Explaining Practical Action to my dad!


July 24th, 2014

My father visited us last weekend for my daughters 18th birthday. Lots of nice food, some wine and good conversation. But he has been reading the Daily Mail and after years of supporting my work in international development he suddenly decided to quiz me.

His big question – or lots of questions wrapped into one  – was ‘how do you differ from Oxfam, why is is what you do important and what do you believe in?’

I started with the last question first and the official Practical Action answer ‘we believe in Technology Justice: A sustainable world free of poverty and injustice in which technology is used to the benefit of all’.

He doesnt drink alcohol but even so his eyes glazed over – too much jargon I suspect. I tried the simpler answer we believe in working together with people to develop and deliver practical, sustainable solutions. And we are good at it!

For people who live in areas covered by water during the monsoon season, such as the riverine areas of Bangladesh, it is impossible to grow crops. Practical Action has developed a technology to allow farmers to grow food on flooded land.

Harvesting crops from a floating garden in Gaibandha, Bangladesh

I always find examples help people understand best what Practical Action does and I love our work on podcasts and floating gardens. So talked about new solutions to old problems such as podcasts to disseminate animal health information to farmers in Zimbabwe. My dad loves animals and is deeply committed to their welfare. So he started to look interested at this.

I also talked about rediscovering and re-engineering old solutions to new problems, such as using ‘floating gardens’ for Bangladeshi farmers made landless by river erosion. They are great – the rafts are from the stems of water hyacinths which are a weed and they enable communities to grow food during the monsoon. The original floating gardens were developed by the Aztecs – which I always think is pretty wow!

Getting into my flow I started talking about Technology Justice and used another example – drinking water.

My dad loves history so I talked about the Romans building pipes and acquaducts to get fresh water into their cities. About the Victorians in UK cities engineering sewage systems to take away waste. And yet how even today lots of poor people in the developing world dont have access to clean water and decent sewers, so lots of people including lots of kids get ill and die.

For me this is technology injustice hitting you in the face. We have the knowledge and technology to prevent these deaths – we should be able to do soemthing about it.

I think – or maybe hope-  at the end of the conversation my dad thought we are a clever organisation, making practical things happen, working together with people. I could tell he loved some of our stories and suspect he’ll be looking at our website – may even read this! But I suspect next time I see him Ill get more questions – Im hoping they will be about how you build a floating garden. I might catch him testing one out on his pond!

 

 

 

 

Leave a reply