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The flick of a switch - electricity & poverty


In this guest post, Daniel Choudhury from e.quinox outlines the importance of electricity in fighting poverty - and innovative student-developed solution to help give some of the world's poorest greatest access. We met Daniel and his team at a 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation in London - and were inspired by he and his group's commitment as everyday people, to doing what they could.

You will probably agree that turning on a light is no big deal. A simple flick of a switch, one most unconscious movement of the hand, and the darkness of the night is effectively eliminated.

For a staggering 1.4 billion people across the globe, however, this simple equation does not apply. The reason: No access to electricity, and therefore no means to produce light other than by open fire, oil, gas or kerosene. On top of commonly unaffordable prices, these light sources bear a variety of health impacts that can range from simple burns to chronic diseases.

The non-profit, humanitarian organization e.quinox endeavors to solve the challenge of rural electrification in developing countries. By developing a solution that is technically viable, financially sustainable and replicable on a large scale, the entirely student-run team from Imperial College London hopes to be able to spread their idea in as many countries as possible. Their vision is to give a large number of remote communities access to electricity, by having other organizations, governments and charities take up their “blue-print” and tailor it to their own respective needs, whilst calling upon the expertise of e.quinox and like-minded organizations.

e.quinox’s model to provide affordable and safe electricity is simple, yet unique. It relies on a centralized power generation hub, the so-called “Energy Kiosk”, and decentralized distribution via battery boxes. The Energy Kiosks are flexible in the sense that they can be powered in a multitude of ways. Current installations include Solar Power or Hydro Power, and one Kiosk is even grid-connected – the use of appropriate technology is key. The battery boxes, supplied each with an LED light and a light holder, also contain the same 230V AC output as any ordinary socket and can be recharged after depletion. Benefiters of e.quinox’s solution can therefore not only use the battery for lighting, but are also able to charge their mobile phones and shavers or power small radios. This allows e.quinox’s current 400 customers in three different Rwandan villages to set up or expand their own businesses. e.quinox strongly believes that the empowerment of the local economy and the instigation of entrepreneurial spirit are key elements to effectively reduce poverty.

Roger Liew, Chairman of e.quinox, illustrates: “Even when a national electric grid is nearby, people in developing countries often can’t gain any access to it, simply because of the high initial and running costs that a connection typically entails. Our system, however, is made economically affordable by undermining the price that our customers would have to pay for alternative, more hazardous lighting solutions. This payment can be made either on a monthly basis or for every single recharge, allowing customers to choose the best suitable model for their own demand.”

Once an individual kiosk’s financial sustainability has been proven, it will be handed over to the local community or government, creating a situation whereby the supported communities no longer have to rely on external support. This financial independence is often overlooked by humanitarian aid ventures, but vital to any community’s long-term development. In essence, this idea of a ‘social business’ allows this form of humanitarian work not to be simple short-term assistance, but to have a prolonged effect and to allow communities to help themselves.

e.quinox is currently competing in the JP Morgan Give-It-Away contest to secure $50,000 for future projects. The competition can only be won through votes from the public, so give e.quinox your support by going to and selecting e.quinox as the organization of your choice! Don’t keep this link to yourself either, share it with your friends, families and colleagues! The e.quinox team is grateful for every bit of support and affirms to make every single penny count.


Posted by Daniel Choudhury (Guest Blogger) in Technology for column Issue Analysis on Apr 26th 2011, 08:31

The roots of poverty


We’ve published a few articles recently challenging the way development NGOs present poverty in their fundraising campaigns (here and here). Although destitute and desperate images tug on our heart, and therefore purse strings, the preconceptions and stereotypes that they create are inaccurate and unsustainable.

This was why I was so excited to see Christian Aid’s latest campaign, ‘To end poverty we need to get to the roots of the problem’. So excited in fact that I ripped it out of my Evening Standard and scanned it in. And then I realised that it was too hard to read ... so here's a copy direct from Christian Aid themselves.

This campaign literally shows us the roots of why the boy featured is living in poverty – a chain of causes which are all manmade and driven by a mixture of political, economic and social factors, none of which are under his control. He is a far cry from the traditional figure that fundraising campaigns present us with - i.e. a child wearing ripped clothing who desperately needs a new water pump to be installed in his village by an NGO, if we donate money his life will be transformed instantly. (Even if he was desperate for that water pump, as many people in the developing world are, this narrative wouldn’t tell us anything about why it isn’t there in the first place.)

It also effectively and simply gives us an overview of the work Christian Aid do – and could do with your donation. They are there at the surface providing relief and support, but also campaigning and lobbying for these root causes to be addressed.

The injustice that this campaign highlights isn’t just the existence of poverty itself, it’s that it’s preventable and changeable. So while it succeeds in inspiring people to donate funds, it also equips and inspires an informed public to have a conversation about the causes of poverty – and to take actions such as campaigning and lobbying, volunteering, and making ethical purchases which can help address them. That’s what’s so exciting.

If you're aware of any organisations who you think are advertising well like this - let us know by posting on our facebook wall at or by commenting below.

Posted by Francesca Rhodes (Guest Blogger) in Aid for column Perspectives on Poverty on Apr 20th 2011, 10:33

Update on Pakistan's Education Emergency


As we described in our blog a few weeks ago, there is currently an education emergency in Pakistan keeping 25 million children from receiving an education, 7 million of whom will never even finish primary school. The March for Education campaign vowed to make March the month where Pakistan focused on nothing but education and they succeeded!

With the support of people like our readers who signed their petition to global leaders to end the education emergency in Pakistan, they were able to get the topic at the top of the political agenda. In his first visit to Pakistan last week, Prime Minister David Cameron alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced the UK is dedicated to a new program of assistance to put 4 million Pakistani children into school by 2015, to train 90,000 new teachers, and to provide 6 million textbooks. You can see footage of the announcement on the Independent's website.

This is a huge win for the Pakistan Education Task Force’s campaign and shows the power of our voices when we band together to help end the issues stemming from extreme poverty. Thank you to all of you who helped make this possible.

However, there is still much to be accomplished in this battle to end the education problems Pakistan is experiencing. They still need more people to sign the petition to continue putting pressure on other global leaders to join Pakistan and the UK in building the education system. 4 million children in school by 2015 is a huge step in the right direction, but that still leaves 21 million children without the chance to attend school.

Let’s keep the momentum going and get even more support behind this campaign so we can make sure no child is left without an education and the chance for a bright future.

Posted by Ashli Alberty in Education, What Can I Do? for column Issue Analysis on Apr 19th 2011, 09:04

What's a quid got to do with ending poverty?


That’s exactly the question I wanted to explore last year so I challenged myself to live on £1 a day for 8 days in the lead-up to Christmas.

Well, to be honest, the timing couldn’t have been worse… after all the Christmas season is the time of indulgence, Christmas markets, gatherings with friends, celebrations… it’s certainly not the time to live on a very tight budget!

However, I put a lot of thought into what I would eat as spending £8 on groceries for 8 days is not much – not in London, and in fact not anywhere in the world! I went through various recipe books and identified a variety of meals with cheap ingredients I would buy and cook.

I ended up going to three different supermarkets to compare prices before I bought all my groceries. I also put £1 aside for ingredients I already had in my cupboard, such as seasoning and spices - which left me with a meagre £7 for 8 days! I was well aware that simply going to the supermarket and picking up random bits and pieces for this little money wouldn’t work (well). Some more thought was required!

I cooked three meals per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, no snacks.

My first day of Live Below the Line went well…ish. Of course, nothing bad happened, and I ate £1 worth of food, but I greatly missed my additional breakfast ingredients, such as nuts, seeds, dried cranberries and soya yogurt. I guess, missing food makes you appreciate it more when you do have it.

Still needing to get my veggies for the week, I went to my local market and was pretty stoked to only spend £1.66 on all my (fresh!) fruit and veggies. What a bargain!

As I was paying for my produce, the discussion opened up with the market lady, and we talked about my Live Below the Line challenge. She asked me straight away if I had been to any developing country where people live in extreme poverty. Without giving me a chance to respond she continued saying she’s been there, she’s seen it all. “You can’t compare it” were her last words that she repeated a few times before she shifted her attention to the next customer.

So what’s a quid got to do with ending extreme poverty then? The World Bank defines extreme poverty as what you could buy in the US in 2005 for $1.25, today roughly the equivalent of £1 here in the UK. There are 1.4 billion people in the world who live off this tiny amount every day. That little money has to cover everything, health care, education, shelter… not just food and drink.

I knew the market lady was right. I was only Living Below the Line for food and drinks, and although I went to bed hungry a couple of times, I knew I couldn’t, and never attempted to, compare my experience to the struggle 1.4 billion people face every day – the lack of choice whether to spend the little money you have on medication for a sick family member or on food for the whole family, hoping the family member gets better without any medication.

My last day of the challenge was rather interesting… only a couple of days before Christmas I had to catch a plane to Norway to spend the holidays with my family. Although I was rather organised and took my pre-cooked food with me on the plane, I found myself washing all my clothes when I arrived as my food had leaked in my bag. Luckily I could still eat the food otherwise I would have had to go without dinner on my last day of Live below the Line.

And boy I was challenged many times during the 8 days! Once I became extremely hungry and thirsty in central London and had to take the hour long journey back home to eat my food before spending another hour heading back into central London to meet friends. I also had to reject free food from friends, drink nothing but tap water and even not eat at a farewell dinner!

Live Below the Line certainly opened my eyes and gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to live without having the choice of quickly grabbing food and drink while out and about. But I never compared my situation to that of 1.4 billion people worldwide.

My attempt on doing the challenge was not to compare the situations because, as the lady from the market stall said, there is no comparison! How could I possibly compare my challenge to someone living in one of the poorest countries in the world, where 70% or more of the population lives on £1 or less a day? How could I compare myself to someone who has no choices about how to spend their little money?

My aim was to raise awareness of and get discussions going about this inequality – and raise funds for the Global Poverty Project who created the campaign in Australia in 2009 with the Oaktree Foundation.

Can you do it? Show those 1.4 billion people that you care and that you want to see an end to extreme poverty within a lifetime.

Sign-up now to Live Below the Line in the UK, Australia or the USA.

Posted by Uschi Klein (Guest Blogger) in What Can I Do?, Hunger for column Live Below the Line on Apr 18th 2011, 06:27

Living Comfortably or Getting By - still hungry


In this guest blog Lymari Morales, Managing News Editor of, explains the latest findings from research across Africa about how people see themselves.

The "poverty line" has always been a murky concept -- be it in a wealthy country like the U.S. or in impoverished nations where the main gauge is whether one lives on more or less than $1.25 per day.

Gallup’s global surveys underscore the complexity involved. As part of its continuous global research, Gallup asks citizens around the world about basic needs, such as food and shelter, and higher order needs, such as employment and wellbeing. Our research confirms that it is very difficult to achieve the latter without the former.

Gallup also asks respondents about their household income to look at the relationship between the money they have and everything else they think and do. But again, a concept like “household income” can be tricky in a place where, lacking a paycheck from an employer, one might trade goods or accept other means to get by.

For that reason, Gallup also asks respondents, “Which one of these phrases comes closest to your own feelings about your household income these days: Living comfortably on present income, getting by on present income, finding it difficult on present income, or finding it very difficult on present income?”

Here are some results from sub-Saharan Africa based on surveys conducted in 2009 and 2010. What we learn is that a median of 71% of sub-Saharan Africans say they are finding it difficult to live on their present income. Fewer than 2 in 10 say they are “getting by,” and fewer than 1 in 10 say they are “living comfortably.”

But living comfortably or getting by clearly means something else to sub-Saharan Africans.

A Gallup analysis released this week reveals that sizable minorities -- and in some cases large majorities -- of those who say they are living comfortably or getting by also say there were times in the past year when they could not afford to buy the food they or their family needed.

In the Central African Republic, where 87% of respondents tell Gallup there were times they could not afford food, this percentage barely budges across the subjective income categories. In Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Zambia, Comoros, Congo (Kinshasa), and Tanzania, 50% or more of respondents who say they are living comfortably or getting by say there were times they could not afford food. In 20 of the 28 countries, more than one-third of those who say they are living comfortably or getting by still say there were times in the last year when they did not have enough money to buy food.

Gallup’s continuous tracking of these issues reveals that sub-Saharan Africans have only become more negative about their financial situation in recent years -- even as GDP in the region has improved. More sub-Saharan Africans in 2010 told Gallup they were finding it difficult or very difficult to live on their present income than did in each of the prior three years.

These Gallup findings showcase the complicated nature of assessing “poverty” around the world. They also serve as an important reminder that it takes more than classical economic metrics, such as daily income or GDP, to monitor and improve the wellbeing of populations worldwide.

If you'd like to understand more about the challenge of hunger and poverty, sign up to spend 5 days living below the line - eating and drinking on your local equivalent of the extreme poverty line - UKAustraliaUSA.

Posted by Lymari Morales, (Guest Blogger) in Hunger, Poverty for column Live Below the Line on Apr 14th 2011, 06:32