Adapting to achieve impact in a turbulent year

By Practical Action On 21.02.2022 Changemakers

In this series, we’re sharing six stories from our 2020-21 annual report that demonstrate the impact we’ve achieved in different contexts and at different scales. From a pilot project that’s set to overturn the status quo of urban migration in Kenya, to a partnership that’s already changed the game for millions in flood-prone areas around the world – and is set to do even more…

Our strong and trusted partnerships with individual supporters, large funding organisations and local delivery partners mean we’ve been able continue working with communities during the pandemic. The support and expertise of our partners has allowed us to pivot and adapt existing projects, as well as launch new initiatives, continuing to make progress towards our shared goals.

“I had to keep working despite the risks of Covid-19, but I couldn’t afford to buy PPE. Now that I have the PPE from Practical Action I can do my job without worrying about being infected or passing on any infection to my family.” Sumati Naik, informal waste worker in Faridpur, Bangladesh

The challenge

Covid-19 has had a devastating effect in many of the countries we work in. For many people, abiding by strict lockdown measures was impossible. Others faced significant setbacks in their livelihoods and living conditions. The pandemic has led to rates of extreme poverty rising for the first time in 20 years and reversed much of the progress made towards the World’s Sustainable Development Goals. The result is many more people vulnerable to hunger and poverty – and less able to cope with the effects of the rapidly-escalating climate crisis.

Our goal

We took rapid action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the communities we work with safely, balancing our immediate response with our longer-term goals. We teamed up with private businesses, local authorities and national governments to limit the spread of the virus, work with communities to keep essential services running and support longer-term recovery.

What we achieved in 2020/21

In the slums of Kisumu, Kenya, we worked with companies who make hygiene and cleaning products to provide emergency supplies for free to people who can’t afford them. We distributed supplies to 21,000 people and enabled 19,000 people to access water closer to their homes. As a result, people have been able to keep their families healthy during the pandemic.

We used our influence with the Government of Bangladesh to highlight the challenges faced by informal waste workers in the country during the pandemic. This prompted the Government to approve vaccinations for all sanitation workers, meaning that tens of thousands of people working in hazardous conditions can now protect themselves and their families and continue to earn a living safely.

We worked with the Government of Peru on a pilot project to bring remote learning to isolated communities. Travelling to school here was already difficult – restrictions due to Covid-19 made it impossible. This pilot, which started with 16 schools, has been so successful we’re now working with the Government to scale it up to reach 200,000 children.

In Bangladesh, we reached 726,000 people living in slums and settlements with better sanitation, water and waste services in 2020/21

Future plans

As well as adapting and pivoting existing projects, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic has led to new coalitions, new ways of working and accelerated innovation in key areas. An example is an innovative new project we’ve launched in Bangladesh in partnership with private sector business River Recycle, the Lamor Foundation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Danida.

The project, which launched in July 2021, is creating jobs for low-wage rubbish collectors, while also preventing plastic waste in the Padma River from entering the ocean. It uses cutting edge technology to collect low-grade plastic from the most polluted parts of the river then convert the waste into a high-grade oil, which can be used for transportation. This project not only supports long-term recovery from the pandemic by boosting employment, but will act as a pilot that, if successful, can be scaled-up in Bangladesh and replicated elsewhere.