Amanda Ross


Amanda is Communications Officer in Practical Action's UK head office.

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Posts by Amanda

  • Jute – the natural alternative to plastic

    February 18th, 2019

    Most families in north-west Bangladesh rely on farming small plots of land to make a living. But it’s hard to make enough and men often have to leave their families to work in cities, leaving women and children without support. Work traditionally done by women earns very low wages.

    Jute rettingJute is the second most important crop in Bangladesh after rice. The climate is ideally suited and it was once a major source of foreign exchange but lost out to artificial fabrics. As we become more aware of the environmental dangers of plastics, jute is popular once more.  In 2017 Bangladesh produced 9.2 million bales compared to only 5 million in 2016.

    Practical Action, with European Union funding, is working to address issues for farmers, processors and entrepreneurs to unlock the potential for thousands of poor jute producers to boost their incomes from the crop. Our approach combines a set of solutions that together bring about lasting change. Here are some that are reaping rewards in Bangladesh.

    jute processingImproved varieties of jute

    Nurul Haque grows rice, jute and maize on his 2.5 acres. Practical Action introduced him to a new, highly productive variety of jute called Kanaf. It grows tall, up to 16 feet, and the fibre is white, making it more valuable.

    Usually after harvesting, jute is soaked in water for a couple of weeks to make it possible to remove the fibre.  This processing is hard work and very time consuming.  We have sourced a simple machine which can strip out the jute fibre very quickly without requiring this soaking.

    For Nurul Haque using the new machine saved time and cost less.  He also has an extra 280 kg of jute to sell this year because the machine extracts the fibres more efficiently leaving less on the sticks.

    Leasing the processing machine

    The jute sector currently lacks entrepreneurs and growers are trapped at the bottom of the supply chain.  We have designed a leasing system to help people obtain the processing machines and set up businesses processing jute and other crops. Unemployed young people are being trained in metalwork skills that enable them to manufacture these locally.

    Sheuli Begum, from Bozra in Kurigram lives with her husband and two children. Her husband is a farmer. Their income from farming and selling jute fibre is inadequate and she has to borrow to support her children’s education or pay for medicines. Sheuli  struggles to repay these debts.

    It came as a pleasant surprise to her that women were getting equal access to this jute machine business opportunity. She expressed her keen interest to  join the initiative.

    After training, she leased a machine. Now she is earning 1500 taka (£14) per day with her jute extraction machine after meeting all her business expenses. She also hopes to get a better price for her jute fibre.  Full of ideas, Sheuli is looking for ways use the waste from the jute sticks. She plans to compost those to make organic fertiliser to use on their field.

    “I am a housewife and people did not encourage me to be an entrepreneur. They laughed at me. But I know, the machine has changed my way of living.” said Sheuli.

    Skills training

    Ruzina Begum, Jute projectRuzina Begum is 34 with four daughters.  Her husband is disabled so she is the family breadwinner. She used to work as a housemaid but was poorly paid and struggled to feed her family and afford her children’s educational expenses. With little education herself, Ruzina was unable to find better employment.

    When she found out about a local business employing women to make products made of jute, she was delighted.  She took the basic training and began an apprenticeship with the company Karupannya.  She was keen to prove herself and to do something for herself and her family.  Now Ruzina is able to pay her daughters’ educational expenses as well as providing proper meals. She no longer needs financial support from her neighbours. And through practise her skills are improving daily which should lead to more work.

    More than 400 women have undertaken similar training and are now working for small and medium sized enterprises creating jute products.

    The project is also supporting the production and marketing of jute products with some small and medium sized cottage industries. This has resulted in the development of new products such as sandals and yoga mats for the export market and sales are increasing.

    Limited mechanisation and a lack of skills and market knowledge inhibit development.  With the help of market development, skills training and loan systems these vulnerable communities can become more economically productive. And there are environmental benefits. Jute is environmentally friendly being both biodegradable and recyclable as well as strong and versatile. Plastic bags are banned in Bangladesh so there’s already a growing local market.





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  • Meet a real ‘Wonder Woman’

    June 23rd, 2017

    The new ‘Wonder Woman’ film premiered across the world this month.  At its Latin American red carpet event in Mexico, the star, Gal Gadot, was presented with a unique set of embroidered Wonder Woman bracelets. These were designed and made by Doris Barrientos, an artisan from Cusco and leading light of our textile art project to promote economic development in the region.

    “Wonder Woman” is a fighter and warrior just like the artisans from Cusco,” commented Doris.

    Doris Barrientos lives with her husband and three of her six children in Marangani, 3,600 metres above sea level in the Cusco region of Peru.

    She is one of more than 700 craftsmen and women who have taken part in Practical Action’s ‘Hilando Culturas’ programme. They are working together to build their skills in  textile design and creation, using local alpaca and llama wool and vegetables dyes and traditional weaving and embroidery patterns.

    The training has given Doris the opportunity to become an expert at machine embroidery. She focuses on making the colourful clothing typical of her region, using her own innovative designs.

    The results have been stunning and products from the project have been shown on the catwalk in Lima and are attracting the attention of fashion designers.

    Doris was taught to weave and sew as a child by her grandparents and has been making clothes ever since.  Finding more profitable markets for their wonderful products was a key part of the project, so at last, her skills and the beauty of her products are being recognised.

    She explained the difference the project has made to her life.

    “We have received important training, in cost and production, for example. And they have taken us to show our products at fairs in Cusco and Lima. I started to earn more money with my products, and that enabled me to contribute more to the economy of my family, without having to depend so much on my husband. And today that gives me courage to make decisions about what happens in my family. But it helped me a lot to be part of the association because when I worked alone, nobody supported me. Now that I work with my colleagues it is easier to receive help and easier to show our products.”

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  • Safer cooking across the world

    December 20th, 2016

    Cooking is a daily necessity – for some a chore, for others a pleasure.  I’m happy to count myself in the latter category. Luckily for me, cooking is made easier by the availability of clean, reliable energy.  But this sadly is not the case for a third of the world population. Pashupati Kumal

    In many developing countries, and especially in rural areas, the only cooking fuels available and affordable are wood, crop waste or dung. And the most common cooking appliance is a three stone fire.  Not only is this energy inefficient, it’s also dangerous. Diseases caused by smoke from cooking fires kill 4 million people each year. That’s more than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids combined.

    Sadly, there’s no single silver bullet to solve this problem. All cultures have their own cooking practices, so local choice has to play a big role in any technology designed to reduce smoke in the kitchen.  Here are some stories of Practical Action’s locally designed solutions that have succeeded in cutting deadly household air pollution.

    As you cook your Christmas dinner this year, spare a thought for the three billion people worldwide who don’t have clean energy.

    You can help by donating to our appeal to stop the killer in the kitchen.

    LPG stoves in North Darfur, Sudan

    In North Darfur, 90% of households depend on firewood and charcoal for cooking. In this region LPG fuel is available and offers a clean, efficient substitute for wood or charcoal in household cooking.

    This innovative project is financed with carbon credits, through Carbon Clear. And a community managed revolving microfinance scheme enables poor families to obtain both the stove and the fuel. No only does the reduction in household air pollution improve the health of women and children but it also reduces the pressure on dwindling forest resources in the region

    Asha LPG stovesAsha Mohamed Abdelkareem Sabeel, a mother of six, now has an LPG stove. She used to spend 20 SDG ($2) a day to buy wood for cooking. But with the new fuel she has put away her daily savings of 10 SDG per day ($1) in a box and has saved an unbelievable 2,800 SDG ($280).  The family have used this to build a new building and kitchen for their house.

    Asha used to have to visit the doctor every other month but this has stopped completely. She is now saving to support her daughter at university. In addition there is a huge time saving. Instead of spending four hours a day cooking, it can all be done in an hour.

    Just imagine what you could achieve with an extra three hours a day!

    ACCESS stoves in Odisha, India

    ACCESS OdishaThis Johnson Matthey funded project in Odisha has trained local women entrepreneurs to produce and market a locally designed low smoke stove.

    It is providing employment and stimulating the local economy as well as improving health by reducing harmful smoke.

    26 year old K Madhabi led a women’s group and is now a successful entrepreneur.  The energy efficient cook stove they produce reduced smoke to almost zero and cooking time up to 50%.  It also consumes less firewood than traditional stoves. She is delighted with their success.

    “Life is not the same as before. We have been treated with much respect in our community,” says Madhabi.

    The group has been getting regular orders and are working hard to meet the demand.

    Smoke hoods in Nepal

    In rural areas across Nepal, traditional stoves are common. But smoke from these fires fill the lungs of the whole family, causing them to cough and their eyes to stream.

    Saraswoti MoktanHere the winter cold means that stoves are needed for heating as well as cooking. Practical Action has worked with local families to develop a smoke hood design that can be manufactured locally and installed along with an improved stove. The project is enabling 36,000 households in the Gorkha, Dhading, Makwanpur, Rasuwa and Nuwakot districts of Nepal to install this technology.

    Saraswoti explains how this has changed her life.

    “Before, we had a traditional stove. And the stove was really smoky; my eyes were watery and I couldn’t see properly. It used to hurt a lot. When the children were small, they suffered from pneumonia.”

    Their new stove and smoke hood not only protect Saraswoti’s family from deadly smoke but also uses less wood, saving time and effort, and the house is no longer black with soot.

    Stoves for coffee growers in Peru

    Working in partnership with coffee co-operative CENFROCAFE, we’ve developed an improved stove for 700 coffee and rice farmers in the provinces of Jaen and San Ignacio in Peru.

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  • 50 technologies – the vote is in

    August 17th, 2016

    We’re drawing our 50th anniversary year to a close at the end of August,50 Logo CMYK by celebrating 50 successful technologies, which have had a huge impact on communities across the world.

    We asked our supporters to vote for their favourites and these are the three they chose.

    Take a look at more top technologies

    top 3 technologies

    There was quite a wide range of response.  Rating technologies isn’t easy! And we’d love to hear your views as well in the comments below.

    How do you choose between such a variety of different technologies? Our energy access work demonstrates how vital energy is for raising communities out of poverty, but a lack of clean water and sanitation is life threatening.

    Rural communities we work with might vote for one of our agriculture and food technologies. Being able to grow enough to feed your family is a key concern for millions of farmers in the developing world.

    This focus on choice goes to the heart of Practical Action’s philosophy. We work with communities to help them find the solutions to those problems they prioritise themselves.  And we make sure that those solutions are sustainable for those communities as well as for the planet we share.

    Our solutions rarely address single issues. The problems caused by poverty are complex and demand a range of responses, not all of which involve technology.  Consequently our scope is immensely varied and covers many different areas of work.

    And over the last fifty years we’ve tried out many things in many places and worked with many different people.  And this has brought a huge range of learning, which we share as widely as possible in the form of free to download technical information.  And because we believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so we encourage others to copy and scale up our work.

    For me these two EF Schumacher quotes sum up our approach:Fritz Schumacher0001

    Knowledge is power

    “The best aid to give is intellectual aid, a gift of useful knowledge.  A gift of knowledge is infinitely preferable to a gift of material things

    Small is still beautiful

    “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent.  It takes a touch of genius to move in the opposite direction”

    Our world is changing rapidly and we need to make sure that rapid technological change doesn’t leave poor people behind.  Innovation should centre on solving the great challenges the world faces today ending poverty and providing a sustainable future for all.

    Let’s hope that before the next 50 years have passed we’ll have achieved this and Practical Action will be working to keep the world a better place for everyone.

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  • So it’s Brexit. Where do we go from here?

    June 27th, 2016

    I am generally an optimist.  Leaving the office on Thursday I was sure the British people would vote to preserve the status quo and remain part of Europe.  How wrong I was!

    Like many others, I’m stunned and heartbroken by the referendum decision to leave the European Union. We are now in uncharted territory, no country has left the European Union before and no one seems very sure what to do next. But, in a democratic system decisions taken by referendum must be upheld.  Unfortunately it seems that many people weren’t answering the question asked of them, but registering a more general protest vote.  Now we need to work together to find positive ways to deal with our precarious situation.

    And we should not forget that in our globalised world it is the poorest who bear the brunt of harsh economic times as well as the ravages of climate change. Many of the countries where Practical Action works have suffered internal strife in recent years and our work helps to heal some of these wounds by enabling people to improve their livelihoods and income.

    Inevitably there will be implications for this work.  Around 12% of our programme work is funded by the EU but we also have a broad range of other international donors and thousands of committed, generous supporters.

    Energy was supplied to this community through EU funding

    Energy was supplied to this community through EU funding

    The European Union is the largest multilateral donor in the world. For Practical Action it funded projects such as:

    Practical Action remains in a sound financial position to continue with our vital work using technology to challenge poverty in developing countries.

    I will try to remain optimistic and to celebrate the EU’s contribution.

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  • Golden Jubilee celebrations start in Bangladesh

    December 2nd, 2015

    Practical Action Bangladesh opened launched a three-day Photo Exhibition on 1 December, the first event of “Golden Glory: প্রগতির পঞ্চাশ ” a year-long celebration of Practical Action’s Golden Jubilee.  It showcases 86 photographs, a timeline and our programme work, including some photographs of work from other country offices.

    Photo exhibition launch BangladeshThe opening of the exhibition was a get-together of development professionals, academics and government officials. Many of the guests were absorbed by the photos and were busy taking selfies with them! Candles, cake cutting and a cultural show were all part of the event, and Pitha, the festive food of the winter season was served to the guests. Guests were delighted to receive a photo book as a memento.

    Ms Hasin Jahan, Country Director made a speech of welcome and representatives from other organisations expressed their “good luck wishes” to Practical Action.  Among these were the joint secretary of the local government division of Bangladesh Mr. Md. Akram-Al-Hossain; Mr. Kazi Abdul Noor, Project director of Policy Support Unit; Mr. Hamidur Rahman, Director General of Department of Agriculture Extension; and Mr. Eamoinn Taylor, the CEO of EEP/Shiree.

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  • ‘Where the need was there, energy made it possible’

    October 29th, 2015

    At this year’s Small is Festival held at the Centre for Alternative Technology in West Wales, I met Rod Edwards, who worked at Practical Action (then ITDG) from 1986 to 1992. As we’re celebrating 50 years of Practical Action, I was eager to find out more about his work back then.

    Rod Edwards

    Rod Edwards at the Centre for Alternative Technology

    Rod spent two years in Peru working on the micro hydro energy programme, setting up demonstration programmes and training people in the techniques required to install and maintain micro hydro systems. The funding for this project came from the EU and other funders for village level electrification. The Inter America Development Bank  supported a revolving fund which enabled 47 low cost micro hydro installations between 1992 and 2007, delivering clean, renewable energy to more than 3,000 families.

    The project aimed to source materials locally as far as possibly but some items such as circuit boards of the right quality were unobtainable in Peru at the time and had to be imported. However there was one key part of the system, the Pelton wheel, that encountered a major manufacturing problem. Without a tradition of bronze casting in Peru, developing the skills required to produce precisely engineered Pelton wheels locally proved challenging.

    But, international co-operation within Practical Action provided a solution. Rod’s colleagues working on micro hydro projects in Nepal were working with a group of religious statuary manufacturers who used the ancient technique of lost wax casting.

    Nepalese statue makers polishing their casts

    Nepalese statue makers polishing their casts

    Working with Peru’s energy specialist, Teo Sanchez and UK sculptor Stephen Hurst, they came up with a means of producing the precision required for the Pelton wheel, while retaining the simplicity of local manufacture.

    “We were constantly evolving the technology development with interaction between the two countries.  This was very healthy.”  Rod told me, he went on to say:

    “Personally and professionally, we were sharing ideas and technical knowledge between different cultures and people and working out how to build this into social structures.  You have to do your homework in the community before otherwise it won’t work.”

    Casting moulds laid in the kiln for firing, 1989

    Casting moulds laid in the kiln for firing, 1989

    The team ran micro hydro courses for engineers in Sri Lanka, Peru, Nepal and Zimbabwe and most of the attendees went on to build systems in their countries.  These engineers then worked with local NGOs and small businesses  implementing new micro-hydro systems.

    In Nepal the Agriculture Development Bank of Nepal provided loans for micro hydro installation and Practical Action provided training, manufacturing guidelines and quality assurance.

    Breaking the plaster mould from a Pelton wheel after casting. A nervous moment, as you are never quite sure how it will turn out !

    Breaking the plaster mould from a Pelton wheel after casting. A nervous moment, as you are never quite sure how it will turn out !

    Micro hydro power plants were more successful in some places than others.  It was important that the need for energy was there – not just for lighting and leisure activities, but for enterprise.  For example, one installation alongside the Ucayali river in Peru on a popular truck route, led to the setting up of a group of small catering enterprises supplying truck drivers with food and drink.

    A couple of weeks later I came across these old black and while photographs of a lost wax Pelton wheel training course in Nepal in 1989. As someone who believes that understanding the past is vital for planning the future, this co-incidence was too good to ignore!

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  • Pumpkins Against Poverty

    October 1st, 2015

    Every year monsoon rains cause the three major rivers of Bangladesh, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna to swell, resulting in devastating floods. These wash away fertile land and destroy homes and pumpkins against povertylivelihoods.  Every year hundreds of families are forced to find a new place to live and a new means of earning a living without land to cultivate.

    Sandbars emerge as the rivers recede, the soil is barren but can be made productive by using the technique of pit cultivation for pumpkins and other crops. Practical Action has been working with communities in the Rangpur area of Bangladesh to help landless families overcome seasonal hunger and increase their income.

    UK-AID-Donations&flag-4CLast month I visited Rangpur and met a family that have built a better life through growing and selling pumpkins, a highly nutritious vegetable.  I found it hugely inspiring that such a simple idea could make such a big difference.

    Today we’re launching our Pumpkins Against Poverty appeal to help even more families like Anwar’s. And the great news is that the UK government will match your donation, pound for pound, meaning if you donate between now and Christmas you will double your impact!

    Pumpkins offer Anwar a way out of poverty

    Anwar ul Islam, his wife Afroza and two children live in Rangpur District, an area afflicted by land erosion caused by heavy monsoon rains swelling the rivers from June to October. Anwar lost everything when floods swept away his house and land. He was earning less than £2 a day working as a cycle mechanic.

    Pumpkins against povertyBut with the help of Practical Action, Anwar has found a way to feed his family, improve their health and earn a good income.

    Once the rainy season ends and the monsoon waters drain away, large sandbars appear in the rivers. This land is common property but, prior to Practical Action’s intervention, had never been used productively. Working alongside communities who live on the river embankments, our teams have shown it’s possible to grow pumpkins in small pits dug into the sand filled with compost.

    Last year Anwar produced 600 pumpkins. After selling 450, he had enough to feed his family as pumpkins can be stored for over a year. With the income he bought a cow and some chickens and can now afford to educate his children. They have a secure home and he is passing on his knowledge to others.


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  • Dalit communities plan their own future

    August 20th, 2015

    Would attending your local council budget setting meeting be high on your wish list? Certainly not on mine!  But the Dalit community of Jessore in Bangladesh, consider the right to attend these meetings one of their proudest achievements. The minority Dalit community who live in slum areas previously faced exclusion because of their caste from all political, social and economic activity and traditionally work in very low paid jobs as road sweepers, pit latrine emptiers and cleaners.

    IMG_0316Last week I visited some of these communities along with partner organisation DHARA who are working with Practical Action to improve the living conditions of these minorities. This is the second phase of the pro-poor urban development project, IUD2, which has been running since 2012 and is funded by the European Commission and DFID.  The project is also operating in Faridpur in Bangladesh, Butwal and Bharatpur in Nepal and Kurunegala and Akkaraipattu in Sri Lanka

    The first step was to develop a Community Improvement Plan to prioritise the work they wanted to see done in each area and to select community leaders to voice their demands to the municipality.

    Sukia (above in the green sari), a widow in her late thirties, was chosen as a leader of her area, Old Pourashava, a dalit area for about 200 years. It is a small community of in a dense cluster, accessed from an alley off the main road.  The streets are narrow – suitable only for pedestrians and bicycles.

    Sukia is enthusiastic about the project’s achievements:

    “Previously the ground here was covered in waste, water, mud and urine, now we have a paved walkway with drainage.  Our environment is better than ever before.  Before we collected water from a dirty source, now we have clean water from our deep tube well and a wall to give some privacy from the main road when we are washing.”

    She speaks with the confidence of a woman proud to represent her community. She goes on to tell us that while before there were only 2 toilets for the 30 household in Pourashava, they now have 1 for every 10 families, with a member of the community given the job of keeping them clean and in working order.  When it rains heavily (as it does frequently in the monsoon season) the water now flows down holes in the pathway into the drains instead of flooding houses as in the past.

    Tube well Old Pourashava JessoreSukia showed us their community action plan and explained that they still have work to do on improving housing and creating an area boundary but she is confident that now they will be able to access municipality funding, something they would not have dreamed of five years ago.

    The partner organisation DHARA, led by the highly charismatic Lipika Das Gupta (above behind Sukia in the pink sari) are helping to deliver similar improvements in 5 other dalit communities in Jessore, working with 1,824 beneficiaries, half of whom are women.

    IUD2 project achievements in Jessore

    • 6 Settlement Improvement Committees formed and given leadership and governance training
    • Training on tailoring, handicraft, mechanics and mobile servicing to 1,836 beneficiaries for income generation and 28 sewing machines
    • Budget allocation from the municipality for Dalit communities for the first time
    • Infrastructure development – protected water pumps, toilets, drainage, road surfacing and a community centre in each area

    But the main achievement has been to give a voice to this Dalit minority. Women especially have been empowered to talk to people in authority and to request improvements in their living conditions.  As a result have boosted their status, their environment and their incomes.

    Sukia spoke enthusiastically about the future: “With your support we will be able to complete our plan. I am so proud that I can now do something for my family.”

    This is a demonstration of local democracy in action and a truly uplifting experience.

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  • Relief supplies arrive in Dhading, Nepal

    May 15th, 2015

    Following the earthquake on 25th April, Practical Action’s Nepal team  has been working hard to help some of the devastated communities in Gorkha and Dhading.

    Distributing relief in DhadingWe’re focusing on:

    • Water treatment (to reduce deaths by disease, especially in infants)
    • Emergency shelters (for homes, and public facilities e.g. toilets)
    • Energy generation (lighting and heating, including for medical centres)
    • Solar communication technology (for mobile phone charging)

    Please help us deliver this help by donating to our appeal.


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