Helen Morton


Helen was Head of Global Advocacy at Practical Action

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org.uk

Posts by Helen

  • Be(ing) the change

    London, UK, St. James's Ward
    February 8th, 2013

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”    Margaret Mead

    Practical Action’s exciting new strategy presents both a challenge and an opportunity – to improve our influencing to better benefit poor people, nationally and internationally. 

    To support this, last week, eight Practical Action staff came together to kick start our Advocate Development Programme. The aim being to develop a team with the confidence and capacity to speak out, loud and proud (or, where more appropriate, subtly and stealthily) about Practical Action and the issues affecting the communities we work with.

    The transformation was palpable. Each advocate now has a personal plan and a group advocacy mission and I am confident that, working together through a six month mentoring programme, they are now well equipped to achieve them. The advocates showed a real commitment to learning, reflecting and developing and by the end of five days were able to translate their passion into powerful and persuasive advocacy. Their newly-honed skills were put to the test with a series of real life advocacy scenarios. They all passed with flying colours!

    Below are some reflections from our team of advocates … I have no doubt you will be hearing more from them in the future:

    Sam Owilly, Kenya

    Last week was a phenomenal! Not only did I meet 7 great advocacy enthusiasts but the seamless interaction of diverse cultures, experience sharing and invaluable learning from the amazing coaches made the London cold fine!

    Since the training I have taken time to reflect on my inner spirits – asking myself how best to understand me, my emotions, listening and communicating. I have already noted a difference on how I think and react to issues. The most important thing I have learnt is that it is a good thing to be a professional but that by showing passion and personality I can also drive an agenda to influence and change others. How better to do this than be an engaged advocate?  So next time we all go shopping let’s remember to bag some TEA to tee off our TEA (Total Energy Access)  campaign to focus energy delivery on the full range of poor people’s energy needs at home, enterprise and community level.

    As they say, if hard work is the answer then what is the question?

    Monica Cuba, Bolivia

    You have to get lost in order to find where you are… I had to travel far, far away from Bolivia, to realize this and also to know where I’m going.  Nobody gave us standard answers, just questions and exercises. From this challenge, we together started to un-build …to learn about each other, question and understand ourselves, then develop new skills and find answers to re- build again.

    To achieve our new objectives it is time for us to spread all that knowledge, skills and strengths on which we have being working hard – not only with our colleagues but to have an impact in our countries where it matters most.

    Haseeb Irfanullah, Bangladesh

    We each came from diverse educational backgrounds, professional expertise, and of course, varied expectations. Over the week, the enthusiasm we expressed, the insights we shared, the exposure we had, the feedback we received, the successes we celebrated, and the humour we enjoyed was amazing! All these helped us converge our learning and zeal to identify ourselves as individuals and as a group to work for our organization as influencers. And, by adding sufficient amount of snow − it was fantastic!  As a biologist turned development worker, I am interested in evolution − of an organization, of a programme, or of a person. The last week has helped me to reflect, to realize and to evolve as a better advocate for our causes!

    Let the evolution continue!

    Chiedza Chiuriri, Zimbabwe

    I go back to Zimbabwe shining, confident and ready to champion advocacy work.  The training taught me that advocacy is not all about talking and making noise about issues. It is also about taking the time to listen to what the other person is saying and understanding where they are ‘coming from’. The Programme has made me more compassionate in doing my work and more ambitious about the change we can make … it begins with me and you … let us be the change that we want to see in the world… together we can do it!”

     Samjhana Bista, Nepal

    From the very beginning, I had a feeling that this training was unique and will polish my personal skills in getting things done, and I was right! The programme brought people working directly with the community, communication experts, and energy experts.  Now I feel everyone in Practical Action should become the champion at their work. All of us had the opportunity to understand ourselves and understand others. Of all, what I learnt is to find my best way to “eat an apple hanging low on the tree”.  Somehow, we get the information that there is an opportunity, what we fail to do is to grab that opportunity in the right way.

    I’m thankful that this programme has helped me understand myself and my strength which I will be using. I fully trust myself and believe that I will be making change happen in coming days.

    Reginald Mapfumo, Zimbabwe

    A training with a difference!  What an organised workshop in terms of imparting skills … What an arrangement (to stay in a “big brother” set up) … What a way to share skills with others (creating a new group in a matter of 5 days)…What a practical way to assess our development …What a relaxed but intensive way to learn (homework at night, engaging advocacy campaigns and inspiring videos – including Steve Jobs’ famous speech) …What an example of changing the culture and doing things differently to bring about change.

    Maliha Shahjahan, Bangladesh

    It was simply amazing – a workshop without using the 3 Ps; Powerpoint, Pens & papers – all those orthodox ways usually practiced. We constantly found ourselves in unusual real life situations which we usually think and find difficult. But at the end it all comes down to being a little different – thinking differently and also acting differently. Now I think I have grasped the meaning of Gandhi’s saying, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, that we ‘budding advocates’ are so fond of.  The connection, which we made with each other and those who support Practical Action, will drive us all to be exceptional ADVOCATES – to become the FACES OF PRACTICAL ACTION.

    Keshav Sharma, Nepal

    During the training , I was able to learn a lot about myself and avenues of improvement in order to be a vibrant face of Practical Action. There are many takeaways from the training, to give you a taster here are three of them (The training has taught me that I shouldn’t advance beyond 3!); I am now trying to be an ‘empathetic listener’ rather than a desperate talker – reminding me why we have two ears and one tongue!  My second take-away is the strength of our network and collectiveness. I feel my strength has been augmented with my new advocate buddies. My third take-away is to think differently and act on ‘can-do’ attitude always. 

    I look forward to giving a big push on TEA (Total Energy Access), an unprecedented energy campaign, colourful stories and achievements whirling around. I am dreaming..

    Our journey starts now……

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  • Rio +20 : Brazil, the great bracket-banner

    June 21st, 2012

    This morning I was woken up at 5am, by the sound of a helicopter, flying over the apartment I’m staying in.

    The helicopter was carrying one of the 100 world leaders descending on Rio de Janeiro today.

    They are arriving with seemingly no job to do (as the outcome document has already been agreed) and yet a generation-changing job to do (as the outcome document has already been agreed).

    You see, on Monday evening Brazil produced their own version of the Rio +20 outcome document, disregarding the year long process of negotiations by actors around the world.

    In any negotiation documents it’s the brackets that count – that’s where the crucial and controversial points are, the points that will make a difference, the points that are worth fighting over.

    But Brazil’s focus on securing an outcome meant that they simply deleted the brackets. Deleted The Future We Want.

    The Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is standing by the ‘agreed’ outcome. But there are three days to go, three days to make a difference by re-opening the document and including time-bound targets with financial commitments, and billions of reasons to do so.

    And now it’s time to sleep – and it’s not the helicopters that are keeping me awake … but I’m hoping that just a few of our world leaders have a sleepless night too



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  • Rio +20 – Goals galore …

    Mato Grosso, Brazil,
    June 20th, 2012

    At terminal 5, before leaving for the Rio +20 Summit, I had a cursory glance at Facebook, my last for 10 days.  The main topic of conversation – Euro 2012, football and goals (I’m not sure what that says about my friends)…

    Landing in Rio, here too there is a (‘beautiful’?) game being played, a vying for position amongst countries and much talk of goals – of the Sustainable Development variety.

    It’s likely that one of the main outcomes of Rio +20 will be a commitment to create a series of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focusing on poverty but also, specifically, on energy (for the very first time), water, land use and more – details pending.

    But, I hear you say, what about the Millennium Development Goals, the eight global targets set in 2000 and endorsed by 191 governments? Will they be replaced or lost in the drive for the SDGs?

    Well, on that, I don’t have an answer – and, right now, neither do the UN and governments here in Rio.


    For three reasons:

    1)      One track or two? – Countries haven’t yet decided on, or committed to, whether the two tracks (MDGs and SDGs) should be combined into a single series of Goals

    2)      Money Matters – Will developing countries really be willing to commit to signing to another set of Goals without any clarity on the finance available to help realise them?

    3)      Environment vs Development – The debate continues around the extent to which the SDGs focus on planet over people. Whilst developing countries are supportive of creating the new set of Goals (in fact, Columbia suggested them as a concept) they aren’t likely to sign to SDGs which define how they must drive their own development.

    Can we avoid an own goal at Rio? Let’s hope so …



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  • No words – MEP Delegation to Kenya – Energy for All 2030

    Nairobi, Kenya, Nairobi
    September 13th, 2011

    If you’ve heard of a ‘slum’ chances are it’s Kibera.

    ‘Home’ to anywhere between 750,000 – 1 million people, Kibera is the largest informal settlement in East Africa (and yet it covers less than 2 miles).

    The Kenyan authorities refuse to recognise Kibera and the people who live there, even though it’s one of the first things the decision-makers see in the morning from their grand houses on the hill over-looking the expanse of tin roofs. To acknowledge Kibera would mean that they have a responsibility to provide basic services; water, sanitation, education and electricity – which they won’t commit to.

    And so the people exist without them. I use ‘exist’ purposefully. Kibera is, without question, the most miserable and maddening place I have ever visited.

    I’m writing this blog late at night as I can’t sleep. Can’t quite process what I have seen. Can’t quite understand how and why families are forced to try and survive in such circumstances.

    How is it possible that on this planet of ours, such poverty can exist alongside such plenty?

    All that you have heard about Kibera is true … and ten-fold. Free-flowing faeces, huge mounds of waste, homes made from cardboard. No space, no privacy, no dignity. And, amongst all of this, hundreds and hundreds of children and hundreds and hundreds of ‘howareyou’s – an image I just can’t seem to shake.

    And yet, there is also an underlying dynamism, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s not life as we know it (and not, in my opinion, life as anyone should know it), but here businesses are established, families grow and people will fight to improve their lives.

    But that’s despite, not because of, their circumstances.

    I’m humbled, enraged and overwhelmed by Kibera, but the one thing I’m clear on is the need for solutions, however small.

    … and thanks to Practical Action and other NGOs there are some. I’ll share them in my next blog (once I’ve had some sleep).


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  • One in 3,917 – MEP delegation to Kenya – Energy for All 2030

    Marine Dr, Kisumu, Kenya, Kisumu
    September 8th, 2011

    Naomi is one in a million. Well, to be more specific, one in 3,917.

    That’s how many families that have improved their lives (and homes) through a Practical Action energy access project in Western Kenya.

    Specifically, we are working with women across Kisumu to introduce ‘fuel-efficient stoves’ (which require 50% less wood), ‘smoke hoods’ (which remove toxic smoke from the kitchen – which more often than not doubles as a bedroom) and ‘fireless cookers’ (which, as the name suggests, cook food without fuel).

    … and one of these women is Naomi. I could tell her story as one of sorrow and struggle – widowed young, 6 children (3 adopted), a basic existence. But that wouldn’t be true. Naomi is a tenacious, self-made, magnificent woman working as a local mobiliser with Practical Action.

    Under Naomi’s watch, 200 local women have been trained to make and install simple and effective technologies to reduce wood useage and remove smoke from the home.

    I guess that doesn’t sound so dramatic if you’re reading this back in the UK. But, I promise you, having spent time today in a home cooking on an open fire (which brought tears to my eyes, in both senses), it’s life-changing.

    But more than that, it’s life-saving.

    With 1.4 million lives lost to indoor smoke each year, no wonder Naomi and the Practical Action team are so passionate. If you had a solution to such needless loss of life, wouldn’t you be too?

    Make the Call – Energy for All now

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  • ‘A woman’s work is never done’ – MEP Delegation to Kenya – Energy for All

    Marine Dr, Kisumu, Kenya, Kisumu
    September 6th, 2011

    I never imagined that a 5am start, for a 3km trek, ankle deep in leech-infested water would make for one of the more memorable experiences of my life.

    It’s day one of our fact-finding visit and today we are in Kisumu, Western Kenya. Here we are learning about energy poverty and simple energy solutions for rural communities.

    … and what better way to do that than by collecting and carrying wood for the family fire.

    The entire community of Kadibo, Kisumu live without electricity and, like half the world’s population, cook on traditional open-fires in their homes.

    Fuelling that fire is gruelling work … and it’s also women’s work.

    We meet Philshongo, Dorothy and Joyce who each spend a day per week collecting, cutting, stripping, drying and carrying firewood.

    It’s no easy task, and not just for me as a ‘novice’. Even for the ‘experts’ felling trees with machetes and head-loading 15kg of wood breaks a sweat.

    One small tree (of say five years), once stripped and cut, equates to just a couple of days firewood.

    But these women have no other option – there is so little firewood to forage that they have to jeopardise their tomorrow – i.e chopping down trees, to meet their needs today – i.e feeding their families.

    As the least domesticated female I know (I’m no ‘Nigella’) I’ve never felt any association with the phrase, ‘A woman’s work is never done’ but here in Kadibo it’s the most true of truisms.

    I can’t wait to see the Practical Action’s giving these, and thousands of other women, the opportunity to make their lives that little bit better.



    Make the Call – Energy for All now

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  • MEP delegation – Kenya – Energy for All 2030

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    September 4th, 2011

    With the final tweaks made to the itinerary, the briefing packs sent and Members of the European Parliament on their way to the airport, we are ready to embark on our fact-finding visit to Kenya.

    Five intensive days, four diverse locations, three Members of the European Parliament, two huge rucksacks each and one objective – to provide key decision-makers with the information and inspiration to take action on energy for development.

    With the formal preparation complete, last night I set about preparing myself for the delegation:

    * On-line check in …

    * Print boarding card …

    * Shower …

    * Dry/Straighten hair …

    * Iron clothes …

    * Charge phone …

    * Last-minute Lonely Planet reading …

    … none of which could have been completed without the power being [ON].

    A simple and telling ‘note to self’ that i couldn’t live my life without access to energy and nor should women and men across the developing world.

    In Kenya, where 2 out of 3 families live without electricity, Practical Action is providing communities with the skills, technology and power to challenge their poverty.

    The solutions exist. We can achieve Energy for All in the next two decades, but not without political will and international financing.

    Let’s hope this visit convinces the decision-makers that it’s a challenge worth tackling.



    Make the Call – Energy for All now

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  • UN Climate talks – what a difference a day makes …

    Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Cancún
    December 11th, 2010

    Just 24 hours ago civil society, press pundits and a number of
    negotiators were anticipating the failure of the UN climate talks (and
    no hopes for a deal to meet the needs of the worlds poorest people).

    There was talk of “the death of multi-lateralism” and yet, at (quite
    literally) the last minute the Parties took a gamble.

    All bets were off … The stakes were incredibly high … And the
    unexpected winners look to be developing countries …

    It may not be the “jackpot” ( no fair and binding global deal was
    reached) but there were some real winnings to be shared out.

    Perhaps the biggest prize is the new global climate fund which has
    been announced- it will have a board made up of more developing
    countries than developed countries (hurrah!) and should be the one
    stop shop for climate funding.

    Now we just need to make sure it doesn’t end up as an empty fund and that a large amount is earmarked for adaptation – the need of poor
    women, men and children right now.

    So we leave Cancun with restored faith in the process and a renewed
    energy that change (not just climatic) can and must happen.

    Adios amigos!


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  • UN climate talks – UK – 60 by 30?

    December 8th, 2010
    To be clear, I don’t really see myself as having a national identity or loyalty. Fond as I am of our ‘green and pleasant land’ I would prefer to see myself as a ‘world citizen’ (if only it didn’t sound so naff!)

    Yesterday though, I felt relatively proud to be a ‘Brit’.

    • Firstly, the UK Committee on Climate Change called for the UK to raise the global bar – by setting the target of reducing UK emissions by 60% by 2030. It’s bold and ambitious but let’s hope our government listens to the advice from the Committee set up to … advise them on climate targets.
    • Secondly, having attended a session with the UK’s Sir Nicholas Stern – an inspiring tour de force in the field – I’m more clear than ever that the neccessity to cut carbon emissions is also hugely desirable.

    In his words,’ we are talking about a new industrial revolution, transforming the way we see and do things. It’s time we started looking at the opportunities rather than the costs’.

    The task is huge – essentially to almost halve the carbon emissions of each person in the next decade (from 7 tonnes to 4) – but it’s this change of spirit, focusing on the positives, which will be the power behind the new industrial revolution.

    And it’s the positives, the solutions, that Practical Action focuses on. To find out more, click here
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  • UN Climate talks – ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’?

    December 7th, 2010

    I’m a romantic and an optimist.

    I don’t believe you should settle for second best and I hold the same principle for the UN climate talks.

    We all desperately want Cancun to be a success – it’s in the best interests of every one of the 6 billion of us on the planet.

    So, Practical Action, with over 200 other NGOs is pushing to ensure that, at the very least, a fair ‘Global Climate Fund’ is launched during the negotiations. A tangible sign of progress.

    However, in the rush to see the Fund established it’s crucial that it delivers in the best way possible for poor communities. The spirit of ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’ cannot apply here.

    The Fund has to be fair and should therefore cover the following:

    1)      The Fund needs to be managed under the UN process

    2)      It should be the ‘one stop shop’ for the vast majority of funds for climate change

    3)      50% of all money through the Fund must be for climate adaptation

    4)      Its Board cannot be donor dominated – developing country voices must be heard

     A fair Fund is overdue. Now is the time to deliver for the world’s poorest people.



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