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High Impact Communications In A Major Crisis: UNDP Mongolia 1997-1999 | 18 February 2016

I was head of communications for the United Nations mission in Mongolia from 1997 to 1999. The mission had to primarily tackle three major crises: the country’s turbulent transition from Communism to free markets and democracy, the social and economic crash this caused, and the Asian Financial Crisis (Pomfret 2000) (Quah 2003)*.

Richard Pomfret said in 1994 “In 1991 Mongolia suffered one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994).”

From Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah: “The combined effect of these three shocks was devastating as ‘Mongolia suffered the most serious peacetime economic collapse any nation has faced during this century’. Indeed, Mongolia’s economic collapse ‘was possibly the greatest of all the (peaceful) formerly'” Communist countries. 

“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

Writing in 2018, author John West  found, in a chapter titled Mongolia’s Corruption Curse (Transparency International and the World Bank had found corruption worsened in Mongolia after 2001), “In many ways, Mongolia has everything going for it. After being a satellite state of the former Soviet Union for much of the twentieth century, Mongolia regained its independence with the end of the Cold War. A relatively peaceful political revolution in the early 1990s ushered in a multi-party democracy and open society which have remained in place. … And it is blessed with vast reserves of copper, gold, coal, molybdenum, fluorspar, uranium, tin and tungsten deposits. True, Mongolia experienced great upheavals as the breakup of the Soviet Union saw its trade decline by 80%. But Mongolia was also perfectly placed to benefit from the commodity super cycle driven by China, which is now the destination for the vast majority of its exports.

“However, despite much hype about the Mongolian “wolf economy”, this country of so much promise is being dragged down by massive corruption. …

“Mongolia’s corruption is greatly weakening its attractiveness as an investment destination, is fracturing society and weakening its fragile political institutions. Its culture of corruption has also fed its love-hate relationship with foreign investors, which has destabilized the economy.” Asian Century … on a Knife-edge: A 360 Degree Analysis of Asia’s Recent Economic Development by John West, Springer, 24 January 2018.  

In this role, I pioneered innovative use of the Internet and digital resources to communicate the UN’s work and Mongolia’s unfolding crises. The UN called this work a “role model” for the wider UN and country offices. A survey of United Nations country office websites in 2000 ranked the UN Mongolia website I launched in 1997 and oversaw for two years (1997-1999), third best in the world, saying: “A UN System site. A very nice, complete, professional site. Lots of information, easily accessible and well laid out. The information is comprehensive and up-to-date. This is a model of what a UNDP CO web site should be.” (https://www.scribd.com/document/35249986/United-Nations-2000-Survey-of-Country-Office-Websites)

As part of a strategic plan to raise awareness of Mongolia’s development challenges and to spur action on meeting them, a Communications Office was established for the UN mission in 1997. Acting as a strategic hub, the Communications Office and its dynamic and talented team, were able to leverage the existing budget to spur action on many fronts, including: 

Media

Working with journalists and media both within Mongolia and outside, the Communications Office was able to significantly raise awareness of Mongolia and its development challenges. This was reflected in a substantial increase in media coverage of the country and in the numerous books and other publications that emerged post-1997. The book In Their Own Words: Selected Writings by Journalists on Mongolia, 1997-1999 (ISBN 99929-5-043-9) archived the stories by theme.  

Ger Magazine

Ger Magazine (the Mongolian word for home and traditional tent dwelling) was published as the country’s first e-magazine in 1998. There were four issues in total from 1998 to 2000. The launch issue was on the theme of youth in the transition. Mongolia was transitioning from Communism to free markets and democracy and this had been both an exhilarating time and a wrenching time for young people. The magazine drew on talented journalists from Mongolia and the handful of international journalists based there to create a mix of content, from stories about life adapting to free markets to stories on various aspects of Mongolian culture and life. 

The second issue of the magazine proved particularly effective, with its modern life theme and cover story on a thriving Mongolian fashion scene.

Archived issues of the magazine can be found at the Wayback Machine here: https://archive.org/. Just type in the UN Mongolia website address for the years 1997 to 1999: http://www.un-mongolia.mn.


Blue Sky Bulletin

The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter was launched in 1997 initially as a simple, photocopied handout. It quickly founds its purpose and its audience, becoming a key way to communicate what was happening in the country and a crucial resource for the global development community, scholars, the media and anyone trying to figure out what was happening in a crazy and chaotic time. Blue Sky Bulletin was distributed via email and by post and proved to be a popular and oft-cited resource on the country. The quality of its production also paralleled Mongolia’s growing capacity to publish to international standards, as desktop publishing software became available and printers switched to modern print technologies. Blue Sky Bulletin evolved from a rough, newsprint black and white publication to becoming a glossy, full-colour, bilingual newsletter distributed around Mongolia and the world.

Archived issues can be found online here:

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 1

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 2

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 3

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 4

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 5

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 6 

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 7 

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 8

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 9

Blue Sky Bulletin Issue 10

Publishing

MHDR 1997

The Mongolian Human Development Report 1997 (MHDR), the country’s first, placed the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years (post-1989) at its heart, using photographs, stories and case studies to detail the bigger narrative at play.

This groundbreaking Mongolian Human Development Report went beyond just chronicling Mongolia’s state of development in statistics and graphs. Designed, laid out and published in Mongolia, the report broke with the practices of many other international organisations, who would publish outside of Mongolia – denying local companies much-needed work and the opportunity to develop their skills. The report’s costs helped to kick-start a publishing boom in the country and significantly raised standards in design and layout in the country. The foundations laid down by the project producing the report ushered in a new age in publishing for Mongolia.

The report’s launch was innovative, not only being distributed for free across the country, but also part of a multimedia campaign including television programming, public posters, town hall meetings and a ‘roadshow’ featuring the report’s researchers and writers.

The initial print run of 10,000 copies was doubled as demand for the report increased. To the surprise of many, once hearing about the free report, herders would travel to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to pick up their copy. The report proved people cared passionately about the development of their country and that development concepts are not to be the secret domain of ‘development practitioners’. The report also became an English language learning tool as readers compared the Mongolian and English-language versions. 

You can read the report’s pdf here: http://www.mn.undp.org/content/mongolia/en/home/library/National-Human-Development-Reports/Mongolia-Human-Development-Report-1997.html

Mongolian AIDS Bulletin

Assembled by a team of health experts after the Fourth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the Mongolian AIDS Bulletin was published in 1997 in the middle of an HIV/AIDS crisis. It provided timely information and health resources in the Mongolian language and was distributed across the country.
 
“Mongolia’s first AIDS Bulletin marked the beginning of the UNDP Response to HIV/AIDS/STDs Project back in the autumn of 1997. Over 5,000 copies of the magazine were distributed across the country, offering accurate information on the HIV/AIDS situation. The project has been pivotal in the formulation of a national information, education and communication (IEC) strategy, bringing together NGOs, donors, UN agencies and the government.”
 
Source: YouandAids: The HIV/AIDS Portal for Asia Pacific 

Green Book

In the Mongolian language, the Mongolian Green Book details effective ways to live in harmony with the environment while achieving development goals. Based on three years’ work in Mongolia – a Northeast Asian nation coping with desertification, mining, and climate change – the book presents tested strategies.  

EPAP Handbook

The Environmental Public Awareness Handbook was published in 1999 and features the case studies and lessons learned by UNDP’s Mongolian Environmental Public Awareness Programme (EPAP). The handbook draws on the close to 100 small environmental projects the Programme oversaw during a two-year period. These projects stretched across Mongolia, and operated in a time of great upheaval and social, economic and environmental distress. The handbook is intended for training purposes and the practice of public participation in environmental protection.

In its 2007 Needs Assessment, the Government of Mongolia found the EPAP projects “had a wide impact on limiting many environmental problems. Successful projects such as the Dutch/UNDP funded Environmental Awareness Project (EPAP), which was actually a multitude of small pilot projects (most costing less than $5,000 each) which taught local populations easily and efficiently different ways of living and working that are low-impact on the environment.”

Mongolia Updates 1997, 1998, 1999

Mongolia Update 1998 detailed how the country was coping with its hyperinflation and the Asian economic crisis.

The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_Financial_Crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history (http://www.jstor.org/pss/153756).  

Mongolia Update 1998 – Political Changes

1998 proved a tumultuous year for Mongolia. The country’s existing economic crisis caused by the transition from Communism to free markets was made worse by the wider Asian Crisis. The government was destabilised, leading to an often-confusing revolving door of political figures. In order to help readers better understand the political changes in the country, a special edition of Mongolia Update was published that year.  

UNDP Mongolia: The Guide

The Guide, first published in 1997, provided a rolling update on UNDP’s programmes and projects in Mongolia during a turbulent time (1997-1999). The mission simultaneously had to deal with the 1997 Asian Crisis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Asian_financial_crisis) and the worst peacetime economic collapse in post-WWII history.

Each edition came with short project and context summaries, key staff contacts, and facts and figures on how the country was changing. For the first time, any member of the public could grasp what the UN was up to in the country and be able to contact the project staff. An unusual level of transparency at the time for a UN mission.

Memoranda of Understanding

Three Memoranda of Understanding were negotiated with the Mongolian Government to help focus efforts and aid the attainment of internationally-agreed resolutions. This was affirmed by a series of youth conferences, One World, held in 1998 and 1999.

Strategy and Leadership in a Crisis

The scale and gravity of the crisis that struck Mongolia in the early 1990s was only slowly shaken off by the late 1990s. The economic and social crisis brought on by the collapse of Communism and the ending of subsidies and supports from the Soviet Union, led to a sharp rise in job losses, poverty, hunger, and family and community breakdowns. 

The challenge was to find inspiring ways out of the crisis, while building confidence and hope. The sort of challenges confronted by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office included: 

1) A food crisis: agricultural production was down sharply, and the traditional nomadic herding economy, while at peak herd, was failing to get the meat to markets and to a high enough standard to restore export levels to where they once were. As a result, a cross-border trading frenzy became the solution to falling domestic food production and availability.

2) HIV/AIDS/STDs crisis

3) A major banking crisis

4) Both the Asian Financial Crisis and the Russia Crisis.

5) An ongoing political crisis and an inability to form stable governments.

“Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia

Citations

The response by the Communications Office has been cited in numerous articles, stories, publications and books. It has also contributed to the development of the human development concept and understanding of human resilience in a crisis and innovation in a crisis. Book citations include: 

Modern Mongolia: From Khans to Commissars to Capitalists

Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia

A more detailed list of citations can be found here: http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/about/

For research purposes, key documents were compiled together and published online here: https://books.google.ca/books?id=K76jBgAAQBAJ&dq=undp+mongolia+key+documents&source=gbs_navlinks_s

In 2001, the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for “their work for a better organized and more peaceful world” and its communications innovations, with work such as that in Mongolia being cited as a contributing factor to the awarding of the Prize

In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched in a 15-year bid to use a focused approach to development centred around eight goals to accelerate improvements to human development. From 2000 to 2005, work was undertaken in various UN missions (Mongolia, South Africa, Turkmenistan, Ukraine) to communicate the goals and to reshape communications activities around the goals.

*Curbing Corruption in Asia: A Comparative Study of Six Countries by Jon S. T. Quah, Eastern Universities Press, 2003 

Transition and Democracy in Mongolia by Richard Pomfret, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 149-160, published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. (http://www.jstor.org/stable/153756?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

UNDP Mongolia team photo in 1997. I am sitting front row centre left of the UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Gardner.

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Social Franchising Models Proving Poor Bring Profits

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The four billion people in the world who live on less than US $2 a day have been described as the bottom of the economic pyramid, or BOP for short. In his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Indian business consultant and professor CK Prahalad argues that this attitude must be turned on its head: rather than seeing the world’s poor as a burden, only worthy of charity, Prahalad sees nothing but opportunity and unmet needs that business can address. In short, he argues, profits can be married with the goal of eradicating poverty.

Prahalad has gone so far as to claim this is a market potentially worth US $13 trillion, while the World Resources Institute puts it at US $5 trillion in its latest report, The Next 4 Billion.

One of the tools business is turning to reach the world’s poor is known as social franchising. The concept borrows from the business world and the highly successful franchise models that are more commonly associated with fast-food restaurants and computer and clothing retailers – wherever rapid expansion and scale are required to reach the biggest market possible. And there is no bigger market, social franchising advocates claim, than the world’s four billion poorest people.

In the past, most formal business in developing countries chased the small middle class or the even smaller elite or foreign expatriate communities. Traditional poverty eradication strategies have also been criticized for being too narrow, focused on a very small group, or for wasting time and resources replicating what has already been achieved elsewhere, and for ballooning and shrinking depending on aid grants or success at fundraising. Social franchising aims to bypass these weaknesses by finding models that work, making sure they are self-financing, and then quickly scaling them up to reach as many people as possible. It’s a model that is gaining more followers and the serious interest of big and small businesses.

One example is the Scojo Foundation in India, established to tackle the common problem of blurry vision as people age (presbyopia). Not a disease, the first symptoms occur between the ages of 40 and 50. Low vision affects 124 million people in the world according to the World Health Organization’s Vision 2020 campaign, organizers of World Sight Day 2007 on October 11.

Blurry vision is a serious disability for weavers, mechanics, goldsmiths and others whose livelihoods depend on near vision. As vision deteriorates, these people are unable to provide for their families. Yet it is easily treatable with a pair of eyeglasses.

Since, 2002, the Scojo Foundation (the social franchising wing of eyeglasses manufacturer Scojo New York, has launched operations in Bangladesh, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ghana. Its largest and fastest growing operation is in India, where it employs more than 560 entrepreneurs in rural villages, and selling more than 50,000 pairs of glasses since 2001.

It has grown quickly because the business model has been replicated by local staff who work as franchisees. It has followed the franchise model by building a network of “vision entrepreneurs” – low-income men and women, who in turn sell reading glasses directly to rural villagers throughout India. The franchise model enables the “vision entrepreneurs” to earn a good income, and gain respect from other community members.

Nico Clemminck, co-author of a case study on Scojo, found the price was very competitive with other options in India, and that the higher quality of the glasses made them attractive to villagers.

“The franchisees, or Vision Entrepreneurs as Scojo calls them, that we met were very involved with Scojo – some of them shifting away their focus from previous occupations to spend the majority of their time on conducting vision screenings and selling glasses. The main reason is that the business is quite profitable to them – they make a US $1 margin per glasses sold, which is very high compared to other retail products. A trend we did notice is that commitment decreases over time, as the entrepreneurs exhaust their immediate circle of relatives or target village populations, and the incremental sale becomes tougher to make.”

According to Clemminck, Scojo has been able to quickly and successfully expand to other countries by forming partnerships with existing networks that reach into villages.

The profit hierarchy works like this: the manufacturer charges US $1 for the reading glasses, Scojo charges another US $1, the franchisee a further US $1, and the customer pays US $3 for the glasses. By creating profit at each stage, the model ensures the financial incentives are there to keep the distribution network active.

Prior to Scojo, it was believed developing infrastructure in rural Indian communities is too high to sustain a franchising model for low-cost products. Scojo found it was possible to succeed with this model, by focusing on profitability and sustainability right from the start, pursuing aggressive growth through partnerships to build economies of scale, blocking competitors by having a strong brand and first-mover advantage, constantly refining the model across regions, and delivering a tangible social benefit, both economic and health.

On average, franchisees work 20-30 hours per month and earn US $15 to US $20 per month. Considering most franchisees were living on US $1 a day, the extra income is very welcome, Clemminck said.

“This project gave me insight into the large, untapped market opportunity that exists,” says case study co-author Sachin Kadakia, “and how the concept of ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ provides a tangible and significant improvement to the quality of life of people in these communities.”

Another social franchise gaining ground in India is Medicine Shoppe. As a chain of pharmacies, Medicine Shoppe targets underserved communities by offering entrepreneurs franchises. It is an offshoot of the largest franchiser of independent community pharmacies in the US, Medicine Shoppe International Inc.. It can draw on its strong brand and identity to appeal to potential franchises.

Acumen Fund fellow Nadaa Taiyab, who is working with Medicine Shoppe’s expansion to help the rural and urban poor, found it was important to learn lessons and adapt the model.

“When I arrived in December (2006),” she said, “we opened the first Sehat Clinic. Last weekend we opened the seventh, with an eighth shortly underway. The model has undergone a tremendous evolution in the past six months. We shifted our site selection strategy from relatively affluent areas with a slum nearby, to locating the clinics right inside slums. We redesigned the process through which we recruit doctors and created an employment package that allows us to hire experienced doctors at a salary we can afford.

“We also implemented an entirely new concept for Medicine Shoppe called community marketing outreach. Through this program, we hire local women in each area to make daily home visits, refer patients to the clinic, spread health education and awareness, and promote our free health camps and health clinics. In the past four months we have held over 35 health-plus-vision-testing camps, serving over 4,000 people.

“We have also made some changes to the look and feel of the clinics and shops and put all our marketing materials in the local language, to make our services more appealing to low-income markets.”

There are critics of the BOP approach, however. Aneel Karnani from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, argues from a for-profit perspective, business would be much better off targeting the needs of the growing middle classes, especially in countries like India and China. He, however, does acknowledge that social franchising businesses like above, where social responsibility is key, are relevant to meeting the needs of the poor.

Published: August 2007

Resources

  • A detailed and thorough case study of how the Scojo Foundation model works is found here
  • An excellent set of decision matrices to help budding social entrepreneurs and existing businesses to decide if social franchising is the right solution: www.createproject.org
  • The Social Enterprise Alliance has built a knowledge network and extensive range of resources (including 160 case studies) on social enterprise.

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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Envisioning Better Slums

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

More than 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). Improving conditions for these people is a critical Millennium Development Goal target. And the scale of the problem is vast: this year half the world’s population will live in cities, and already in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums. In the least-developed countries the figure is 78 per cent.

The UN has estimated it will take US$18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the residents themselves.

An essential route to improving the situation is to give people living in slums the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Initiatives across the South seek to do this and turn the situation on its head: seeing slum dwellers as a valuable asset, not an urban blight.

The concept of ‘slum networking’ has been developed by Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh of Ahmedabad , a winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture. He starts from the point of believing there is no need for slum conditions to exist in India, but that slums do not need to be moved, just upgraded; and that good change can happen quickly. He also sees the residents’ involvement and financial contribution as critical to the sustainability of any improvements. His approach has already helped one million people overall, including 8,703 families (43,515 people) in Ahmedabad in 41 slum communities.

Slum networking does not depend on aid funds but is a self-reliant approach, in which residents make a partnership with private suppliers to get access to the most important services first: clean water and hygiene and sanitation.

Parikh’s approach involves providing channels for sewage, water supply and roadways in existing slum areas by exploiting the natural topography and pattern of development to provide the new infrastructure.

Parikh makes a detailed survey plan of the existing houses and divides them into groups based on the quality of construction. If they are of reasonable quality, they are left in place. Where possible, slum dwellers are allowed to buy the land they are squatting on. By buying the land, the owner now has a direct stake in its development.

“Working inside out, i.e. starting with quality infrastructure in the poor areas and working outwards to produce larger networks for the city or village, not only integrates the two levels, but actually produces far cheaper infrastructure at both levels,” Parikh told Architecture Week magazine.

In the Indian city of Indore, 181 slums were networked, giving the city 360 kilometres of new roads, 300 kilometres of new sewer lines, 240 kilometres of new water lines, 120 community halls and 120,000 trees. This transformed the two local rivers from open sewers back to water. According to the World Bank, the incidence of fatal water diseases fell by 90 per cent.

“No project for their rehabilitation could be successful until they were involved as the capital partners,” Parikh told India’s The Tribune. Upgrading “the civic amenities, including sewerage, roads and water supply, was the need of the hour for better living conditions of the slum dwellers.”

Another initiative in Bangladesh is bringing first-rate healthcare to the country’s water-logged slum dwellers. They live in areas called ‘chars’ — effectively stranded islands surrounded by rivers, plagued by frequent flooding and physically cut-off from the country’s transport and infrastructure networks. Located in northern Bangladesh’s Jamuna river regions of Gaibandha, Kurigram and Jamalpu, these areas are very poor and overlooked by most government and foreign aid programmes. The fact the islands shift around has made it difficult for much help to reach the people.

Bangladesh also has a severe shortage of doctors: there are 12,500 people per doctor, compared to 2,000 in Pakistan.

But a hospital ship run by the Friendship NGO (funded by private companies and NGOs) now brings healthcare to 4 million people, treating everything from cataracts to skin infections. It sees between 200 to 250 patients a day aboard a converted former river barge. Called the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital because of its sponsorship by Lever Brothers Bangladesh Ltd. — makers of Lifebuoy soap — it cruises the river Brammaptura, helping 172,000 people since it set sail six years ago.

“People of the area look forward eagerly to our arrival,” said Dr Feroza Khatun, a doctor on the hospital ship. Other doctors and surgeons are provided by NGOs from Sweden, the Netherlands and France.

The ship carries a team of two doctors and four nurses, who live on board. It provides a range of services, from basic healthcare and immunisations to minor surgery. The ship is fully equipped with modern facilities, including clinics, a pharmacy, a treatment room and an operating theatre. There is also a four-bed ward for short-term care, a pathology lab and store, x-ray unit and dark room and an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Stays in the individual ‘chars’ are usually from three weeks to two months. When it leaves, a satellite clinic continues to provide care until the next visit. “In our satellite programmes, we bring in professionals for health and rural social education, provide paramedical care, give special treatment for mother and child health, family planning and pregnancy hazards, child nutrition and identify the needs for secondary care interventions,” said executive director Runa Khan to Bangladesh’s Star Weekend Magazine

Started as a trial in 2001, the ship began full operations in 2002. It has been so successful, it is currently expanding by building new ships paid for by the Emirates Airline Foundation.

Published: February 2012

Resources

  • Shelter Associates: established by Indian architect Pratima Joshi, an NGO working on slum rehabilitation.
  • SPARC: one of the largest Indian NGOs working on housing and infrastructure issues for slum dwellers.
  • Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers: published by the Millennium Project.
  • Slum TV: Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom.
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Prisons With Green Solutions

An ingenious solution is helping Rwanda reduce the cost of running its bursting prisons, while improving conditions for the prisoners and helping protect the environment.

The country’s prison population soared to a peak of 120,000 suspects awaiting trial for their role in the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. The traditional court system, gacaca, is being used for national reconciliation, but the process is slow and costly for a country where 90 per cent of the population exist on subsistence agriculture, and where food production has dropped below 70 per cent of the levels needed for self-sufficiency (USAID).

But thanks to enormous, bee-hive shaped human manure digesters, a steady supply of biogas is on tap for cooking and lighting at prisons – the first country in Africa to do this. Five of the country’s largest prisons – two at Gitarama and one each in Butare, Kigali and Cyangugu – now have biogas plants producing 50 per cent of the gas needed to cook for prisoners. It has also saved half of each prison’s US $44,000 a year firewood costs. The money saved is being ploughed back into renovations to the prisons to improve conditions, and to provide more services like healthcare.

Biogas is produced from the fermentation of household or agricultural waste or animal or human feces, and has become a viable alternative when traditional gas sources become more expensive. The waste is placed in a 150 cubic meter beehive-shaped digester and fermented until a gas is produced. According to lead engineer on the project, Ainea Kimaro, 100 cubic meters of waste is turned into 50 cubic meters of fuel by bacteria devouring the manure in just four weeks.

The digesters are a project of the Kigali Institute of Sciences, Technology and Management ‘s Center for Innovations and Technology Transfer.

“Biogas kills two birds with one stone,” Kimaro told the BBC. It gets rid of all the human waste and helps cover the enormous costs of feeding so many prisoners. Prior to the digesters, the quantity of human waste was a real problem: it was flooding down hillsides and leaking into rivers and lakes.

A school, the Lycee de Kigali , also has a digester. “The methane gas is used to cook for 400 students and for operating Bunsen burners in the school laboratories”, Kimaro said.

Many would think this a smelly affair, but in fact the whole process isn’t that pungent. Most of the digester is underground and the gas produced burns a clean, blue smokeless flame. It is much cleaner than the smoke from firewood. The remaining sludgy residue is used as an odourless compost for soil. This is used in the prison gardens to grow maize, mangos, bananas and tomatoes – all of which ends up back on the prisoner’s plates, improving the quality of their nutrition.

“The firewood savings are excellent – they really make a difference for us,” a Cyangugu prison warden said, adding that the odour-free compost had done wonders for the prison gardens. “Look at all these bananas! This fertiliser really is the best,” he said to the BBC.

In Uganda, human urine and feces are being mixed with banana peels, algae, water hyacinth and poultry droppings to make biogas. In Uganda’s rural Mukono district, biogas is used for cooking, lighting pressure lamps and to power engines. The slurry left over is then used to fertilise the soil. For Ugandans, most of whom are rural dwellers, electricity is rare and petrol to run generators and refrigeration units is expensive.

“It keeps the environment free of organic wastes, is convenient, time-saving and reduces smoke-related illnesses often associated with the use of firewood,” said Patrick Nalere, country director of the Heifer Project International, an American NGO which shares livestock and knowledge to reduce poverty. “If the majority of Ugandans adopted biogas, we would preserve our biodiversity. People should exploit decomposing raw materials, which are free. Therefore, no monthly power tariffs.”

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: February 2008

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=waeXBgAAQBAJ&dq=Development+Challenges+February+2008&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsfebruary2008issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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