Blogs tagged as Policy and Practice

  • Market based resilience building in Bangladesh


    July 26th, 2018

    For the past week I have been visiting the Practical Action programme in Bangladesh to support their work on resilience programming. I attended the wrap up meeting of the GRP Project, worked with the consultant team undertaking the final external evaluation of the project, helped staff in the flood resilience programme design activities for the next phase of the project and attended the meeting of the Markets Development forum.

    Bangladesh is a relatively young nation achieving independence in 1971 and being described by the then US foreign secretary as a bottomless basket. The country has progressed considerably in the recent past and Bangladesh set a landmark record in poverty alleviation by reducing it by 24.6% between 2000 and 2016, meaning more than 20.5 million people escaped the poverty line to find better lives for themselves. Bangladesh has also been praised in the world media for its outstanding successes with regards to various socio-economic indicators, such as the rate of literacy and life expectancy.

    A demonstration of the commitment of the country to a market driven development approach was clearly demonstrated at the Markets Development Day that I was fortunate enough to attend. I gained a deeper insights into their valuable contribution to market driven development particularly as I was invited to provide the conference wrap up, due to the last minute withdrawal of the pre-agreed speaker. In summarising the conference I was made aware of the diversity of challenges matched to the wealth of critical thinking by the development actors in this forum.

    The Market Development Forum is a forum of over 25 likeminded organisations exploring the use of markets based approaches to poverty reduction. As highlighted above Bangladesh has made significant gains in this area, but this is not felt equally by everyone. The theme of this year’s conference recognises this with the topic “Unblocking barriers to markets” with specific focus on the following;

    • Youth and jobs, in recognition of the rapidly growing youth population facing challenges with inadequate growth in the jobs markets
    • Humanitarian Context, the role of markets in humanitarian relief, especially reflecting that Bangladesh has recently seen the arrival of &&& Rohingya refugees
    • Financial inclusion, looking at linking the small scale informal financial systems developed in poor rural areas with mainstream finance and access to traditional banking and credit
    • Women’s Economic Empowerment, many economic sectors are dependent on predominantly women works with the garments sector the largest GDP revenue earner
    • Reaching the disabled, how to make markets truly inclusive and ensure that the many disabled people in Bangladesh have equal access
    • Social services, markets development on its own is inadequate this session looks at the parallel development of social systems necessary to support and stabilise poverty reduction benefits in often precarious markets

    I was impressed not only at the level of participation in the conference, but also the diversity of organisations and perspectives displayed. The presentations were excellent and the question and answer sessions expanded the discussion indicating the depth and breadth of markets development thinking in the country.

    What were some of the key take home messages I picked up from the conference?

    For the markets in humanitarian context the challenges highlighted are in the case of the refugees is the almost instantaneous impact refugees have on existing value chains. The presenter highlighted that in Cox’s Bazaar where the refugee camps are located, the labour markets has collapsed from 500bdt[1] per day to less than 100, while the price of construction materials have increased with the price of raw bamboo poles tripling in price. In the flood case study the flood severs markets, causing value chains to be broken, as access to services, input and export markets become severed. In this situations it is important not to overlook the role of markets in the pre flood disaster planning, to ensure that forecasts and weather information are used to inform the markets actors to ensure that activities are matched to expected conditions and if extreme flood events are expected the critical supplies can be pre-positions for rapid deployment in the case of a flood event becoming a human disaster. Tools such as Emergency Markets Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) and Pre-Crisis Markets Assessment (PCMA) are invaluable tools to help agencies plan for markets based engagement in humanitarian contexts.

    For the youth and job sessions the situation in Bangladesh is challenging. The country has a growing youth population but insufficient employment opportunities to offer this potential workforce. In addition the traditional education system is failing to deliver the practical skills necessary for employment. So structural changes to job markets need to start in the education system. The projects presented are looking to develop appropriate opportunities for these workers, including self-employment in formal as well as less formal emerging sectors. Finally for youth employment it is important to look at the right supporting services including Sexual and Reproductive Health, Gender Based Violence, skills training and job placements.

    In the women’s economic empowerment, the first session highlighted the differential access to information for women and men. One project explored how the provision of information to women enabled them to explore alternative livelihood opportunities. Traditional extension services are focussed on providing services to men and male dominated institutions. New technologies can provide access to formerly disconnected groups. For example SMS messages reach wider audience and voice messages can reach illiterate members. The presenters reported that access to information is certainly benefiting women’s economic empowerment. But more importantly does the access to information lead to changes in the behaviours between women and men? Early indications are that access to information, is leading to women informally helping their neighbours and men being more tolerant of women’s engagement in additional activities and accepting if meals are late.

    In my closing remarks I commented on the refreshing absence of any market maps in the presentations. It is important to recognise that they are a vital tool in markets driven development, but can provide a very unclear method to share findings with a large audience. It was great to get the core messages from their markets projects without descending into the nitty gritty of the value chain, the key actors, the supporting services, or the limits and opportunities presented by the enabling environment. My final comment was on the absence of the care economy in any of the sessions I attended. I was surprised in a forum in which gendered markets development projects were being presented that I learned little about the traditional role of women and men and the implications for the markets driven development on women’s existing role as the care giver.

    [1] BDT Bangladesh Taka (100 BDT = 90 pence)

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  • Technology for Development


    June 28th, 2018

    Why is technology justice central to international development?

    As history demonstrates, technology provides a catalyst for change. Practical Action has been working on flood Early Warning Systems (EWS) for over ten years and we have seen not only technology adoption taking place but also social change occurring.

    At the Technology for Development conference the focus is very much on the former, but in my active participation and interaction with the conference delegates I am interested to explore the latter.

    Looking beyond the hardware

    Practical Action’s experience of developing EWS, demonstrates the benefit that new technologies can have on development. However, although technology may provide a jump in capability, understanding the nature of the change is vital if these developments are to be maintained. We need to understand the causal factors in adoption and what are the threats to this progress being maintained?

    EWS appear to have a transformational impact on the communities that they reach, although this transformation doesn’t take place immediately in synchrony with the delivery of the technology, there is a time lag between the rollout of the technology and the social change needed to embed the EWS into people’s lives.

    For EWSs the following greatly simplified process takes place:

    • Phase one – No EWS, the community lives at high risk, they may implement a basic observation based systems and flee at the onset of each flood event, but losses accumulate as population density and climate change impacts progress;
    • Phase two – EWS arrives but trust is not yet built so impact on behaviours is limited. Critical is the provision of reliable warning combined with the delivery of actionable warning that people can understand and follow;
    • Phase three – community members begin to trust the EWS system, they begin to rely on it as rainfall events, this starts to adjust behaviours, rather than fleeing when the warning is announced they prepare for the evacuation, and in the process they start to learn about what preparedness actions are the most beneficial;
    • Phase four – communities begin learning about hazard profiles, and that no floods are the same, they start to recognise critical impacts and trends in the hazard event, this learning leads to adaptations in their lives and livelihoods to limit loss and damage.

     

    At the Technology for Development conference we are hearing a lot about the success of the technology systems, but less about the impacts these systems have on people’s lives. People almost seem to be passive beneficiaries rather than components in the system. As we have learned, the EWS must become integrated into people’s lives. This will enable people living in flood prone areas to be empowered and informed to live with the risks they face.

    Looking at the roll out of EWSs, and how this is being reported in the key global agreement, we find a similar disconnect. Reporting for global agreements is too focussed on the technology roll out and not on the impact the technology has on avoided losses. Most systems are focussed too heavily on the monitoring and warning components and most systems are failing to reach the poorest and most hazard prone.

    Recommendations

    Investment in technology is vital if we are to deliver on the SDG’s, to put the Sendai framework for DRR into practice and to meet the global obligations under the Paris Agreement and hence avoid the disaster of climate induced change. Central to delivery under the Paris Agreement is the need for a financing mechanism under the Loss and Damage mechanism to ensure investment to put in place to ensure avoidable losses are maximised.

    EWS are vital transformational mechanisms, not as simple silver bullets but as catalysts for behavioural change. It’s not just the hardware but the orgware and software that also requires investment, time and patience, and the system must be owned and for the communities to ensure these benefits are delivered.

    Find out more

     

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  • Why universal access to the Internet should become a priority for Practical Action?


    June 27th, 2018

    This is the second part of “doing development in a digital world“ blog series. You can read the first part here.

    The Internet has had profound impact on our lives – from accessing information to communication with each other to civic participation. But for many people, access to the Internet is still a privilege, not a right. In this post, I would argue why universal access to the Internet should be a priority for Practical Action.

    The progress to achieve the global goal of “universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020” has been slow. ITU estimates that 3.9 billion people don’t have access to Internet, majority of them live in Global South. As an example, let’s take the countries where Practical Action operates (see Chart 1). Only Kenya and Peru have “significant” number of internet users – slightly over 40% of population. The lowest is Bangladesh at 14.4%. 

    Chart 1: Internet use in Practical Action focus countries (Source: SDG tracker)

    If we apply the gender lens, the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than men. In Africa, this gap is widens to 25%. Despite the popularity of mobile internet, South Asian women are 26% less likely to own a phone than men and 70% less likely to use mobile internet.

    At current pace, it will take another 20 years to connect the world.

    Access to the Internet is closely associated with human rights: right to freedom of expression, privacy and freedom of association. The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution in 2016: “[the] rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. Nevertheless, digital rights are systematically undermined.

    We witnessed how governments and tech companies abuses their power to exert greater control over the Internet and markets. Authorities in Zimbabwe shutted down WhatsApp during anti government protests in 2016. Early this month, Bangladeshi authorities blocked a popular news portal “the Daily Star” for more than 18 hours without explanation. The Facebook data harvesting scandal and the accusation in conducting mass surveillance were another blow to the internet freedom.

    What makes me optimistic is that citizens and organisations around the world actively involved in access to the Internet debates. Around 80 organisations have joined Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) to “overcoming the affordability barrier to access for women, the poor, rural dwellers, and other marginalised populations”. India’s citizens fought and won the case for the net neutrality protection. Last year, India’s Supreme Court asserted the right to privacy protection.

    Chart 2: What ICT trend will positively impact the aid/development sector over the next 5 years? (Source: Catholic Relief Services)

    As highlighted by 619 senior development professionals participated in Catholic Relief Services’ ICT international survey, connectivity, i.e. access to the Internet, will have more positive impact than other technologies (see Chart 2). On the condition, of course, that people can  access and use Internet in a meaningful way. What the experience has taught us, we can’t completely rely to governments and big tech companies to work on these issues, however good are their intentions. Citizens, CSOs and NGOs should participate and build alliances for making universal access to the Internet reality as well as for the protection of digital rights.  

    I believe Practical Action is in the position to support these efforts. After all, people need reliable, affordable and secure Internet connection to access services that are provided by Practical Action. Practical Action could build upon its experience providing internet access to rural communities in Bolivia under the Willay Program 2007-2014. This wouldn’t be easy but feasible. As argued in my previous post, it would require commitment, time and investments. 

     

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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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  • 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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  • Doing development in a digital world, and what does this mean for Practical Action?


    May 3rd, 2018

    This is the first part of “doing development in a digital world“ blog series. You can read the second part here.

    Practical Action has recently initiated a discussion – involving staff from the head office, and regional and country offices (RCOs) as well as Matt Haikin – on the subject of doing development in a digital world. What and how Practical Action can play role in this new paradigm?

    Many digital technologies have already been widely adopted in (global) development. Mobile data collection and dashboard, for example, are now omnipresent. Multi-channel communication, such as a website, mobile phone and social media are used simultaneously to reach target audiences. Emerging technologies, such as big data and AI, have been tested to predict disease outbreaks.

    The broader development benefits of digital technologies or digital dividends, however, is unevenly distributed (see picture). In many parts of the world people who don’t have access to the internet nor digital skills are unable to reap their benefits. Women, in particular, are being left behind in the digital revolution. From the project perspective, the concerns about the scale and sustainability in ICT4D, as well as in the broader development sector, remain acute.

     

    Why digital dividends are not spreading rapidly—and what can be done (source: World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends)

     

    DFID Digital Strategy 2018 to 2020 acknowledges the potential of digital technologies “to revolutionise the lives of the poor, unlock development and prosperity, and accelerate progress towards the Global Goals”. It lays out the strategy for achieving those ambitious objectives. Though slightly late in the game – for example USAID launched its digital strategy in 2014 and SIDA – in 2005 – the DFID digital strategy is nevertheless equally important, because it will impact the development sector especially in the UK and its priority countries.

    As digital technologies come out of age, NGOs are adopting new ways of working, increasing investments into digital technologies, building their capacities, conducting research and participating in digital policy debates. NGOs which have the skills and capacity are indeed more prepared for the rapid changes in the sector. They also have the ability to assess and mitigate digital risks. Across the sector, we’ve also seen leadership playing important role for the success of digital technologies intervention.

    Practical Action has aspiring goal “to transform the way technology is being used to improve the lives of poor people”. Digital technologies is inevitably to be part of it. What Practical Action can do to achieve this objective? In the process of the discussion mentioned above, several suggestions emerged:

    • A clear organisation strategy is required for integrating ICT4D across the organisation. What is our core proposition in ICT4D? Who are our target audiences and how can we reach them effectively? How can we align the organisation strategy with the government policies and regulations? Should we join coalitions like Data4SDGs, Internet Governance Forum, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition and Alliance for Affordable Internet, and sign up to the Principles for Digital Development and Responsible Data practice, for example? Then the questions around availability of resources in term of time, financial and personnel.
    • Building capacity of staff members in the head office and RCOs. What is the organisation capacity to realise the benefits of digital technologies? Should we to provide staff members at all levels with digital literacy and data literacy skills? How can we reduce the skills gap in RCOs?
    • Providing technical support for staff members implementing ICT4D projects on the ground. Currently, we use the “community of practice” approach for sharing learning internally. Dedicated technical support may be required in the future. Do we need more hybrid ICT4D roles, i.e. those who possess understanding and skills in digital technologies and development, in RCOs? Or should we establish ICT4D central team to support operations in RCOs? Would hybrid structures and management models – halfway between centralised standards and local and flexible structures – be more suitable?
    • Improving the way we use digital technologies in projects. The application of digital technologies in DRR, WASH and Agriculture has delivered mixed results so far. How can we systematise and standardise our ICT4D approach? Can we adopt a technology principle to minimise the risks and improve project results? How can we ensure our digital solutions are widely shared and replicated?
    • Adopting digital technologies for measuring project performance. Monitoring and Evaluation is an area where digital technologies add value. In the past, we used different data collection platforms for research and M&E purposes. Have we identified pros and cons of these platforms? Is there a data collection and analysis platform that fits with our global operations? How can we collect good quality data, analyse and present it in the right format for target audiences?
    • New thematic work in digital technologies should be considered. Relevant examples are digital financial inclusion, last mile connectivity, gender and digital inclusion, the Internet of Things, digital rights, e-waste management and data for development. Latin America Office has experience implementing eGovernment projects in rural areas. Can we channel some of our ICT4D efforts to the critical issue in the region: improving citizen engagement, government transparency and accountability? Should we conduct research and advocacy-based evidence in the future, for instance, to fill the gaps in project interventions?

    Using digital technologies in the context of development is no longer optional. NGOs are changing the way they do development. The mapping exercise and discussions on this subject should be seen as a starting point. This is an ongoing process, rather than an one-off one, and would require active participation from key staff members, coordination and organisational support.

     

    More reading:

    Haikin, Matt (2018) A landscape review of digital technologies trends; their use in the international development sector (ICT4D) and potential relevance to Practical Action. Internal Report. Unpublished.

    This post was updated on 06/06/2018 with suggestion from Carlos Frias on eGovernment/Civic Tech in Latin America. 

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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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  • 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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  • 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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