching. Understanding and shining a light on the sector is one of our key goals and we will be publishing a State of the Sector report in 2019.

Last mile distributors have unique strengths, but face unique challenges. They know their communities better than anyone, and have strong local networks. This makes them exceptional salespeople and service providers. Distributors also create income generation opportunities not only through the products they sell, but also by recruiting and training local sales agents and retailers. However, they have to do far more than just sell products: they must raise awareness, change behaviour, generate demand, build routes to market, figure out logistics, train their salesforce, offer in-house consumer financing, and provide after-sales service. They particularly struggle to build capacity and to access finance.

Last mile distributors have been largely excluded from the financing schemes that have driven the growth of larger companies. Donors and investors have tended to focus more on technology innovation than supply chain innovation, and to focus on one product category, rather than working across a range[i]. The more basic products that distributors sell, such as solar lights, are often not considered to have a ‘big enough’ impact,[ii] despite the fact that they are often the only products that poorer customers can afford, and deliver profound cost savings. There is a perception that the unit economics of last mile distribution ‘don’t work’, but leading last mile distributors such as Essmart and Pollinate Energy have proven break even at a local operation level. Continued innovation – exemplified by the unbundling of the pay-as-you-go sector and the emergence of more and more specialist intermediaries that seek to help distributors succeed – is addressing capacity constraints, enhancing access to finance and improving the unit economics of last mile distribution[iii].

Even when donors and investors have wanted to support last mile distribution, they have lacked the tools to do so. Grant funds and concessional financing facilities in the sector are designed to ‘pick winners’ and minimise risk. Last mile distributors are less likely to have the strong track record, or collateral, that most funders are looking for[iv]. Funders are put off by the higher transaction costs involved in doing a larger number of smaller deals, and by the sector’s relatively high risk profile. In off-grid solar, for example, funding is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite of international, vertically integrated companies. From 2012 to 2017, just 10 companies attracted 87% of the investment coming into the off-grid solar sector[v].

Last mile distributors are finally starting to get the support they need at firm level. With the right support, they have the potential to increase efficiency, build capacity and boost overall performance – selling more products, providing better service, and increasing impact. Companies such as Angaza Design recognised this early on and are building specialised technology and logistics solutions for distributors. Pioneering investors such as VentureBuilder, SIMA Funds, Persistent Energy, Shell Foundation and the DFID-Unilever Transform initiative are finding new ways to invest in, and build the capacity of, last mile distributors. Increasingly there is interest in supporting an emerging ‘2nd wave’ of African and Asian-owned companies that focus on sales and distribution whilst outsourcing design, manufacturing, software and financing[vi].

There is also a huge opportunity to enhance performance across the last mile distribution sector, through collective approaches that improve the visibility, interconnectedness and strength of the sector. Distributors often work in silos, reinventing the wheel with limited opportunities to learn from each other and collaborate. Collective approaches can address this by providing support to the sector as a whole, rather than to a small number of pre-selected firms. Through helping distributors unlock economies of scale, access information, share best practices and learnings, build capacity and test new ideas, we will help last mile distributors save time and money, adopt new business practices and form new business partnerships. We will pilot a centralised purchasing platform, run learning and collaboration events, and conduct open-source innovation pilots. We will shine a light on the sector by generating and sharing insight through a State of the Sector report, and build its collective voice through enhancing distributor representation at key events and forums.

Practical Action, Hystra and BoP Innovation Center are proud to officially launch the Global Distributors Collective. The GDC is a collective of last mile distributors, which has been designed and built by last mile distributors. We are dedicated to helping our members reach more underserved customers, so that life-changing products can be made affordable and available to all. With the support of partners and funders, including DFID and P4G, we are committed to building a thriving last mile distribution ecosystem and welcome partnerships with those who share our goal. We invite last mile distribution companies to sign up as members to access GDC’s support services and funding opportunities. Contact us for more information at GDC@practicalaction.org.uk.

 

[i] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018

[ii] In the case of energy, for example, the development community is increasingly focused on Tier 2 energy access and above, which excludes basic lighting and cell phone charging.

[iii] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018

[iv] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018

[v] Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report, Dalberg Advisors and Lighting Global, January 2018

[vi] Last Mile Solutions for Low-Income Customers, Shell Foundation, October 2018; Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2018, Dalberg and Lighting Global, 2018

Chief Minister inaugurates Dhenkanal’s pioneering faecal sludge treatment plant, Odisha, India

Monday, November 19th, 2018 by

26th October 2018 marked a landmark moment for the town of Dhenkanal, with the ceremonial inauguration of the town’s faecal sludge treatment plant.

The ceremony was presided over by the State’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik (the elected head of the state government). In a true sign of India’s digital age, the Minister inaugurated several such sites simultaneously, connecting via video conferencing to each during a national faecal sludge and septage management workshop held in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. At each site, an event was held attended by all the stakeholders involved in the project.

We began this work in 2015, when at the time, the urban sanitation situation in Odisha was very poor. The 2011 census found that 35% of urban households in the state did not have toilets, the 2nd worst situation of all India’s states. There was also no provision at all within the state for the safe treatment of faecal sludge, and most urban areas did not have a sewerage system (baring parts of four major towns).

A year ago we reported on the ‘trade-offs and choices’ in urban sanitation projects, and some of the challenges we have faced in our work to improve the sanitation situation in three towns in India’s Odisha State. It is a huge testament to the project team to have got to this point where the first of three treatment plants we have planned has been inaugurated and is ready to become fully operational.

The work in Dhenkanal was initiated in 2015. The treatment plant is part of a wider set of activities and has been strongly backed by all local stakeholders, with the state government providing the municipality with new vehicles to help increase rates of pit emptying. It forms an important pillar of the city sanitation plan that the project also supported. We have also supported the construction of community toilets in slums, raised awareness of sanitation and hygiene issues, and built the capacity of local and community stakeholders. We are aiming for a viable end-to-end solution for the safe management of faecal sludge across the town.

Faecal sludge treatment plant under construction in Dhenkanal

 

Completed faecal sludge treatment plant, Dhenkanal

 

Municipal vehicle delivering sludge to the faecal sludge treatment plant, Dhenkanal

The work is driven under Practical Action’s Project Nirmal, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with the Centre for Policy Research, Arghyam, the respective Urban Local Bodies and the State Government of Odisha.

As a result of these efforts a recent national sanitation survey placed Odisha among the top-performing states for its efforts to achieve Open Defecation Free status, and make progress on sustainable sanitation more widely.

Practical Action on Jersey ITV news

Friday, November 16th, 2018 by

When your job is writing materials to engage the next generation in Practical Action’s work there is nothing more satisfying when you see that in action!

Last month I went to Jersey with my colleague Bren Hellier. Following on from a week of activities with primary pupils run by The Jersey Museum which focused on our Ditch the Dirt challenge, we delivered workshops with Jersey Overseas Aid to over 100 secondary students over three days.

stop the spread

”We could be engineers!!”

Minister for International Development Jersey working with pupils on Practical Action's Stop the Spread challenge

Carolyn Labey, Minister for International Development Jersey working with pupils on Practical Action’s Stop the Spread challenge

The secondary students soon got to grips with our Stop the Spread challenge which highlights the global issue around the spread of infectious disease and includes activities where children design and build their own hand washing station, plus produce education materials for primary age pupils in a school in Ethiopia. They came up with all sorts of ingenious solutions and really understood the importance of the work our two organisations and others are doing to address this.

The workshops caused quite a stir on the island and we were featured on Jersey ITV news , in the local press and on the radio!  We also had a visit from Carolyn Labey, Jersey’s Minister for International Development who got stuck into the activity and told the students about her role on the island.

Some of the comments from the pupils included

‘I learnt that water is a vital part of being healthy’
Finlay

‘I really enjoyed developing problem-solving skills…using what I had learnt in science in a real like situation and learning about Ethiopia and the UN global goals’
Hugo

 ‘I like doing this because it get everyone involved and makes sure everyone’s voice is heard’
Joss

‘I had heard of JOA and what they did but didn’t realise it was on such a bit scale’
Jessica

The materials pupils were using during the two weeks had been adapted for Jersey and included reference to Jersey’s own issues with the spread of cholera in the past. These materials can be found at www. joa.je/schools

What’s next?

We’re running a competition open to all pupils in Jersey. They are asked to send in a short video showing how they have worked in the challenge, including a demonstration of their model in action. Entries will be judged by JOA and Practical Action and the deadline is 11 March 2019.  If what I saw was anything to go by the quality will fantastic. More details here.

Following a meeting with the Jersey Government’s Head of Curriculum we’re hopeful that it won’t be long before many teachers in Jersey will be using our materials in their own teaching, embedding them in their schools’ curriculum.