Energy | Blogs

  • 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. (more…)

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • 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

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • 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.

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • 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.

     

     

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • 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. (more…)

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • 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.

    2 Comments » | Add your comment
  • The power to transform communities


    December 15th, 2017

    The village of Amaguaya sits on the slopes of the Cordillera Real mountain range in Bolivia about 4,000 metres above sea level.  Although it’s only just over 70 miles from La Paz, the journey there, mostly along a small single track, takes about five hours.

    Vicente Poma FloresDespite their remoteness, Amaguaya’s 830 residents have recently witnessed an extraordinary transformation in their community.

    Until 2014, Amaguaya was a village without power.  But the installation of a 60 kw micro hydro plant has transformed the lives of the residents. Electricity has brought light, hot water, safe storage of vaccines and access to the internet, radio and TV.

    The construction of the scheme was overseen by colleagues from Practical Action in Bolivia who also provided training on technical issues and managing the supply company. This included agreeing tariffs and awarding contracts and deciding how to resolve issues of non-payment of bills. Whilst the local authority will undertake major repairs, the community itself will continue to be responsible for day to day operations.

    According to Vicente Poma Flores, the chief operator of the hydro-electric plant,

    “Now we have a way, we have light, it is as if we are climbing the steps to a better and better life.” 

    Vicente grew up in the village and appreciates the transformation as much as anyone.  According to Vicente,

    “My children no longer damage their eyesight working by kerosene lamp,”

    Street lighting has helped people to move around safely after dark and access to electricity in the home has given students more time to do their homework. Vicente has five children in school and sees the benefits for himself. New computer equipment has been acquired by the school to enrich the children’s education, with seven computers now available. Vicente recalls that when he was a child he studied with a lamp. He said that in those days, it felt as though they had been “forgotten”.

    Earlier this year, our team in Bolivia revisited Amaguaya to see how things were progressing.  One of the most striking impacts was that the availability of power had encouraged some former residents to return and resettle. A community that had been facing decline has turned the corner.

    For those of us who’ve grown up with electricity, it can be almost impossible to imagine how much the advent of power can mean. But for Amaguaya, their new micro hydro scheme doesn’t just mean electricity, it also signals hope for a bright new future.

    This article drew on Claudia Canales blog on her visit to Amaguaya in January 2015

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Energy Supporter Objects – The Variety of Energy Technologies and Uses in Refugee Settings


    December 5th, 2017

    A blog authored by Sarah Rosenberg-Jansen and Anna Okello. December 2017.

    A ‘missing link’ in humanitarian energy access

    Energy is a critical need for refugees and displaced people: millions of displaced people do not have access to energy, and humanitarian agencies and refugees themselves struggle to work with complex energy technology systems and products – as we discuss in the Moving Energy Initiative Report. Recognising this, Practical Action has developed an extensive portfolio of work on energy in humanitarian settings. This includes current research into how refugees practice and perceive energy, undertaken by working with communities to understand how refugees in Kenya engage with energy technologies and the objects that surround them, funded by the University of Edinburgh among others. By ‘objects’ or ‘energy supporter objects’, we mean items and technologies which are integral for, or attached to, sources of energy to make energy-use possible. These technologies can be seen as missing links between the energy supply (e.g. a solar panel) and the service (e.g. a fully charged mobile phone) – the energy supporter object is the phone charger, because without it the end energy use (charging a phone) is impossible. Other examples would include, matches, wires, cooking pots, vehicles for transport, and appliances such as clocks and headphones.

    Our research shows the extent to which communities maximise their total energy access needs by using a variety of energy objects and technologies. This goes far beyond having solar lanterns and improved cook-stoves, as, for people to use these products effectively, they require a great many additional technologies and objects.

    A comprehensive approach to energy poverty in humanitarian settings

    For humanitarian decision-makers to be fully aware of how communities’ use and value energy, we argue that it is vital that the total energy life of refugees is taken into consideration. Energy supporter objects form a core part of the realities of refugee lives, and systems of support and humanitarian response need to consider these physical things as well as basic energy access technologies to effectively work with communities. For example, a bicycle may not be considered an energy technology, but many people are reliant on this form of transport to enable them to move batteries to be charged, to transport firewood, and to deliver diesel fuel.

    Energy supporter objects in practice: Kakuma Refugee Camp

    One area Practical Action works in is Kakuma Refugee Camp, which is in the Turkana District of the north-west of Kenya. In Kakuma there are many diverse communities; with people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The camp population is currently estimated to be over 180,000 and has been in existence since 1992. In the past few years, the camp has expanded quickly with new arrivals coming from South Sudan or being relocated from Dadaab camp, which may close.

    In Kakuma, there are a dynamic set of markets, energy products and services available within the communities. During our research several types of ‘energy supporter objects’ emerged as being key to the community, including matches, wires, and phone chargers. The table below provides a summary of some of these objects and the type of ‘traditional energy objects’ they are often connected with or to in the Kenyan context.

    Communities solving their own problems

    While we don’t suggest that humanitarian agencies should provide energy supporter objects as part of their responses or aid programmes, we want to draw attention to the ways local communities are already solving these problems themselves. Many of the refugee and host community businesses that exist within or close to refugee camps are already centred on energy supporter objects and are supplying this demand gap themselves. For example, the picture below shows a refugee business owner who sells solar panels. But in his shop, there are also batteries, matches, torches, extension cables, light bulbs, chargers, speakers, sound systems and radios. By supporting and facilitating these markets, humanitarian responders have an ideal opportunity to also support income generating opportunities and the self-sufficiency of refugees – which can lead to increased human development and wellbeing of communities.

    Refugees’ energy access priorities in reality

    In many cases, our research found that the energy supporter objects were more central to business owners and refugee households than the source of energy itself. The picture below shows a music store in Kakuma camp, the owner of whom has multiple energy appliances: a computer, screens, keyboard, fans, a television and sound system. The source of energy for this business was actually a mini-grid connection, however, when discussing energy, the business owner focused almost exclusively on the appliances and uses of energy. This finding is in-keeping with Practical Action’s Poor People’s Energy Outlook report series, which has long maintained that it is not the energy supply but energy services that matter most to marginalised people – people care about what they can do with the energy, not where it comes from.

    We suggest that NGOs and practitioners can focus on the way that people use energy and the practical realities of living as a refugee, to more successfully deliver support and energy access technologies. Understanding energy supporter objects is one angle that could be used to achieve this. More information on the energy lives of refugees and displaced people is available from the Moving Energy Initiative and Practical Action’s work on humanitarian energy.

    1 Comment » | Add your comment
  • Energy and forced displacement


    September 25th, 2017

    A blog authored by Anna Noëlle Okello and Robert Magori

    Due to conflicts and environmental change, we are currently witnessing the highest number of displaced people since recorded history. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are over 65 million displaced people in the world, with more than 21 million living in refugee camps. This is the highest number of displaced people in recorded history.

    Historically, the application of humanitarian principles of protection and assistance in contexts of forced displacement has focused on the provision of shelter, food, water, sanitation and health. But when people are displaced, they also leave their access to energy services behind. In fact, according to the Chatham House report: The Current State of Sustainable Energy Provision for Displaced Populations, 89% of displaced people living in spaces of temporary or prolonged displacement have no access to electricity at all. It is important to note that access to energy has been a missing pillar in the humanitarian response to forced displacement.

    Practical Action has collaborated with the University of Edinburgh to address this gap through a project on humanitarian energy named; “Energy and Forced Displacement: A Qualitative Approach to Light, Heat and Power in Refugee Camps”, or Displaced Energy in short, which is funded by the UK Research Councils – ESRC and AHRC. This research project is in partnership with the Moving Energy Initiative (MEI) and the UNHCR. MEI is an initiative of the UNHCR, the Department for International Development (DFID), and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), alongside Chatham House – The Royal Institute for International Affairs, and international non-governmental organizations Practical Action and the Global Village Energy Partnership (GVEP). MEI aims to make sustainable energy provision a key part of responses to forced displacement and humanitarian emergency, by designing and piloting new approaches and models for sustainable energy provision among displaced populations.

    The Displaced Energy Project is running simultaneously in Burkina Faso (Goudoubou Refugee Camp) and Kenya (Kakuma Refugee Camp). These sites have been selected because they allow the project to build directly on a quantitative survey of energy access undertaken for the MEI, and because they allow for a comparison of energy cultures. The project is informed by specialists in Social Anthropology and Design at the University of Edinburgh, and Practical Action’s energy researchers are currently collecting 50 case studies of everyday energy practices in the two camps. The Goudoubou refugee camp is located in the Sahel Region, Burkina Faso. Goudoubou hosts over 9,000 refugees. It grew out of political and military unrest that began in Mali in January 2012, which led to a mass exodus of civilians into Burkina Faso. Research by MEI has shown that a household in Goudoubou needs over 100 kilos of firewood per month for cooking alone. But in the camp each beneficiary receives just 12 kilos of firewood, and must buy or forage the rest of the firewood in the scarce environment.

    Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana County, northwestern Kenya. The camp is home to approximately 180,000 refugees from neighbouring South Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, Congo and Ethiopia. Also in Kakuma, firewood is the main source of cooking fuel. Every month 10kg of firewood is distributed to the beneficiaries by the UNHCR and their local partners but, as in Goudoubou, distributed firewood meets less than 20% of the domestic energy needs of the households. A new and more sustainable approach to energy provision is therefore needed.

    The objectives of the Displaced Energy Project are to inform future energy policy and practice in the humanitarian sector, and to establish new principals for the design and procurement of energy products and services.  The project uses qualitative research methods to assess in what ways refugees and host communities use and need light, heat and power. Furthermore, the Displaced Energy Project findings will be complimentary to the previously done quantitative MEI study dataset and will provide an even stronger grasp on the beneficiaries’ energy behaviours, needs, desires and routines. Dimensions that are essential, but often overlooked, when designing products, services and humanitarian responses that will actually fit into the beneficiaries’ life.

    Through this project, Practical Action contributes to safe, reliable and sustainable energy solutions, which reduce the vulnerability of refugees and ultimately aid in the rebuilding of their lives.

     

    No Comments » | Add your comment
  • Beyond the jargon – why I’m participating in the UNLEASH Innovation Lab


    August 11th, 2017

    Here are some phrases many of us in the international development sector hate: innovative ideas, scale and scalability, accelerating impact, disrupting ‘business as usual’. These words have been so over-used that they’ve lost all meaning, and yet they continue to be plastered (mostly inappropriately) all over development programmes and initiatives.

    So when I read about UNLEASH, a ‘global innovation lab’ for ‘innovative, implementable and scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals’ that brings together 1000 ‘young global talents’ to ‘accelerate disruptive ideas by engaging top talents in problem-solving and co-creation’, I admit my first reaction was…eye roll.

    Emma working

    However, though I might be a sceptic of the international development sector, I’m an optimist when it comes to the potential for positive change in the world to happen.

    So when I looked closer at UNLEASH, I looked beyond the jargon, and I saw something with potential. UNLEASH is bringing together smart young people, people with energy and experience and fresh ideas, and facilitating a hands-on experience that allows them to learn and work together to help solve very big problems. This is very interesting to me for three reasons.

    1. There’s a big problem I care a lot about solving.

    Improved cooking stove in Kenya

    I care a lot about the access gap – the fact that billions of people still lack access to very basic technologies and services like electricity, clean water and clean cooking facilities. Five years ago I co-founded a social business called Pollinate Energy to tackle the access gap in urban slums in India. Pollinate Energy uses door-to-door sales agents to distribute products like solar lights, water filters and clean cookstoves on credit to people who otherwise have no ability to access or pay for these kinds of technologies. Today, I work at Practical Action and collaborate with actors from across the sector to figure out how we can better support organisations like Pollinate Energy and improve distribution channels to close the access gap for the world’s poorest.

    2. I solve problems most effectively when I work with a team who care as much as I do.

    I co-founded Pollinate Energy with 5 other young people, and we worked together in a highly collaborative, iterative environment. We had different skillsets and personalities, we pushed each other and learnt from each other, and there was plenty of conflict. We made rapid decisions and many mistakes, but we also adapted quickly. While there are some people who would undoubtedly hate this approach to working, I loved it. UNLEASH is seeking to create a similar ‘start-up’ environment for people who share a vision. When I’m in this kind of environment I am at my best and can make a real contribution.

    3. UNLEASH seems to genuinely value and promote diversity.

    Participants at UNLEASH are coming from 129 countries, and it seems the majority are coming from the ‘global south’ which is a refreshing change. Just over half of participants are women. And participants have been chosen based on their experience in tackling the problems that the lab is trying to solve. This kind of diversity is critical to tackling any big challenge, but especially international development challenges.

    The idea of an ‘innovation lab’ that brings together different stakeholders to try and solve development challenges is not wholly new. But it’s hard to find research on whether other innovation labs have actually had an impact. Have they produced new solutions that work? Have they made hidden issues more visible or built momentum that has forced action? Have they developed the skills and knowledge of practitioners? I don’t know – and it seems the international community needs to put more effort into measuring the success of these kinds of initiatives – but I think there’s no question that UNLEASH has potential. And not just potential to deliver on its goals of building solutions to the SDGs, but also potential to prove that innovation labs can have a genuine impact.

    To a large extent, the success of UNLEASH will rest on the shoulders of the 1000 young leaders who have been given the opportunity to be involved. We can go a long way towards delivering on the goals of UNLEASH if we:

    • genuinely build on experience and lessons learnt, and don’t reinvent the wheel
    • use systems thinking to truly understand the problems we’re trying to solve and why these problems exists in the first place
    • come with the right attitude and in the right spirit, not focusing on building our own networks / promoting our own business / adding to our CV.

    If we can do this, we might produce some interesting new ideas and approaches that the whole international development community can benefit from. And hopefully some of these ideas and approaches will help us close the access gap for the world’s poorest.

    No Comments » | Add your comment