Andy Heath


Andy is a Media Officer for Practical Action in the UK

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Posts by Andy

  • Interviewing Duncan Green

    October 12th, 2012

    Last week, I took a trip down to Oxford to interview Duncan Green, Oxfam director, blogger and author of the uplifting book, From Poverty to Power.

    The book, which is published by Practical Action Publishing, taps into Duncan’s wealth of real-life examples of what has and hasn’t worked, to argue that motivated people working with a democratic government should drive international development, rather than looking at our traditional charity models.

    I have to confess, I travelled down to Oxford with a degree of trepidation, spending much of it wondering how I, with less than six months experience working in development, could possibly carry off an interview with one of the most influential development thinkers around.

    Fortunately, Duncan is not only an optimist who offers a vision of how poverty can be beaten, he is also highly engaging. During the interview he offered his personal views on Technology Justice, Schumacher’s economics, geo-engineering and the controversial subject of enabling economic development while being mindful of climate change.

    You can watch Duncan’s full interview, first with me and then with Toby Milner, managing director of Practical Action Publishing by clicking on the links below:

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  • Catching up with the Kenyan Olympic team

    July 20th, 2012

    I’m sitting in a car park at the University of West of England looking for the Kenyan Olympic Squad with climate change campaigner Nick Milton.

    There’s no hiding it, we’re worried. Worried, because we have given up a day at work and driven to Bristol on what could very well be a wild-goose chase.
    Nick, with the doughty determination of a former freelance journalist, had managed to half set up interviews with the team after pestering a guy called Bob, the team’s UK fixer, and Bruce Kilulai, the Kenyan Olympic team coach.
    We’re there to try and get them support the work Practical Action does in Kenya, but having read a series of reports variously describing the situation in the camp as ‘chaotic’ and ‘in disarray’ both of us are coming to the conclusion that things are not looking good. Worse, Bob and Bruce haven’t replied and we’ve already tried to find them at one wind-swept athletics track without success. Now we are sitting in a corridor next to a room that someone vaguely important-looking believes they eat their lunch in. This is our final throw of the dice.

    I start to do some ‘normal work’, but just as I write the first line, we spot some very thin, tall athletic-looking black guys dressed in tracksuits and Nick gives us a nudge.

    Five minutes later we’re sitting in the athletes’ restaurant eating lunch; a chat with Bruce and a brief explanation of Practical Action’s work has had a magical effect.

    Kenyan Olympic team embraces Practical Action!

    However, the reports seem accurate: the cream of the Kenyan athletic crop isn’t there, choosing to train at altitude back home rather than brave the British summer.

    Nevertheless, we speak to the 400m commonwealth champion Mark Muttai. After explaining some of our projects – solar pumps, rain water harvesting and smokeless stoves – he’s really supportive and asks us to contact him when we’re next in Kenya so we can show him some of our work.

    Then we speak to 400 metre runners Maureen Jelagat and Joy Sakari. Initially both are painfully shy, but we soon have them talking about life at home, cooking with open fires and how they hope to use their position as a role model in future. Finally, we manage the coup de grace, a picture of Joy in a Practical Action shirt underneath a Kenyan flag. Considering where we were just an hour earlier, this is success.

    Joy Sakari

    Joy Sakari shows her support for Practical Action

    We start to head off, but not before getting an invite to a press call at Kenya House in London next week, where some of the biggest names in world athletics will be in attendance. Naturally, we jump at the opportunity, head back to the Midlands and plot our next move.

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  • Wide-eyed wonderment

    July 16th, 2012

    Let me introduce you to my Granny:

    She was born in Ireland in 1921. When she was a child, the passing of a car caused excitement and she had never seen an aeroplane. In summer she walked five miles to school in bare feet and stopped going altogether when she was in her early teens because she had to look after her six younger siblings. Dublin, 60 miles to the south, was a day away and people who had left for America to find work were rarely seen again.

    Fast forward 80 years…

    I am delighting in her reaction to my mobile phone (‘Bejesus’), my instantly emailed messages to friends around the world (Jesus, Mary and Joseph!’) and anything to do with the internet (‘I just don’t understand how it can work’).

    My Granny died five years later and trying to understand the concept of wireless broadband and Skype would have made her brain explode anyway. But what makes me remember this conversation in particular is her question afterwards: “Why, despite all this, are there are still millions of poor people in the world (‘cos it’s disgusting’)?”

    Fast forward ten more years…

    I’m writing this while travelling on a train at more than 100 miles an hour. At this speed my home town of Coventry is an hour away from London and people travel more than 200 miles every day for eight hours’ work.

    That alone is staggering, but a pint of strong cider (it is 10pm) combined with the fact I can simultaneously travel, blog and surf the internet fills me with awe.

    My Granny was right, of course. It is disgusting that I can do all this while people elsewhere can’t feed their children. Yet her life gives me hope. Hope, because there are parallels to draw between some developing countries now and the Ireland of the 1920s. She was born into a civil war and poverty, but she gave her children a full education and got (what was then) a high-tech factory job. Her children, nieces and nephews became teachers, professors, doctors and nurses.

    This is due to the technological progress made in her lifetime. The development of infrastructure and technology has made farming, travel and communications more efficient in Ireland and enabled the Irish to solve their political and economic problems and (banking aside) focus on what they do best.

    Similar economic development has been repeated elsewhere – in Portugal, Turkey and China. And as I sit here I think if I can help enable us to achieve technology justice in every region Practical Action operates in, my Granny’s wide-eyed wonderment would finally be complete.

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