Small is not always beautiful

I’ve spent the day training Practical Action Bangladesh’s senior staff in communications planning. Which begs the question why? These people have their noses against the grindstone, spending every day working with people in desperate need. Why do they need training in marketing and communications? Aren’t there enough spin doctors in the world?

The short answer is a phrase used often at Practical Action, “scaling up”. It’s a difficult issue for an organisation founded on the principle of Small is Beautiful. But in reality we are ambitious to make a bigger impact. Our current plan is to work directly with 3 million poor women and men around the world over the next five years, which is admirable. But put in the context of 3 billion people living in poverty, it will take us a thousand years to achieve our ambition.

And so we are keen to take the lessons of our work and share them with others. We offer a free information service about appropriate technologies to any development practitioner in the world (see www.practicalaction.org/practicalanswers) . We talk to partner development organisations, locally, nationally and internationally about our lessons and how they can replicate our work. And we take the lessons of our work to politicians and donors, in the hope that they will change policies to make all development more effective.

All this makes sense to everyone who works for Practical Action. The staff on the ground in the countries are the critical players because we need them to capture and communicate what they learn. But they are also the people who are busiest and face daily pressing needs from the people they work with, so you can forgive them for not prioritising “the bigger picture”. It’s a real challenge but hopefully today’s training will equip them with tools to make their communication more effective…only time will tell!

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