Margaret Gardner


Margaret was Practical Action's Marketing and Communications Director from 2000 to 2015. She is interested in the potential of global movements to deliver sustainable change. Passionate about social justice and community, she continues to be excited by the role technology can play in poverty reduction and ambitious for Practical Action's work.

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Posts by Margaret

  • Merry Christmas, goodbye and thank you!

    December 15th, 2015

    At the end of December I’ve chosen to leave Practical Action after 15 years. For me it’s time for a new challenge and I’ll start 2016 full of the spirit of adventure – news of any challenging opportunities gratefully received. I’m excited to explore what next.

    But I leave too with great hope and great sadness.

    Hope because of the transformation I’ve seen in the lives of people who work together with Practical Action across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

    Because of the brilliance of our education work which is helping European citizens think differently about technology, poverty, and our world. We need to work for a changed world together.

    And because of our work at Practical Action on knowledge – maximising the impact of everything we do, and helping others share their learning through podcasts, answering enquiries on a one to one basis often face to face, our call centre serving farmers and fisherfolk in Bangladesh, web based info in Peru….. and so much more. I first came to know Practical Action through Practical Action Publishing and remain a huge fan. Today our work on knowledge – sharing rather than hoarding – helps millions of people each year. It’s just amazing!

    I not only hope, but know, Practical Action will continue to make a difference in our world – providing practical solutions to poverty, working together with communities, sharing learning and respecting the finite nature of our planet.

    But I also feel sadness.

    Sadness because I leave a great group of people – committed individually and as a global organisation to helping communities escape poverty. Their passion, hard work, dedication to inclusive development is just amazing.  I will miss all of the Practical Action teams for different reasons – but the golden thread throughout is their commitment.

    Sadness too because I’ve had some great times – I remember listening to two amazing children in a remote village in Bangladesh talk not only about Practical Action but their aspirations for their lives, laughing with women in Zimbabwe building a micro hydro who when I tried to help discovered how weak I am, and the posher things too – talking at conferences, meetings with our Patron, HRH, The Prince of Wales, exploring ideas and work with big business, even being forced to give impromptu speeches in various parts of the world. I’ll miss lots of things I’ve got to do with Practical Action – it’s been challenging, exciting and fun.

    But my biggest sadness is that we haven’t achieved what we set out to do – the lives of many people are better, access to energy for poverty reduction is now firmly on the global agenda, and indoor air pollution ‘Smoke – The killer in the Kitchen’ (the first Practical Action campaign I led – together with the brilliant team) is recognised as a major health hazard  – but technology – which could help so many people and issues, is still is developed primarily to meet the wants of the rich not the needs of all and our planet.  I am not in any way arguing that technology is all that’s needed to change our world but technology is a lever, a way of making a difference in a big way – people talk about systemic change (big picture, the long term). Technology can be a driver of systemic change – a different approach to technology, one that focused on the big challenges in our world would be soooo exciting!

    One of the things I like about Practical Action is that we work with the pragmatic, the possible, the now, but we also dream of bigger change – a world where technology is used to help end poverty and protect our planet.

    Whatever I do next I will continue painting a picture of the exciting and different way our world could be.

    And finally in what’s turned out to be a much longer piece than I imagined – I want to say goodbye to our supporters – you have inspired, challenged, enthused and humbled me, and you are brilliant!

    Have a wonderful Christmas.  And I hope we all – around the world – have a brilliant and peaceful 2016.

    Margaretdarfur boy with goats


    Ps The picture is of a boy in Darfur, Sudan where I saw some of the most amazing work Practical Action was doing in the middle of conflict, and through our work trying to lessen conflict. Reminded me that change is possible.

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  • Climate change – the last call?

    December 6th, 2015

    Not a history lesson but a reminder of the urgency of moving from talk to practical action.

    In 1972 a group of scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology – a highly respected US university) published a report ‘The last call’.  In it they argued that the planets resources were finite and we were getting close to the limit.  We could slow down, change course, find a new pattern to our existence slowly or continue as now eventually leading to catastrophic change.

    Whichever way change was coming.

    A few months ago I sat in the House of Commons and watched a film about the report and what followed. The Club of Rome published a book called ‘The Limits to Growth’ which sold 30 million copies. President Carter embraced the idea and talked to the American people about change. But President Reagan who followed revoked the idea, insisting growth was good, growth was essential to the American way of life.

    Forty plus years on it was a history lesson. But in some ways the Carter – Reagan tension continues played out on a bigger, now global scale.

    Change is happening.

    flooding in BangladeshFor many poor communities catastrophic change is already happening with the increased frequency and strength of cyclones, more flooding, more drought. In Ethiopia they are facing the worst drought for 30 years. In Zimbabwe when I was there earlier this year I heard people talking about changes in rainfall patterns that were devastating harvests.

    In the UK this weekend in the North of England and Scotland we’re experiencing severe flooding. And over the past decade in the UK we’ve seen record breaking rainfall (and our records go back to 1879). It’s impossible to link any individual severe weather event with climate change – but these increases in the severity of rain i.e. harder, more intense rainfall, tie in with the predicted impacts.

    The reality is that poorest and therefore most vulnerable people – whether in the developing world or in the UK – feel the impact of climate change first and hardest . We need to take action.

    The Time for Change is now.

    The perceived tension between protecting our planet and economic growth continues to polarise the climate change debate. But if we grow in a way that destroys our ability to inhabit our planet – how does that make sense?

    As world leaders gather in Paris for the UNFCCC meeting I read in the press that there’s optimism a deal can be agreed – not enough to keep warming below the vital limit of 2 degrees but a step in the right direction.

    I also read that we may have hit a peak in emissions.

    And that renewable energy is now outperforming fossil fuels.

    Maybe change is starting?

    But for change to happen it needs to move beyond political agreement

    Agreement in Paris will be a first step in the right direction. But even if there is agreement the ‘devil will be in the detail.’  Fine words are relatively easy but implementation more difficult – and sometimes easy to ignore, or just too difficult to make happen.

    So sadly to repeat the words of MIT 43 years ago – change is coming, it will happen, we can plan or we can have it forced upon us but the days of choice are getting shorter and the human stakes much higher.

    I believe that if we care about poverty reduction, about people and our planet, we will make immediate, deep and binding change happen now. And plan so that what I hope will be the amazing rhetoric of the UNFCCC conference, the great agreement becomes experienced reality.

    This next week is a time of opportunity – lets hope our world leaders step up and make change happen.



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  • 50 years of Practical Action

    November 9th, 2015

    IMG_2263 (Medium)Practical Action is celebrating our 50th Anniversary. We’re celebrating working together with people, huge impact, great technological innovation, people’s lives changed. For me it’s the stories of those individuals who have worked together with Practical Action that are the real testament to our work.

    People like John who I met in Gwanda, Zimbabwe and who started working with us in January this year. Rainfall in Zimbabwe is increasingly erratic and he wanted to know about planting techniques that would increase the resilience of his crops. When I met him in May the news was good and bad.

     IMG_2256 (Medium)Good – the crops planted using the new pit and mulch technique were flourishing. From what I could see the technique involved digging rows of small pits, with slightly raised sides to keep in rainfall, planting in the pit and then mulching – if well enough mulched as well as needing less water the crop required very little if any, weeding.
      Bad – The rains had proven fickle, not arriving as normal but with downpours too late in the season to support the traditionally planted crops that had started to grow. His standard planted crop was ruined.

    IMG_2259 (Medium)

    John said to me “this year’s not good enough. I have failed, this season I have failed. From this improved way of planting I will get about 30 sacks – the rest of the crops are no good, I will get nothing”.

    But even as he was despairing of this year’s crop (the agro ecological approach to harvest would help the family get through – but only just) he was already preparing and getting ready for next year’s planting and looking ahead to the future.

    IMG_2255 (Medium)It’s hard work to plant like this but it is an advantage. I will continue to expand pit cultivation. It delivers good results and it improves, rather than destroys soil structure – this is important”. John’s story is a great example of the tangible impacts of Practical Action’s work. His work also exemplifies our agro ecological approach to farming – looking to improve productivity and returns while at the same time caring for the environment.

    Listening to John and his wife Patience I was hugely impressed by their determination and resilience. And pleased that we had been able to help – a little bit this year, and hopefully much more into the future.

    However Practical Action’s 50th Anniversary is not a time only for congratulation and celebration , it’s a time to remind ourselves that our work is needed yet more.

     I’ve just been asked what makes our work different? My answer:
    • Recognising the important role of technology
    • That development and environment are not separate – but for sustainable development we need to work on both
    • Importance of local ownership
    • Equality – that for our world to change there needs to be more equitable sharing of resources.
    • Recognising the importance of work – people want to be part of, to lead their own development.
    • Urbanisation – working both in cities and protecting and supporting rural livelihoods.

    What enthuses me most about Practical Action is our practical approach – working to help end poverty and protect our planet.   But more about that next time …

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  • Its Back to the Future Day!

    October 21st, 2015

    I loved it as a teenager! And am so excited to have now reached ‘the Future’.

    I enjoyed Marty’s story and the idea that he could bring future technology into the here and now. So exciting!  The power to transform the world.

    Back to the futureSo, if you could send Marty McFly back to the future what would you change?

    I’m tempted by great, affordable renewables – solar lights, clean cook stoves….

    I’m also tempted by hover boards that could fly across the roughest terrain – maybe racing medicine to a baby in desperate need.

    Clean water filters to stop children and their parents dying from the diseases caused by dirty water.

    Exciting new technologies that will help end poverty and protect our planet!

    But then having had fun imagining the changes Marty could bring I realised that it’s not the great ‘wow’ innovations that we need. All the technology required to get clean water to people, decent medicines and to fight the impacts of indoor air pollution exist. We even know how to protect our planet from dangerous climate change.

    Maybe the change we need is different.

    One of the great things about science fiction films is that they help shape out vision of the future . If you’ve experienced it in someone’s imagination the reality is so much easier to create – a small example being Star Trek ‘communicators’ and clam shell mobile phones. I had one did you?

    So imagine if next time Marty went ‘Back to the Future’ he found a world where everyone had access to the technologies they need to lead a good life – in a way that protects our planet. He found a world where people shared.

    Can you imagine the power of such a story? It could be inspirational.


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  • Practical Action’s commitment to our supporters

    September 2nd, 2015

    Practical Action is a charity with a difference. We believe in local solutions that can grow to scale, people centred development, sharing every ounce of our knowledge so the maximum benefit accrues (helping others to share their experience too) and working to help end poverty and protect our planet.

    We are also different in our approach to fundraising.

    Practical Action supporter servicesI’ve been Marketing and Communications Director at Practical Action for 15 years – I’m told that sticking around in such a post for so long is rare – but each year as I’ve learnt yet more about Practical Action’s work my enthusiasm has grown. Normally I talk about our projects on the ground or the people I’ve met, but today I want to talk about our fundraising. I love the appeals, project updates and newsletters my team pull together. They do a great job. The team are really connected with and passionate about the work of Practical Action. I hope you can sense that in everything we communicate.

    As well as sharing stories from our work we also try and listen. If you ring Practical Action (01926 634400 between 9am and 5pm) or send us a letter or email, there will be someone here able to answer your queries. Every year we run a Supporters Day where donors come together with our international directors, programme workers, etc. It’s a brilliant event with real in-depth sharing. It’s also vital for the fundraising team providing a special opportunity for them to mix with, put a face to and listen to a large group of our supporters.

    We believe that in supporting Practical Action you become part of our community.

    It’s for that reason that I can categorically say that during my 15 years in charge of fundraising Practical Action has never sold or shared supporter, enquirers, or other data. And our commitment to you is that we never will.

    We will write to you regularly – when we last researched the frequency of our mailings we were pleasantly surprised how most people said that we had the frequency about right. On the other hand if it doesn’t work for you, just call us up and we can customise to your needs (best if you don’t request ‘no mail’ as years ago when we changed our name I met a donor who was very grumpy about not being informed, but we were keeping to the instruction not to contact her).

    As a Practical Action supporter I hope you know that your contribution is invaluable to our work – however the news stories that have been in the press about other charities over recent weeks make me want to say it again.

    We – the whole of Practical Action and the people we work with – value your support.  We also have a great team of fundraisers who genuinely care about what we do and the people who support us. Our promise is to honour this joint endeavour. We will be passionate when we talk about our work – what we do, our cause, the changes you and Practical Action can make in people’s lives – are just too important, too exciting to communicate in a way that’s dull. Alongside that passion for our work our commitment in all our communications is to be fair and honest – and to listen.

    And if you want to talk with me directly my email is I would love to hear from you!

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  • Today’s Earth Overshoot Day

    August 13th, 2015

    Today 13 August is Earth’s Overshoot Day – the day when we have used up all of the ecological resources available for the year. From now on we – as a planet – are in ecological deficit –using up resources we don’t have. And what’s worse according to The Guardian the pace at which we gobble up resources is getting quicker – with this year’s Earth Overshoot day 6 days earlier than last.

    And our response?

    I worry we’ve turned to the ecological equivalent of a payday loan – continuing to squander resources irrespective of the cost, long term implications, and hugely high impact inflation. Fracking, oil exploration and drilling in the Artic, food waste – in the UK retailers and consumers throwing away between 30 and 40% of all food, etc.

    We experience ourselves not as part of nature but somehow separate from it – or at worst dominant, scarily in control of our ecology with the faith that technology will somehow bail us out.

    Why does this matter?

    Climate change is already hitting the poorest people hardest. They live in the main on some of the most marginal and therefore vulnerable land.

    In April I was in Zimbabwe talking with farmers struggling with increasingly erratic rainfall. Crops yields were poor as the rain came late after the crops had already ripened and wilted. John Siambare Practical Actions Field Officer explained ‘this year crops planted using conventional farming techniques died before they did anything’

    We at Practical Action can work with farmers to help them cope – through

    Irrigation scheme Zimbabwe 2015

    Irrigation scheme Zimbabwe 2015

    agroecological farming techniques that maintain moisture in the soil, crop diversification, food preservation, solar irrigation etc. And to help build peoples resilience – if you don’t know what environmental change is going to throw at you – and one of the biggest impacts of climate change is increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather – how can you plan – you just need to get as good as you can at responding to change.

    But ultimately climate change is catastrophic and we will get to a stage where adaptation is impossible and land where people now live no longer viable.

    If the increases in consumption continues as now – in 2 to 3 years Earth Overshoot day will be in July, 5 years after that in June.

    Time to change our ways?

    Fritz Schumacher, Practical Action’s founder, in his book ‘Small is Beautiful’ , talked about moving to a world where we look to maximise wellbeing with minimum consumption. Small is Beautiful was published in 1973. The time for change is now.



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  • Nepal earthquake – should more have been done to prepare?

    Johannesburg, South Africa, Johannesburg
    April 25th, 2015

    On my way back from visiting our projects in Zimbabwe and just arrived in Johannesburg airport. I landed to hear the devastating news of the Nepalese earthquake. Over 1,000 people dead and I suspect from what I know of Kathmandu, that the death toll will most certainly rise.

    Thankfully we have been able to get news that all Practical Action staff are safe. People still very scared, feeling the aftershocks and trying desperately to find out about family and friends.  We are hearing that our staff and of course lots of others in Nepal all doing all they can help.

    News is difficult to gather as everyone there is right at the heart of the disaster trying to do what they can.

    What I can’t get out of my head is an article I read a couple of years ago almost predicting today’s devastation – imagining what would happen if a major earthquake were to hit Kathmandu – reading it again just now I noticed that the article was published on 26th April 2013… almost 2 years ago to the day, which sent a bit of a shiver down my spine.

    In Nepal at the time it was easy to imagine how such a quake would impact on the old, closely woven streets and traditional buildings. What was almost impossible to contemplate was the impact of such an earthquake on the most vulnerable, those without any protection often living in cramped, inadequate housing.

    Sitting here in an airport I feel completely unable to help. I also feel hugely saddened that while so many people knew this scale of earthquake was inevitable so little was done to help people prepare.

    More news from the Practical Action team as and when we get it.


    News update 26 April

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  • Can business work for poverty reduction?

    January 15th, 2015

    As someone passionately involved in fair trade for more than two decades I believe business can work for poverty reduction – however we haven’t got it right – yet!

    I welcome the renewed debate on business, its impact on poverty and ultimately  how we encourage business to do good. Its great to see DFID – UK Aid taking a lead, even if I personally would want to offer up some challenges!

    So I’m going to summarise some of DFIDs  thinking on economic development – their five pillars for action –  and offer up five challenges of my own.

    In this presentation from David Kennedy, UK AID (DFID)’s First Director General for Economic Development he sets out ideas how the developing world can be transformed through economic development – if you have 15 minutes its well worth a listen.  To help make this happen, DFID will structure their economic development work around five pillars.

    • The rules of international trade – for example those established through the World Trade Organisation.
    • Supporting the enabling environment – ‘having the things in place that give investors confidence’.
    • Catalytic investment via The World Bank, CDC, etc.
    • Working with the private sector.
    • Marrying up economic development with DFID’s broader themes – girls and women, sustainability, etc.


    I understand that choices have to be made and priorities set but would still want to offer challenges to DFID and others thinking about how business can work for poverty reduction. Its vital plans address:

    1.  Support for the role of Civil Society and others in holding business and governments to account?
      I’m thinking here of recent examples such as slavery in the Thai prawn industry supplying major UK retailers, or compensation paid by Shell to villagers in Nigeria for the impacts of two massive oil spills – described by the Guardian a ‘David v Goliath battle’. And the BAFTA nominated film Virunga which explores the fight to save Africa’s oldest national park from oil exploration.In each of these cases civil society – local people, NGO’s, the media – has sought to hold business to account and see global agreements – the rules – applied in reality. This isn’t anti-business, its pro-good business.  Talking with many people involved in big business who support fairer trade one of the things they call for is a ‘level playing field’.  book
    2.  Small is often Beautiful?
       It may be that because David Kennedy was talking at scale – addressing more macro level challenges –  that there appeared to be a focus on international and big! Local, small scale business has a huge role to play in poverty reduction. Funding mechanisms that support small scale local business are vital. If he, or anyone else would like to know more about the realities of this work, Practical Action Publishing’s new book ‘The Business of Doing Good’  – insights from one social enterprise’s journey to deliver on good intent, is a great read. The book points to lessons for microfinance and other social purpose organisations using the market place to tackle pressing social challenges.


    1. The ultimate challenge: our planet is finite, unlimited growth is not possible
      Very soon we have to say enough is enough, we have to tackle inequality, live within our planetary boundaries.  Wellbeing and happiness are not all about money and consumerism we need to find a way to shape business to help drive the transition to truly sustainable development. But we’ve known this for quite a long time.  Fritz Schumacher, Practical Action’s founder, addressed the issue in his seminal work ‘Small is Beautiful’ half a century ago, yet robust action still isn’t happening.  Development financing can be a catalyst for change and the push needs to be towards future proofed businesses – those with lower impact even in the developing world.
    1. We’re not starting from a level playing field
      The rules of trade and the reality of business power are skewed towards developed nations and large scale. This is accepted by all, and why we invest in institutions such as the World Trade Organisation. How do we make sure that in helping business engage in poverty reduction we don’t just increase the divide between the powerful and the disempowered.
    1. Celebrate success and keep pushing fair trade forward
      Shout about the organisations and people doing brilliantly. Push for change fairer trade rules, holding people accountable so they comply and by celebrating real stories of change.  Good news stories are great!


    Thanks to David for starting this debate. I would encourage everyone who shares Practical Action’s mission – of tackling poverty in the developing world to engage in the discussion – it couldn’t be more important!

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  • The Firestone Ebola Answer?

    October 16th, 2014

    Yesterday the UN Security Council was told that Ebola was ‘winning the race’ and if not stopped, the world would ‘face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan’.

    4,447 people have died so far (many think that’s a cautious estimate), there are estimates of up to 20,000 infected.  The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says ‘infections could reach 1.4 million in 4 months’.   And as we’ve all heard on the news most of those affected so far are families who care for people who are ill, and health workers.

    Ebola is terrible and scary.

    The rampant spread of Ebola is at least in part about poverty.

    Take Liberia for example one of the countries most affected. Average per capita income is less than $500 a year, the literacy rates about 60% and its health system has been shattered through years of conflict.  The disease is spreading because the resources to contain it haven’t existed.

    By contrast the company Firestone, operating in Liberia, claim to have ‘stopped Ebola in its tracks’.  Encountering their first patient on their rubber plantation they looked for the protective suits used when treating chemical spills and quarantined the woman’s family. No one else was infected. As Ebola spread into neighbouring towns they created an isolation ward and quarantine centres.  They now report that, having placed hundreds of people with possible exposure under quarantine and treated others, only three patients remain – all of them children.

    Why am I writing about this and what’s it got to do with Practical Action?

    Firstly we have recently opened an office in West Africa and are just starting work there so it feels very immediate, very close to our work. Secondly I’ve been asked by my colleague Amanda Ross to write a blog linked to inequality – and this for me seems a prime example. In Liberia where you can see how resources can help contain – not do away with it all together – the outbreak. If only something similar to the Firestone approach could have been put into action quickly and across the areas affected. But also amongst the Western workers who have become infected through their work and who are often flown home to the best treatment and experimental drug treatments.

    Our world is a very inequitable place.

    Secondly we at Practical Action have a passion for Technology Justice. The race to find a vaccine or drug treatment I hope is a great example of companies responding to global need.

    8743Western victims have been treated with new drugs such as brincidofovir made by a small pharmaceutical company Chimeric. Other companies are looking at potential treatments.  Johnson and Johnson and GSK are both working on vaccines. The legal/testing processes for getting a drug or vaccine to market have been hugely speeded up because of the emergency – maybe worrying but probably vital (one US news report said that we should all be worried because the vaccines all had bits of Ebola in them! Personally I thought that was where Edward Jenner started?).

    But before I get carried away with my idea of a corporate world moved to treat the plight of people suffering (and I still believe that) I read a report on the share prices of the companies involved – seemingly the price of shares in potential Ebola drug companies are buoyant while those of people working on vaccines are a little more depressed – as companies developing cures as opposed to vaccines ‘may see more widespread use’ of their product.

    Poverty makes people vulnerable to disease, to disaster, to economic shocks.  The story of Ebola to date, is an illustration of inequality at its worst.

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  • UN Climate Change Summit – Lets talk about results?

    September 26th, 2014

    The UN climate change summit is over. Lots of press coverage but did anything happen?

    • Well, I loved the people power – hundreds of thousands of people marching in New York and around the globe. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, marched with them.
    • People turned up – world leaders, actors and business people. Okay so maybe this shouldn’t be seen as a great result – but actually sometimes the right people – decision makers – don’t make it to even vital conferences.
    • President Obama said climate change is “the most important and consequential issue of the 21st Century”.
    • Economists and business people talked about the cost of delaying action on climate change and called for urgent action now.
    • There was truth – with Graça Machel (Nelson Mandela’s widow) cutting through the high blown rhetoric and some self-congratulation in the final moments of the conference saying There is a huge mismatch between the magnitude of the challenge and the response we heard here today”.

    There is a mismatch.

    I may be naïve but I find myself believing all of these people – I believe Ban Ki Moon, business leaders, President Obama and the millions of people who took part or who cheered on the climate change marchers. I believe they want to take urgent action. I also believe Graça Machel and find myself asking what’s stopping us from making a substantial response.

    The money required is huge – but the cost on inaction is greater. The money also exists. For example in 2012 as a world we spent $1.8 trillion on weapons, that’s roughly $249 for each person in the world and 2.5% of GDP. By contrast one of the most commonly used estimates of the cost of tackling climate change puts it at 1% of annual GDP. So if we as a world find the money for weapons why can’t we find the money to protect our planet? It seems to me the money’s there – it’s about choices.

    But what’s stopping action on the scale needed happening? Why do even world leaders feel powerless? I am genuinely not sure, although I worry we have systems in place that maintain the status quo and discourage change – all put there for good reasons but now working against the urgent change required.

    Kenyan women march against climate change

    Kenyan women march against climate change

    I feel passionately about climate change because I’ve seen the impacts of the already changing weather patterns and the increasingly erratic weather on the people Practical Action works with – if you are poor and few resources you are most at risk. Not exactly a surprise!

    I came across this quote from Benjamin Morrell: “Morale is when your hands and feet keep on working when your head says it can’t be done.” It seems to me with climate change it’s operating in reverse.

    Maybe we need each and every one of us – from Ban Ki Moon and President Obama – to me and you to start to take action now so that it becomes a habit. Then when it gets to the difficult times our hands and feel will keep going on tackling climate change, even if our heads start to say it can’t be done.



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