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  • Why I felt it was important to break the silence


    April 13th, 2018

    This year on the International Women’s Day, I felt like sharing my personal story relating to “Menstruation”. Yes, we bleed! It is not comfortable!

    Perhaps the most discomforting part is the practice of tiptoeing around it. Periods are the “one issue” we have been going to an extreme length to hide about ourselves. Everyone knows we are getting them, but we cannot talk about it!

    What we do during period?

    Women in Bangladesh, generally, do not talk about periods to men. Not even with their fathers or brothers. Women often feel too shy to go to a pharmacy and buy sanitary napkins in front of men. I have personally witnessed my friend refraining from buying them even at the situation of dire need, just because a man from her neighbourhood was in the pharmacy. My friend hesitated, and then decided to buy some cold medicine, which she did not even need, to justify her presence in the pharmacy to him. A couple of years back I would have done the same thing if I was in that situation. That is what how we were brought up – we grew up believing, “no one must know I get periods”.

    Growing up in a Muslim family, surrounded by Muslim neighbours and classmates, I have also practised and witnessed the strategy our mothers took to ‘hide’ periods from the male members’ of the family. Muslim women are excused from their Islamic duties of saying their prayers for five times a day, or fasting during the month of Ramadan on the days they have their period. Since ‘not praying’ or ‘not fasting’ would be a dead giveaway – all these women would “pretend” to pray, and wake up in the middle of the night[1] to pretend they will be fasting the next day.

    That was as far as the struggle of ‘hiding period’ from others goes. Now let me talk about the actual experience itself. It is important to understand that each woman experiences period differently. The struggle starts at an early age, from school days. According to the UN, only 1 in 3 girls in South Asia are unaware about menstruation prior to starting. It causes significant embarrassment and trauma. Those with irregular cycles might experience sudden bleeding, anytime, anywhere. Managing it, when it starts, is a whole other issue. According to the Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014, 82% of girls think that school facilities are inadequate for managing menstruation.

    Some women, including myself, experience extreme abdominal pain, on top of the obvious discomfort. The pain disrupts our daily lives – personally, socially, professionally we can no longer function the way we normally do. The Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey in 2014 showed that about 40% of girls miss school for an average of 3 days/month due to period related discomfort.

    I have been suffering from extreme abdominal pain during menstruation since 2015. Being a working woman since 2011, I have tried working through the pain since the beginning. My female colleagues from my previous workplace, though they sympathised, were strict on their position of keeping it hidden whenever a man walked by. My proposal for keeping sanitary napkin in the office, be it in the first aid box, or managed by our female admin official to deliver upon request, was met with serious laughter. To these women, a woman who did not take appropriate measure to face her period any day, any time, were committing a serious crime. In their eyes, a woman should be taking care of this issue by herself, the office should not be responsible for catering to her need relating to this.

    It is not surprising that the majority of professionals, even women, think this way. I have worked through pain, tried neutralising the pain with high powered painkillers for years. Four months after joining Practical Action, I finally gathered up all my guts to walk up to my manager, and tell him about my suffering. I honestly do not know that made me gather that courage. Perhaps the inclusive attitude from everyone at the office made me feel safe. My manager not only sympathised, but also asked me to write an application to “work from home” during those days. When I responded by saying that I did not wish to take any additional benefits only because I was a woman, he assured me that taking ‘work from home’ was not that at all. Rather, it was essential to take care of oneself to perform the best for the betterment of the organisation.

    I was soon shifted under another manager, due to a change in organisational structure. Luckily, my new manager, was equally supportive in this matter. Whether I wanted to work from home, or start for work a bit later than the usual time, he was totally fine with it.

    Gradually, some sense started to come to me. It soon hit me that I was discussing my issue with my managers who were men. I excluded the men who matter to me the most – my father and my elder brother. It took me 18 years to finally pick up the phone and call my father to ask him to buy me some sanitary napkin. Sure, he was not comfortable, nor was I. However, it was a call that was 18 years too late. It was a late realisation that there was no need to hide this. He witnesses my suffering on a regular basis. If anything, me opening up to him helped him understand my suffering even more.

    Why did I feel it was important to break the silence?

    I am sure, a lot of people are already labelling me as ‘shameless’ – speaking of womanly matters in public. Honestly, I do not care! It is a regular part of my life, a regular part of any woman’s life. It is important to discuss it in the open because periods can cause significant discomfort and trauma and no woman should have to face it alone. No woman should feel ashamed of such a regular natural phenomenon. No woman should feel the need to wake up in the dead of the night, “pretending” to fast in front of her male family members to successfully hide that she is on her period. No woman should feel uncomfortable about buying sanitary napkins just because a neighbourhood “chacha” is in the same pharmacy. To sum it up – no need to hide something that makes us who we are – women!

    When we celebrate women’s day each March 8, our focus should not be wearing purple, or holding a banner. All men and women should work on ensuring a friendly environment for both the sexes about raising the issues we face on a regular basis to those who do not face it, but are in a position to create an enabling environment for minimising it.

    [1] In order to fast during the month of Ramadan, one requires having food before sunrise, which is called Sahri

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  • The Climate Damages Tax, an idea whose time has come!


    April 12th, 2018

    Pollution must be brought under control and mankind’s population and consumption of resources must be steered towards a permanent and sustainable equilibrium. E.F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.

    According to the last global review[1] Natural Hazards resulted in 9,503 deaths, 96 million people being affected, and economic costs in excess of US$314 billion. Weather-related events were responsible for the majority of both human and economic losses. Almost 90% of the deaths in 2017 were due to climatological, hydrological or meteorological disasters. Nearly 60% of people affected by disasters were affected by floods, while 85% of economic losses were due to storms, mainly from the three hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that struck the Caribbean.

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Climate change is fuelling many of these catastrophic weather events[2]. Unfortunately vulnerable countries, communities and ecosystems are on the frontline of this catastrophe. Poor people now face, due to lack of meaningful progress to reduce carbon emissions, changes in climate beyond the ability of people and local ecosystems to adapt to – a phenomenon described as ‘Loss and Damage’. However, Loss and Damage remains a political concept, mandated during the UNFCCC negotiations as a separate article in the Paris Agreement, but it is hamstrung with its roots mistakenly seen as in technical climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

    This confusion is not helping anyone. It generates a sense that no one cares about the poorest and the most vulnerable. So it was great to see some progress at the recent meeting of the Executive Committee for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), held in Bonn two weeks ago. They recognised that a definition for Loss and Damage is necessary, if we are to start to do anything to respond to the threat. But a definition will not be enough, the Paris Agreement will also needs to mobilise money to pay for the consequences of climate change. For the WIM its core mission remains delivering finance for addressing Loss and Damage. The WIM must engage constructively to understand what finance and support vulnerable countries need, and identify sources and how it will be channelled.

    There are solutions such as deploying simple Early Warning Systems technologies such as these being piloted in Peru but they need financing

    But we all know the global aid budget is failing to keep pace with the growing global demands[3]. Climate change is exacerbating existing global problems, drought leading to failed harvests, flood removing homes and livelihoods and acidification of oceans depleting fish stocks to name but a few. These local catastrophes drive climate migration, populations are on the move and social and political tensions are rising. One way this could be defused would be to make some real progress on addressing Loss and Damage. It would make long term economic sense to reverse these trends but to do this we need money for action. Why not put the polluter’s pays principle into practice? We should ensure that the polluting companies pay for the damage they have caused. One way would be to equitably implement a “Climate Damages Tax” on fossil fuel extraction, which could raise billions of dollars a year, funded by the industry that is responsible for approximately 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions[4].

    So Practical Action are proud to be part of a movement proposing that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is put into action. It is now time for the industry most responsible to pay for the damages it has caused, and for vulnerable countries worst affected to receive the financial assistance they so urgently need. This requires the introduction of an equitable fossil fuel extraction charge – or Climate Damages Tax – levied on producers of oil, gas and coal to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change when these products are burnt. The substantial revenues raised could be allocated through the UN Green Climate Fund or similar financial mechanism, for the alleviation and avoidance of the suffering caused by severe impacts of climate change in developing countries, including those communities forced from their homes. Finally, despite additional financial resources, it is recognised that we still need to push for the urgent replacement of fossil fuels, with renewable sources of energy assisted by the economic incentive of increasing the rate of the Climate Damages Tax over time.

    If you want to learn more then please come along on Monday; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/climate-damages-tax-campaign-launch-tickets-44114116510

    If you agree the Climate Damages Tax is an idea whose time has come, join us by signing the declaration here: https://www.stampoutpoverty.org/climate-damages-tax/climate-damages-tax-declaration/

    [1] http://cred.be/sites/default/files/CredCrunch50.pdf

    [2] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/climate-change-is-fuelling-extreme-weather-events/

    [3] http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/GHA-Report-2017-Full-report.pdf

    [4] http://www.theactuary.com/news/2017/07/100-firms-responsible-for-majority-of-co2-emissions/

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  • 2018 CSW: What lessons can we take forward to promote gender equality in our work?


    April 9th, 2018

    62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 12-23 March 2018

    Last month, I participated in arguably the largest global gathering on gender equality – the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York alongside Arun Hial, our M & E Manager from the India office. The CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. During the Commission’s annual two-week session, normally held in March, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations, academics and UN entities gather to discuss progress and gaps in the empowerment of women and girls. While Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress in political, economic and social fields, the session also provides a springboard for a lively agenda of civil society-hosted panels (which take place on the fringes of the high-level plenaries), on topics ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights to women’s economic empowerment, their representation in the media and more.

    A global platform for reviewing progress on gender equality

    This year, the priority theme for the session was “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”. Central to this is the realization of rural women and girls’ fundamental human rights, which are necessary for their livelihoods, well-being and resilience – as well as to broader sustainable development for all. These include the right to:

    • an adequate standard of living,
    • a life free of violence and harmful practices
    • access and own land and productive assets
    • enjoy food security and nutrition
    • an education and healthcare, and
    • sexual and reproductive health and autonomy

    Arun and I participated and shared Practical Action’s experience and lessons learnt from two projects namely the ‘Sunolo Sakhi’ project that seeks to raise awareness and knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst rural girls in India and the cocoa value chain work in Bolivia that seeks to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets.

    Loise Maina, Gender Advisor making a presentation on the cocoa agroforestry work in Bolivia

    Arun Hial from India Office making a presentation on the Sunolo Sakhi Project

    Implications for our work at Practical Action

    While there were no major surprises in the messages shared at CSW, some of the issues discussed are clearly directly linked to the topics that we work on at Practical Action. So what does this mean for us and our work? Firstly, out of the seven key priorities highlighted by UN Women as critical to empowering rural women and girls, it is important to note that we already have significant on-going work relating to three of the areas: sustainable energy and technology, clean water and sanitation, and increasing women’s climate resilience. However, as sadly noted in most sessions of the CSW and from the UN Secretary General’s report to the Commission, lots remains to be done, given that on virtually every gender and development indicator for which data is available globally, rural women were found to fare worse than rural men and urban men and women. We must consider why that is and ensure we look at the different impacts of our work not only on men and women generally but also from different social-economic backgrounds, in the knowledge that women’s experiences are far from homogenous. Areas we need to focus on in our programmatic and policy influencing work include:

    • Increase women’s access to essential rural infrastructure such as safe drinking water and sanitation, energy, water for irrigation, and technology including information and communications technologies – and empower women in the decision-making processes around these areas.
    • Focus more attention on food production to achieve food security and improved nutrition, particularly in poor and vulnerable households, many of whom are led by women.
    • As part of our women’s economic empowerment efforts, we also need to focus on financial inclusion and access to financial services for rural women farmers who remain largely marginalized, yet continue to play a critical role in sustainable agricultural production and in building food and nutrition resilience in many of the communities where we work.
    • Engage men and boys, as agents and beneficiaries of change, and as strategic partners and allies in the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, including those in rural areas.

    We hope to continue taking these recommendations forward through close engagement with relevant country offices and by having strategic discussions at different levels of the organization particularly with the newly reconstituted Global Gender Group and change ambition hubs.

    In the long-run, we should also consider opportunities to implement actions around other identified priority areas that we currently do not necessarily prioritize, namely: decent work and social protection, education and training, eliminating violence and harmful practices and empowering women as decision-makers and leaders. Ultimately, a successful approach to improving the impacts of our policy and practice work for women (and men) requires a holistic approach; acknowledging that many of these factors are interlinked and interdependent in women and girls’ lives, and that interventions seeking to address just one factor are likely not to achieve the sustainable and meaningful change that we hope to see for the people we serve.

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  • Ever heard of a Floating Farm?


    April 6th, 2018

    Meet Shujit Sarkar, a 36 year old farmer from Bangladesh. Shujit is married to Shikha and they have four children.

    Shujit earns his income by farming and selling fish fingerlings. He doesn’t own land or a pond so he has to keep the fingerlings in the canal nearby. Unfortunately, during the monsoon seasons, the canal water overflows and the whole village floods. During the floods, Shujit can’t feed or sell his fingerlings. This means that he struggles to feed his family.

    This is a common problem in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. Every year, the villages are devastated by floods caused by sea levels rising and monsoon rains. Their livestock and produce severely damaged or completely washed away. People have no choice but to try keep rebuilding what is lost.

    Fortunately, Shujit found out about a charity called Practical Action. Practical Action was already working in Shujit’s community, helping the community members to develop a sustainable solution to the problem. Shujit contacted Practical Action and was introduced to a new technology called a floating farm. A floating farm is an ingenious farming technique which works in the local context. The garden floats on top of the water and a fish cage is assembled below. The plants help filter the water which means the fish can thrive. The fish create waste which fertilises the plants to improve growth. It produces enough sustenance to feed the farmers’ families, with enough left over to sell.

    Shujit found this ingenious technology inspiring and wanted to invest in it. Practical Action provided him with the fish cage and Shujit bought 1,500 fingerlings. This is his first farming cycle and it has been very successful. What’s great is that the farming technique requires less effort and his wife is also able to help. She normally feeds the fishes and cleans the cage. Shujit now feels that there is hope for the future and the floods can no longer stop him making an income. In the future, he wants to build another fish cage and further expand his farming business.

    Want to find out more about floating farms? Have a look at our project page: https://practicalaction.org/aqua-geoponics

    Interested in supporting farmers like Shujit? Here’s a link to our support page: https://practicalaction.org/support/floating-farms

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  • End energy poverty


    April 5th, 2018

    Energy is one of the key indicators for development. Like other essential basic needs, a certain amount of energy is required for our survival. Depending on the context, livelihood patterns and way of living, energy needs are different. For example, nowadays, people in Bangladesh across all socioeconomic categories are using cellphones due to very high rates of penetration. So the energy requirement for charging cellphones has become a basic need for users.

    Bangladesh has achieved tremendous success in several sectors and has touched the base of being a middle income country. The Government has committed to supply electricity for all by 2021, and has increased production remarkably. But still 38% of people are outside the coverage of the national grid, of these 20% have no access to electricity.

    Solar power bangladeshAn electricity supply doesn’t necessarily mean a supply of quality electricity. If we can’t ensure 24/7 supply, we cannot make productive use of energy in hard to reach areas. A flourishing rural economy, promotion of entrepreneurship and local-level business, and the establishment of better market linkages, requires an uninterrupted electricity supply. For example, if someone wants to build a hatchery, milk chilling centre or even cold storage in a remote area, all of which could contribute to the growing economy for the country, a continuous supply is a must. . However, investment in the power sector in Bangladesh is predominantly made adopting a top-down approach. This traditional approach of planning requires to be revisited.

    Total Energy Access

    Practical Action is globally renowned for its energy-related work. Its global call for energy is titled as Total Energy Access – TEA. Practical Action wants to end Energy Poverty.

    One of its global flagship publication series is: Poor People’s Energy Outlook (PPEO). The recent two publications of PPEO series refer to three countries, of which Bangladesh is one. These publications highlight the perspectives poor people on energy.PPEO Launch Bangladesh

    The previous publication in this series, PPEO 2016, focused on the energy needs of poor people living in off-grid areas of Bangladesh. These include household requirements, requirements for community services like schools, hospitals, etc., and also the need for entrepreneurship development. Apart from energy requirements, this publication figured out the priority of energy needs, affordability and willingness to pay.

    The latest issue, PPEO (2017), reflects on the investment requirements for poor people to access energy, followed by the needs identified in the previous one. The total energy requirements have been derived for each of the segments such as solar homes systems, grid expansion and entrepreneurship. Together with the investment patterns, it identifies the challenges associated with the investment, and suggested essential policy recommendations.

    Women’s energy needs

    Reflecting on our typical planning mechanisms, how much do we really think about the need of the poor people? Do we think of women in particular?

    Nowadays, women are taking up the role of farming and many of them are heading their families. Many women are emerging as entrepreneurs. Have we really thought about their energy needs? If we don’t offer them access to finance, build their capacity for financial management and provide hand holding support, they will simply lag behind. While investing on access to energy, we have to think the special needs of women, and how to ensure energy equity.

    The outcomes of the PPEO study should give policy makers the food for thought and inspire action to adopt a bottom-up approach for energy solutions for energy-poor people.

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  • Enhanced preparedness capacity of communities and local governments in Kankai basin


    April 4th, 2018

    The flood preparedness capacity of communities and local governments in Kankai River basin has been increased in the period of last three years. The project has carried out different trainings, orientations, workshops, exposure visits, etc., to increase the flood preparedness, risk reduction, mitigation and response capacity of communities and local governments.
    “Before the project intervention in our communities, we had to individually prepare for the monsoon flash flood. We did not have adequate knowledge on flood risk, flood monitoring and water in our community was the only way we knew there was flood,” says Durga Prasad Rajbanshi of Kichakdangi. “When the flood hit the community it was difficult for us to save our lives and properties. Things would go worse when the flood hit during night or the flood occurred without heavy rainfall in our locality,” he explains the suffering of the people in his community. Identifying the heavy loss of lives and properties and limited flood response capacity of the community in Kankai River basin, the Kankai end-to-end early warning project was started with one of the major key outcomes as strengthening community and stakeholder awareness and capacity in data and information sharing, understanding, monitoring and preparing for effective EWS and response to the flood disaster in Kankai River basin.
    The project designed its activities and ensured involvement of communities and stakeholders from central level to local district, VDC or municipality level for increased flood preparedness and response capacity. Different trainings, orientations, workshops, exposure visits on DRR, EWS, search and rescue, community action for disaster response(CADRE), DRR mainstreaming at local level, Institutional management of EWS, flood mock exercise, etc, were organised throughout the project period for shifting the priority of local communities from flood affected to flood prepared communities and shifting the priority of local government from flood relief and rescue to flood preparedness and mitigation.
    “Previously we had pre-monsoon cluster meeting and updating of district disaster preparedness and response plan (DDPRP) as preparedness measures but these measures were limited to the district level only. However, after the delivery of the project activities the preparedness scope has changed in Jhapa. Flood mock exercise from district level to community level is organised to test and evaluate the response capacity of the community and the stakeholders. The coordination with community and stakeholders is strengthened for better preparedness,” says Lok Raj Dhakal, president of Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) Jhapa.
    The preparedness scope of the communities has been changed in the recent years. The influence of the project activities has motivated the communities to prepare with go bag (jhatpat jhola) with important documents and valuable goods. The communities keep their moveable belongings to a raised level to avert damage from flood. “Whenever we get flood alert or warning, we put our moveable assets to a higher level and take our livestock to a safer place,” says Raj Bhakta Sunuwar, CDMC coordinator at Hokalbadi.

    Community people evacuating village during flood mock exercise

    Community people evacuating village during flood mock exercise

    “We did not think about disaster preparedness and mitigation measures; only discussed about relief and emergency response but after building our capacity on DRR with the support of Kankai end-to- end EWS project, we have allocated resources from VDC council, the people are aware and have mobilized the resources in highly vulnerable communities identified by the government to establish DRR fund, improvements of escape routes and DRR planning and emergency response,” says Rajendra Parajuli, VDC secretary of Taghadubba VDC. As a result of capacity building of communities and local government in Jhapa and Ilam districts in Kankai River basin have established DRR fund at all 25 communities, 11 VDCs and 2 municipalities, he adds.
    The upstream and downstream communities have established and strengthened linkage and network for better flood preparedness. The communities have established and strengthened coordination with local government and security forces for flood preparedness. The flood mock exercises with active participation of community, stakeholders and security forces have enhanced the flood response capacities of all. “Participation in mock flood exercise helped us in developing our capacity and coordination for effective rescue and response during a disaster,” says Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, in-charge of Korobari police post.
    “Previously we did not have adequate knowledge for flood monitoring and our response was limited to moving away to safe place when the flood water risked our lives. But it was not good as moving with children and belongings was very risky,” says Roma Mandal of Nayabasti. “We have now learned about flood risk, the vulnerabilities in our communities and flood monitoring. We keep our belongings safe with onset of the monsoon. The CDMC and task force members coordinate pre mock exercise, update us with necessary contact numbers. We update our communication channels and equipment so that we are well prepared before the flood hits our community,” she adds.
    The local VDCs and municipalities (now rural municipalities and municipalities respectively) have started to allocate some budget for local DRR fund since the time of project interventions in Kankai basin. This has capacitated the local government to act for preparedness and implement emergency mitigation measures. The communities have also established and been mobilizing DRR fund which has made them capable of carrying out small mitigation measures and preparedness activities before the flood. Mitigation measures like culverts, evacuation routes, bio-dykes are built or upgraded for better flood response.

    Bio-dyke protecting river bank at Korobari

    Bio-dyke (local technology) protecting river bank at Korobari

    The scope of flood preparedness in Jhapa has increased in the recent years after implementation of the project. This can be evaluated from the fact that there were no any human casualties and less damage to properties in the project communities in comparison to other adjoining communities in Kankai River basin. However, the preparedness of the communities and stakeholders is not adequate to avert losses of lives and properties. Awareness, capacity building trainings and standard operation procedure (SoP) for functioning of EWS needs to be developed for better flood preparedness and response.

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  • FSM in Bangladesh: How to operationalize the Institutional and Regulatory Framework?


    March 28th, 2018

    Bangladesh is considered a role model in the world for its achievement in providing access to sanitation for all. Currently, more than 99% of people in Bangladesh use toilets. The positive progress has created challenges. Issues such as how to empty the toilets, and how to deal safely with the faecal sludge need to be addressed. Manual emptying by informal workers, and indiscriminate and untreated disposal lead to serious environmental pollution and bring adverse impacts on water quality and public health. The informal emptiers have a big role in the current Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) market system but their dignity and working environment is a big issue.

    Last year (2017), the Government of Bangladesh published an Institutional Regulatory Framework (IRF) setting out the roles, responsibilities and coordination of different agencies (i.e Department of Public Health and Engineering, Utility Companies – WASAs, Urban and Rural Government Institutes & private sector) to tackle the FSM challenges. The framework was developed collaboratively by ITN-BUET (Centre for Water Supply and Waste Management), Practical Action and others and includes many of the key issues Practical Action wanted to see promoted. The initiative is highly appreciated by the global development partners. The burning issue now is how to operationalize this framework and bring visible and tangible impact on the ground.

    The country is yet to develop solutions which are proven to be technically feasible and reliable, socially acceptable, financially and economically viable and can be managed by the existing institutions. However, a number of organizations is doing research, innovations, piloting and demonstration work to create the evidence of the whole FSM service and value chain – including containment, emptying, transportation and treatment of sludge for resource recovery and its market promotion. These endeavors, including our own in Faridpur, have created useful examples and provided evidence in particular circumstances but are yet to go to scale. One of the biggest learnings from these initiatives is that capacities are limited at all tiers i.e. grass roots, local, sub national and national level to improve FSM and to operationalize IRF.  

    The government is not short of resources, and could invest in scaling up solutions for greening the economy and for sustainable growth. The most recent example is the Padma Multi-Purpose Bridge, the biggest infrastructural development project,  which the country developed without any financial assistance from external development partners.

    The time has come to think how we can build national, sub national and local capacity in an integrated, holistic and coordinated way to operationalize the IRF.

    A national capacity building program needs to address different aspects and engage many stakeholders. For example, changes in behavior and community practices for safe disposal of sludge is a big issue. Both social and electronic media has a significant role in popularizing messages to call for actions to stop unsafe disposal. However, the businesses are not properly orientated and they lack capacity.

    Informal groups, small and medium entrepreneurs and large scale private companies can play a big role in operating the business of improving the FSM services and treatment businesses. The local authority can invite the private sector and can create public private partnerships to leverage resources to improve the services. However, their institutional capacity is not up to the mark for design, development, management and monitoring this partnership.

    The professional capacity of consulting firms to design context specific appropriate FSM schemes is also an issue. The contractors that are responsible for construction of the faecal sludge treatment plant, secondary transfer stations and other physical facilities are yet to be developed. Similarly, the capacity of local manufacturers to fabricate pumps, machines and vehicles to empty and to transfer the sludge to the disposal sites is yet to be developed. Last but not least, finance institutions (including development banks, climate and green financing agencies, micro financing organizations) need to understand the sector better and focus on building their capacities to make sure there is enough investment to tackle the issues on FSM. The Department of Environment (DoE) needs to be on board for setting and regulating standards for improved FSM. Research & development capacity is extremely limited, especially when it comes to researching different aspects – particularly social, economic, environmental and health aspects. The Government should have a National Plan of Action for effective implementation of IRF on the ground.

    The emerging question is how to build this local and national capacity to optimize the impact from the current and future investment programs around FSM by the Government of Bangladesh and their lending partners Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. This capacity building is a big responsibility and cannot be delivered by any single organization alone.

    The country urgently needs to form a coalition/consortium of FSM organizations – led by Policy Support Branch of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. These parties can designate and hire credible organizations to make a good action plan for short, medium and long term in participation with all stakeholders. This consortium should utilize the comparative strength of each organization and the organizations should not compete with each other. Practical Action is keen to play a part in such a consortium, drawing from our experiences on the ground, and our knowledge of ‘where capacities are lacking’ and ‘what are the best ways of building them.

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  • MERL Tech London: What’s Your Organisation’s Take on Data Literacy, Privacy and Ethics?


    March 26th, 2018

    ICTs and data are increasingly being used for monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL). MERL Tech London was an open space for practitioners, techies, researchers and decision makers to discuss their good and not so good experiences. This blogpost is a reflection of the debates that took place during the conference.

    Is data literacy still a thing?

    Data literacy is “the ability to consume for knowledge, produce coherently and think critically about data”. The perception of data literacy varies depending on the stakeholder’s needs. Being data literate for an M&E team, for example, means possessing statistics skills including collecting and combining large data sets. Program team requires different level of data literacy: the competence to carefully interpret and communicate meaningful stories using processed data (or information) to reach the target audiences.

    Data literacy is – and will remain – a priority in development. The current debate is no longer about whether an organisation should use data or not. It’s rather how well the organisation can use data to achieve their objectives. Yet, organisation’s efforts are often concentrated in just one part of the information value chain, data collection. Data collection in itself is not the end goal. Data has to be processed into information and knowledge for making informed decisions and actions.

    This doesn’t necessary imply that the decision making is purely based on data, nor that data can replace the role of decision makers. Quite the opposite: data-informed decision making strikes balance between expertise and information. It also takes data limitations into account. Nevertheless, one can’t become a data-informed organisation without being data literate.

    What’s your organisation’s data strategy?

    The journey of becoming a data-informed organisation can take some time. Poor data quality, duplication efforts and underinvestment are classic obstacles requiring a systematic solution (see Tweet). The commitment from senior management team should be secured for that. Data team has to be established. Staff members need access to relevant data platforms and training. More importantly, the organisation has to embrace the cultural change towards valuing evidence and acting on positive and negative findings

    Organisations seek to balance between (data) demands and priorities. Some invest hundreds of thousands dollars for setting up a data team to articulate the organisation’s needs and priorities, as well as to mobilise technical support. A 3-5 years strategic plan is created to coordinate efforts between country offices.

    Others take a more modest approach. They recruit few data scientists to support MERL activities of analysing particularly large amounts of project data. The data scientist role evolves along the project growth. In both cases, leadership is the key driver for shifting the culture towards becoming a data-informed organisation.

    Should an organisation use certain data because it can?

    The organisation working with data usually faces challenges around privacy, legality, ethics and grey areas, such as bias and power dynamics between data collectors and their target groups. The use of biometric data in humanitarian settings is an example where all these tensions collide. Biometric data, e.g. fingerprint, iris scan, facial recognition – is powerful, yet invasive. While proven beneficial, biometric data is vulnerable to data breach and misuse, e.g. profiling and tracking. The practice raises critical questions: does the target group, e.g. refugees, have the option to refuse handling over their sensitive personal data? If so, will they still be entitled to receive aid assistance? To what extent the target group is aware how their sensitive personal data will be used and shared, including in the unforeseen circumstances?

    The people’s privacy, safety and security are main priorities in any data work. The organisation should uphold the highest standards and set an example. In those countries where regulatory frameworks are lagging behind data and technology, organisations shouldn’t abuse their power. When the risk of using a certain data outweighs the benefits, or in doubt, the organisation should take a pause and ask itself some necessary questions from the perspective of its target groups. Oxfam which dismissed – following two years of internal discussions and intensive research – the idea of using biometric data in any of their project should be seen as a positive example.

    To conclude, the benefits of data can only be realised when an organisation enjoys visionary leadership, sufficient capacity and upholds its principles. No doubts, this is easier being said than done; it requires time and patience. All these efforts, however, are necessary for a high-achieving organisations.

    More reading:

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  • Learning through experience


    March 26th, 2018

    “ All genuine learning comes through experience “John Dewey

    I earned two degrees while working in Practical Action. I often boast it as one of my biggest achievements in Practical Action. My colleagues sometimes quip “when did you work, then? “ – implying how did I balance the work and study. The fact is I never had to study. The learning I gathered in my work was enough to earn me the degrees. I went to universities just for accreditation (balancing the field visit schedules and the exam routines was tough though!!)

    As I am preparing to leave Practical Action after 11 years of service, I wish to keep some of the key learning on record. Let me start with the professional ones,

    Too much focus on delivery kills innovation
    Timely delivery of the project targets including the financial target is important and binding. However, too much focus on delivery limit innovation. Innovation is an iterative process. An idea or technology has to go through several rounds of refinements before it is ready for uptake. If we become too impatient about the delivery from the onset, we may end up promoting the crude ideas and unproven technologies which may not work in long run. Hence, if we expect our projects to be innovative, we should be careful to consider the fact right from the project design and negotiate with donors accordingly.

    We were able to do that in the Strengthening the supply chain  of construction materials project, which I have been managing since last 2 years. As a result, we have been successful to demonstrate various new technologies like CSEB, Stone Cutting machine and innovative idea like Demand aggregation. The project had 4 months of inception period fully dedicated to understanding the context and testing the new technologies /ideas. The inception period was extended by 2 months to allow the ideas to mature further. Actual uptake of the ideas / technologies started only after 9th month. However, it didn’t take long to catch up the financial and physical targets as the ideas were mature and strategy was clear by then.

    Successful demonstration of technology alone doesn’t automatically lead to uptake
    I spent major part of my tenure in Practical Action promoting Gravity Goods Ropeway. I genuinely believe it is a great technology. It holds enormous promise to help 100 of thousands (if not millions) of people living in the isolated hills of Nepal and other mountainous countries in the developing world. However, the technology didn’t tip beyond some isolated success cases and sporadic uptake by few organizations. On retrospection, I feel that our implicit assumption that the successful demonstration of the technology will automatically lead to replication didn’t work. We focused our efforts on demonstrating the technology, which we did really well. However, we missed to demonstrate the incentive that the uptake of the technology will entail to different market actors (government and private sector), except for the poor farmers. The farmers, however, lack resources to uptake the technology on their own.
    The hard learnt lesson, however, came in handy in the Supply chain project, in which we consciously demonstrated both , the technologies and the incentives they entails to different actors. As a result, the market actors (private firms) are scaling up the technologies /ideas in the project districts with light touch support from the project. The firms are spreading the ideas and technologies beyond the project districts on their own.

    Resource poor not the knowledge

    It may sound like a cliché but over the time I have truly started believing that the people we are working for may be poor in resources but are rich in knowledge. They may not present their ideas in the development jargons that we are used to hearing but they always offer the most plausible insight and most practical solution to any problem. Hence, when you feel you are running out of ideas ok  stuck in problems, go to them. If you have patience and right ears to hear them, you will always be rewarded with the most innovative yet Practical ideas.

    Attitude is more important than intelligence
    In last 11years, I got opportunity to work with several people – people with different level of intelligence (IQ) and different attitudes (EI). Just to paraphrase them in the terminology we use in Practical Action for performance evaluation – people with different level of technical competency and behavioral competency. Though, I eventually, learnt to enjoy working with all of them, my experience boils down to the following 2 conclusions,
    • People with right attitude are more important than with higher intelligence for success of any project. Hence, if you have opportunity to choose between the people with right attitude and higher intelligence, go for former.
    • When people are given which is often the case, work through their attitude rather than trying to change them. Attitudes are difficult to change if they can be changed at all.
    I feel vindicated after reading this article. It argues the importance of attitude over intelligence for personal success. But, same hold true of success of any project.

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  • MY EXPERIENCE IN CSW62


    March 23rd, 2018

    It was my first time to the United States and I was so excited about visiting US and participating in the UNCSW62. Before travelling, I almost told everyone close to me that I am going to the UN and that I have got an opportunity to speak about some of our work in India. As much I was excited, I was nervous too about the presentation, as it went several rounds of revisions with the CSW62 preparatory team (Charlotte, Loise, Patricia and me), but finally a decent presentation was all set to go. I had to speak more than what was written on the slides and so I sort of practised the presentation within myself. In the other hand, I thank Chris, who was getting all logistics organised at New York so that we have a good stay. I must thank Sarah Sandon for her guidance and for approving my participation in the CSW62.

    The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was held from 12-23 March 2018. Practical Action was represented by Loise Maina – Gender Advisor and Arun Hial – M & E Manager (Me) from India. Unfortunately, a third member – Patricia Monje Cuadrado, Chief fundraiser based in Bolivia was not able to travel to New York due to a family emergency.

    We were expected to participate and represent in FOUR separate sessions.

    The first one was ‘Empowering Women and Girls’ organised by NAWO. The National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) is an umbrella organisation of over 100 organisations and individuals working to make gender equality a reality. The Alliance has been accrediting young women and men still at school (16-18) to the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women for over a decade. Loise Maina discussed relevant strategies to empower women and girls and provided some relevant examples from Practical Action’s work with rural communities. This session resulted in better understanding of the NAWO delegation on the overall purpose and context of the CSW2018 theme.

    The second session was ‘Innovation – using ICTs to empower rural women’ organised by ADVANCE who work in the priority areas of entrepreneurship, education and justice for women and girls.  I got the opportunity to share about how Practical Action is using media and ICT to raise awareness and share knowledge on menstrual hygiene amongst girls in India through the innovative ‘Sunolo Sakhi Project’. As a result of this presentation, people shown interest to get connected with us or get us connected with relevant organisations that can support in scaling up this programme. We have lined up follow up actions on this. Oh there was so many questions about the presentation, everyone wanted to know more about Sunolo Sakhi.. I would say about 90% of the questions were around my presentation, and of course it’s not because they did not understand what I said, but the questions were seeking more information about the program.

    The third one was “Increasing prosperity for rural women: Implementing gendered SDGs targets in goals 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16”. This session was organised by the UK NGO Alliance that works with partners based in the UK, as well as with local partner organisations across the world. Loise Maina, Gender Advisor shared about Practical Action’s work to increase incomes and link rural women farmers to sustainable markets in the cocoa value chain. This session was considered to be quite practical and helped to demonstrate proven interventions that can help improve rural communities’ livelihoods. Loise had prepared herself with a PowerPoint presentation, however, the session did not have opportunity for that and needed a five minute speech. Loise managed this so wonderfully with huge confidence and she was very clear on what she wanted to communicate with the audience. About questions, yes there were questions to Loise and they got relevant answers. This session was chaired by one of the Hon’ble MPs of UK.

    The fourth session was “Innovative Use of Media for Rural Women and Girls”. This session was organised by PRIDE which works with organizations across the region to ensure education that promotes holistic development options.  I could share experience from the implementation of the Sunolo Sakhi project in India that promotes awareness and education on menstrual hygiene through ICTs and media. This has created a space for Practical Action’s gender work and that is well accepted. This too was a quite engaging session, now some of the old faces have sort of accepted Practical Action doing Sunolo Sakhi kind of work.

    Apart from these four sessions, we were engaged in many of the side events suggested by Sarah and Charlotte time to time, it really helped us to get to the relevant ones. The overall experience in CSW62 was great and we could participate in number of sessions knowing about gender issues in different spaces as well as networking and connecting with new people and organisations. We have a list of follow ups to be done and have listed lessons learnt for those who will be taking part in future CSW events.

    We could also do some sightseeing together in Times Square and World Trade Centre etc.

    I was blessed and privileged to be one of the participants from Practical Action and it was worth attending CSW62.

    Look forward for the new connections and collaborations to take its own shape to benefit the underprivileged women and girls.

    JAI HO

    For more information, please contact

     

    Arun Hial (Arun.Hial@practicalaction.org)

    Loise Maina (Loise.Maina@practicalaction.or.ke)

    Some more pictures

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