Admitting NGO failure: a (fictional) example

I wrote a piece for WhyDev imagining, probably slightly idealistically, how an NGO could gently but frankly inform its supporters about an unsuccessful pilot project:


At Partners Fighting Poverty, we never stop thinking about new ways to help the world’s most vulnerable farmers. Every year we try new approaches and new projects to help people earn more, learn more and live healthier, safer lives. This innovative approach has led us to some of our biggest successes, such as our unique plough-to-plate value chain financing system.

But when you try a lot of new things, inevitably some will work better than others. And a small number of projects won’t work at all.

I want to take a moment today to tell you about one recent project that didn’t work.

Realistic? Hopelessly naive? Or maybe you think this doesn’t go far enough in the direction of transparency? (That’s what the commenters seem to think.) Read the whole piece over at WhyDev.


The Concerned for Working Children’s new website

I wrote much of the new website of the Nobel-nominated Indian children’s rights NGO The Concerned For Working Children, including this page on child marriage:

Our approach is to empower children to make change in their own communities. Members of organisations facilitated by CWC for the empowerment of children have prevented many instances of child marriage in their villages through campaigning in their own villages.

In 2002, for example, members of Bhima Sangha (the union of working children facilitated by CWC) staged a protest in their village to help their friend Vedha, 11, from being pushed into an early marriage. Despite the opposition of their parents and neighbours, the children marched to the police station and demanded action to stop the illegal marriage. Policemen gave Vedha to the children for protection until after the wedding date, and she stayed with other members in their small training centre. Since Vedha’s case, many children have been saved from early marriage by activism by their Bhima Sangha friends.

Tackle Malnutrition with panchayats’ help

Published in the Deccan Herald, August 2012

Step into any of Karnataka’s glistening malls and you will see a wide range of exciting world cuisine for sale. But away from the glamour, thousands of children across the state do not have enough to eat. It’s a disgrace that more than half of Karnataka’s children under the age of six are malnourished.

The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), set up by the government to tackle malnutrition has been mired in corruption and controversy. Now with the threat of widespread drought looming over several districts, we can expect further reductions in availability of nutritious food for children. With the state failing to make ICDS work effectively, an alternative implementation framework is desperately needed, which places responsibility for feeding our children in the hands of those best placed to do it – the elected local governments – the panchayats and municipal corporations.

Read more…

How the Humble Sunflower Holds the Key to More Efficient Solar Power

Published on CleanTechnica, January 2012

Regular readers are well aware of concentrating solar power (CSP), the growing technology which uses the sun’s energy to heat fluid (not unlike a steam engine) rather than using photovoltaic cells to convert it directly to electricity. If you’re not up to speed, we recently published a quick primer on CSP and why it could be vital to tomorrow’s energy mix.

But every CSP installation requires hundreds of mirrors to catch the sun’s rays and direct them towards the central tower, where the fluid is stored. The problem is, those mirrors take up a lot of space. That’s why, so far, the majority of CSP installations have been in fairly out-of-town desert locations.

But, now, a team of researchers at MIT have come up with a way of packing the mirrors — known as heliostats — in more tightly, while still efficiently directing the sun’s rays to the central tower. And the solution takes its inspiration from a very appropriate source in nature — the sunflower.

At most CSP sites, the heliostats — typically several hundred of them, each the size of half a tennis court — are arranged in concentric circles. As MIT explains, “The spacing between mirrors is similar to the seats in a movie theater, staggered so that every other row is aligned. However, this pattern results in higher-than-necessary shadowing and blocking throughout the day, reducing the reflection of light from mirrors to the tower.” Good sunlight wasted, in other words.

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Rick Santorum Receives the Least Oil & Gas Money of All Remaining Republican Candidates

…but still vehemently denies the existence of climate change

Everyone’s jumping up and down: who is Rick Santorum? Who is Rick Santorum?!

The former Senator from Pennsylvania seemed all but invisible over the last year as a series of candidates stole the position of ‘person most likely to be the Republican nominee if it isn’t Mitt Romney.’ First Trump, then Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain, then Gingrich. All fell away after a few weeks in the spotlight, and now it’s Santorum — along with Ron Paul — who’s getting all the attention after he nearly beat Romney in the Iowa primary on Tuesday.

We’ll leave it up to The Washington Postthe BBC, et al to give you a primer on Santorum’s general take on things. One particular detail about Santorum caught our attention: he has received the least donations from oil & gas companies of any of the remaining Republican candidates.

That’s according to recent figures from the Federal Election Commission, as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Santorum has received a measly $5,250 from oil & gas companies and their employees so far in this election cycle, it says. Newt Gingrich has received $18,650; Michelle Bachmann, who ended her campaign after coming sixth in Iowa, $37,290; and front-runner Mitt Romney $313,200. The champion, though? Rick Perry, with a whopping $750,408.

Of course, Santorum has received less donations overall, too, as he’s widely been seen as a minor candidate. But if we divide this figure by the candidates’ overall fundraising, we can see roughly what percentage of their funding comes from the oil & gas industry. The results are striking: Rick Perry has got 4.3% of funding from oil & gas; Romney, just under 1%. Rick Santorum? Just 0.4%.

(This extremely unscientific, as the overall fundraising figures are for only the first three quarters of 2011, while the oil & gas figures reach into November. But it’s enough to get the gist.)

You might think, given this massive disparity, that Rick Santorum might be considerably less of a shill for oil & gas interests than his rival candidates. Sadly, not so much. As Grist pointed out earlier this week, Santorum is a denier of the grade-A class

Read more on CleanTechnica