The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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April 2017

Practical Action

Anne Stevens

Many years ago our daughter Lucy defied travel restrictions imposed by her gap year sponsor and crossed the Zambian border at Victoria Falls to visit friends in Livingstone.

A couple of months ago she paid her second visit to Zambia, openly this time, on behalf of Practical Action, the development charity she works for, which HPC supports.  She was working together with partners from other organisations to organize a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on energy access. Energy access matters. In Zambia, only about 16% of the rural population has access to grid electricity, and the reach of off-grid systems is still very small. Most of Zambia's electricity comes from large dams - and the urban elite have begun to take notice of how important it is because for the last 2-3 years the country has suffered rolling black-outs because the water in the dams has been too low. They have had to ration electricity even for those who are grid-connected.

Why does Practical Action get involved in this kind of event? Because they want to bring the benefits of clean energy access, using the right kinds of technologies, to more rural communities than they can work with directly. To do that, they need to influence government and donor policies, and work in partnership with the right kinds of private companies and other NGOs. Their aim in organising an event like this was to ensure that the needs and voices of rural communities were brought to the front of the agenda. The stakeholder meeting was a considerable success, since about 50  60 people were initially expected and they ended up with over 200. 

Practical Action were able to share their experiences of working to accelerate the off-grid market and work on transformational mini-grids in Zimbabwe and Malawi.  There is a good video on youtube (search for Mashaba Minigrid), including some fun aerial drone footage, showing a solar mini-grid that Practical Action has recently brought into use in Zimbabwe, financed by EU money. Support from HPC enables Practical Action to continue to expand its influence and to use its own funds and the money it leverages from other donors to encourage sustainable development. That its work is excellent was recently recognised by the Award of the prestigious ( and valuable) Zayed Future Energy Prize for non-governmental organisations, recognising 40 years of energy-related work both on the ground and championing the issues at national and global levels.

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