Blogs tagged as poverty

  • Beyond the jargon – why I’m participating in the UNLEASH Innovation Lab


    August 11th, 2017

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

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

    Emma working

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

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

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

    Improved cooking stove in Kenya

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

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

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

    3. UNLEASH seems to genuinely value and promote diversity.

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 5 Simple solutions that llama farmers love


    August 5th, 2016

    Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to visit a number of Practical Action’s projects across Latin America. Not only was I overwhelmed by the colours, culture and pure grit of people living in some really challenging environments, but by the generosity and open friendship they showed when welcoming us into their homes.

    Martin Queso's prize winning llama

    Martin Queso’s prize winning llama

    At an altitude of almost 4000m, high in the mountains of western Bolivia is the Jesús de Machaca municipality. With a population of roughly 400 people, a tough four hour car ride from any major town along rough dirt roads, this is a remote and arguably hostile landscape to live in. There are few ways to make a living up here, and apart from growing limited crops such as quinoa, the environment means agriculture is largely restricted to farming camelids.

    Llamas and alpacas are hardy animals, which when cared for properly; provide a vital income for farmers. However; challenges of weather, uncontrolled breeding, inadequate knowledge of rearing livestock, along with often unfair access to markets means that farmers in the upland areas of Peru and Bolivia are struggling to earn a living to support their families.

    But, with the help of our kind supporters, Practical Action is changing this. Below you can read about five simple, sustainable solutions that are helping to transform the livelihoods of camelid farmers in Latin America.

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    Queso family standing in front of their Practical Action llama shelter.

    1. Covered shelters:

    The relentless push of climate change is causing the weather to be unpredictable in high altitude areas, and farmers in Bolivia are often caught out by sudden bites of frost, or prolonged rainfall. Martin Queso and his family showed us the open fronted shelter that Practical Action have helped him to build, he told us:

    “Before, my animals would just range freely. When the weather suddenly changed, with cold winds, ice or rain, they would get sick, often they would die, and I would have no way of making any income. I couldn’t afford to replace a lost llama, and my flock got smaller and smaller.”

    With the shelter, now the family can easily bring the herd inside for protection from the elements when needed.

    2. Rainwater storage, irrigation and water pumps and troughs:

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    Photovoltaic water pump and trough for livestock

    With erratic and unreliable rainfall, mountainous areas in Peru and Bolivia often go for periods of time where water is scarce. With the implementation of rainwater harvesting systems like this one is Nunõa, Peru, water can be collected and stored. Irrigation pipes are connected to the reservoirs, ensuring the surrounding ground remains green for grazing.  In Jesús de Machaca, the installation of photovoltaic water pumps and troughs means that livestock have access to fresh water all year round.

    “We didn’t believe it would work at first” Dalia Condori, a member of the local council told us, “but now it has brought water and a better life for so many”

    3. Breeding pens:

    We’ve seen them patch-worked into the countryside of the United Kingdom for centuries:

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    Rainwater harvesting and irrigation system and stone-wall breeding pens

    Dry-stone wall enclosures that hem-in herds, divide open grassland and mark boundary lines; but this simple method of livestock separation has only been introduced fairly recently to communities in the Nunõa district, near Sicuani in southern Peru. Enabling farmers to isolate certain alpacas from the rest of the herd allows for selective and planned breeding of the healthiest animals, in turn producing the highest quality wool fleece, returning a better price at market. It also means that young alpacas can be nurtured and protected for longer periods of time before being released to roam freely with the herd, thus boosting their fitness and increasing their chances of survival.

    4. Market access and product diversification:

    In the remote villages of upland Bolivia, getting a fair price for llama wool is tough – individual farmers can only sell for whatever the going price in the local area is, even though this may be much lower than what the fleece is actually worth. Practical Action is working with farming communities to create co-operative groups that can work together to access bigger markets for their products, and demand a higher, fairer price.  Llama farmers like Andrés are also encouraged to diversify their products in order to make a better income. Andrés, who has won multiple awards for his spinning and wool-product work, also makes and paints traditional Bolivian clay figures to sell at the tourist markets.

     

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    Llama farmer and artisan Andres showing his tools for sculpting traditional clay figures

    5. Training and knowledge:

    Practical Action helps to provide training on basic animal husbandry and wellbeing. Farmers in Jesús de Machaca learn about the right type and quantities of nutritious food, how to administer medication for their llamas when they are sick, and how to maintain the grazing pasture land. The knowledge is then shared between farming communities by Practical Action ‘Promotors’ who help to teach others how to breed and care for their livestock effectively.

    It is vitally important to the families in these areas that the great work that Practical Action is able to do continues. Llamas and alpacas are strong and intelligent and are crucial for the farming communities in Latin America. Access to the tools and knowledge for breeding and looking after their animals provide families with a secure source of income. With just £47 you can help to support a llama farmer in Bolivia by buying a ‘llama lifeline’ Practical Present today.

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  • COP21 Paris update


    December 8th, 2015

    Week 2 Day 2; UN Climate Change Conference, are we there yet?

    With 48 hours left to reach agreement on the text for a climate change agreement the atmosphere in Paris is mixed with some believing an agreement will be reached, while many are worried that it will not be robust enough to deliver. The negotiations started on a high note with 150 heads of state making bold statements outlining the urgency of action and the potential threat if we fail to tackle climate change. Many leaders highlighted the importance of international cooperation and the need to stand by the poorest and most vulnerable as they face the consequences of changing climates.

    DC NS

    David Cameron made an opening address and Nicola Sturgeon spoke at a side event on Scotland’s commitments

    The numerous side events supported by parties and observers have highlighted the consequences of inaction on climate change.  We have heard from poor people in coastal areas whose livelihoods have been disrupted by powerful cyclones and fish stocks decimated by ocean acidification. In the negotiations the small island states have eloquently reported on the migration challenge they face as sea level rise threatens their land.  Poor farmers from Africa, Asia and Latin America have taken to the podium to speak about the loss of their crops due to failure of rains or harvests decimated by unknown outbreaks of pests and diseases. The 5th report of the IPCC documents the scientific basis for climate change, unfortunately this report also highlights that we are not all equally impacted, that not everyone has access to the resources and services to respond when disaster strikes.

    So given the recognised urgency and apparent political will why is an agreement at risk?  Key challenges remain around differentiation, finance and means of implementation.  Differentiation is recognition that not everyone is equally responsible for the mess we are in. If we take historical emissions into account the developed world is responsible for at least 60% of global emissions. The recent economic development in nations such as China and India is adding to the global carbon budget, so what is needed now is a mechanism whereby some nations reduce emissions quickly to provide enough carbon space for developing economies to eradicate extreme poverty and meet their development potential. To resolve differentiation needs equity to allocate fair shares of the carbon budget.  For countries that have used their carbon budget in the past they will have less in the future and vice-versa. This would allow every country to know their limits and thus develop clear targets on mitigation – developed or developing – in their national development plans.

    Finance is potentially the biggest hurdle to an agreement by Friday. The historic failure of the developed economies to meet previous promises and lack of clarity on future promised finance threaten to derail an agreement. If the leaders were honest about international cooperation the developed world need to be clear on its commitment to help those who are not to blame for the present climate problem. One simple way to achieve this goal would be to cancel subsidies to fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency tells us that to keep to 2oC target – as agreed in Copenhagen – we need to keep 2/3 of all know fossil fuels in the ground.  So why do we continue to invest billions to identify new fossil fuel deposits and why are we wasting money on fracking?

    Dollar Bill

    Means of implementation includes the legal mechanism, how the agreement will be monitored and enforced and the issue of loss and damage. The agreement needs to describe a process that delivers the finance and support necessary so that we stay on track. In particular the agreement must have checks and balances to ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

     

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  • Pride (In the name of love)


    November 26th, 2014

    It was 1985 and aged 11, I was on a boat from Larne to Stranraer, off on my summer holidays. I sneaked into the on-board bar in order to watch the television and was immediately captivated and compelled as I watched Queen change music and Bob Geldof’s army try change the world. Enthralled by the atmosphere of ‘love thy neighbour’, I was inspired to both cry and rage at the injustice of poverty and in those few moments of Live Aid, the seeds of a 21 year (and counting) career in international development and social justice were sown.

    Thirty years later, the #differentdev agenda is saying that the big event has had its day and that there needs to be a longer term, more systemic strategy. It would be wrong, however, to see the big event only as a firework glowing brightly for a moment before bursting and disappearing. For me and for so many others, big events never disappear. The impact of a vinyl single released thirty years ago cannot be limited to statistics about the money raised and what was achieved with it. It is impossible to quantify the impact of Band Aid.

    Zero 2010Critics attack the ‘Band Aid’ title arguing that it’s only a sticking plaster solution to deep, structural problems, as if Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and Bono weren’t aware of that irony – of course they were…that’s part of their message! Throughout their careers, Geldof and Bono have always raised the issue of and challenged the unjust global structures, arguably in a more effective way than most. They’ve raised money for sticking plaster projects as well. I can personally testify to the transformational impacts of Band Aid funded projects – sometimes sticking plasters help wounds to heal. I’m proud of what my generation and I and have achieved.

    Music isn’t going to save the world. Its impact is negligible in the face of the multi-nationals, the neo-liberals, the banking order, and growing social apathy. But occasionally music can cement an idea or force through a notion. #BandAid30 is a pretty rubbish record, made by a bunch of manufactured wannabees with less combined talent than the drummer on the original, but I support the idea of it. For me, the current controversy isn’t that the single has been re-released, but rather that there are so many who would rather be critics who do nothing than champions who do something.

    So many of my generation can pin point the first Band Aid vinyl single and concerts as a moment for paradigm shift. So, if all the new Band Aid 30 single does is enable a few hundred thousand One Direction fans to find a cause, it might have done more than enough to change the world in small and seismic ways.

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  • English football: setting the standard for protected interests and sustained inequality


    October 16th, 2014

    A warning: below is a rant. It follows years of getting irrationally cross about football. Please bear with me, there is a serious point about how destructive unchecked inequality is somewhere below…

    football inequality 3

    When I was a lad (admittedly, a fair few years ago), there were around thirty clubs in the UK who could realistically win the League Championship. Even more could dream that streaky luck, poor pitches and a brutal approach to dealing with more skilful opposition would result in them lifting the FA Cup.

    Even my team, the eternally-hopeless Coventry City managed to win the Cup in 1987, beating the mighty Manchester United, Tottenham and Leeds on the way. Having done so, we picked up a cheque for the gate receipts and prize money, which paid for a couple of new signings for the next season at a total cost of around £1.5m, a colossal amount for the club then (and now, come to think of it), which propelled them into the top ten clubs in the country for a short while.

    Fast forward 25 years. Now, there are just six clubs who could potentially win the league. In fact, realistically this year, there are two. The other four are fighting desperately to get into the Champions League in order to earn the 40 million Euros (or so) available to quarter finalists.

    Backed by billionaire owners, they pour millions of pounds into the pockets of agents, players and top European and South American clubs to secure huge squads of international players. This top six are all global brands, with millions of ‘supporters’ dotted around the globe.

    Below them, the other 14 clubs in the top division are all terrified of getting relegated out of the Premier League and losing the £60m-plus they are guaranteed each year. Their fear of dropping out is now manifested to such an extent that few bother to try and win Cup competitions and instead focus on staying in the Premier League. With a couple of exceptions, the vast majority cream off the best players from lower league clubs in England, Scotland and Europe. Yet, even they are well-protected. If a club is relegated, there are £60m of ‘parachute payments’ for the clubs that go down over the following four years, immediately placing them on a far superior financial footing to other teams and giving them a colossal advantage over their rivals. This effectively ensures the same rich 25 or so clubs retain their place at football’s biggest richest financial trough season after season.

    This financial disparity means that down in the lower reaches of the football league all other 65 or so clubs in England are left to stagnate. Promising youngsters are snaffled by Premier Clubs who offer them massive wage increases and the promise of financial security for the rest of their lives. Leagues One and Two (the third and fourth tier of English football) are made up of teams of teenagers, has-beens, disaffected youth players borrowed from top tier teams and those who never have been good enough to play at the highest level. Despite attracting tens of thousands of fans every week, they have no prospect of ever getting to the top level anymore and next to no chance of beating even the reserves of one of the ‘big six’ in a head-to-head contest.

    Why does this matter? Because kids no longer want to follow their local team, opting instead to follow a soulless ‘big team’ they have no prospect of actually watching live, which leaves their local team to flounder in front of ever-decreasing crowds.

    Traditionally, these smaller clubs recruit young English players and give them valuable playing time and experience before moving them on for a profit when they are ready to play at a higher level but now the youth teams and academies of the bigger clubs continue to grow and hoover up any available talent in an area. Yet because of the pressure on managers to stay in the top league, few ever get the opportunity to play. Furthermore, any young player at a small club with an ounce of promise is lured away before playing more than 50 games, with the majority failing to make the grade required when they step up a level.

    What does this mean?

    1) The England team is falling behind its rivals as promising young players simply don’t get the opportunity to play first team football.

    2) An absence of real competition in the Premier League.

    3) Dozens of lower league clubs who have no prospect of ever breaking into the top division, or of tasting success, no matter how good the manager is.

    4) Supporters like me unwilling to pay a minimum of £20 every week to see my club in a depressing circle of decline.

    Now here is the bit that relates to inequality on a world stage…

    It strikes me that English football’s narrow-minded obsession with protecting those who are rich and powerful is similar to that of the developed nations in the world today.

    The Premier League refuses to share more than a measly percentage of its wealth despite the evident damage it is doing to the game. At the same time, the richest nations refuse to support developing nations, be it through fairer trade agreements, access to markets, technology, aid, information, natural resources, or investment in infrastructure.

    Both fail to do so despite the obvious benefits – a more successful national team on one hand; less poverty, better educated populations, reduced population growth and better prospects for democracy on the other.

    Everyone can see this is the case, millions of people feel passionately about both issues yet no-one does anything about it because the powerful minority refuse to do what would be good for all.

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  • Insects for food – yuk or maybe not?


    August 19th, 2014

    I’m just back from  Zimbabwe, in Gwanda I met people worried about how they will feed their family –  the rains have failed or at best been poor – so the harvest is likely to be inadequate. Many people will spend months hungry and poorly nourished.

    Yesterday was Food Revolution Day – and while I agree with Jamie Oliver that educating kids about the food they eat is vital, it wont end global hunger. With a rising global population, increased demand for meat and agricultural production hit by climate change how we all  access adequate food must be part of a global debate. We may also need to change the way we think.

    A couple of months ago now I read an article in the Guardian which argued that as we head for 9 million people on our planet we need to find a new approach to food. One of the ideas mooted alongside reducing waste and 3D printed food, was the widespread consumption of insects. My immediate reaction was ‘hurray for waste reduction’,  distrust of printed foods (why distance ourselves even further from nature) and ‘yuk!’ to insects.

    While I’ve been offered Mopane Worms in South Africa and a much recommended snack of fried Locusts in The Philippines, I’ve never been tempted – I don’t even like prawns. But maybe on reflection I’m just not open-minded enough in my choice of food.

    Food chainThe latest edition of Practical Action Publishing’s journal ‘Food Chain’  focuses on insects for food and feed. It points out that

    • Insects are traditionally consumed by more than 2 billion people worldwide;
    • There’s great diversity – about 2,000 species known to be edible;
    • Environmentally there are significant benefits over eating meat (lower emissions of greenhouse gases, low requirement for land and water etc.);
    • There is a huge opportunity for insects as animal and poultry feed (In the EU this is currently hindered by legislation);
    • They are good for you – termites for example are particularly rich in oleic acids, the same type of fat found in olive oil
    • The ‘Yuk’ factor is possible to overcome – think of worms’ lava in Tequila and Beer.

    Turns out Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, is a big fan! “When you consider the imprint of cattle and other stock on the environment you are better off with insects. Insects have a very good conversion rate from feed to meat. There is no way that we can sustain conventional livestock production environmentally if we want to meet the needs of the growing human population”.

    Rather than encouraging the unsustainable growth of a Western type diet shouldnt we be looking at more traditional foods? If 2 billion people around the world eat insects – and appear to like them – they are good for our planet, and can be good for us – Surely the question is why wouldnt we try them?

    So if you have a taste for insects I recommend ‘The Insect Cookbook – Food for a Sustainable Planet’ published by Columbia. Great recipes including Bitterbug Bites, Bugitos and Buffalo Worm Chocolate Cupcakes.

    I don’t think I’m ready for a cricket lollipop yet but if the rather indistinct protein in say my occasional ready meal was made of insect – maybe I wouldn’t mind (or more likely I wouldn’t think about it). Good for people and the environment – what is there to dislike?     insect lolipop

    Insects could be the food of the future.

     

     

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  • Innocent abroad


    January 20th, 2014

    I love going to meetings at the innocent drinks’ offices.  Apart the from the funky surroundings (hanging basket chairs, fake grass, table tennis tables in the kitchen) where else do you get given a nice little brown bag at the end of a meeting and told to help yourself to the drinks cabinet.  The temptation is great – all those lovely smoothies, peaches and apricots, mango and passion fruit, and my personal favourite – pineapples, bananas and coconut.

    But I’m not writing this to plug the deliciousness of  innocent’s drinks or the virtues of  innocent’s office, many though they are (and by the way, as it says on the side of their drinks’ cartons, anyone can visit their offices if they make an appointment), but to also describe the amazing support they give to organisations like Practical Action.

    innocent’s project support in Peru

    So this is about innocent abroad – actually innocent foundation abroad – which has supported Practical Action’s work in Peru since 2007 when they funded our project providing water, sanitation and energy to communities in the high Andes, 5,000m above sea level.   These are families living, cooking and sleeping in simple mud walled homes, thatched with straw.  Being so few they are largely forgotten or ignored by local government when it comes to providing basic services.  Water was collected from streams, often contaminated by animal waste and human faeces, (open defecation was the norm) and their only power sources were using kerosene or burning dry dung, their remoteness making it unlikely that the national grid will ever reach them.  With innocent foundation’s support this has all changed.

    Water, sanitation and energy

    Practical Action, together with the communities, has built eco-san toilets, and as importantly, communities are now aware of the dangers to their health that open defecation brings.  Piped water is available, filtered at household level to reduce the risk of diarrhoea.

       Seňor Santiago's filtered water tap

    Seňor Santiago’s filtered water tap

    And they have power, harnessing the renewable energies of the sun with small solar panels provided by Practical Action.  This simple technology is enabling these alpaca farmers to increase their alpaca wool production with small electric spinning machines, bringing them increased incomes, enabling them to better support their children’s education and health needs.

    Who would have thought that drinking an innocent strawberry and banana smoothie could make such a difference?

     

     

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  • Nelson Mandela “From Prison to History Pages”


    December 10th, 2013

    Generally, many challenges face the world (Sustainable Development and Climate Change – Clean Water – Rich poor Gap – Health Issues – Peace and Conflict – Energy – Status of Women …etc.). Specifically, most African nations suffer from military dictatorships, corruption, civil unrest and war, underdevelopment and deep poverty.

    The picture looks very dark and depressing but if the nations are capable of producing a Mandela we will get to make the change that we want.

    Nelson Mandela’s influence extends around the world, the last noble man, a figure of heroic achievements and an inspiration to generations around the world.

    Mandela will be remembered as a remarkable man for all activists across the world.

    nelson-mandela-quotes-to-be-greatFamous Sayings:
    “Millions of people . . . are trapped in the prison of poverty. It is time to set them free, like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome . . . Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.” he said in 2005.

    “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.”

    We  can learn  from influential personalities like Nelson Mandela how to change the world; all it takes is a little time, effort and dedication. We don’t have to change the world for everyone; we can change the world for a couple of people and still leave a positive impact  .

    Rest in Peace father of Africa, you’ve earned your place in history.

     

     

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  • Power of adaptation


    December 9th, 2013

    In the last 60,000 years humans have expanded across the globe and now occupy a wider range than any other terrestrial species. Our ability to successfully adapt to such a diverse range of habitats is often explained in terms of our cognitive ability. Humans have relatively bigger brains and more computing power than other animals and this allows us to figure out how to live in a wide range of environments.

    Here we argue that humans may be smarter than other creatures, but none of us is nearly smart enough to acquire all of the information necessary to survive in any single habitat. In even the simplest foraging societies, people depend on a vast array of tools, detailed bodies of local knowledge, and complex social arrangements and often do not understand why these tools, beliefs, and behaviors are adaptive. We owe our success to our uniquely developed ability to learn from others. This capacity enables humans to gradually accumulate information across generations and develop well-adapted tools, beliefs, and practices that are too complex for any single individual to invent during their lifetime.

    Practical Action followed the methodology of extracting the potential power of familiarization in communities in rural areas by targeting effective members in villages to provide them with knowledge about local possible technologies to challenge poverty. In other words, to adapt with the existing limited resources to reach sustainable development by providing means of improving adaptive capacity and adaptive needs to identify and develop adaptive measures or practices tailored to the needs of the community.

    IMG_6784Back to Darfur- the source of my inspiration. If you visit Darfur and especially Shagra (G) village,  remember to look up Nadia Ibrahim Mohammed, who is 33 years old and married with two sons. Practical Action has practical initiatives that tangibly address and improve her adaptive capacity and adaptive needs.

    She was recommended by Mr. Mohammad Siddig (North Darfur’s Area Coordinator) in 2006 to be trained as a midwife then was registered as the legal midwife in the village. Later, she has become president of Women Development Association in her village and a member of Community Development Association in Shagra (A –B – G).

    In 2009 she worked with Practical Action on the project Greening Darfur. More than 14,000 women were trained by her in making  low smoke stoves and community forest management. She has been nominated to be part of the Active Citizens Programme run by British Council with aim of increasing the contribution of community leaders towards achieving sustainable development, both locally and globally.

    For a woman from poor community in a challenging environment with a minimum level of education this is impressive. Her ability to store and deliver knowledge to others is really noteworthy. Now in Shagra- G village, she is always there dealing with her communities’ problems. She is gathering real time local information to adapt the best decisions and actions with the methods of her own experience.

    My personal point of view, as we are working in a very challenging development field, is that adaptation is a word that we should dig deep inside, because all the possible solutions are hidden behind it:

    • Adaptation to poverty means we can adjust the resilience of communities to change and find solutions to poverty
    • Adaptation to limited resources means, we can direct targeted community to use them effectively to satisfy their needs
    • Adaptation to Climate Change means, we can reduce projected effects for the environment and for human life.
    • Adaptation to changing economic environment means we can set adaptation plans as better prepared for new opportunities.

    Adapting with our problems would be a more effective means of dealing with them in order to reduce adverse impacts and take advantage of new opportunities.

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  • A little small is beautiful, lots of inspiration – and many wonderful people


    November 23rd, 2012

    Although I have been very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and Sudan to visit our projects, I have not visited all of Practical Action’s countries of operation. I have hundreds of colleagues who, sadly, I have not been able to meet in my three and a half years working for Practical Action. We communicate through email and Skype, and although these technologies promote good working relationships, nothing beats having a real conversation in person.

    So last week it was a real joy to meet one of Practical Action’s most dedicated project workers, Nazmul Islam Chowdury, from Bangladesh. Nazmul is currently visiting the UK as part of our work campaigning for more political action, leadership and funding for the fight against climate change.

    Nazmul is truly inspirational. We speak at length about the Pathways from Poverty project which he manages in Bangladesh. This ambitious project, one of the largest in our history, endeavours to help 119,000 of the poorest women, men and children in rural areas of the country to take the first step to a life beyond poverty.

    Many families here are achingly poor, and have been impoverished for generations. Their poverty is not just a shortage of money with which to buy things. It means starvation, dirty water, ill-health, inadequate shelter, limited access to education. It is the lack of sufficient resources with which to keep body and soul together.

    At the beginning of the Pathways from Poverty project, people had lost hope of things ever being different or better. Nazmul’s assurance that, within 12 months, communities would have enough food to overcome their hunger was met with huge suspicion. That suspicion only intensified when Nazmul shared his idea of a beautifully simple farming technique, sandbar cropping, which could secure food for life. “People thought I was mad!” he says.

    Floods in Bangladesh don’t just destroy homes and lives when they arrive; they also leave a crippling legacy when the waters subside. The ‘char’ – the silted sand plains that the floods leave behind – are too infertile for even the most skilled farmers to tend. Nazmul’s idea was to simply dig holes in the sandy plains and fill them with manure, compost and then plant pumpkin seeds. Within seven days the pumpkin seeds start to germinate fresh green shoots. And hope springs once more.

    “I remember one woman in particular who was so delighted with her pumpkin harvest. She told me ‘I’ve fallen in in love with this. Before I hated spending time in the field because it seemed so futile. Nothing grew. But now I want to spend all my time tending to my crop of pumpkins. I’ve never seen so much food. This technology is helping us to grow food in the sand. It’s a dream.’ Listening to stories like this makes me feel immensely proud of the sandbar cropping technology. I think it is the best example of ‘small is beautiful’.”  

    The Pathways from Poverty project is already having a huge, transformational impact on the lives of some of Bangladesh’s most desperate people.

    The pumpkin harvest

    The incredible pumpkin harvest,                              thanks to sandbar cropping

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I ask Nazmul what drives him, and am so inspired by his response:

    “I feel a great sense of responsibility to the Bangladeshi people. Everyone pays their taxes. And those taxes have paid for my education. I feel it is my duty to pay people back. I use this philosophy to inspire my team. I want to see people in my country enjoying their lives, not spending every moment worrying about their survival, about their children’s survival. We may never be rich like the Americans. But I want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to earn what is sufficient for life. Everybody in the world has the right to food, shelter, and education, healthcare. These are the basic rights and choices.”

    As I listen to Nazmul’s words, I feel so immensely lucky to work with such visionary people who are so committed to challenging the numerous injustices in our world. Practical Action is an organisation, but our good work is only possible because of people – our committed team of project workers, the people with whom we’re working who revolutionise their own lives, and of course, you – the lovely, wonderful people who support us.

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