WHO IS PAUL SMITH LOMAS?
If you’re like most people, you’re probably listening to this podcast on a smartphone of some type – maybe your on your commute, or an after-work walk with the dog. Others will listen to it on their laptop or office desktop machine in the background as they perform some other task. When I talk about using technology, these types of examples are, what I believe, pops into most people’s mind. And, rightly so. I can attest to the fact that, even in the most remote corners of Uganda, technology – as mobile devices and their applications – play a front and center role in the minds of everyone.
But the term technology – the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes – extends far beyond smartphones and laptops. Technology can be as simple as a pulley system, a dam for a reservoir, or a hand cranked water pump. As amazing as it sounds, for a huge amount of people in the world today, these simple types of technology are not only breakthrough, they are the key to a hand up out of poverty through the efficiencies they bring.
Paul Smith Lomas, my guest on today’s 108th episode of the Terms of Reference podcast, not only thinks about how how the application of technology can help lift people out of poverty, but the organization he leads – Practical Action – actually pursue Technology Justice. That is, they seek to “create a world in which technology and innovation is used to end poverty and provide a sustainable future for everyone on our planet.”
Paul was appointed CEO of Practical Action in November 2015. Prior to this appointment, Paul was Practical Action’s International Director, responsible for the overall operation of its programmes and policy influencing around the world.
Paul’s professional background is as a mechanical engineer. He worked originally in the water treatment industry in the UK, before going on a VSO assignment in 1985 to Eastern Sudan, where he set up water and sanitation systems for refugee populations from Eritrea & Ethiopia. He then worked with ActionAid in the Nuba Mountains, still focusing on public health engineering with rural communities. After a short spell in the commercial sector, Paul returned to the voluntary sector in 1991 as Technical Adviser for Oxfam, based in the UK. He was awarded an MBE for services to international development.
Prior to joining Practical Action, Paul was the Regional Director for Oxfam in the Horn & Eastern Africa, where he managed a large programme covering development, campaigning, and emergency response.
You can connect with Paul here:
IN TOR 108 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- What Technology Justice is and means, about bringing modern daily life solutions to those still missing out.
- On the technology cycle, particularly the final step: sustainable scalability. But there are no “holy grail” solutions.
- What technology enables people to do, and how technology enabled people and organizations to develop and scale innovative solutions for the poor.
- Paul’s thought on institutionalizing a culture of innovation but still allowing experimentation.
- The value of sharing knowledge and ideas; and partnerships.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Practical Action
- Cusco University
- Technology Justice
- Technology Access, Scalability
- Water and Sanitation
- Energy, On and Off-Grid
- Farming, Landless
- Micro Hydro
- Camel Milk
- Warwickshire, UK
- Nairobi, Kenya
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Paul Smith Lomas
Where do you listen to TOR?
Technology justice. Water and sanitation for everyone.
Practical Action (PA)
“Using technology to help poor people help themselves” in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Technology justice. “Technology has been an enabler. But there still so many people who don’t count on the most basic innovations. Stoves.“
Environmentalism is important too.
History of innovating
PA has been involved in trying out equipment, first locally, then at large.
Now partnerships are lingua franca. “In Peru, we work with Cusco University for disaster detection using smartphones.“
PA does R&D but also sponsors others’ R&D activity. It also adapts existing tech.
Access to energy is a top priority at the moment. Solar is becoming more price accessible. On solar and irrigation PA works on procurement for small, impoverished communities.
One that stands out
In Bangladesh, large areas remain under water, then tide lowers and reveals the sand. Infertile land.
Over them there are houses for “landless farmers” who live only on their labor.
The technology allows for crops on the areas thanks to sandbars. Now farmers receive training and help to acquire land and farm pumpkins. Tens of thousands of farmers have joined.
Finding and making use of innovation. Is there a process?
“Yes and no.” Program documents “institutionalize our thinking,” guide their efforts (and budget), but they promote and partner with people that have novel ideas.
Scale is an important concern, once a prototype has shown to work.
“A lot goes on in the water coolers.“
PA publishes their and others’ experiences, at a rate of about 30 books per year, plus journals.
There are levels, from simple “practical answer surveys” for on the field practitioners, for whom there is an app and feedback is encouraged; to more policy based documents.
Middle income countries used to be receivers of humanitarian funds and now don’t. In some cases the funding for sanitation projects starts coming from governments. Every time a government participates positively scaling up is good news.
Micro hydro power, away from the national grid. Can power a school, some households, even a small factory. The private sector came with their own solutions, and government backing help spread them, rendering PA useless on energy procurement. “It was very good news, but there were mixed feelings for the effort and time invested.“
Innovation to standard
A Challenge Fund allows team members to try ideas with no expectation of performance.
When something works, it is shared among peers for feedback and specific improvements.
Eventually it is implemented on a grassroots basis, to gauge responses from people.
Paul has no answer pertaining to the “holy grail“: how to make a solution, that you provided, independent from you and your monitoring.
What about failure?
An Innovation Challenge Fund in Northern Kenya awarded a team funds to commercialize camel milk. PA involved themselves across the value chain. Producing milk with standard hygiene and successfully delivering it “was beyond us.“
DfID, IDS. More research rigorous organizations, looking for more robust evidence.
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
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