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  • Flood Early Warning Systems from a Gender Lens


    July 13th, 2017

    BIO: Prior to her master studies at the University of Edinburgh’s International Development, İpek Aybay has worked at a voluntary business organization of leading entrepreneurs and executives of the business community in Turkey as an expert at the Information Society and Innovation Department where she has made research on technology, innovation and development. Currently, she works at UNHCR head office in Ankara, Turkey as a Senior Protection Assistant. 

    We are mentioning technology as a tool for changing our lives so often that it has become a ‘cliché’. This mentioned “change” however, seems to be very relative depending on which part you live in the world. As an example, for someone living in a country not exposed to natural hazards, technology is in most cases a tool to facilitate daily life, using GPS system to find address or to check traffic jam. On the other hand, in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal where natural hazards happen frequently, technology could save lives. In this sense, Early Warning Systems (EWS) for floods are an example for proving the crucial role of technology in disaster risk reduction.

    When we look at the role of technology in development and resilience, we can easily realise that this subject is almost always paradoxical. While some advocate it strongly, others criticise it harshly. For this reason, when I had to choose my dissertation subject at the International Development Department of the University of Edinburgh, disaster risk reduction seemed a very convenient area of study. Practical Action’s EWS projects in Nepal and Bangladesh immediately drew my attention and I decided to study these programmes from a gender lens. Why I selected Nepal and Bangladesh? And why this perspective was needed?

    A woman using one of Practical Action’s tube wells in Bangladesh

    Nepal and Bangladesh were two key countries for proving the significance of EWS, as both countries are part of a continent where 95% of the people who are affected by floods have lived in the last decade according to CRED and UNISDR.  Despite many differences in the ways in which these countries are affected by floods, EWS in both countries have a great potential to save lives and reduce the impact of natural hazards. For this reason, Practical Action has developed various projects concerning EWS in close collaboration with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh. My main objective was to reveal the gender gap in these projects in order to better assess impacts of disaster resilience activities.

    As the efficiency of flood EWS depends on the ways in which people perceive and process risk information[1], without understanding the risk perception of communities and the factors affecting their decisions, it is not possible to expect EWS to operate efficiently. A variety of factors ranging from gender and socio-economic status to cultural values can affect the ways in which EWS operate among which gender can be specified as an essential factor.

    Scholars suggest that women are affected disproportionately by floods and are often referred to as the ‘most vulnerable’ by different institutions that are involved in flood response. For instance, UNIFEM (2010) reports that during the 2010 floods in Pakistan, despite flood EWS in place, there were women who refused to leave their houses for reasons such as “disbelief of flood warning; concerns of theft or occupation of, or losing claim to property; reluctance to move to camps due to cultural norms, and hesitation about taking women and girls out of protected environment of homes exposing them to strangers”. Furthermore, as evidenced by various scholars, floods also increase “women’s domestic burden” as in most households women depend on their houses for sustaining their livelihoods. In contrast, although it is known that a gender-inclusive EWS is essential for reducing loss of lives, the gender factor is often neglected when designing related projects. For this reason, it is very important to consider flood EWS in a gender framework, rather than define it as a technical process independent from the gender and power relations in place.

    Mother and daughter at flood-proof community, Bangladesh

    I conducted semi-structured interviews with government officials, Practical Action employees from different country offices, local NGOs and international organisations. During my work based placement with Practical Action, I found out very interesting differences in gender aspect of EWS projects among country offices as well as between advisory and project implementation levels. One of the most prominent findings was that different people had different interpretations of the terms “gender-sensitive” and “gender-disaggregated”. This has led to variations in the responses to the questions around gender in both of my focus countries, Nepal and Bangladesh. In the Nepali context, I was able to speak to a government official and it was puzzling to see that INGOs and in particular Practical Action was referred as more involved with the gender aspect of flood EWS at the community level. Therefore, understanding gender interpretations within organisations is essential as their actions directly affect communities and their responses to disasters. On the other hand, it was not surprising to find out that donors were also key players about the gender inclusiveness level of the projects as there were clear differences when a gender goal was set by a donor organisation and when it was not.

    Unfortunately, there was a considerable evidence to suggest that in both Nepal and Bangladesh, gender dynamics of EWS are often neglected or seen as an external factor by the key organisations as well as governments. In relation to this, further research is needed to explore the ways in which EWS programmes could move beyond the current approach based on needs in order to adopt a gender approach. Indeed, it is essential for an NGO to have the same understanding of gender-sensitive programme making among its staff members. If the views in this regard are different or opposed in an institution, procedural documents cannot deliver their aims in the field. Instead, it could exacerbate the already existing gender power relations as gender roles amplify the liability on the already overburdened women during the time of the disasters.

    Community visit to early warning tower

    My experience with Practical Action enriched my knowledge in many ways. Being a part of the organisation at all times made it easier to contact key staff as well as government officials. Further, as I was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, I believe this allowed me to study and analyse the institution relatively more objectively. In conclusion, I believe the practice programme has been beneficial both for me and for the organisation, especially with regards to the communication within the organisation around gender issues. It is possible to see that, when people become aware of each other’s varying interpretations of the same issue, it could help them to rethink of their actions, re-evaluate their approach and eventually reinvent their influence on the communities. According to me, this was the most important positive outcome.

    [1] Twigg, J. “The Human Factor in Early Warnings: Risk Perception and Appropriate Communications” (2003).

     

    Curious to find out more? Have a look at Practical Action’s publications: 

    Flood Early Warning System in Practice: Experiences of Nepal

    Delivering Early Warning Systems for the Poorest: From flood-vulnerable to flood-resilient communities

     

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  • How to automate drip irrigation from a farm pond


    May 24th, 2017

    Watch the video DIY Solar Drip Irrigation Kit

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVkkQvdJa4g

    This video is for smallholders using gravity feed drip irrigation on a small plot of land. Using the kit, you can automate your drip irrigation system so that water is pumped automatically from your farm pond (or other water supply) to the header tank and all your plants are irrigated automatically. As well as watching the video, I recommend that you download the User Manual for the DIY Solar Drip Irrigation Kit from the Measured Irrigation website.

    http://www.measuredirrigation.com.au

    The DIY Solar Drip Irrigation Kit can be purchased online from the Measured Irrigation website. All the other parts required for the automation may be purchased locally (for example, a solar panel and a battery).

    By automating your drip irrigation system you can leave your plot unattended for weeks. This will allow you to become involved in other activities away from the plot; for example, travelling to the market to sell your produce.

    The DIY Solar Drip Irrigation Kit uses measured irrigation, a new method of irrigation scheduling that responds to the prevailing weather conditions. This means that you use much less water without affecting the yield.

    farm pond in Kenya

     

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  • Universal energy access: what’s gender got to do with it?


    April 20th, 2017
    Written in partnership with Mariama Kamara, Founder and Director, Smiling Through Light

    The energy sector is traditionally male-dominated with men’s access to better education, skills training, and finance enabling them to develop businesses and access markets that women have often been excluded from as a result of gendered social norms and women’s unpaid care work. In the energy world, the role of women has often been limited to that of consumers; particularly in relation to the household sphere and cooking practices. The benefits of clean cooking fuels and technologies on women and girls is championed on global platforms; and women are being increasingly recognised as important to energy access planning processes. What benefits arise, though, when we embrace and empower women as agents of change who are actively striving for, and driving us towards, Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)?

    CSW61: Women as Agents of Change

    Last month, at the UN’s 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), Practical Action hosted a parallel session exploring just that: Women as Agents of Change in Sustainable Energy Access Value Chains. The session, which heard from  Practical Action’s Sudan and East Africa offices, Smiling through Light, Energy Research Institute Sudan, and Solar Sister, demonstrated that investing in women’s potential as entrepreneurs, technicians, policy-makers and thought-leaders is vital for achieving gender-transformative outcomes and more effective energy access approaches.

    Image of the panellists and organising team of Practical Action's event at the 61st Commission on the Status of Women, on women as change agents in sustainable energy access value chains.

    CSW panel members from left to right: Mariama Kamara (Smiling Through Light), Dr Sawsan Sanhory (Energy Research Institute Sudan), Neha Misra (Solar Sister), Muna Eltahir (Practical Action Sudan), Charlotte Taylor (Practical Action), Samah Omer (Practical Action Sudan), Lydia Muchiri (Practical Action East Africa).

    Gender Equality + Sustainable Energy Access = Opportunity for All

    Across the panellists’ different experiences, from the grassroots initiative of Smiling Through Light to the global campaign of Solar Sister, a clear message could be heard: at the intersection of gender equality and sustainable energy access lies vast potential – for women’s economic empowerment, certainly, and also for sustainable development and improved wellbeing for their communities and beyond.

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    A briquettes entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project

    The keynote speech, delivered by Lydia Muchiri, Senior Gender and Energy Advisor for Practical Action East Africa, explored the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya project (WEEK). Delivered in partnership with Energia, this project empowers women as providers of energy across three value chains – improved cookstoves, solar products, and biomass briquettes – in the roles of producers, suppliers and ‘brand activators’. WEEK project activities support women to build their social capital, develop fundamental business skills, and improve their confidence as entrepreneurs; these women now drive behaviour change, convincing others to adopt clean energy options. Five WEEK project entrepreneurs appeared at the recent SEforAll Forum to share their experiences, demonstrating a growing appetite to hear rural women’s grassroots knowledge on global stages.

    Smiling Through Light: be the change that you want to see

    Smiling Through Light’s Founder and Director Mariama Kamara highlighted the centrality of women’s knowledge, empowerment and collective action to building environmentally sustainable pathways to sustainable energy access; emphasising in particular the diverse roles women play across the energy value chain from production and transportation, to distribution and end use. At the age of nine Mariama left Sierra Leone during the civil war; after later learning that energy use in Sierra Leone was still mostly limited to kerosene for lighting, with no access to clean energy services, she started Smiling Through Light in 2014. By doing so, Mariama became the change she wanted to see. Smiling Through Light now advocates for women, as primary consumers and users of clean energy products, to be integrated into the process of designing appropriate solutions and engaged throughout the value chain to improve their livelihoods.

    The path to SDG7

    There remain many clear opportunities to advance women’s positions across the energy access value chain, including:

    Policy – Advocate for policy that goes beyond perceiving women as victims of energy poverty or mere consumers, but as potential drivers of the sector. Embrace and lobby for the critical role of smaller, distributed energy solutions in addressing rural energy poverty, and women’s unique contribution to this sector.

    Finance – Recognise that women’s access to finance is often constrained by social, political and economic constraints; i.e. collateral requirements based on land or asset ownership. Dedicate specific financing, credit facilities, grants and concessional loans to women’s sustainable energy activities.

    Skills – Address the significant skills and local workforce development gaps in energy access in a way that empowers more skilled women to participate across the value chain, and educates others on the value of their contributions.

    Evidence – Continue to build evidence to help inform policy on why women in clean energy value chains are uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact; bringing local women entrepreneurs and decision-makers’ voices and experiences to the fore.

    An entrepreneur from the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya (WEEK) project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    An entrepreneur from the WEEK project makes money and heat from waste, selling to customers at market

    As energy access advocates and champions of gender equality we must continue to find opportunities, like at CSW61, to demonstrate the positive impacts that women’s economic empowerment in energy access initiatives has for themselves and their families, as well as their extended communities and international development practice more broadly. We need to continue challenging damaging gendered social norms which disempower women as change-makers; and simultaneously strengthen policy coordination, knowledge sharing, financial inclusion, programmatic partnerships and research to advance women’s participation in sustainable energy development for all.

     

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  • Pesticide Use in Developing Countries


    February 21st, 2017

    There is an enormous use of pesticides in developing nations that has lead to drastic effects, hence making it one of the top concerns for global environmentalists. The use of these pesticides, some of which are totally illegal, has not only led to drastic environmental degradation, but negative effect on climate at large.  Importantly, human health has been affected with end users of these farm produce complaining of neurotoxic, reproductive, and dermatologic effects.

    In most cases, these pesticides are used to secure supply of food by countering insect-borne diseases. Also, they are widely used in treatment and protections of forests, not to mention the controlling pest attacks on fiber farms and plantations. However, the overdependence of such agents has necessitated that global institutions join hands to seek alternatives to what seems to be an ever-growing global menace.

    https://www.happytosurvive.com/weed-control-without-chemicals/

    https://www.happytosurvive.com/weed-control-without-chemicals/

    The volatility and long distance transport of these pesticides from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, has had far reaching global effects that traverse national and geographical boundaries.  Statistics indicate that there is a large rural-urban migration in these countries with many people going to the cities in search for jobs. The ripple effect is that the workforce left in the farms has to overwork or use specific means (in this case, pesticides) in order to control pests on their farms.

    In the same breath, these countries are playing a vital role in the production of agricultural-based food stuffs for the global population. This is especially for those countries that are located in the colder regions of the areas. In as much as they play a vital role in the entire scenario, the use of these chemicals has negatively impacted both humans and environment.

     Challenges Global Institution Face

    One of the main problems is that in many of these countries, there are no clear differentiation strategies on which particular chemicals should be used-and which specific types should be avoided. Furthermore, if there are any policies that have been put in place by government, then not many are well implemented. As such, most farmers are unaware of the short-term effects of the problems caused by these pesticides. Neither are they aware of the long transport these pesticides are carried by water and their far reaching effects on other lands and climate.

    The lack of educational programs in many of the developing nations has hindered progress on how to counter the use of these pesticides. Furthermore, weak legal frameworks and the lack of adequate training for inspection officer make it quite difficult to control the use of unlawful pesticides in these nations. It is equally important to note that lack of funds to implement some of the programs has led to increased ignorant levels amongst farmers. In as much as many farmers want to add value to their crops and supply on the international market, the continual use of these pesticides is one thing that has always been a big hindrance.

     International Institutions Help

    It is acknowledged that the use of pesticide is a global problem, and this is why international institutions have come in at least to help educate farmers. In almost all cases, farmers are educated on the use of safety methods and other non-volatile weed control methods that will not have negative effect on the environment as well as humans.  For instance, UNEP United Nations-Environmental Programs in conjunction with governments is playing a crucial role not only in influencing policies but also helping educate the remote farmers.  They are also pushing governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to show more concern about the safety use of pesticides.

    The Food and Agriculture Organization, working in cohorts with UNEP, has also tightened the rules in regard to use and trade of food stuff across the globe. As such, this has led to a substantial decrease in the use of harmful pesticides in many of these countries.  There are also stringent rules that have been put in place in regard to the international pesticide trade. As matter of fact, this has helped a great deal when it comes to the quality of chemicals that are traded by the involved parties.

    In retrospect, the set up pesticide control rules created a better environment for accountability amongst nations and trading partners.  It has also been possible for parties in trade and national groups that are concerned to air their views, and at the same time, point out pertinent issues based on the types of pesticides in specific markets.  In the long run, this is going to have a counter effect on reduced use of harmful pesticides across the globe.

    If all the efforts made are to succeed, there must be consistent efforts form all the stakeholders. So far, there is substantial progress that has been made in the past few years. It is something that will definitely help counter the wrong use of pesticides in developing nations.

     

    Read more on the Happy to Survive website; view their infographic on “Weed control without pesticide”

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  • Measured irrigation for smallholders: more crop per drop


    February 20th, 2017

    Bernie Omodei from Measured Irrigation writes about a very low cost innovation that may reduce the water consumption for drip irrigation by up to 50% without affecting the yield. The innovation uses the weather to control the irrigation scheduling rather than a program. The DIY (Do It Yourself) instructions in this blog can be applied to any drip irrigation application in any poor community.

    Upgrading drip irrigation to unpowered MI

    Measured irrigation evaporatorMany smallholders use gravity feed drip irrigation to irrigate a small garden (less than an acre). The most commonly used scheduling method is programmed scheduling and this method wastes a lot of water because it does not respond to the prevailing weather conditions. By upgrading from programmed irrigation scheduling to measured irrigation scheduling, water consumption may be reduced by 50% without affecting the yield. The cost of the upgrade is negligible.

    Measured irrigation evaporator

    Water level below level line

    Water level below level line

    The evaporator is any container with vertical sides with a surface area of at least of at least 0.75 square metres. Draw a level line on the inside of the evaporator about 3 cm below the overflow level. Position the evaporator in the garden, preferably exposed to full sun.

    Position a dripper so that it will drip water into the evaporator. This dripper is called the control

    Control dripper will drip water into the evaporator

    Control dripper will drip water into the evaporator

    dripper and it should be at the same level as the other drippers in the garden.

    The volume of water delivered by each dripper in your garden during an irrigation event is the same as the volume of water delivered to the evaporator by the control dripper.

     

    How to use the evaporator

    Start irrigating at sunset

    Start irrigating at sunset

    Stop irrigating when the water level reaches the level line

    Stop irrigating when the water level reaches the level line

    Check the water level in the evaporator at sunset each day.If the water level is below the level line, start irrigating. Stop irrigating when the water level reaches the level line.

     

     

    How to adjust the surface area of the evaporation

    An angle grinder can be used to make some slots in a length of steel pipe.

    An angle grinder can be used to make some slots in a length of steel pipe.

    The amount of water that your plants need will depend on many factors in addition to the weather. For example, as the plants grow and become bigger they will need more water. Plants growing in sandy soil will need more water than plants growing in heavy soil.

    To take account of all these additional factors, I recommend that you use a length of steel pipe to check the moisture level in the soil. I suggest that the diameter of the pipe be between 40 and 50 mm. An angle grinder can be used to cut some slots in the steel pipe to that you can inspect the soil inside the pipe. I suggest that the width of the slots be about 13 mm.

    Early in the morning after irrigation the night before, push (or hammer) the steel pipe into the soil near a dripper

    Early in the morning after irrigation the night before, push (or hammer) the steel pipe into the soil near a dripper

    By checking the moisture level in the soil through the slots in the steel pipe, you can decide whether the plants have been irrigated the night before with too much or too little water. If the plants have been given too much water then you can reduce the water usage by reducing the surface area of evaporation. For example, the surface area of evaporation can be reduced by placing full bottles of water in the evaporator. On the other hand, if the plants have not been given enough water then you will need to increase the surface area of evaporation. After irrigation and adjustments over several days, the surface area of evaporation should stabilise at an appropriate level for the plants at their current stage of growth.

    Remove the steel pipe from the soil and use the slots to inspect the moisture level in the soil and the position of the wetting front.

    Remove the steel pipe from the soil and use the slots to inspect the moisture level in the soil and the position of the wetting front.

    As your crop grows and the water requirement of the crop changes, you may wish to repeat the process of adjusting the surface area of evaporation.

    MI on sloping ground

    One sloping ground you will need to organise your plants into a number of zones so that the plants within each zone are at approximately the same level. Each zone should have its own evaporator, control dripper and inlet valve. The irrigation of a zone is independent of the irrigation of all the other zones.

    Read more about Measured Irrigation or get in touch with Bernie Omodei to find out more bomodei@measuredirrigation.com.au

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  • Towards pro-poor innovation systems for sustainable energy


    January 27th, 2017

    This article is informed by research conducted at Practical Action’s Southern Africa offices in Harare, Zimbabwe as part of a work-based placement at the University of Edinburgh.

    Distributed renewables for access

    The ongoing energy poverty that leaves 1.2 billion people in the world without access to electricity, and 2.7 billion people relying on traditional biomass for cooking is one of the great injustices of our time. Innovation systems need to shift in order to ensure the goal of enabling universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 is achieved. Technologies and business models have emerged that have the potential to live up to the challenge. In particular, Distributed Renewable Energy System (DRES) have tremendous potential to respond rapidly and efficiently to energy poverty, especially in rural areas.

    maintenanceStill, the development of pro-poor innovation systems for sustainable energy access based on DRES faces challenges at multiple levels, as large energy projects continue to be promoted by governments in developing countries and attract support from major development financiers, as go-to solutions for electrification. When small-scale renewable energies are financed, the sum of the smaller projects usually does not even come close to matching the large-scale project both in terms of total capacity of sustainable energy generation and of funding. However, considering the urgent demands of energy poverty, the speed by which small-scale renewables can become operational and the ever-decreasing cost for their installation should favour rural electrification policies based on DRES. The habitual preference for large and mega-projects is also inadequate to effectively address energy poverty as well as provide a sustainable and reliable source for energy in the light of climate change.

    Opportunities for pro-poor innovations

    Technology justice demands stronger efforts by all actors in the innovation systems to address the needs of the poor. Innovation is needed across the board to promote a more holistic understanding of the long-term impacts of energy projects taking account of:

    • Their resilience to climate change and the vulnerability of highly centralised national/regional energy systems to extreme weather events and disasters
    • Their water footprint (cooling of coal power plants) and water requirements (in particular run-of-the river hydro-power plants) in the light of climate change-related decreases in water security and more frequent droughts
    • The relatively low energy return on investment associated with high-input, large fossil-fuel based infrastructure (e.g. the energy it takes to extract, transport coal and build a power plant, etc.), the greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental impact of the entire lifecycle of the project.

    mapThe benefits of DRES as opposed to big power projects need to be made more explicit in economic terms for decision-makers who are concerned with growing the aggregate national economy. Currently, the economic calculations do not take sufficiently into consideration the impacts listed about or the impacts of fossil fuel plants on public health, or the potential for DRES to be an engine for sustainable growth in rural areas.

    Whereas prioritising access to energy enables education and promotes entrepreneurship, the creation of local businesses and sustainable energy services, e.g. via refrigeration, irrigation, powering machinery and recharging batteries for electronics; large projects tend to benefit energy-intensive industries rather than aim at the alleviation of energy poverty. Given the appropriate incentives via transitioning towards a cost-reflective tariff for electricity and by including models of climate risk and ecosystem services in economic calculations, the private sector can be galvanised to innovate for the benefit of people in rural areas where there are large levels of energy poverty. After all, the rural poor do not merely have the willingness but also the ability to pay if provided with suitable financial instruments.

    However, access to finance is arguably the core barrier for the alleviation of energy poverty at the moment. Innovation accompanied by capacity building needs to occur in the financial sector, where there is a need for financial instruments that are accessible and affordable to the energy poor. Innovative initiatives are being rolled out by development organisations that de-risk rural, small-scale renewable energy investments in the developing world. Still, the challenge for the development sector remains to ensure that financial institutions give out loans for sustainable energy access as well as invest in local entrepreneurs offering energy services and building businesses on the back of the productive uses of energy.

    Finally, in terms of technological solutions, there is a large demand for affordable and effective solutions to energy storage. Likewise, the full potential of both solar PV and especially concentrated solar power remains to be unleashed. Whereas some solutions require high-input R&D, national and local innovation systems in the developing world should build on the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the youth to find accessible, affordable and sustainable solutions responding to local needs.

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  • The Role of Digital Technology in Development


    September 28th, 2016

    Runner Up Entry to Practical Action Strategy Contest

    In June 2016,  in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Water, 2IE, Practical Action launched a contest called “Fit for the Future.” Intended primarily for students of the Institute, this competition was to involve them in strategic thinking about the future of Practical Action in a decade.

    Launched on June 23, 2016, the candidates were invited to submit their ideas and contributions in different forms and to submit them to Practical Action.  A total of 22 contributions were received by the closing date. After analysis, Practical Action has selected two papers for publication and the winning contribution was chosen. This blog is the contribution awarded runner up, written by:

    Mr Ibrahim NEYA: water engineering design and environmental engineer 2iE electrical and power engineering option (EGE) from Burkina Faso

    The award of 80,000 CFA was presented to the winner on 2 September 2016 at 2IE. You can read the winning entry here.

    1

    Gauge reader at Karnali River in Chisapani, Nepal monitoring the river levels sponsored by the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme

    Gauge reader at Karnali River in Chisapani, Nepal monitoring the river levels sponsored by the Zurich Flood Resilience Programme

    Our world is experiencing spectacular advances in the field of technology and the speed of progress shows no sign of slowing down over the years.

    In a decade the internet of things, already well known by its English name, will enable the development of more sophisticated tools, accessible to a much bigger portion of the world’s population. We can easily imagine that by 2027, technology will occupy a determining place in all human activities and have a direct influence on people’s lives, and on existing models and structures.

    The proliferation of technological applications in the near future does not however signify prosperity and peace for all sectors of society. The rich countries, which will be the instigators of this future thanks to their immense technological potential, will take advantage of it, and the gap between rich and poor countries will widen.

    In such circumstances the contribution of NGOs which work to combat poverty, such as Practical Action, will prove interesting to the extent that this NGO aims to make use of technology to take concrete actions to benefit poor communities. To do this Practical Action should support, accompany and promote projects to develop digital applications in the areas of health, environment and education for all, which will benefit the world’s poor. These projects will enable us for example to: provide remote medical consultations for the poor; to monitor environmental issues and raise awareness of pollution and to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds access to the same quality of education, as children of the rich, through online training.

    By Ibrahim Neya, Student of Electrical and Energy Engineering at 2iE
    Runner up in our Fit for the Future Competition

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  • ‘Sunolo Sakhi’, let’s do the #PeriodTalk


    September 27th, 2016

    Written by Aurosmita Acharya, Journalist, DNA, India

    ‘Sunolo Sakhi’, literally meaning ‘Sisters, let’s listen’, was broadcast for the first time this year on February 6 on a community radio station in Bhubaneswar.

    Aiming to spread awareness and bust taboos, especially in slum areas, the radio show has been designed by a UK-based NGO ‘ Practical Action’ to take the first steps in educate people about menstrual hygiene.

    Scheduled to be taken forward with the help of city-based FM stations , the initiative that was launched in January is set to be expanded in its second phase. Girls and young women in slums are encouraged to discuss their issues during ‘Live Phone-in discussions’ and dispel all the myths that have been associated with menstruation with the help of an Adolescent Hygiene Expert Dr Chayanika Mishra.

    ‘Most families are shy discussing menstruation matters’mens auro1

    “When it comes to menstrual hygiene very few women and girls know about the proper hygiene practices. In a city like Bhubaneswar, a handful of urban girls are aware about it,” explains Ananta Prasad, Communications Officer, “In such a situation, we were more concerned about our slum communities. So, we designed this programme for adolescent girls and young women in the slums, who are mostly daily wage workers or students.”

    Speaking about the importance of such a programme in slum areas, Adolescent Expert Dr Chayanika Mishra further adds saying, “Most families are shy discussing menstruation issues. So, they tend to practice wrong and baseless customs. In rural or slum areas, people do not conceive menstruation as a normal bodily phenomenon and hence girls are looked down upon.”

    Explaining further she adds, “Male counterpart, many a times, make fun of periods or do not realise the difficulties that a girl goes through during this time of the month. Besides, girls or young women in these areas are seen to be following unhygienic practices that lead to infection and other diseases. Hence, the need for such a programme arises.”

    ‘Sakhi Clubs have been formed to enable change’

    Within a span of five months, the programme has gained a lot of popularity in the slums and has been receiving calls from young girls and ladies in the age group of 18 yrs to 35 yrs.

    At present, the NGO has been able to socially mobilise 15 slums in Bhubaneswar via audio podcasting, mobile film screenings, and focused group discussions and through knowledge materials. To enable a change in the mindset, Sakhi-Radio clubs have been formed where young girls and women are encouraged to listen to the aired show during the weekend and discuss on the same.

    Regular film screenings, focused group discussions, individual counselling, audio pod casting, radio listeners club are the medium of interaction and knowledge sharing means adopted under the project. The live radio show has helped immensely in initiating a change, according to the organisers. The show is scheduled to be aired once a week for duration of an hour, with the local FM radio partner.

    Interestingly, the programme intends to reach the visually impaired, hearing and speech impaired as well through audio and visual books. The audio books would socially mobilise the visually impaired while the visual books which would make use of sign language would create an awareness on menstrual hygiene amongst those who are hearing and speech impaired, informed Ananta.

    This article was first published here by the journalist from DNA.

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  • Interlock: access to energy in rural India

    Terrence McKee, CEO of Interlock, writes on the organisation’s innovative approach to tackling the issues of poverty and rural-to-urban migration. Read how their alternative development strategy is providing clean and reliable energy to rural India and improving the health of the poorest communities.


    To lift millions of people out of poverty and to avoid migration to cities, the development of rural economies is of key importance; in this regard the access to energy is a critical component.

    Solar energy is on its way to becoming the most cost-efficient option for rural electrification, beating the conventional energy options, such as diesel-based power systems and the extension of the grid. Interlock believes that the time is right for piloting new opportunities, models and partnerships posed by solar energy. In fact, a new initiative has recently been launched by the organisation to pilot stand-alone solar plants in Vadad Hasol, in the rural Ratnagiri district of India. By testing the design, construction and operation of the technology will build a working model which will be used at scale across the country.

    interlock-solar

    Access to solar electricity has many health and educational benefits, in addition to giving opportunities for new income generating activities. Stand-alone solar plants have allowed Interlock to pioneer their new telemedicine programme. Access to solar energy interlocks doctors in urban hospitals with rural solar clinics allowing the provision of health to rural communities. Getting medical treatment to rural areas has always been difficult, doctor visits are costly and the lack of infrastructure (road access, accommodation and communications) causes obvious setbacks. Yet, now with the introduction of solar energy it is possible to interlock the rural communities with the urban. With internet connectivity, powered by the alternative energy, doctors can visit the most remote villages ‘virtually’. Solar resources will be able to give power to community centres with IT facilities to resource the medical facilities needed.

    As well as using alternative energy, Interlock promotes and uses an alternative development strategy through the use of ethical tourism. Tourism has been proven by the organisation to be a sustainable factor in rural village development. at the Interlock HQ there will be a small rural hospitality and catering school where people from the village can be trained to staff their paying guest units. This Catering school will be built in conjunction with a small ecology hotel of 25 + rooms, developed at the Interlock centre.

    The Hotel and Catering College will provide much of the funding required for the expansion of the telemedicine programme.  Tourism in India is growing at a rate of 15-17%, Interlock have recognised the opportunity of this and believe that hotel guests can be the commercial footing for the telemedicine programme. Interlock Clusters are to be the hub of the rural villages, giving access to knowledge and communication to large numbers of individuals.

    The project will impact the lives of thousands of individuals. Not just in the future but now. The technology is there, all that is required is the will to make it happen.

    interlock

    Read more about the work of Interlock or get in touch with Terrence McKee to find out more- Terrence@interlock.co.uk . Interlock aims to facilitate sustainable development solutions to poverty-related issues within rural communities.

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  • The first instalment of “A Google free month” – ask nicely


    September 9th, 2016

    Do you remember the movie Sliding Doors? The one that asks the question ‘what if she never caught that train?’

    A colleague and I were exchanging ‘what if’ questions recently and I told her my favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if Coca Cola was never invented?’ I started outlining my current theory which includes a lot of yoghurt-based drinks like India’s Lassi or Turkey’s Ayran.

    My colleague told me her dad’s favourite ‘what if’ was ‘what if there was no Google?’ We both rolled our eyes of course, laughing at what a typical dad-type question that was. Amidst the sarcastic giggling, there was something about this question that struck a chord. Being the life-hack addict I am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to once again experiment on myself and I decided then and there to abstain from Google and all other search engines for a month.

    Google Emma BellI started excitedly buzzing about my plan to ‘go Google-less’ and a friend suggested that I fundraise off the back of my crazy experiment and donate to Practical Action’s Technology Justice work. Given my tendency to give up on things halfway, I figured fundraising for a worthy cause would spur me on to achieve my goal so I set up a Just Giving page and the rest is history.

    Actually, I only wish it was history – my experiment started just a few days ago, at the beginning of September…

    If I’m honest, I had very little idea what it would be like without instant access to information apart from the obvious: London would be tough to navigate without Google Maps, my poor memory of song/band names would be exposed once and for all and (the most scary perhaps) I would never know when to take my umbrella with me. Less than a week into my ‘Life before Google’ experiment, I am already on quite a different type of adventure.

    If I could name one thing that has truly impacted me so far it would be the simple act of asking for help. Instead of feeling ‘help-less’, asking friends and family for information has made me feel much more warmth and connection with other people in my life. Today I asked my Colombian friend to translate the word ‘Chévere’ which I had seen being used online. His answer was: ‘it’s a very Colombian word. It means “cool” or pleasant, nice, fun… yeh, more like cool and fun’. I couldn’t help but bask in the warmth of his wonderful, personalised answer and the subtle shades of meaning he conveyed – a far more enjoyable experience than frantically using Google Translate in the cab en route to an Airbnb.

    Asking for help is sometimes a bit scary too, especially when you think you already know the answer. For example, I am forever getting confused between sea bass and sea bream. Last night I was convinced that I’d finally remembered the long skinny one (my favourite) was called sea bream. Unfortunately my boyfriend was of the opinion that this was actually sea bass. After several minutes of debate, I habitually reached for my phone but then remembered: no Google during September. There I was in the kitchen, the realisation slowly dawning on me that I might have no other option than to trust my boyfriend (at least for September). A scary thought for someone like me who is always right!

    I remember my dad saying to me once that when people can help you, it makes them feel really special. I have a feeling that over the next few weeks I’m about to make a lot of people feel special. Either that or they will stop answering the phone when they see who’s calling them to ask for help… again.

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