Blogs tagged as Policy and Practice

  • What if the ‘last mile’ was our first priority?


    March 13th, 2019

    Empowering women in the energy access sector is a no brainer. Including the perspectives and skillsets of over 50% of the population is not just the right thing to do, it benefits businesses materially and financially – as Value4Women and Shell and BURN Manufacturing demonstrate. Given this win-win situation, why are some people still not convinced?

    Pushing for progress

    63rd Commission on the Status of Women logo

    CSW63 is taking place from 11 to 22 March 2019 at the United Nations in New York.

    At the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this week I heard that just 18% of Asian Development Bank investments/programmes have a gender equality component compared to 79% for the WASH sector, which is ‘better suited’ to gender mainstreaming. Given energy’s role in enabling health, education and productive and social development, surely we should all be doing better than 18% by now…

    SDG7 and SDG5 are mutually reinforcing

    Our work with energy-poor communities shows that gender equality and universal energy access are mutually reinforcing. When women participate meaningfully in energy access markets, they enjoy wider empowerment outcomes (i.e. improved intra-household power dynamics), and energy access is increased – including in ‘last mile’ communities living beyond the reach of the grid and outside the conscience of most decision-makers.

    But we also know it’s tough for women to thrive as energy consumers and entrepreneurs. As our Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2017 explores, women’s lack of access to appropriate finance, particularly when it comes to scaling their energy enterprises, is a huge challenge. In each and every session I have attended this year at CSW, the ‘access to finance issue’ has come up – across sectors and geographies – and I can’t help but feel like gender inequality will remain out of reach if we don’t crack this. Other challenges to women’s participation in energy access markets include reduced mobility due to family responsibilities; little knowledge of core business skills; and low self-belief.

    North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project

    In the North Darfur Low Smoke Stoves Project local Women’s Development Associations help provide finance for energy-poor households to cook more cleanly and safely.

    What are we doing to enable women energy entrepreneurs?

    We’ve teamed up with women across different energy access value chains in Kenya and Sudan, to build their capacities in business, computer and financial management skills, while also providing professional and personal mentorship to help build their confidence as valuable stakeholders. Crucially, we’ve done this in partnership with the private and public sectors to develop their understanding and activities around women entrepreneurs’ needs and contributions; and advocated for local and national stakeholders to proactively mainstream gender throughout energy policy, planning and delivery.

    It’s not rocket science!

    This is about creating systems and processes that proactively include people who are traditionally overlooked, at all stages of the project cycle: from design to evaluation. It’s at the heart of the Poor People’s Energy Outlook 2018, which explores how to deliver energy access at scale while also leaving no one behind. In fact, it’s a thread running throughout our work at Practical Action – in our Renewable Energy for Refugees (RE4R) programme and the Global Distributors Collective (GDC), which provides support to last-mile distributors in the energy access (and other) sector. Taking an inclusive lens to energy access is not rocket science – but it IS the difference between catalyzing progress and stifling development.

     

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  • Women central to an effective response to changing climates


    March 7th, 2019

    #BalanceforBetter

    Climate change is now accepted as a global crisis, but solutions have so far been inadequate and have largely ignored human and gender dimensions. This is despite the fact that marginalised and poor people, including women, are affected first and hit hardest. Recent evidence indicates that women’s views, needs and their participation has been largely excluded from the design and planning of climate change responses, including major policies. Moreover, women are often perceived primarily as victims, and not as equal and active partners in risk reduction, adaptation and mitigation strategies. Recent hazards highlight this dilemma.  Women and children are fourteen times more likely to die than a man during a disaster event. In the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh which killed approximately 140,000 people, the mortality rate of women over 40 was 31%.  And in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami more than 70% of the dead were women. Why, because women stayed behind to look for their children, or older relatives. Women in this region often can’t swim or climb trees, which meant that they couldn’t escape.

    Women carrying fire wood Dibyapur, Nawalparasi, Nepal

    Women are typically more vulnerable due to their dependence on natural resources and structural inequalities in their access to economic resources, as well as social and religious stereotypes. A common example is the cultural position of women within the home: unable to participate in public conversations, women are often kept from receiving emergency warning or climate adaptation information. In particular, women in remote communities are more vulnerable due to their marginalized position and lack of access to and understanding of alternatives.

    Practical Action has long recognized the centrality of gender in effective climate smart development and we have now prioritized gender alongside climate technology in all the work we do.  To do this effectively we need to recognize that women and men perceive and experience the rapid impacts of natural hazards and the slower consequences of changing climates differently. We need to factor this into our engagement strategies, the way we interact and work with communities and the project development plans that guide their work.  But perhaps most importantly we need to lead by example.

    We have long recognized that women are all too often seen as victims of climate change and disasters. We realize that we can challenge this perception and promote the fact that they are well positioned to be agents of change through mitigation, management and adaptive activities in their households, workplaces, communities and countries if the necessary socio-cultural changes are promoted, and this means engaging men to accept this change. One of our recent studies found that community institutions such as disaster management committees were better managed, finding that institutions that lacked effective women’s participation and leadership were at least 20% less effective.

    Women fish farmer, Jessore Bangladesh

    Women can be effective leaders within their communities when it comes to addressing the harmful effects of climate change. Where women can help devise early warning systems and reconstruction efforts, communities may fare better when natural hazards strike a second time. Women’s innovation have been heralded in sectors such as water, energy and reforestation – all of which are critical climate change issues. Their efforts must be incorporated into climate change policies from the outset and promoted through capacity building. But a major obstacle to this may be their participation above the household or community level. Our experience indicates women’s participation at these levels is limited, and that this probably prevents their experiences and perceptions from shaping higher levels of decision-making power. Women’s input in these arenas will be needed if gender is to figure more prominently in policy and practice, and that this policy and practice will meet the needs of 100% of the population and not just the 50% who currently dominate.

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  • Building resilience from the weakest links


    February 28th, 2019

    The weakest link is the limit of strength of the chain. No matter how strong the other links are, individually, the chain can be no stronger.

    When we engage in international development, we are often challenged to work at the system level.  We are expected as outsiders to be able to understand the complex and complicated series of interconnections of interrelated causes and effects.  But in these systems, doesn’t it follow that the poorest and most hazard prone are the weakest links in this overall system? Doesn’t it therefore not make sense that to build resilience or reduce risk that we need to focus on these weakest links? Isn’t it these weakest links in the community around which the resilience of that community must be built?

    But as development professionals are we any good at unpacking this complexity and being able to identify these weakest links?  Isn’t the development dice loaded in the favour of the slightly better of, the more eloquent and those members that have the time, energy and wherewithal to reach out to the project, to meet with the project staff and articulate their concerns?

    Lesson one, we mustn’t confuse the complexity and the muddied reality of the field with a simple chain in which the weakest links can easily be identified.

    We need to be aware of how ‘we’ as development practitioners frame the development challenge and how this framing of the questions we ask can influence. What we ask influences what the community ‘hear’ and their ‘understanding’.  Poverty, hunger, vulnerability to natural hazards or climate change are not ‘characteristics’ of different groups of people. But in development speak this is all too often how they are portrayed.  When we talk about ‘lifting people out of poverty’, or ‘building their resilience’ are we avoiding ‘the underlying cause’ of the problem and instead working on the ‘symptom’?

    People are poor or vulnerable not as a result of the natural hazard or due to climate change , but due to inequality or poor sanitation, living in the wrong location, not having a voice or not having access to services available in the wider community. So its paramount that before we do anything that we understand the local context, while recognising that this context will be complicated, it will be messy and it will be complex.

    Lesson two this complexity isn’t insurmountable, there are some nifty tools to help out…

    To help us unpack and start to understand these underlying causes its vital that we take time to engage, listen and learn. We need to borrow from the skills sets of anthropologists or sociologists to understand the multidimensional human interactions that are the modus operandi of how the project will influence. There are a wide variety of tools to help us do this, but sadly in the modern development sector with tight deadlines and the need to be seen to be delivering these are often forgotten. Are we too eager to start fixing the problem? Are we forgetting to establish a strong foundation upon which to build the development process?

    And how are we measuring success? Are we guilty of translating the smiling faces and nods of agreement as confirmation that we are on the right track, rather than critically assessing our actions and the implications of these actions on the community or group that we are working with?

    Final lesson:  Don’t despair, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

    We must remain vigilant. Even if you do not speak the local language, as development practitioners we can all observe and see the manifestations of local power dynamics playing out in front of us. We must remain aware of the processes within power systems that could underlie the causes of many of the problems identified. Its often difficult, especially for local project staff, to find the motivation to assess the power relationships, instead relying on ‘systems mappings’ undertaken through ‘stakeholder engagements’ that reinforce existing assumptions?

    Nobody today would question the challenge of gender equity and the importance of bringing women into the development process.  But as we have observed this shift from gender neutral to gender sensitive to gender transformative is difficult, is occasionally seen as unnecessary and consumes time and resources.  But we must at all costs avoid being coerced and motivated to engage in projects and research that comes with ready-made framing that discourages or make it difficult to identify underlying causes and effects, that only reaches certain actors and leaves many excluded from the process?

    To avoid this we can ask simple questions like ‘Who is in the room?’ Who is speaking and why are they always speaking?’  ‘Why am I seeing the same faces every time I visit this community?’ ‘Why do people fall silent when someone new walks in the room?’  Its easy, all we need to do is take a moment, look out the window, are there people going about their daily business in the fields or in the nearby market, and if so why are they not in the room and engaging?

    When we engage in problem framing its vital to get to the bottom of the problem.  As I said at the beginning; to build resilience we need to be clear on whose resilience we are building and make sure that we are focused on the weakest link in the system. This is not only to ensure that no one is left behind, but to ensure that we are being honest to the community that we are purporting to support.  We need to be cautious in development, but appreciate that there are plenty of tools out there to help us do engagement better the most important of which are possibly our own eyes, ears and our own questions!

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  • COP OUT!


    December 20th, 2018

    The climate change talks in Katowice were a roller coaster of highs and lows with a wide variety of issues on the agenda. As diverse as the agenda were the claims of the parties to the convention. Some parties have made excellent suggestions to move the negotiations forward and equally some parties have made plain ridiculous statements, especially those challenging the findings of the scientific community. These diverse perspectives present on one hand faith in human kind and global collaboration, and that despite the challenges somehow we are going to sort this mess out and get back to a new ‘normal’, on the other hand the deniers of climate change, concerned of forgoing economic opportunity, promising continued economic growth, the promotion of fossil fuels and especially coal in the energy mix and making warnings against leaving even a drop of fossil fuel in the ground, appearing on the balance sheet as stranded assets.

    Some of the high points have been a change in the language of many of the key parties. Even six months ago many parties were still in denial on the topic of Loss and Damage. They were strenuously denying that irreversible impacts were occurring and that some people and nations were facing losses and damages as a result of changing climates. This denial extended to interesting language such as ‘extreme adaptation’ or proposals for ‘transformational approaches’ to development. However, this language has changed driven by two pieces of evidence. First, the underlying signal of climate breakdown appearing all around us. In 2017-8 the planet has faced numerous climate catastrophes and their frequency and severity can no long be denied, no one, not even those living in the developed world, is insulated from the impacts of climate change.

    Sunil Acharya from Practical Action Nepal sharing experiences of the Adaptation planning process

    Secondly, and very timely for this COP, was the publication of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on 1.5oC. The IPCC has worked tireless over the last two years to produce a “…special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” This report not only tells us what will happen if we exceed 1.5oC of warming, but more importantly provides a blueprint of what we need to do to prevent this happening. The report uses simple language, to explain what we need to do, what will happen if we don’t and the time frame for action. Starkly we have little more than a decade to bring emissions under control and any real chance to stabilise the climate at this level.

    But why do we go to the COP? We had a small but influential presence at the COP over the two weeks. We have once again punched above our weight against a backdrop in which some governments, research institutes, UN bodies and even some well know civil society organisations send delegations in the tens and hundreds. Although we only numbered three people at any one time, we actively contributed in a number of different ways. For example we engaged with and helped shape the position of civil society, in the first week no less than five articles appearing in the ECO negotiators bulletin including significant contributions from Practical Action. This bulletin is published daily and is widely read and valued by many of the negotiators. These articles shared the collective experience of Practical Action with recommendations of what needs to be done and how the negotiations should progress, to deliver not only on the climate change challenge but how to do this in a fair, equitable and transparent way.

    We were a partner in the launch of the innovative and propositional Climate Damages Tax, a polluter pays mechanism that seeks to require the fossil fuel industry to pay for the consequences of continued fossil fuel use.  This launch was widely picked up in the international media. We also participated in a number of side events, provided capacity building for developing country negotiators, and in our role as observers supported the views and positions of minorities and those unable to attend.

    It’s clear that for the negotiations to progress we need a new sense of global community, optimism and a renewed sense of urgency. The IPCC report made it clear that technologies already exist that would allow the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions in line with the 1.5oC goal of the Paris Agreement. But for these technologies to be rolled out there needs to be support and that support is needed in both finance and for capacity building. But what is lacking to unlock the climate finance challenge is political will.  A sense of collective effort that needs to be funded not only by donor governments but will also requires shifts in large scale investments stimulated through such innovative means as the climate damages tax.

    For myself the potential of the COP24 was best articulated by the words of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager. She was given the opportunity to address the parties and didn’t pander to the room. She spoke truth and wisdom to the assembled delegates. My hope is that the words and actions of the youngest members of society can inspire others to make the difficult decisions and enforce the actions necessary to respond to climate breakdown. This is the signal of hope coming from COP24 in Katowice – that the ask of future generations will be the stimulus necessary to generate the political will that is desperately missing to act now, before it’s too late.

     

     

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  • What next for Climate Change?


    December 3rd, 2018

    Today, at the climate conference Sir David Attenborough didn’t mince his words when he said that civilisation will collapse if humanity doesn’t take action on global warming. He had obviously read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5oC which documents the dire state of the global planetary system, something that has been picked up by mainstream media as a warning that we have 12 years left to save planet earth.

    “Right now we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years, Climate Change”

    Here in Katowice I can understand why he made such an impassioned plea. It really has been 24 years since the first gathering of climate negotiators took place following the ratification of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  And yes it has been three years since the Paris Agreement was signed heralding a new era in climate action and global optimism. However, since Paris a lot has changed and not only has the development environment become more contested, but also the consequences of global warming have become more evident. It is now clear that it’s not only the poorest and most vulnerable who will face the dire consequences of unbridled climate change, but also the people living in the developed world as testified by the recent forest fires that have overnight swept away people’s homes and their communities.

    So what are the key issues on the table and why is the Katowice climate COP so important?  The Paris Agreement which enters into force next year, heralds a new era of global action to tackle climate change. The Paris Agreement outlines in separate articles clear action on Mitigation, Adaptation and Loss and Damage and provides guidance on the global cooperation required to provide the finance, capacity building and technology needed to deliver the agreement.

    Thus the Katowice COP is the forum at which the rules for the Paris Agreement will be agreed.  The great thing about these rules is that they are applied to all countries equally regardless of their contribution or otherwise to the problem in the first place. But equally the rules need to recognise that not all countries have the systems and processes in place to monitor their contribution to tackle climate change from the outset and therefore the rules will recognise different capacities to implement and be applied accordingly. This flexibility creates an incentive for developed countries to support developing countries put these systems in place enabling genuine global contribution to tackle the problem.

    Secondly, following the publication of the dire warnings contained in the IPCC report this COP is an opportunity to ramp up ambition. It is clear that under current commitments the planet is on track for at least 3oC of warming. Importantly the IPCC report highlights just how much worse things will get with each increase in global temperatures so as Sir David Attenborough pointed out today, now is a great time to review existing promises and for each country to increase their commitments, to ramp up their ambition.

    Finally, nothing happens without political will and the resources required. So this COP is a great opportunity for world leaders to make the commitments necessary for the green transition and for developed countries to commit the resources, technology and skills to support the developing countries accelerate action to adapt to changing climates and start to deliver the support necessary to address Loss and Damage.

    It is worthwhile to remember that the brunt of climate change will be felt first and hardest by the people least responsible for the problem in the first place. So isn’t it right that the developed world should step up to the plate and help their transition to a more resilient and sustainable future? Surely such a transition would have dividends for us all? As these new consumers of products would reinvigorate stalling global markets, their future security would reduce the drivers for migration and displacement, and the sense of global community will reignite the fires of global cooperation and reciprocity.

    So will Katowice a city in the heart of the Polish coal industry deliver a successful outcome? A lot has changed in the last few weeks following the publication of the IPCC report. I am hopeful that the planetary elder statesmen of Europe, India and China will step into the void created by the absence of the US and nurture the negotiations onto the path necessary for a successful outcome, watch this space.

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  • IPCC special report on 1.5°C


    October 8th, 2018

    In 2015 the Paris Agreement, the global compact signed by the governments of the planet to tackle climate change, was agreed. In the negotiated process to reach this agreement some governments still had doubts about the degree of warming that was acceptable and necessary to maintain global development. These governments led by Saudi Arabia, asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to undertake a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Recognising as we do that some increased emissions in developing countries may be necessary in efforts to eradicate poverty. This report and the summary for policy makers, based on review of more than 6,000 independent research papers was released on Monday 8th October at 3am UK time.

    The report identifies that human activities have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and if action isn’t forthcoming global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C by 2030. This warming is set to persist for generations even if zero emissions pathways were implemented immediately. The report indicates that current global challenges related to heatwaves in inhabited regions (high confidence), increased rainfall and flooding in several regions (medium confidence), and expanding drought (medium confidence). So the heatwaves, forest fires, tropical storms, flood and droughts aren’t going to go away any time soon.

     

    Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C is projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain (high confidence). Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C. So we need to act and we need to act now.

    One existing opportunity is to link action to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It has long been realised that tackling climate change is essential to deliver on the SDG’s. The graphic below illustrates the linkages between mitigation options and the SDGs, clearly demonstrating that our future is incompatible with continued use of fossil fuels.

    Mitigation options deployed in each sector can be associated with potential positive effects (synergies) or negative effects (trade-offs) with the SDGs. The degree to which this potential is realised will depend on the selected mitigation options, the supporting policy and local circumstances and context. Particularly in the energy sector, the potential for synergies is much greater than for trade-offs, a reminder that we need to commit to zero emissions and need to act on this now.

    Based on the stark evidence nations must now respond by signalling their intention to increase their national emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement. They have the perfect opportunity as this December the world gathers for the annual UN climate talks. We need to lobby our governments to take this report and its message seriously. They must commit to strengthen policies and actions that cut global greenhouse gas emissions, invest in measures to limit future climate risks, and do more to help communities cope with the climate impacts that are now unavoidable.

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  • 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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