SEATTLE — In today’s world, technology is essential to nearly every aspect of human development. Technology helps to meet the basic needs of humanity like producing food and providing access to clean water and shelter. It also offers opportunities to enhance human lives and makes them more enjoyable. However, the benefits of technology are only as great as its availability.
People living in developing countries often lack the most basic technology that many in developed countries take for granted. According to the World Bank, 1.2 billion people worldwide have zero access to electricity. Those that still rely on unimproved water sources total 663 million. Lack of these fundamental luxuries contributes to the poverty seen in those areas. Investing in technology can open the door to opportunities for these communities.
Practical Action, an international NGO, is confronting poverty using technology. The company works toward technology justice, “a world in which technology and innovation are used to end poverty and provide a sustainable future for everyone.” Based out of the U.K., Practical Action has offices in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Peru, Bolivia, Sudan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The organization focuses on energy access, food and agriculture, urban waste and water services and disaster risk reduction. It is confronting poverty using technology by increasing access to renewable energy through the development of wind energy systems and by improving the efficiency of stoves. In food and agriculture, the organization also helps communities by showing people how to use donkeys as plows, turn compost into food and stockpile rainwater.
Practical Action developed solar-powered water pumps that provide communities with access to clean water, and sanitation services in areas where plumbing previously did not exist. The organization puts emergency preparedness ahead of disaster relief, working with communities to reduce their vulnerabilities by helping them build flood-resistant housing, earthquake-resistant buildings and teaching them water conservation techniques that will help them cope with droughts.
For more than 50 years, Practical Action has been confronting poverty using technology by putting its ideas into practice. It all started with Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, who in 1965 published the newspaper article “How to Help Them Help Themselves.” The article advocated for changes to current international aid policies, which Schumacher said were aimed at transferring technologies that were not sufficiently geared towards the countries they were meant to help. In 1966, after awakening public interest with his article, Schumacher and three friends established the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), which in 2009 became known as Practical Action.
Practical Action is involved in 90 projects in developing countries throughout the world. During 2015/2016, the organization lifted 1.7 million people out of poverty. In recognition of its innovative approach to renewable energy and sustainability, Practical Action received the Zayed Future Energy Prize from the United Arab Emirates. This is yet another organization doing its part to help fight global poverty.
– Kristin Westad