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  • Sun, Water, Life


    June 15th, 2018

    There was an Afghan, a Pakistani, an Ethiopian, a Somalian and an Englishman…. Sounds like the start of a bad joke but fortunately it is not!

    But it is a reflection of the global interest in addressing the crucial issue of access to affordable water supplies that are so needed to sustain communities, particularly those without access to affordable energy and reliant on agriculture for food security and income generation.

    All of these nationalities were squashed in friendly harmony in the back of taxi making introductions on the way to a two day workshop on the use of solar power for pumping water.

    The workshop was hosted by the solar water pumping company Lorentz at their technology centre in Hamburg. Lorentz are a German company and have been focused on solar water pumping for more than 20 years (Sun, Water, Life is their mantra). They doing nothing else but solar water pumping systems, from development to manufacture to installation and aftercare through a global network of distributors and partners.

    They have a wealth of experience in installing systems in some very challenging locations and conditions and across a range of applications from refugee camps to remote impoverished communities. What perhaps sets them apart from other pump manufacturers is their integration, and application of, software into the pump controller and an app based interface to monitor and control pump performance. They also have an app based system that can enable PAYG services for the provision of water, either for household use or irrigation.

    Setting aside any particular manufacturer what became absolutely clear for the assorted participants is that it makes little sense to look at energy, water and food in isolation of each other. For those struggling to meet their daily needs in rural communities these three resources are increasingly under pressure from population growth and the impacts of climate change. The ability to pump water using free clean energy to irrigate land and provide improved sanitation gets to the heart of this challenge.

    Of course what is not free is the technology to make this happen. The upfront investment cost of a good quality system is still higher than that of a diesel or petrol pump. However, this is soon recovered (can be as little as 2 years) when the cost of fuel and maintenance is taken into account.

    And the cost of solar pumping has decreased significantly over the last 5 years as the panels required to capture this free energy have tumbled in price as they have become a commodity item.

    So how can this cost be met?

    Two approaches, using widely available technology in the areas we work in, were shared during the workshop:

    • Pay at point of extraction (Pay at pump) – A pump is loaded with credits. This allows for pre-payment of water either locally or centrally.
    • Pay at point of delivery (Pay at tap) Consumers pre-load secure tokens with credits (litres). Smart Taps dispense water and reduce credits on the token.

    As Practical Action we already have a number of projects on the go making use of solar power for irrigation and the provision of drinking water. This includes working with small holder farmers in Zimbabwe to help them to increase their income through the use of solar powered irrigation to improve crop production, and getting better prices for their produce in the local market.

    With the costs decreasing and the technology forever improving the opportunities to harness this free energy source in emerging economies are increasingly being recognised by both the private and public sector. We seek to encourage this and find innovative ways to scale up affordable use of this technology.

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  • ‘Technology’ Enabling Adaptation to Climate Change


    June 11th, 2018

    At CBA12, Practical Action is working with IIED and its conference partners to lead an ‘adaptation technologies’ workstream, exploring how technologies can be used to enable communities to adapt to climate change; increasing their resilience to climate stresses and shocks, and how ‘technology’ can be used to lever support and investment in adaptation.

    In a world where we see new technology changing the way we live our lives, and constantly surprising us about what is possible, it is no wonder that ‘new technology’ is often looked at to provide a solution to the issues that face the world.

    The daunting task of delivering effective action on climate change – the mitigation and adaptation objectives of the Paris Agreement – is no exception to the idea that ‘technology’ will help us achieve the sustainable change we need.

    New technology has been an enabler of climate change mitigation. Commercial research and renewable energy technologies have created tremendous opportunity for nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, implement their mitigation commitments. Through market competition or regulation by governments, the private sector has been instrumental in improving the energy efficiency of engines, cars, planes, factories and homes.

    The story is not the same for adaptation, for which there is still woefully inadequate finance, limited innovation and little success! To address this there are growing calls for the scientific community to deliver market oriented and transferable adaptation technologies – technology ‘fixes’ – silver bullets!

    However, what is really needed are affordable, co-created and long-term solutions. As with mitigation, the ideal is to mobilise the private sector to deliver the additional innovation and resources needed to achieve change at scale. However, the innovation and technology needs to be appropriate – accessible and affordable – to small scale poor or risk adverse farming families in developing countries.

    To do this, technologies need to use or build on the assets smallholders already have, have low cost, be reliable (have little risk), and work in the long-term. These are the technologies that are likely to be adopted and lead to adaptation at scale, i.e. adaptation technologies.

    Adaptation technologies in developing countries might be about using the natural capital rural communities already have – their plants, animals, soils, water, forests, land – in a more resilient and productive way. For example, water and land use management that integrates the needs and voices of all vested interest groups – including groups within households, farmers, livestock owners and other.

    Alternatively, they might be about how recent advances in renewable energy have created opportunities for farmers to cope with the increasingly unpredictable weather and seasons, or households to process or storage produce, and thereby develop added value to enterprises. A good example of this is solar powered irrigation for crop production. Solar powered irrigation can range from portable units, to small standalone systems, to multiple sites within mini-grids, or to large systems that replace diesel pumps in extensive irrigation schemes.

    Or ‘adaptation technologies’ might be about how digital or communication technologies improve the access to and use of knowledge. For example, short and medium term weather forecasts that give farmers and traders a better understanding and confidence about supply and demand and therefore prices. Or using new digital devices and information so that farmers know what is happening in the market and strike better deals with traders for their produce.

    Practical Action is an active and committed participant in the CBA community. Given the lack of implementation of the ‘adaptation’ component of internationally agreed actions on climate change, Practical Action is working with the CBA community to develop evidence and the narrative needed to inspire greater and more effective investment in adaptation – especially in developing countries.

    Practical Action’s key messages are:

    1. New technology has been an enabler of climate change mitigation, however, this is yet to happen for adaptation. To achieve this requires more committed support and investment – to get the finance and innovation that is needed for success;
    2. There is a need for affordable, co-created and long-term adaptation solutions that involve and engage the private sector. System change requires all actors to be involved;
    3. Finally, technologies that enable climate change adaptation must be accessible and affordable to small-scale, poor and risk-averse farming families in developing countries, to be adopted and so enable adaptation at scale.

    More information about Practical Action’s role at the CBA12: https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/food-and-agriculture/cba12-2018

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  • The Gravity of GRAVITY


    June 8th, 2018

    Life in high hills and mountains is not very simple. Access to resources, market, education to even health and other basic services are bleak due to treacherous geography; not to mention, how hard even commuting for the locals can become through the steep hills and cliffs. In absence of much prospect, many are compelled to live at edge of poverty. We have come across many people who have outlived great challenges with so much persistence and struggle. Their life stories inspire us every day to work harder and motivate us to do more to make life better for them.

    The Hardships of Hill, Belkosha’s Story

    In many stories, one of Belkosha Bohora from Tilagufa Village in Kalikot might captivate your sentiments too. She seems happy and content at first glance, but listening to how she went through the thick and thin of her life, anyone can feel dejected. Growing up in the parched hills of Kalikot, all she saw in life was the hardships the hills had to offer; in form of loss of childhood, no education and no alternative but to marry early and of course make a bunch of babies. With no option other than to work at the fields carrying fertilisers heavier than her, half her life went by foraging, farming and taking care of the cattle. In patriarchal society that is so deep rooted, men were not expected to take care of the babies she gave birth to almost every year after her marriage. That’s why she was not just a full time mom for year after another but also full time labour until the last day of her delivery and as early as 5 days after the delivery. Overworked and ‘un’cared, Belkosha lost 8 of her 12 babies to the hardships of the hill until eventually her uterus prolapsed.

    Belkosha Bohora (40) from Kalikot who lost 8 out of 12 children due to drudgery, Photo: G Archana

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Gravity Goods Ropeway

    But in the forty years of her life, she is finally going to feel rested. We are making it easy for women like Belkosha by bringing a pulley technology at the village that lie at the top of vertical peak. In Nepal, roads alone cannot guarantee access to services for the most marginalised and isolated communities like Belkosha’s. Gravity Goods Ropeways (GGR) is simplest form of rope based transportation system that works on the proven principle of a controlled freefall mechanism, GRAVITY. It is operated by potential energy of mass at upper station, generating kinetic energy by the action of pulley systems. Through GGR, people can easily transport goods from uphill to downhill and the other way round. Similar technology has been installed in Tipada of Bajura District where people are making most out of the system. We have witnessed people’s life changed since the technology directly affects farmer’s livelihood by bringing the market closer. Many farmers who were subsistence based have started commercial vegetable farming since they can easily transport the goods downhill in less than two minutes instead of hours and hours in the steep hills which have claimed lives of many. This simple to operate, low cost solution requires minimum maintenance and is indeed changing lives of many.

    Gravity Goods Ropeway being operated in Bajura, Photo: S Kishore

     

    The pulley system is being installed with financial support of project named BICAS, implemented by Practical Action with funding support of the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid (JOA)

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  • Innovation in last mile distribution


    May 22nd, 2018

    The Global Distributors Collective (GDC) facilitated an ecosystem event at the Skoll World Forum on 12 April dedicated to ‘innovations in last mile distribution’.

    Event hosts Practical Action, BoP Innovation Center and Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship ran a panel with practitioners from the Shell Foundation, EYElliance and Danone Communities. The audience, which included a wide array of participants from the private sector, social enterprises, multinational institutions and NGOs, had a lively Q&A session followed by a world café.

    The event highlighted a range of key challenges and innovations in the last mile distribution (LMD) sector:

    The panel – Liz Smith (EYElliance), Meera Shah (Shell Foundation) and Valerie Mazon (Danone Communities), moderated by Emma Colenbrander (Practical Action)

    1. Working capital for inventory and consumer financing

    LMDs struggle to access working capital for inventory because they are not selling at sufficient volumes to attract the interest of mainstream debt providers, and are seen as too high-risk to lend to. They manage this challenge using different approaches, such as providing sales agents with stock on consignment, but innovation is desperately needed to facilitate better access to capital.

    The burden of providing consumer finance tends to fall to LMDs, but there is potential for manufacturers and intermediaries to play this role. There is significant opportunity to tap into MFIs, especially in countries like India where the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) sector is not as strong, but questions remain about how to de-risk this investment for MFIs. One innovation in consumer financing that Shell Foundation is exploring is digital lay-away schemes for customers to save towards down payments on products.

    2. Demand creation and behaviour change

    For complex products like eyeglasses and improved cookstoves, consumer education is needed to raise awareness and ensure adoption, but this is often expensive and inefficient. Broad campaigns can be a more cost-effective way of building demand and educating consumers than targeting individuals. Campaigns can be done nationally (such as those planned by EYElliance alongside governments) or on a local level (such as those done by Danone Communities using community ambassadors). Consumer campaigns must integrate LMDs on the ground in order to be effective and to ensure supply can adequately meet demand.

    Meera describes how LMDs are typically underinvested in compared with product companies

    3. Salesforce training

    All participants agreed that salesforce training continues to be an enormous challenge in the sector, especially given high churn rates in sales teams and the need to adapt training to different markets. Classroom training is of limited value, so ongoing mentoring and support (and a small sales manager/sales agent ratio) is essential. Innovative training providers are emerging in the sector to support LMDs and some companies (eg. M-KOPA) have set up their own training universities. However, these services are either exclusive or very expensive, and tend to focus more on technical skills rather than sales and marketing. There is huge demand for more innovation in this space.

    4. Opportunities to leverage economies of scale

    EYElliance represents an excellent example of how collective approaches can work in distribution. EYElliance is a coalition of multi-sector actors working at system level to create change in the vision sector. They have had success in distribution of eyeglasses by tapping into the expertise of many members and learning from distribution methods in other product categories such as antimalarials, solar lighting and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs).

    The following key opportunities were identified to leverage the power of the collective across the LMD sector:

    • sharing best practices and lessons learned through online platforms, in-person networking and exchange visits between LMDs
    • improving access to information, including by building a directory of certified peer-reviewed products
    • developing standardised metrics and measurement tools for M&E
    • bulk buying products to streamline procurement processes

    5. Potential of emerging technologies to transform the sector

    Liz Smith describes EYElliance’s collaborative model to achieve systems-wide impact in eyeglass distribution

    Technologies that help gather data for operational intelligence are increasingly being utilised, for example software that can digitally track consumer behaviour. The next disruptive technologies are 3D printing which will transform manufacturing, and blockchain which will enable LMDs to track inventory through the supply chain and more effectively assess impact.

    6. Product specialisation vs diversification

    LMDs that use sales agent networks to sell complex consumer products generally need to specialise. Specialisation tends to be the most cost-effective approach because different skills and knowledge are required for different product categories, and also because LMDs have so many other functions to manage – logistics, procurement, finance, etc – that end sales need to be simplified to the greatest extent possible. However, LMDs can still achieve diversification across their portfolio by specialising at the sales agent level (ie, each sales agent only sells one product category) or by focusing on promoting different products during different time periods, rather than offering a basket of goods all year round. It has proven difficult to combine distribution channels for consumer durables like solar lights with FMCG products, although retail channels have more success than sales agent networks.

    The hosts closed the session by showing great willingness to work on the discussion points raised through the Global Distribution Collective.

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  • Sustainable Energy for All Forum: Finding answers to the HOW

    Sustainable Energy for All Forum

    Energy access for all: the WHAT followed by the HOW

    Energy access has been recognized as a golden thread to enable other SDGs, with successful earmarks such as the Paris Agreement and inclusion of a dedicated sustainable development goal; both of which urge the international community to find pathways to deliver sustainable energy access to the more than one billion unserved people. WHAT we are aiming for (SDG7) is therefore well articulated, with clear political commitment from the international community.

    The 2018 Sustainable Energy for All Forum served as a critical opportunity to come together and explore the HOW: mechanisms to address, and ways to deliver, universal energy access.

    So, have we progressed on the HOW?

    The Forum brought together many top-level representatives in the energy access space, with thriving discussions taking place – many of which bolstered our position at Practical Action over the last year, and are reflected in the Poor Peoples´ Energy Outlook 2017 report. Current flows of finance seem not to be sufficient to cover the energy access gap and, while private sector plays a key and fundamental role in scaling up energy access solutions, it seems clearer than before that the private sector alone won’t reach the furthest behind. More holistic, multi-stakeholder approaches, together with a suite of financing mechanisms, are needed to activate markets and accelerate the pace to achieving universal access to energy.

    What does the data tell us?

    During the SEforAll Forum there were several events and discussions where this message was loud and clear – but we still have some way to go. Let’s summarize where we are at the moment. Recently published insights from ACUMEN’s Lean Data (which includes more than 8,750 customers’ interviews from 23 companies ACUMEN is currently financing) show that just 13% of the customers served by those 23 companies are working in the extreme poverty percentile (less than $1.3/day). While the work ACUMEN is doing in the energy access space is formidable, improving the quality of life for tens of thousands of people, this data suggests that the vast majority of these people aren’t necessarily the ones who desperately need to be reached.

    Similar conclusions come from the Shell Foundation and CDC, who currently invest significantly in supporting some of the top 10 off-grid companies in the space – which are mostly concentrated in the buzzing East Africa region. This reflects a generally risk averse policy from investors who are mostly reticent to invest in smaller entrepreneurships with less of a track record. As a result, finance into these companies – which are usually social enterprises able to reach out to many of the poorest people – is simply not happening. To be clear, we need hundreds of these sorts of businesses up and running to stand a chance of achieving SDG7.

    A holistic approach to reaching the last mile

    During the SEforAll Forum, we heard again that in order for the flow of capital to reach these sorts of local entrepreneurships, investors need to have clear de-risking mechanisms and ways to ensure they won’t lose their investments. Similar messages were shared during the gender and energy panel organized by ENERGIA, where we heard from several thriving and promising female entrepreneurs who simply aren’t getting the financing they need to increase their operations and reach out to the very poor rural areas they want to cover. Women, in particular, continue to be perceived as high-risk investments and face additional barriers to accessing finance compared to their male counterparts.

    Graphic showing barriers and solutions to women's participation in energy access markets

    Little progress but more clarity than before

    It is clear that by following the current approach we won’t achieve SDG7 by 2030. And while we need to support the replication of successful off-grid business models operating in the space (e.g. PAYGO, SHS systems), part of this support must be diverted into de-risking investments. And for this to happen, we will need either:

    • To create new public-private vehicles that enable investors to invest more capital on riskier private sector actors, or
    • Public programs enabling the poorest to progress from level 0, no access to any basic social services or non-energy service purchasing capacity, to level 1 where some basic energy services could be acquired.
    • Or, of course, a combination of the two.

     

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  • Dragon’s Den with a twist: unlocking finance for energy access


    April 30th, 2018

    ‘Dragon’s Den’ has been a very popular TV format where entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas to potential investors, with versions of the show produced in nearly 30 countries.

    New investments are also needed in energy access. There remains a very large financing gap between the amounts estimated to be needed per year to reach the 2030 SDG goal of universal access to electricity and clean cooking, and finance currently flowing. Various reports documented this over the last year including the suite of ‘Energizing Finance’ reports from SEforAll, Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook, and the IEA’s Energy Access Outlook.

    What’s missing in the usual Dragon’s Den format is the voice of the consumer, who could ask questions about whether the product on offer will meet their needs.

    Practical Action at the SEforAll Forum

    SEforAll Forum 2018 logoAt this year’s SEforAll Forum, Practical Action together with CPI and Hivos are hosting a Partner Working Session on Energizing Finance: Thursday 3rd May, 14:30-16:00, Rossio room.

    As part of this we’ll be inviting two organisations with great financing products to pitch their ideas. The twist is, they will be quizzed not only by potential investors, but also by representatives of their customer base: the off-grid businesses who are so starved of money currently. The finance products we’ll be featuring are:

    • The Renewable Energy Scale-Up Facility (RESF), which works by delivering early-stage finance to businesses in increments as they achieve key development milestones, in exchange for the option to buy equity at financial close, at better-than-market rate terms.
    • Green Aggregation Tech Enterprise (GATE), which helps mini-grid developers by acting as an aggregator and providing other business development services to mini-grids. They commit to providing mini-grids with a standardized payment system, and offer a standardized documentation, payment and energy accounting system.

    These are just two of a range of 26 financing solutions brought together under the Climate Finance Lab which, since its launch in 2014, has mobilised more than $1 billion in sustainable investment.

    This opportunity for potential beneficiaries of RESF or GATE to quiz them is part of the bottom-up revolution in energy access that is so sorely needed if we are to stand any chance of meeting our SDG goals.

    What do we already know about finance for energy access?

    Practical Action worked with SEforAll last year on the Taking the Pulse’ report as part of the Energizing Finance series. Focusing on five high-impact countries, we interviewed a wide range of small and medium energy access enterprises and other stakeholders to understand the challenges they face in accessing finance and growing their businesses to better serve poor and remote communities. We heard time and again about the barriers of lenders’ conditions to qualify for a loan in terms of collateral, track record or data. We heard about the problems of borrowing in foreign currency rather than local currencies which make it all-but-impossible to offer stable pricing to customers, or where restrictions on foreign exchange can make it hard to guarantee year-round supplies. We heard about the urgent need for working capital and for the easing of restrictive government regulations particularly for mini-grids.

    The Taking the Pulse report highlighted the depth of the challenge in the clean cooking sector where current investments were so low they amounted to less than $1 per capita per year. In this cash-starved environment, companies are looking for ways to help customers borrow for clean cooking solutions, as well as better co-ordination and policy support for market-based solutions. The sector needs to recognise the opportunities in the fuels markets which may be significantly greater than in the stove itself.

    Poor People's Energy Outlook 2017 cover imageOur 2017 edition of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook similarly pointed to the gap between current levels of financing, and the amounts needed to meet the energy service needs of off-grid communities. We emphasised the need for energy access financing across the spectrum: meeting needs for electricity and clean cooking, and for household, productive uses and community services (water pumping, street lighting, schools, health care, government services etc). We highlighted the extent to which an affordability gap still remains, requiring the right sorts of public finance targeted to close this gap.

    We had a particular focus on the extent to which women are disadvantaged in terms of access to finance both as entrepreneurs and consumers. Levels of trust in their businesses are often lower, and they may be more affected by the requirements for collateral and track-record. And as consumers they may find it harder to access finance for purchasing products in their own right.

    Graphic showing barriers and solutions to women's participation in energy access markets

    Hivos and Practical Action alike will be bringing a clear focus to the Partner Working Session on our core questions of:

    • How will new finance solutions help bring energy access to those places currently not well served – remote and poor communities, where levels of affordability are low?
    • How will new finance solutions recognise and seek to address gender inequalities which disadvantage women and hold back progress on energy access?

    The closing panel for the session includes strong civil society representation from Surabhi Rajagopal, co-ordinator of the ACCESS Coalition, who will bring these messages and challenges to the discussion.

    We are looking forward to a fascinating and challenging event, and hope to see many of you there. The forum will also be very well covered on social media, so if you can’t make it in person, stay tuned all week for updates. #SEforALLForum

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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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  • Water is life for villagers in Darfur


    March 20th, 2018

     

    A simple solution like a solar powered water pump can have a profound impact on a community. This is eloquently demonstrated in these first-hand accounts from residents of two villages in drought-prone North Darfur.

    These stories were collected and written by Hamid Bakheet. 

    “We were at the margin of survival. Most of the villagers have moved elsewhere to find water. It’s really hard to leave your homeland but the even harder to survive without water.

    We used to travel for about three hours on our donkeys to seek water for our families. You can imagine what that means. Going for water every other day meant you could only work fifteen days a month reducing our income.  The amount of water we could transport was not great.  At best we had enough to shower three times a week but usually only once a week.

    Now through this work with Practical Action everything has changed.  Our solar water pump has which has changed our life dramatically.  Now it is the easiest thing to get water, even the children can go alone to bring water for their families.”

    Believe it or not when I saw water coming out from the pump for the first time I felt something like a cloud covering my eyes.  It was tears of happiness, although is shaming for a Darfurian man to show tears!”

    Altayeb from Kweim village, north Darfur

    Hawaa from Mugabil village also expresses her joy at the new facility

    “In the past when there was no water in our village, pastoralists and farmers often came to blows. Now it’s very rare to hear that a conflict has happened. We women were usually exhausted because we had to go for about four kilometers to bring a small amount of water for all our needs, drinking, cooking, washing and showering.

    When we had a guest and there was no water, we used to borrow water from our neighbours!  And it was not good for our donkeys to carry water all that distance. A donkey might be expected to live for twenty years but the lives of our donkeys were reduced to only about five years.

    We also faced the risk of gender based violence on those long water gathering trips, but now with water become available here we are safe.  And the time we were spending in going for water we now use for other domestic, economic and personal activities. 

    We even become more beautiful because we can wash and shower every day,” laughed Hawaa!

    This project was designed by Practical Action and financed by the Swedish Postcode Foundation to provide water for both settled and pastoralist communities in the villages of Mugabil and Kweim in north Darfur. It benefits more than 8,000 individuals who live in the areas surrounding Mugabil and Kweim as well as 2,000 pastoralists.

    The most obvious impacts of this project are an increase in water access and quality in the area. Now clean water for drinking and cooking is available for the whole community and for pastoralists and their livestock.  This will have a significant benefit to the health of the community.  The community water management committee is taking responsibility for managing the water supply to ensure its sustainability.  And the pump is operated by clean, renewable solar power so is helping keep both people and the environment safe.

    Seeing how happy these villagers are about the positive change in their life with water makes me proud to work for the organisation that made this possible.

     

     

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  • Global SDG7 Conference: are we really doing things differently in energy access?


    March 15th, 2018

    More than two years have now passed since the 2030 Agenda was designed and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established – including SDG7 which ‘ensures access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’. The UN’s tracking of progress on SDG7 over the last two years has shown mixed results.

    Last month, I participated in the Global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 Conference in Bangkok, from 20-23 February 2018. The conference provided a thoughtful review of the progress on SDG7, ahead of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) later this year; which is expected to be the first critical milestone to take stock of progress to date.

    The context

    Although success stories and changes are being witnessed, including an impressive growth in the number of people gaining sustainable energy access in Central and South Asia and Latin America, and the role played by a diverse range of new business models and SMEs to bring energy access services to remote areas, we still face several huge challenges. More than 1.06 million people, mostly located in poor rural areas, don’t have access to electricity; and, shockingly, 3 billion people are still cooking without clean fuels or more efficient technologies.

    Practical Action has been deeply involved in promoting energy access for more than 40 years. We provide systemic solutions for un-served rural dwellers across the Global South; while also convening and facilitating processes and creating spaces to catalyse positive change at national, regional and international levels. We are perhaps more active now than we have ever been, working with new partners in exciting and challenging ways to solve this difficult equation.

    SDG7 Conference in Bangkok

    So, can we say that we are close to solving the gap and providing modern and sustainable energy access to all un-served communities? The result of the SDG7 Conference was clear. While some progress is shown in specific geographic areas – for instance in Kenya where energy access rates have risen from 15% in 2010 to 70% by 2017 – we see little or no advancement in other areas. This includes insufficient progress in electricity access for the sub-Saharan region (where the population growth is bigger than annual electricity access rate growth) and the very often overlooked cooking sector that suffers from, above all, an endemic lack of funding.

    Moreover, the imbalance between global and national agendas at the conference was plain to see, as we barely heard from countries offering national voluntary assessments.

    People at the heart of the solution

    There is a clear need to change the way we are framing the solution. It is widely acknowledged that business as usual will not challenge the current problem; as we have learned under our flagship series publication Poor Peoples’ Energy Outlook, and following IEA’s recent statement, decentralized renewable energy (DRE) solutions represent a better cost-effective and faster pace to achieve universal energy access than top-down traditional strategies. Contradictorily, we also know there is currently not enough available investment to cover the current funding gaps within the energy access sector; and as result of this, not enough financing flows to sufficiently support the sector’s service delivery. There is also an increasing recognition of the need to work with diverse groups of relevant stakeholders but not always the same understanding of the need to involve and listen to rural, under-served communities themselves from the very outset. They are often the ones who know what they need (in terms of their demand and priorities) and how to adapt current solutions to their current situations. Unfortunately, the discussion at the SDG7 conference was often framed around the ‘what’ (technology, natural resources availability) but not sufficiently the ‘how’ (systems building, bottom-up participatory processes).

    So, are we doing things differently?

    Meaningfully including civil society, which provides a bridge between public and private sectors and the populations they aim to serve, can help to address the ‘how’ of service delivery. Fortunately, a clear civil society voice was heard during the SDG7 Conference. The ACCESS Coalition organized a panel where Practical Action, together with other partner organisations (HIVOS and SNV, among others), were invited to showcase specific and positive experiences from civil society in Zimbabwe, Indonesia and Kenya – as well as highlighted learning around actions that require adaption or simply do not work.

    However, although the dialogue around this panel was substantial and alternatives to business as usual were showcased, across the conference more generally the voices of CSOs were not sufficiently represented. Recognizing the value of the civil society in solving the enormous energy access challenge we have in front of us is crucial. CSOs are excellent partners for better understanding the needs and demands of rural communities. CSOs can help other stakeholders connect with rural populations, raising awareness of and building trust around positive energy access behaviours and solutions. They can increase stakeholders’ understanding of energy-poor people’s cultural behaviours and socio-cultural challenges, which are so often overlooked and which can compound a perception among investors of rural populations being high risk.

    Overall, the SDG7 Conference offered an opportunity for exchanging global best practices, and it provided a good place to consider the interlinkages across SDGs; in particular how essential energy access is if we want to achieve many other SDGs by 2030. However, although we are starting to move in the right direction, more proven disruptive approaches that deliver energy access cost-effectively by including a diverse range of stakeholders are still needed if we want to see SDG7 accomplished by 2030 – and enjoy all the other development and wellbeing benefits that go alongside.

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  • Practical Action working to light Africa

    A blog authored by Elizabeth Njoki and Robert Magori

    Access to modern energy services is a basic prerequisite for socio-economic development. Its effects extend far beyond the energy sector, such as poverty eradication, access to clean water, improved public health, education and women empowerment. The World Bank’s State of Electricity Access Report 2017 shows that countries with the highest levels of poverty tend to have lower access to modern energy services – a problem that is most pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a large share of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking and heating and lacks access to electricity. It is estimated that 1.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. In Kenya, electricity access stands at 40% of which the majority of those served reside in cities and urban areas while less than 20% of these households in the rural areas are connected to the national power grid. In response to this challenge, Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank/IFC program, aims at helping people in Sub-Saharan Africa gain access to non-fossil fuel-based, low-cost, high quality, safe, and reliable lighting products. Practical Action was contracted by Lighting Africa II Kenya programme to facilitate deeper penetration of solar lighting products in to the most remote areas through training and mentoring women last mile entrepreneurs with the goal of meeting the lighting needs of rural, urban, and sub-urban consumers who lack electricity access; predominantly low-income households and businesses.

     

    Children doing their homework using a solar lamp in a household in Western Kenya.
    Photo by Sven Torfinn

     

    Women remain disadvantaged politically, socially and economically due to traditional stereotypes on the roles of women and girls. They are underrepresented in decision making positions and they have less access to basic needs such as education, energy, safe and clean water, health etc. Typically women’s economic activities are; heat intensive with food processing being a common source of income, and because women’s lack of energy access, their capability is hampered negatively affecting those around them and prevents from living desired life. Initial assessment of solar products value chain indicated that women are underrepresented and yet are great influencers especially at bottom of the pyramid. Building on Practical Action’s extensive experience in enhancing women’s participation in energy markets, the assignment embarked to strengthen the role that women play in the supply chain for off-grid lighting products in rural Kenya, helping them in the development of sustainable business models and empowering them to effectively participate in local energy markets, and therefore increasing the availability of quality clean energy products to consumers in rural Kenya. In this assignment, Practical Action recruited and trained 403 women entrepreneurs on entrepreneurship development.

    The support to women entrepreneurs was non-intrusive but concerted; it was sustained through practical working tools for day-to-day business management such as toolkits and remote training using podcasts. The use of podcasts to train micro entrepreneurs is an innovative approach to stimulate pro-active learning and allows flexible access to learning material by entrepreneurs. Furthermore, Practical Action allocated full time mentors to the women entrepreneurs to ease access and expeditious resolutions of major business challenges experienced by the women entrepreneurs through executing mentoring plan involving targeted one-on-one mentoring sessions based on LMEs identified needs. The mentors followed up LMEs on time bound action points and provided technical advice and motivation in areas of difficulty. Ultimately mentors facilitated the development of business acumen and self-confidence of the entrepreneurs in management of the business over the engagement period. During the course of the assignment 240 active women entrepreneurs were retained and collectively sold 27,875 solar lighting units worth an estimated value of US$1.4 million. In addition, overall entrepreneurs’ business performance has been positive with an average growth rate of 30% per entrepreneur.

    One such entrepreneur is Catherine Mumbi who hails from Sofia area in Kakumeni ward, Machakos County where kerosene lamps are the main source of lighting in most households. When she started the solar business, Catherine used to sell only 2 units per month but currently sells an average of 10 units per month. She gives credit to Practical Action for impacting her with business skills and product knowledge. Ms. Selina; another active entrepreneur thanks Practical Action for helping her manage stage fright. She narrates that before the training and subsequent mentorship she couldn’t communicate properly with customers because she was afraid, but currently she can approach anyone and get to sell a lamp or come out of it with a prospective customer. She is grateful for the mentorship as she terms it as a source of knowledge, encouragement and motivation to the business. Since the training and commencement of mentorship, Selina has acquired more networks which include other entrepreneurs and customers. In conclusion, solar lighting industry continues to grow and reach rural households without access to modern energy services.

    The programme has demonstrated that more women entrepreneurs can be integrated in the solar lighting value chain and more efforts should be geared towards such engendered initiatives as a measure of not only addressing energy poverty but also improving women’s economic positioning. Practical Action is highly conscious of the contribution of this work overall objectives of ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for, and by extension the global sustainable development goals.

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