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Linking local priorities and global challenges
Updated: 19 min 7 sec ago

Biocultural heritage territories: key to halting biodiversity loss

Wed, 23/09/2020 - 06:50
A new briefing examines the importance of biocultural heritage territories, whose communities are custodians of biodiversity.

Human life depends on biodiversity, but biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate, and the human cultures that have conserved it for millennia are also fast disappearing.

In 2021, world leaders will gather to agree new post-2020 targets to address biodiversity loss in the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Until now, the main approach to biodiversity preservation has been through state-run protected areas, often disconnecting nature from human life.

However, recent findings by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) show that biodiversity is best conserved on the territories of Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs).

A new briefing by IIED, Asociación ANDES and the Research Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) from Coventry University, which draws on 20 years’ experience in the Potato Park in Peru, argues that community-led approaches, such as Indigenous biocultural heritage territories (BCHTs), provide more just and effective alternatives to protected areas in order to meet the CBD post-2020 targets as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The concept of ‘biocultural heritage’ reflects the Indigenous worldview that biodiversity and culture are indivisible, and are an integral part of holistic wellbeing. This understanding offers an alternative to Western models of conservation that separate people and nature.

Unlike Western concepts such as ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘nature-based solutions’, Indigenous People see their relationship with nature as reciprocal rather than linear

Biocultural heritage territories arise from Indigenous traditions of landscape management. Their main goal is holistic wellbeing, rather than conservation, but holistic wellbeing means the wellbeing of both people and nature, and results in conservation as the outcome of an autonomous process.

Examples of Indigenous BCHTs provided by this briefing are the Potato Park and the Maize Park in Peru. Both Indigenous territories have succeeded in conserving and enhancing the local biodiversity, while empowering Indigenous communities. Their conservation strategies are based on Andean holistic wellbeing concepts and customary laws that promote Indigenous values of ecological stewardship, self-sufficiency, solidarity and equity.

The briefing’s authors, IIED’s Krystyna Swiderska, Asociación ANDES’ Alejandro Argumedo and CAWR’s Michel Pimbert, indicate that the CBD’s post-2020 targets should:

  • Acknowledge the link between the loss of both Indigenous territories and biodiversity, and
  • Include the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ territories, rights, and traditional knowledge.

The authors add: “Global biodiversity loss is driven by the loss of indigenous cultures and encroachment on indigenous territories. The Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 biodiversity targets must explicitly recognise the connection between these dual crises.”

In addition, according to the publication, the CBD post-2020 targets should:

  • Protect the self-governed territories of Indigenous peoples and local communities (Target 2), and
  • Mainstream indigenous traditional knowledge and values into policymaking (Target 13).

IIED is working on a project with partners in China, India, Kenya and Peru to explore how the interlinked traditional knowledge, biodiversity, culture and landscapes – the biocultural heritage – of Indigenous Peoples can contribute to sustainable development.

IIED research and evidence in academia

Wed, 23/09/2020 - 06:30

IIED researchers regularly contribute to a range of external high-profile publications, books and renowned journals that help to influence the academic discourse. This page highlights the most recent work.

While IIED’s Publications Library hosts more than 7,500 policy briefings, working papers, event reports and more, the work of IIED’s experts is also often featured in a range of international and distinguished journals.

IIED’s research has been featured in noted journals such as World Development, The Lancet and One Earth, on subjects ranging from sustainable agricultural intensification to the potential of social assistance policies in the context of increasing challenges of global inequality, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Publishing research in such journals, and subjecting our work to peer review, enables the institute to produce research that influences the academic discourse and it also enables IIED’s researchers to reach a wide and highly credible audience while ensuring that our evidence is of the highest quality.


IIED researchers also author or edit books, or chapters of those, from international scientific publishers. These can be found in the IIED Bookshelf, along with related blogs, Q&As and video interviews about their work.

These contributions to journals and other external publications, which may also be found through IIED’s researchers on Google Scholar, support IIED’s efforts to strive for excellence in policy and action research that drives sustainable development.

Below is the latest IIED research published in academic journals. Some of these articles are behind a paywall and cannot be accessed without a paid-for subscription. Please contact your local library or institution to see if they can provide you with access.

Beyond banning wildlife trade: COVID-19, conservation and development (2020), World Development journal

This article suggests that the COVID-19 crisis provides a unique opportunity for a paradigm shift both in our global food system and also in our approach to conservation. Featuring IIED's Dilys Roe.

Conserving Africa’s wildlife and wildlands through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond (2020), Nature journal

This article describes how the COVID-19 creates a perfect storm of reduced funding, restrictions on the operations of conservation agencies, and elevated human threats to nature. It also identifies the immediate steps necessary to address these challenges and support ongoing conservation efforts. Featuring IIED's Dilys Roe.

Supporting smallholders’ decision making: managing trade-offs and synergies for sustainable agricultural intensification (2020), International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability

This study explores how different types of farm households in Northwest Ghana, Eastern Burkina Faso and Central Malawi make choices about resource allocation and farming strategies, and how they manage the trade-offs encountered. Featuring IIED’s Barbara Adolph and Sam Barrett.

“Inclusive business” in agriculture: evidence from the evolution of agricultural value chains (2020), World Development journal

This review paper examines published evidence on the structural factors shaping agricultural value chains and their implications for social inclusion. Featuring IIED’s Lorenzo Cotula.

Between Hope and Critique: Human Rights, Social Justice and Re-Imagining International Law from the Bottom Up (2020), Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law

This article analyses indigenous peoples’ use of regional human rights systems to defend or reclaim their ancestral lands, and agrarian movements’ advocacy for the recently adopted United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. Featuring IIED’s Lorenzo Cotula.

Harnessing employment-based social assistance programmes to scale up nature-based climate action (2020) Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B journal

This article illustrates the potential of social assistance policies in the context of increasing challenges of global inequality, climate change and biodiversity loss. Featuring IIED’s Andrew Norton, Nathalie Seddon, Clare Shakya, Nanki Kaur and Ina Porras.

Net gain: seeking better outcomes for local people when mitigating biodiversity loss from development (2020), One Earth journal

This article presents ethical, practical, and regulatory reasons why development projects applying the mitigation hierarchy should consider related social impacts. Featuring IIED’s Dilys Roe.

Land rights and investments: why the IFC performance standards are not enough: a comparison with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (2019), briefing, LEGEND  

This note studies differences in the approach of the International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability (IFC-PS) and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT). It pinpoints differences that relate specifically to land rights in an investment context and considers the operational implications of these. Featuring IIED’s Lorenzo Cotula.

Cortec Mining Kenya Limited, Cortec (Pty) Limited, and Stirling Capital Limited v. Republic of Kenya (2019), American Journal of International Law

This case comment discusses an investor-state arbitral award rendered under the bilateral investment treaty between Kenya and the United Kingdom. The dispute relates to a mining project in Kenya. Featuring IIED’s Lorenzo Cotula.

Between Promising Advances and Deepening Concerns: A Bottom-Up Review of Trends in Land Governance 2015–2018 (2019), Land journal

An evolving land governance context compounds the case for practitioners to closely track developments as they unfold. The study discusses global trends in land governance over the period 2015-18, and highlights some of the developments practitioners grapple with in their work. Featuring IIED’s Lorenzo Cotula.

Biodiversity loss — more than an environmental emergency (2019), The Lancet

This paper highlights how biodiversity is as much as a development priority as the climate change emergency through discussing biodiversity loss' impact on agriculture, human health and climate resilience. Featuring IIED’s Dilys Roe.

Engaging local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade: a synthesis of approaches and lessons for best practice (2019), Conservation Science and Practice journal

This paper examines a range of existing approaches to community engagement to tackle international IWT and reviews the evidence on their effectiveness. Featuring IIED’s Dilys Roe and Francesca Booker.

Understanding complex drivers of wildlife crime to design effective conservation interventions (2019), Conservation Biology journal

This article investigates the drivers and prevalence of wildlife crime in communities surrounding two national parks in Uganda and predicts the performance of potential interventions designed to tackle these crimes. Featuring IIED’s Dilys Roe.

ALIGN: Advancing Land-based Investment Governance

Tue, 22/09/2020 - 06:42

ALIGN supports governments, civil society, local communities and other relevant actors in strengthening the governance of land-based investments – from agriculture to infrastructure, extractives and manufacturing.

Development policy and practice place growing emphasis on the role of private investment in promoting sustainable development. But a wave of land-based investments for agriculture, renewable energy, mining, petroleum, manufacturing and infrastructure has raised widespread concerns about land dispossession and conflict.

International soft-law instruments such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure (VGGT) provide guidance on regulating land-based investments. But much remains to be done to translate guidance into real change.

And while public campaigning on ‘land grabbing’ has made some businesses more aware of tenure rights issues and risks, most businesses are yet to meaningfully reconsider their practices or engage with tenure issues unless forced to by flare ups of conflict.

Addressing these issues requires systemic governance reform to strengthen local rights and to enhance opportunities for public participation and accountability in investment processes.

What is IIED doing?

IIED, Namati and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) have developed a new initiative to support governments, civil society, local communities and private sector actors in improving the governance and practices of land-based investments.  

The Advancing Land-based Investment Governance (ALIGN) project involves:

  • Sustained, in-depth work in three sub-Saharan African countries, including Sierra Leone, to support policy development and implementation, legal empowerment, and dialogue between actors, both at the national level and in selected sites
  • An international facility for responsive support to governments, civil society, local communities and other relevant actors, for example through training and support regarding policy development and implementation, legal empowerment, and dialogue between actors, and
  • Enhancing understanding and improving practices among key actors, globally and in specific targeted contexts, through developing and disseminating innovative responses to key challenges.  

In the first few months of the project, priority is being given to monitoring, responding to and anticipating developments occurring in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. Further partner organisations will also be identified during project implementation.

CBA14 opens with LDC chair call for greater ambition on climate change

Mon, 21/09/2020 - 14:04
The chair of the Least Developed Countries negotiating group on climate change warns that climate change impacts are “clear and increasing” and calls for increased urgency and ambition to protect communities.

The 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA14) was today (21 September) opened by Sonam P. Wangdi,  chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group group at the UN climate negotiations

The LDC Group represents the 47 nations who are most vulnerable to climate change, despite having done the least to cause it. 

Wangdi, of Bhutan, said: "Despite the pandemic, the impacts of climate change continue to be clear and increasing. While fires are burning in California, intense flooding has damaged homes and destroyed livelihoods in Sudan, India, Yemen, Bangladesh and many more other locations."

Wangdi said: "The urgency and ambition needed to fully prepare for the future must continue to increase if we are to protect ourselves and our communities."

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, CBA14 is taking place online. Some 500 participants from 77 countries are due to attend the five-day event. Wangdi highlighted the value of linking the international community of practice on climate adaptation despite the pandemic, saying it was “crucially important” to create opportunities for grassroots and community-based adaptation practitioners, researchers and policymakers to come together.  

He said: “These moments are central in building the community of practice, networks and knowhow that are necessary to develop complex responses to a complex challenge.

“They ensure that development partners and international organisations can remain grounded, able to learn from those who are most vulnerable, by providing opportunities for them to listen to local solutions and wisdom.”

Adaptation to climate change cannot be successful unless it builds on the knowledge and understanding of the people who are most affected by climate risks – Sonam P. Wangdi

Panel discussion

The opening plenary of the conference featured an international panel of speakers, moderated by Manish Bapna, executive director and vice president of the World Resources Institute.

The first speaker was Rosemary Atieno, who leads the NGO Community Mobilization for Positive Empowerment (COMPE) in Kenya. She reported on the impacts of COVID-19 on Kenyan communities and highlighted the importance of Indigenous knowledge and grassroots action on climate change. 

The next speaker, Sheela Patel, chair of the international network Slum Dwellers International (SDI), spoke about the importance of connecting large national and international initiatives with vulnerable communities. SDI is a network of urban-poor organisations working in 500 cities in 33 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Patel said CBA14 had an opportunity to bring together and aggregate the voices of grassroots communities as they engage with policymakers. 

Dr Muhammad Musa, executive director of the NGO BRAC International, which works in 12 countries in Asia and Africa, said it was important to acknowledge and respect the knowledge and skills of local communities – and move away from the label of ‘beneficiary'  and towards partnerships.

Live polling on community adaptation

After the panel discussion, CBA participants were invited to share their perspectives on the future of locally-led action using the 'Mentimeter' voting platform. 

Participants were asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic crisis accelerate or impede locally-led action. A narrow marjority of participants thought the pandemic would accelerate climate action.

The second question asked participants to identify the barriers that need to be tackled in order to make progress. Their answers included: trust, good governance, power imbalances, finance, and many more.

The third question asked about the top priorities for a community of practice on local adaptation for the next decade. Just over one third of participants said fostering connections between donors, CSOs, and grassroots organisations is the top priority. 

Closing remarks

The plenary was closed by Saleemul Huq, the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh. Huq said the pandemic, and the sharp increase in digital working, was providing a new opportunity for people to link up globally to address climate impacts. He urged CBA14 participants to engage online to find ways to continue dialogues and take locally-led adaptation forward as a community of practice. 

This opening session was open to the public, and was designed to set the stage for an engaging, interactive conference.

Programme and key themes

CBA14 takes place from 21 September to 25 September 2020. The conference has five key themes:

  • The climate finance theme will explore how public and private sector finance can be accountable and transparently mobilised to scale up climate action while remaining inclusive. 
  • The adaptation technology theme will explore how to bring adaptation technologies to scale at national level and be integrated across policy and finance. Building on previous years’ CBA messages, it will explore how to leverage adaptation technologies for greater investment from a range of actors while still ensuring that the knowledge and perspective of communities is used to guide how those technologies should benefit them. 
  • The responsive policy theme focuses on how policy can respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. This year it will focus on the role of social movements in driving more responsive policy that can inform local climate action. 
  • The nature-based solutions (NbS) theme will look at how solutions can be made to work for people, nature and climate, recognising that biodiversity loss is a challenge that is equal that of climate change and that we need to consider these issues together rather than separately if we are to have meaningful impact. 
  • The youth inclusion theme will be led by youth organisations and young people and seek to understand how we can properly incorporate the views of young people so that they can have a greater say in the policies that will shape their future.

Review the full conference schedule and register to participate

Calibrating cooking to affect deforestation and violence against women in displaced settings

Mon, 21/09/2020 - 11:33

Cooking activities, deforestation and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are dynamics that closely interact in displacement settings across the globe. Commissioned by Irish Aid, IIED’s study on cookstoves and fuels examined options for displaced communities in Kigoma, Tanzania, and considered lessons from other countries. 

Refugees and asylum seekers in Kigoma, Tanzania, live in three camps: Nyarugusu camp, which was started in 1996 to shelter refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo; and Nduta and Mtendeli camps, set up in 2015 to shelter Burundians escaping violence in their country. 

There were around 275,000 refugees and asylum seekers living in these camps in 2019. 

As in other countries, refugees and asylum seekers in Kigoma mainly rely on woodfuel to cook their food. Wood is usually sourced from areas surrounding the camps and harvesting it is gruelling work, involving long walking distances and many hours’ labour every week. 

This burden typically falls on the shoulders of women and girls, which leaves them open to risks, such as violence and rape, during the long periods they spend outside of the camps. Some women suffer domestic violence too, often being blamed for long stays away from home or not providing cooked meals at times expected by men.

What did IIED do?

Providing cooking solutions, such as fuels and stoves, is often seen as a logical way to address many of these issues. However, experience in other countries shows that interventions targeting cooking solutions do not necessarily reduce rape and violence, and worse, sometimes result in them being transferred to other facets of daily life.

To reduce violence against women and girls, best practices on mitigating SGBV must be integrated with the cooking solutions from the start, while simultaneously developing other needs such as livelihood solutions.

Harvesting woodfuel can contribute to deforestation as camps are usually densely populated, which leads to unsustainable harvesting from surrounding forest areas. While satellite imagery has shown a link between deforestation and recent refugee arrivals in Kigoma, there is little data comparing the impact of refugees collecting wood to other factors.

For instance, studies have shown that communities have intensified their farming activities specifically to trade with refugees, and local people told us that herders coming from outside the region had cleared land for cattle grazing. These external dynamics must be considered when identifying ways to reduce deforestation.

Cooking methods can be an important part of cultural identity. The most efficient and least polluting stoves do not necessarily meet the cooking priorities of women who are the main users, and many have low adoption rates among households.

Even when people have access to improved cookstoves, they often continue to use open fires for cooking. We need solutions that are not purely designed to technical specifications but respond to women’s preferences and perceptions, and build users’ capacity to adopt different technologies.

Organisations working on sustainable energy for displaced peoples are increasingly interested in engaging with private sector companies to build market solutions (see for example The Moving Energy Initiative and Smarter Communities Coalition (PDF)).

However, in very challenging settings like Kigoma – where camps have restricted economies and strict government guidelines on interventions – private sector partnerships are not viable. 

Prohibited from earning money, people living in the camps lack the cash to pay; and the policy environment is not stable enough to allay concerns over the sustainability of investments or partnerships. Also, many 'market-building' approaches do not prioritise gender within their design.

The assumption seems to be that a refugee camp will function like any other market, but within these ‘markets’ are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, especially women and girls.

Project findings

IIED undertook field research in Kigoma, Tanzania. We interviewed host community members and refugees as well as UN and implementing agencies.

IIED’s analysis found the only viable fuel options for the Kigoma camps’ to be sustainable woodfuel and briquettes. Liquified petroleum gas have prohibitively high programme costs and refugees are forbidden from using sustainable charcoal.

Given the camp economic restrictions, the only possible delivery mechanism appears to be bulk procurement and distribution to refugees – which could involve the private sector as a service provider, but not as a market builder.

Next steps

Our work was preliminary and the next steps need to involve more extensive data gathering on energy consumption and an inclusive design process – for example, IIED’s Energy Delivery Models. 

We recommend there is investment upfront to understand people’s needs – both in the camps and host communities – and to prioritise gender-centric approaches across the design, implementation and monitoring phases of interventions. Getting a thorough understanding of communities’ priorities and of the complex drivers of different behaviours does add costs, but also creates more appropriate and sustainable solutions.

Addressing multi-faceted problems like SGBV and deforestation needs many agencies working and communicating together. For Kigoma, there needs to be much better collaboration between government, partners and sectors – including within and between the humanitarian and development actors – to deliver solutions in an integrated manner. 

An example would be a land and forest management programme that builds new skills, jobs and income for local people, and over a longer term provides a sustainable wood supply that can be distributed to camp residents.  

The situation in Kigoma is protracted, complex and subject to ongoing change. Any energy intervention must have good feedback mechanisms so it can adapt to external and regional changes that can rapidly shift, sometimes literally overnight. 

Inclusive and integrated energy planning in Kitui County, Kenya

Mon, 21/09/2020 - 10:56

IIED and partners are supporting the Kitui county government in Kenya to develop an integrated energy plan using our ‘Energy Delivery Model’ approach.

IIED and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) have developed and tested the Energy Delivery Model (EDM) approach to designing energy services – as an inclusive planning tool since 2013. 

The EDM Toolkit is a six-step problem-solving process. It is different from many other energy tools because it starts with the needs of communities and prioritises these throughout an iterative design process.  

Rather than seeing energy as the end goal, it looks at a range of community members’ interests, such as improving local health clinics or earning a better living from farming. The process examines whether and how energy services could be designed to help achieve those goals, and what other interventions might be required. 

The EDM approach places a high priority on understanding the local social-cultural context and working out how to design an energy service accordingly. Its inclusive and cross-sector approach creates longer lasting solutions that have local buy-in and achieve impacts that communities really value.   

In 2010, Kenya established a devolved government system that includes moving the responsibility of energy planning to the county level, and the 2019 Energy Act mandated that county governments develop county energy plans (CEP) to meet the energy requirements of their country.

This gives county governments the scope to develop energy plans that take county-wide development needs into consideration and to work collaboratively with other sectors – such as water or education – so those sectors can improve their services through better access to energy. These policy developments offer an ideal opportunity to implement the EDM approach at scale in Kenya.

What is IIED doing?

With the Kenyan constitution and the Energy Act requiring all counties to develop a three-year CEP, IIED and CAFOD are collaborating with the Kitui county government, and local partners, to develop an integrated CEP for Kitui. Kitui is the first county in Kenya to use this approach.

IIED’s role is to co-lead the development of the CEP with CAFOD, manage the research and approach to stakeholder engagement that feeds into it, and train local partner Caritas Kitui to use the EDM tools.  

The end product should be an inclusive CEP that is fully integrated into wider Kitui county development planning and has specific solutions that meet community-prioritised needs. One particular aim is to help the county government achieve scale (1.1 million people) and find synergies between sectors.

The EDM approach also aims to map and engage with finance and service providers to move quickly from planning to implementation by aggregating solutions for target communities or regions. Aggregating or bundling solutions across the county then reduces transaction costs and helps to attract these service providers and financiers.

Since 2018, the project partners have carried out a county-wide baseline survey, followed by an in-depth assessment at the household and community level, and across eight sectors (such as agriculture, health, education, small businesses) in the sub-counties.

Communities’ priorities have ranged from increasing their income from rain-fed and irrigated crop farming, to having better household lighting and access to clean water points located closer to their homes. We also worked with the World Resources Institute to use their GIS mapping tools for pulling out relevant county-level data (on demographics, water resources, renewable energy resource potential, for example).

The next step was to devise specific solutions across the priority sectors, including potential funding options and business models. Once the county government has agreed the solutions to be included in the CEP, the partners will develop full implementation plans. 

These plans will include budgets and be firmly anchored in a cross-sector county plan. The CEP will also feed into the policies of both the national Ministry of Energy and power utility to ensure all plans and investments are properly aligned.

An inclusive planning approach

Alongside the technical analysis, the partners invest a lot of effort in building stakeholders’ awareness and buy-in for an inclusive planning approach, and seeking their inputs.

We provide advice for local officials tasked with developing the CEP and engage regularly with stakeholders such as county assembly members, staff at the Kitui energy department, energy companies, development agencies, local NGOs and business associations such as the chamber of commerce.

An important milestone took place in 2019, when we co-convened a regional inclusive and integrated planning workshop with Kenya’s Ministry of Energy. This brought together government, civil society and private sector participants from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.

The Minister of Energy’s personal attendance, and the presence of officials from non-energy ministries (such as water and agriculture) sent promising signals there is real appetite for the type of inclusive, coordinated approaches needed to achieve energy for all.

Aggregating off-grid energy solutions to deliver SDG7 energy access

Mon, 21/09/2020 - 06:34

IIED spoke with 23 companies in Bangladesh, Nepal and East Africa that have received financing from three intermediaries or ‘aggregators’. Our analysis shows the promise of aggregating off-grid solutions as a method to attract more financing for energy access.

Getting energy to everyone will require a mixture of technologies, with off-grid energy systems – such as mini-grids or clean cookstoves – complementing large grid infrastructure. Aggregation has great potential to channel finance into the millions of off-grid projects and products that will be needed to achieve universal energy access by 2030.

What are aggregators? 

Aggregators are financial or technical intermediaries that bring together projects and companies into portfolios that reduce transaction costs, mitigate risks and increase investment sizes in order to attract larger investors.

Aggregation can also be used to create new investment products; for example by bundling up smaller loans, blending public-private finance or by merging several projects and their assets into a single investment vehicle.

Many aggregators do more than pool finance on the supply side. A scene-setting paper for this project, ‘Turning up the volume’, showed how vehicles may aggregate customer demand, different types of technologies and business models, or market-building functions such as capacity building. 

What did IIED do?

Our report, ‘Moving more money’, examined three aggregators to understand the financial instruments used, the experience of energy companies accessing funds, and the impacts for poor people. Our work built on earlier research by IIED’s climate change team on climate finance mechanisms.

The Alternative Energy Promotion Center (AEPC) in Nepal, the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) in Bangladesh, and SunFunder in East Africa, have all forged unique pathways for ‘crowding in’ more public and private finance and providing support beyond financing to grow off-grid markets.

The aggregators we studied are providing a variety of support measures such as building demand, awareness raising, quality assurance and monitoring, training, data collection and information sharing. The finance and the supporting services are bundled differently for different markets to address unique needs.

Our findings showed IDCOL and AEPC – which are both government initiatives – have reached some of the poorest and most remote communities through generous subsidy schemes, with IDCOL mixing subsidies with concessional loans. 

The commercial aggregator, Sunfunder, attracted significant investments, disbursing multi-million dollar loans to larger companies while also being able to offer some of the smallest disbursements in the industry. 

While all three were quite successful in expanding access, each aggregator has faced significant challenges. The subsidy-heavy programmes of IDCOL and AEPC have not responded to changing market conditions as rapidly as Sunfunder. 

And without the mandates or subsidies of AEPC and IDCOL, Sunfunder will have to seek alternative ways to reach underserved markets – with one idea being to form partnerships that couple debt with grants.

Our research recommended that governments, development finance institutions, companies, aggregators and other stakeholders:

  • Channel more public finance into inclusive financial instruments: governments can learn from Nepal and Bangladesh, where public funds, mobilised as subsidies and concessionary loans, have incentivised off-grid energy in marginalised communities.
  • Explore and test out special-purpose platforms, such as aggregators, to blend public-private finance and enable closer collaboration between funders, enterprises and the state. These could operate at a national or provincial level and include a focus on experimentation – helping different players to test and scale interventions. 
  • Couple financial instruments with grant-funded capacity development initiatives, particularly targeting early stage companies.
  • Strengthen coordination among public and private stakeholders to prevent overlap and stimulate synergies: development finance institutions undermined one aggregator by funding them directly while circumventing the aggregator and offering loans directly to their customer base; while another aggregator found unexpected grid extension by government sapped demand for off-grid products.
  • Apply conditions whereby access to finance is contingent on energy companies complying with product standards and quality assurance.
  • Be bolder in the information shared publicly as more data can stimulate market growth and helps actors adjust quickly to changing conditions.
  • Collaborate to establish richer impact metrics and use these to better target energy investments, policies, business models and products toward the poorest citizens.

Film launch: Protracted displacement and urban crises

Mon, 21/09/2020 - 06:11

Join us on Monday, 28 September 2020 for the premiere of a film telling the stories of urban refugees in Kenya. This event, held to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly, will also feature a Q&A with the documentary makers and other urban experts.

The 'Protracted displacement and urban crises' film documents the experiences of a handful of refugee households living in Mathare – an informal settlement – in Nairobi, Kenya.

In interviews in their homes, women and men from Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo speak frankly about the events that caused them to flee, their struggles finding shelter and work in Nairobi, and how COVID-19 is impacting on their lives and livelihoods.

Their stories demonstrate how little assistance they receive as refugees, and the challenges they face dealing with the authorities and humanitarian agencies.

United in a call for higher ambition on the global biodiversity agenda

Fri, 18/09/2020 - 06:32

Ahead of the UN biodiversity summit later this month, a partnership of environment and development organisations – including IIED – are urging world leaders to ramp up ambition on action for nature, climate and development.

In June and July this year, IIED joined 27 partners – ranging from UN agencies to business groups to Indigenous Peoples’ organisations – to co-convene a series of “Virtual biodiversity dialogues”. The purpose of the dialogues? To explore some of the issues under consideration in the emerging post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and to highlight common concerns and priorities for global leaders to take into account during the negotiations.

Making the most of COVID-19 constraints

The partnership of environment and development organisations was established in anticipation of the IUCN World Conservation Congress being held in France in June 2020. The original purpose of the partnership was to co-organise a series of side events at the congress, located in a joint ’pavilion’.

All events were to focus on the new framework due to be agreed at the Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), that was due to be held in October 2020.

COVID-19 obviously put a halt to both the IUCN and CBD gatherings but the ’Post-2020 Pavilion Partnership’ decided to make the most of these global meetings being postponed and organised a series of online events instead.

Overall, nearly 900 people from all corners of the world participated in the series of 10 dialogues discussing issues ranging from the scope and content of ambitious global goals for nature to governance for transformative change; from synergies with other conventions and the Sustainable Development Goals to intergenerational equity.

Equity and justice at the heart of a new biodiversity agreement

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the dialogues, from an IIED perspective, was the clear message that rights, equity and justice must lie at the heart of the post-2020 framework. These are issues that IIED has long advocated for, particularly through our work on equity in the context of protected area management. We recognise the urgent need to tackle biodiversity loss and to protect the world’s remaining intact habitats.

But efforts to protect biodiversity that ride rough-shod over local people’s rights to own and manage their resources are not acceptable, and we share concerns with human rights groups as to the potential implications of calls for 30% of land to be protected by 2030.

The dialogues made clear that this year must mark the start of a pivotal moment in human history when we reset our relationship with nature. COVID-19 has shown just how catastrophically misaligned we currently are. Last year’s IPBES Global Assessment highlighted how nature underpins the delivery of all the SDGs. And our own work emphasises the development implications of biodiversity loss.

The drivers of both biodiversity loss and the emergence of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 lie in our mismanagement of nature – in unfettered land conversion and habitat destruction driven by our global food system.

Reflecting this, a further clear message from the dialogues was that world leaders must adopt an ambitious global goal for nature that commits the world to halting further loss of nature and restoring what we have already lost. Participants discussed the concept of ‘nature positive’ as a parallel to ‘carbon neutral’ in the climate negotiations and in one session agreed we would like to see a global ambition for an equitable, carbon-neutral and nature-positive world.

Calling on world leaders to do better

Achieving this ambition would require transformative change in many areas. In our financial systems, food systems, trade systems, and in governance – from international to local levels. If COVID-19 has shown us anything at all it is that transformative action is possible when the risks of inaction are perceived to be great enough. Governments can take actions that previously might have been thought impossible.

One of the objectives of the virtual biodiversity dialogues was therefore to recognise the moment of opportunity that COVID-19 presents amid catastrophe and to collectively craft some key messages for the UN Summit on Biodiversity on 30 September. The heads of the partner organisations have signed a call to action (PDF) aimed at the world leaders participating in the summit.

The call outlines four key measures we would like leaders to take, to deliver an ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and contribute to the achievement of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

The Post-2020 Pavilion partners are not the only organisations issuing a call to action ahead of the UN Biodiversity Summit. Other sectors of society are also calling for ambitious, collective action for nature, climate and development including (but not limited to) business, humanitarian organisations and youth.

Will world leaders respond to these calls or will it be just business as usual? Critical agreements on nature and climate will not be forged until next year. But this month’s summit provides an opportunity for heads of state and government to set the tone for the negotiations to come.

Let’s hope that the tone in the statements that will emerge from the UN summit reflects the high ambition we need, and is accompanied by commitments to real action and change (yes, even the transformative stuff), not the lip service we’ve been used to.

Read the joint press release where hundreds of organisations – including businesses; environment and development organisations, humanitarian organisations; faith groups; local and regional governments; Indigenous Peoples; and youth – call on world leaders to ‘Act on nature’.

COVID-19 and the housing crisis in the global South – time for change

Thu, 17/09/2020 - 06:01

COVID-19 has highlighted the significance of housing for citizen wellbeing, particularly in the global South. IIED is hosting an online event on Monday, 5 October to discuss what we have learned from previous interventions and COVID-19 to help tackle the housing crisis.

Housing is critical for wellbeing. It provides safety and security. It is the place for family life. It is also the place where, for the most part, people take care of themselves and their families, and sleep and eat. It is the location from which people access essential services including water, sanitation and energy. For many people, it is also a place of work.

There is limited access to adequate housing particularly in the global South where an estimated one billion people live in informal settlements. Their homes have inadequate access to basic services, and their dwellings may be built of rudimentary materials. Many households (one third or more of the residents in many cities) are renting a single room.

The risk of eviction is very real, frequently because incomes are too low to pay the required rent. Other risks include fire – particularly in high density neighbourhoods – and flooding, which have been exacerbated by adverse climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of housing for citizens' health and wellbeing. It has shone a light on the essential nature of public service provision in high density areas, where good health can't be secured without adequate access to water and sanitation. The crisis has also highlighted the multiple difficulties faced by those living in over-crowded homes where social distancing cannot be achieved and where high-risk individuals may not be protected.

To coincide with World Habitat Day and the publication of the latest issue of Environment & Urbanization (E&U), this online event on Monday, 5 October 2020 will bring together E&U contributors to discuss the nature of the current housing crisis and its impact on households, primarily in the global South.

What have we learned from COVID-19 about the challenges and risks for households in informal settlements? In order to do more, what can we learn from previous efforts to address housing needs?

The politics at play in Vietnam’s food system

Wed, 16/09/2020 - 10:48

Guest blogger Christophe Béné discusses how perception, personal beliefs and values can overrule science and evidence in policymaking – and how this is influencing policies and crisis narratives around food safety in Vietnam.

Scientists and academics like the idea that policymakers base their decisions on science and evidence; it is reassuring to assume these decisions are based on facts. It also helps scientists justify their work – making them feel like they are contributing to the decision making process.

The reality is more nuanced. There are certainly examples of policies that have been based on evidence (e.g. governments banning smoking in public places due to the ill effects on health). But too often we see policymakers base their decisions on perception, personal beliefs and values, and professional or political agendas. We also see how ‘crisis’ events receive more attention than those appearing less urgent. 

So do those observations also apply to the political agenda around food systems? That “our food systems are failing us” and “something needs to be done” is now well documented. Across low, middle or high-income countries, poor diets are responsible for more deaths than sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco combined. But what shapes policymakers decisions around food systems? What drives their agenda?

Case study: Vietnam’s food safety crisis

These questions led a group of social scientists to investigate the dynamics around food system policies in Vietnam. Vietnam, its food system and associated policies are a particularly interesting case study – a prime example of a fast ‘transitioning’ middle-income country, where steep increases in incomes and rapid urbanisation are leading to significant changes in lifestyle and diets.  

Based on face to face and online interviews of key stakeholders including government officials, policymakers and national and international experts, the study uncovered a series of interesting findings. First, it showed that the food system policy agenda in Vietnam is only partially informed by evidence, and that lobbying and advocacy are highly influential. While this result was not, in light of the above discussion, totally unexpected, more surprising was that all the different stakeholders who were interviewed (including researchers) readily admitted this reality. 

The analysis also showed food safety in Vietnam to be high on the food system policy agenda. In the past 10 years or so, Vietnam’s national media has reported on numerous food scares and food safety is an ongoing public and political concern.  

The study reveals, however, that anxieties around food safety are not necessarily warranted. Compared with countries from the same region and those of a similar level of development, Vietnam has one of the highest-scoring in terms of food quality and safety. In 2017, for instance, Vietnam scored 98 (+17 above the average) in the ‘quality and safety’ indicator of the Global Food Security Index. Vietnam’s score was the best of the eight countries that were compared in this analysis

Behind food safety, a bigger agenda…

So why do Vietnam’s policy makers exaggerate food safety concerns in this way? The answer lies in their interests to ’modernise’ Vietnam’s food system. In their view, a ‘modern country’ needs a ‘modern food system’ and across the nation, politicians are on a big push to promote supermarkets. Meanwhile, traditional wet markets and informal street vendors – deemed inefficient and outmoded – are being closed down and removed.

Entwined in the discussions on modernisation is the issue of food safety. Wet markets and informal vendors are perceived to be unhygienic and unsafe compared with supermarkets (even though data suggest a more mixed reality). Playing the food safety card helps policy makers ‘justify’ the forced closure of wet markets and their replacement by supermarkets.  

Tunnel vision

The push to modernise Vietnam’s food system is disconnected from the reality on the ground. Wet markets and informal vendors are the convenient and affordable food source (in particular for fresh vegetables and fruits) for the majority. Many of Vietnam’s urban poor cannot afford to shop in supermarkets. Closing these traditional markets and stalls threatens the food security of the population. Yet the authorities choose to ignore it. 

As long as food safety is chalked up as a national crisis, policy-makers seem unable to engage in longer-term strategic issues around food systems. Only 2% of the policy makers interviewed flagged nutrition as a priority, even though overweight children under 5 in urban areas increased by more than 160% between 2000 and 2014, and obesity in the urban adult population had increased by 126% in 20 years – to reach 22% in 2015. 

Policymakers need to move beyond the crisis narrative on food safety and re-orientate their agenda toward the longer-term structuring issues of the food systems and their underlying drivers. 

This blog has been adapted from its original version. With thanks to Teresa Corcoran for editorial contributions. 

Working in partnership towards more inclusive Sustainable Energy for All

Tue, 15/09/2020 - 06:35

IIED is actively working with a range of collaborators to raise awareness, secure financing and ensure smart partnerships in order to achieve universal access to sustainable energy, especially for the poorest households.

Energy is a key enabler for development and the seventh Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for universal access to sustainable energy by 2030. IIED and partners have been working for years to improve energy efficiency and renewable use.

Launched in 2012, the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) initiative aims to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people by supporting universal access to modern energy services, increasing the share of renewable energy sources around the world, and improving energy efficiency. 

To advance energy access, SE4ALL works to build partnerships and evidence, benchmark progress and amplify the voices of those energy-poor households. Partners committed to accomplishing SDG7 include companies like Simusolar in Tanzania, NGOs like Hivos and ENERGIA, governments like the Kenyan government, and donors such as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Efficiency for Access.

IIED is an active member of the People Centered Accelerator, a voluntary partnership within SE4ALL of like-minded organisations advancing gender equality, social inclusion and women’s empowerment in energy access.

Leaving no one behind

Together with partners, IIED is looking at the different levels of finance and delivery models, from investor down to end-users, to identify ways to direct larger volumes of money towards more inclusive financing mechanisms and instruments. More investments flowing towards gender-conscious projects and programmes can enable more inclusive energy access and ensure no one is left behind.

The institute continues to work with different stakeholders interested in being a part of the SE4ALL initiative to raise awareness on approaches that benefit the poorest households – including through our inclusive energy planning approach, and in a strategic partnership with Hivos and ENERGIA as the lead research advisor for a global advocacy network focused on renewable energy access and gender.

IIED is also co-founder and steering group member of ACCESS (Alliance of CSOs for Clean Energy Access), a civil society coalition pushing for transparency and representation of the most vulnerable groups at national level across Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

While we are nowhere near reaching a trajectory to achieve SDG7, universal access by 2030, smarter collaborations will play a crucial role to accelerate energy access.

Addressing gendered and other inequalities will be central to COVID-19 recovery

Fri, 11/09/2020 - 08:23

In the latest in our series on lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, we look at how COVID-19 has increased gender inequality and the need to tackle multiple forms of disadvantage in the global South.

Beyond COVID-19: grassroots visions of change

This article is part of an IIED series that brings together forward-looking responses on specific themes in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing on our partners’ insights and providing a platform for voices from the global South.

Here, IIED researcher Alice Sverdlik looks at the impacts of the virus on women and girls.

Lamented as a ‘disaster for feminism’, COVID-19 has magnified and exacerbated several inequalities including gender inequality. Men often have higher rates of mortality and COVID-19 hospitalisations than women. At the same time, the pandemic’s social and economic impacts have been particularly dire for women and girls.

Due to COVID-19, 47m more women globally will live in poverty in 2021. The pandemic led to a profoundly gender-inequitable combination of declining paid work – women are overrepresented in informal jobs and hard-hit sectors like tourism – with increased caring burdens and limited childcare

COVID-19’s burdens for women and girls can differ based on local contexts, policy interventions, and intersectional disadvantages. Particularly vulnerable groups may include migrant female workers, women with disabilities, displaced people, and younger men and women (who are at greater risk of lost livelihoods).

The pandemic’s multiple threats to women’s livelihoods and wellbeing, as outlined below, will urgently require locally-grounded research and inclusive interventions co-designed with women, men, girls, and boys. 

Short and long-term impacts on women and girls

Lockdowns were associated with alarming evidence of heightened violence against women and girls, which remains under-reported. Many still struggle to access women’s refuges and maternal healthcare services that were already underfunded before the pandemic. This could have major long-term consequences, such as an increase in unsafe births and rising numbers of girls leaving school early. 

There is much that we still do not know on COVID-19’s impacts due to the lack of disaggregated data on age, sex, race/ethnicity, disability, and socioeconomic factors. Policymakers urgently require more detailed information to support a gender-equitable recovery.

COVID-19, women’s employment, and unpaid care burdens  

Women’s employment has fallen more sharply than men’s and may recover more slowly. Many women and men in the global South work in the informal economy, where adequate healthcare, sick leave, and other social protections are rare.

Both male and female informal workers faced stark choices between staying at home with a risk of going hungry, or violating coronavirus restrictions if they go to work. But it is women who are typically concentrated in highly precarious informal jobs; many women work in sectors that were especially affected such as retail, hospitality and the food trade

Women also comprise more than 70% of the healthcare sector globally, including community health workers and other frontline providers at elevated risk of COVID-19 infection.

Furthermore, women have typically shouldered the rising care burdens (cleaning and tending to the sick, for example) linked to lockdowns, school closures, and COVID-19’s health impacts. Although there is evidence that men are increasingly helping with childcare (such as from Nairobi and the Philippines), women and girls still provide the vast majority of care. 

Women and girls often rely on unclean energy sources (for cooking, pumping water and so on), which may contribute to respiratory illness and heighten the difficulties of tending to the sick during the pandemic.

Care duties are also far more challenging in the absence of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Not only do WASH deficits result in gendered time poverty and stymie vital efforts to maintain hygiene during the pandemic, it is also difficult to socially distance when queuing for water (particularly in dense settlements). Women and girls may even risk gender-based violence as they walk to access water or fuels, including in refugee camps and other insecure settings.

Creating farsighted, equitable opportunities for women and girls

Amid such overlapping challenges, it is important to recognise women’s agency and to address multiple forms of disadvantage. Women’s grassroots organisations are already helping to promote COVID-19 recovery and create new narratives for a ‘new normal.’ Gender-responsive, age-sensitive social protection can help cushion the pandemic’s impacts.

Other priorities for a feminist recovery (PDF) include promoting food security, WASH, and universal healthcare; combating violence against women; and measures to tackle deep-seated social and economic inequalities.


Below is a selection of online resources about gender equality and COVID-19. We will update this list during the coming months:

Web platforms: Gender and COVID-19 and feminist response to COVID-19

What do we know about women and COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries from the peer-reviewed literature? University of California San Diego blog on gender and COVID research in global South 

COVID-19: the gendered impacts of the outbreak: article in The Lancet

UN-Women’s data on COVID-19

Bringing gender equality to the core of employment recovery: International Labour Organisation podcast 

Gender and power in COVID-19: recording of WIEGO and IIHS webinar

Huairou Commission: grassroots women's network identifying strategies to address the pandemic 

Mama Kwa Mama (woman-to-woman): a Kenyan fund that raises money via professional women's networks to help people living in informal settlements

Read more:

Our collection about coronavirus examines some of the emerging impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the people and places where we work.

How regional and national capital cities influence urban change

Thu, 10/09/2020 - 06:04

David Satterthwaite discusses how building government institutions in capital cities contributes to urban change.

Cities have always been associated with centres of political power. Most of the world’s 100 largest cities in 2020 are either national capitals or capitals for the next tier of government – state or provincial. Most have been important cities for centuries.

Prospering national and state capitals have been due largely to their key roles in the national and global economy. This blog looks at how urban change is influenced by building the institutions of government in national and regional capitals, providing public services and supporting lower levels of government.

All levels of government have bureaucracies and public service providers, located in the urban centres designated as the (national/regional/local) capital. Their influence on the capital depends not only on their policies and provision of public services but also on the number of public employees, their incomes and their demand for goods and local services.

These can be limited as local governments have very few (mostly low income) employees and lack the power, resources and capacities to meet their responsibilities. But they can have very large roles, especially in national and regional (state, provincial) capitals. The national capital generally houses the employees and bureaucracies of other levels of government (regional and municipal) as well as their own.

This blog series reflects a planned new edition of David Satterthwaite's landmark 2007 working paper, 'The Transition to a Predominantly Urban World and its Underpinnings'. The updated edition will be published later this year. 

Many nations have a substantial proportion of employees (15-40%) in the public sector; in 2013 the OECD nations’ average was 21%. These include those working in public services across the nation (such as schools, healthcare systems, the police) and those concentrated in regional or national capitals. In China in 2003, 33% of employees were in the public sector.

Delhi’s ascent up the ranks of the world’s largest cities is surely powered by the job opportunities in providing goods and services to the various layers of government. In 2011/12, a fifth of Delhi’s workers were in “Public Administration, Education, Health & Others" (PDF).

Many state/provincial governments also have large public sectors because they are so large; in large population nations, states have larger populations than most nations. India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, had 200 million inhabitants in 2011.  

Building government

The end of colonial rule drove the rapid growth of Africa’s capital cities. The need for now independent governments triggered the building of institutions of governance that nation-states needed – for instance, national government departments and ministries, judiciaries, police and the armed forces.

The national capitals of now independent nations house the embassies of other nations and the offices of aid agencies, development banks and international NGOs. There was also the demand for goods and services from this new concentration of government institutions, civil servants, politicians and diplomats, as well as other city populations. 

This is also generally the case for regional/provincial/state and city and municipal governments. These are often delegated responsibilities for public services – for healthcare and schools, public transport and waste collection, and for infrastructure (piped water, sewers, drains, paved roads, electricity grids, street lighting, telecommunications systems).

Capitals/large cities

Thirty-four of the world’s 100 largest cities in 2020 are national capitals and 46 are state/provincial capitals. So are large cities designated as national or regional capitals? Or is being a regional or national capital a stimulus for some cities to become large cities? And what about regional capitals that do not become large cities?

For national and many regional governments, public employees and public service providers form an important core of people with livelihoods, incomes and demands concentrated in their capitals.

In many nations, the list of urban centres and their relative sizes corresponds closely to the hierarchy of national to state or provincial to district to sub-district capitals, especially for those nations lacking large urban economies.

The regional capitals that do not become large cities are mostly in regions with relatively low per capita incomes and levels of urbanisation and small populations. But the first two of these do not apply in the US where few of its largest cities are state capitals. Most Chinese cities in the hundred largest cities in 2020 list are provincial capitals (17 out of 26). For India, seven out of nine were state capitals – the two exceptions being Surat and Pune.

Let's take a closer look at different categories of capital cities:

  • Multiple capitals: In many nations, the institutions of national government are divided between different cities: in South Africa, Pretoria is the administrative and executive capital, Cape Town the legislative capital and Bloemfontein the judicial capital.
  • Moving capitals: Some capitals have moved or are in the process of moving including Cairo and Jakarta. In some nations, official capitals moved but much of government did not – as in Côte d'Ivoire with Yamoussoukro and Abidjan, in Tanzania with Dodoma and Dar es Salaam (although the current government is demanding that all the government should move).

    Former national capitals may have lost importance but Kolkata (lost national capital to Delhi in 1931), Rio de Janeiro (lost to Brasilia in 1960), Karachi (lost to Islamabad in 1959) and Lagos (lost to Abuja in 1991) are still among the world’s 25 largest cities.
  • Historical influence: Most national and regional capitals were designated as such before they became what we would today call large cities. But at that time, they were often ‘large’ compared with other urban centres. 

    There are so many examples in history (going back millennia) of capital cities changing in response to political changes – including wars between political entities that are today part of larger nations.

    Morocco’s capital has moved many times over the last 1300 years, mostly between Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes and Rabat (all important cities today with Rabat and Fez the two largest cities). The capital of Iran moved many times in the last 2,500  years, mostly between Susa, Persepolis, Antioch, Tabriz, Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and Tehran (the last five cities on this list are Iran’s five largest cities in 2020).

    Most of the national and regional capitals within the 100 largest cities list in 2020 have long histories of being important cities. Being a national capital (and the largest city in the nation) many centuries ago is what made many of the world’s largest cities so successful.

    Being a national capital brought high demand for a wide range of goods and services – the scale of which depended on the wealth and size of the court and the government. It was also the place where government revenues were managed, and contracts or permissions had to be negotiated.

    Capitals of or within England include Rendlesham (capital of East Anglia during part of the 7th century), Chelmsford (capital for a week when the king and government moved here after quelling the peasants' revolt), Winchester, Colchester (under the Romans) and Dorchester on Thames. For these, being a historic capital did not lay the foundation for being a large city.

The next few blogs will look “outside the large cities” at the demographic, economic and political/administrative importance of the tens of thousands of urban centres that are not large cities.

What’s needed to halt threats to rural land rights in Cameroon

Wed, 09/09/2020 - 06:19
A new briefing explores the gap between statuary and customary land tenure systems in Cameroon, and suggests ways to advance land reform so that the rights of all are protected.

Land tenure insecurity is a problem across rural Cameroon. Rural and indigenous communities enjoy customary land tenure rights, but these are barely recognised by Cameroon’s legislation. 

This misalignment between statuary and customary land rights has caused clashes between communities and companies, putting at risk the livelihoods, food security and the cultural survival of rural people.

Since the 1980s, organisations have aimed to address the issue of land rights by trialling a series of initiatives, but none has achieved sustainable solutions.

A new briefing produced by IIED, the Centre pour l’Environment et le Dévelopment (CED) and the Réssau de Lutte contre la Faim (RELUFA) evaluates these initiatives and suggests ways to advance the land reform process. The document has been produced in both English and French

The publication highlights that threats to rural land happen due to the law’s failure to recognise pre-colonial land rights, the lack of effective local governance accountability, and other factors such as population growth or the scarcity of arable land, which increase competition between land holders.

Authors Sandrine Kouba, Amaelle Seigneret and IIED’s Emilie Beauchamp and Brendan Schwartz discuss the failures of existing approaches to securing improved land rights for all communities in Cameroon, including the formalisation of individual land rights, the use of dialogue platforms to clarify rules and the establishment of community forests.

In order to enhance rural land tenure security effectively, the authors outline a series of points for policymakers. Cameroon’s law reform should:

  • Recognise land tenure rights, such as customary and collective land ownership
  • Better support and regulate the behaviour of traditional authorities
  • Create platforms that promote dialogue among land users and tenure holders to resolve land use conflict, and
  • Harmonise legal provisions found across the land and sectoral natural resource laws.

This briefing has been produced as part of the 'LandCam: securing land and resource rights and improving governance in Cameroon' project

Loss and damage in Rwanda: a young climate activist reports

Thu, 03/09/2020 - 06:27

On 8 September 2020, IIED and ICCCAD are hosting a webinar on climate-related loss and damage in the least developed countries. Here one of the speakers, Ineza Umuhoza Grace, reports on how climate change is impacting Rwanda.

The changes in my country’s climate and the impacts on me, my family and our communities have convinced me that we need immediate, urgent action to address loss and damage if we want to achieve sustainable development.

I was born and raised in Rwanda. For most of my life, I have lived in the outskirts of Kigali, our capital city. But I have family members in the north and went to university in the south, a privilege that allowed me to witness first hand the way climate change is impacting my home country.

During my lifetime, the temperature in Rwanda has risen, with records showing that from 1971 to 2016 the mean temperature increased between 1.4C and 2.5C. Climate change brings prolonged droughts followed by intense rainfall, the impacts of which threaten human safety and economic development (PDF).

This is deeply worrying, given Rwanda is already one of the world’s least developed countries. We have limited capacity to protect our people’s lives and livelihoods. 

The most recent period of intense rainfall in Rwanda began in December 2019. It lasted until mid-May 2020. While the rain was predicted, its intensity was not. It led to flooding and the deaths of more than 130 people. The rain and floods eroded the soil, killed livestock, destroyed crops and damaged many of our roads, bridges, markets and houses.

The losses were most pronounced for rural communities, hitting small-scale farmers and low-income families, who already face so many challenges. With floods washing away crops and damaging roads, how can people get to market? How can they feed their families? How can our people achieve sustainable development?

Agriculture under threat

Rural Rwandans who rely on the land for their food and livelihoods are particularly vulnerable. Not only does intensive rainfall destroy crops, it also impacts soil fertility. Land degradation affects the whole community, diminishing incomes and wellbeing. Agriculture employs 62% of Rwandans: climate change puts all these people at risk.  

Many people are being displaced. My own family, who live in the northern Musanze district, were forced to move to a new region. More than 1,000 families were forced to relocate to save their lives.

My family had a small and cosy house, with a kitchen, living room and three bedrooms, but they had to leave with just their clothes in bags, to be allocated space in a communal house. Such stories are far too common and I don’t want them to repeat.

Damaged infrastructure

Some impacts are repairable, at a cost. The floods destroyed at least 64 bridges, 124 roads and numerous health centres, and 13 water supply systems were damaged. The people depending on these facilities were already struggling to meet their basic needs. 

Losing infrastructure feels personal to me: I travelled 12km to get to school because there was no proper local school. I know education is a privilege, and not accessible to many kids in developing countries. 

Climate change is making such barriers harder to overcome. Climate change impacts from January to April 2020 cost Rwanda at least US$13 million, money that could have been used to build schools, hospitals, markets and roads. 

Women and girls are hit hardest

When our infrastructure is damaged, the burden falls disproportionately on rural women and young girls. Some 76% of Rwandan women rely on farming as their primary source of income.

Rural women are culturally bound to manage the wellbeing and food security of their households. Fetching cooking wood is a daily activity for every rural woman, and young girls often don’t go to school until after they have collected water and prepared meals.

Droughts and flooding make these tasks  harder. When floods wash away agricultural incomes, it’s the women and young girls who are left with nothing.

Irreparable losses

The irreparable losses of climate change are devastating. In 2018, floods and landslides killed 254 people, and 4,796 homes had to be abandoned. 

These impacts are often referred to as “climate change loss and damage”, meaning climate impacts that people are unable to cope with or adapt to. Vulnerable populations do not have the capacity to cope, lack the resources to effectively adapt, and are already experiencing losses and damage as the result of climate change.

What can we do?

As a young climate change activist, I want to see innovative approaches that will enable sustainable development. We need to challenge current paradigms whereby foreign actors pre-determine areas of intervention for building climate resilience in my country, with minimal/controlled participation by the people of Rwanda. 

We need to eradicate the climate change knowledge gap, and go from simply recording disasters to understanding their far-reaching impacts on people and ecosystems. 

We need to strengthen the institutional capacity of governments and civil societies in least developed countries through collaboration with partners. 

Development partners should address the root causes of community vulnerability, simultaneously taking a bottom-up and top-down approach, by, for example, addressing the economic aspects (transport, markets) and also education.

I hope to see organisations invest in programmes that strengthen the resilience of low-income rural families, especially women and young girls. For example, projects that listen to and hear the voices of vulnerable families and empower them to design solutions that draw on their unique local and indigenous knowledge, and provide an opportunity to work with partners on implementation.

Loss and damage has become a reality in Rwanda. It is undermining our economic and social development, and rural women and girls are at the frontline. An urgent response can begin by collecting data on loss and damage, exposing the gaps that are not being addressed and calling for action at the national and international level.  

  • Ineza Umuhoza Grace is among the speakers at a webinar on Tuesday, 8 September that will feature least developed countries' national experts sharing their research and lived experience of loss and damage. Sign up and get more details.

Organisers offer busy events programme in the countdown to CBA14

Mon, 31/08/2020 - 07:50
The organisers of CBA14 are hosting a range of innovative side events in the run-up to the main CBA conference in September - including many sessions that are open to everyone.

As part of their commitment to innovation and inclusivity, the organisers of CBA14 are hosting a wide range of pre-conference events.  Many of these sessions are public events, open to all. 

The 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA14) will take place online from 21-25 September 2020.

During the countdown to the conference, CBA partners are hosting ‘meet and greet’ sessions with leading practitioners and researchers, round-table discussions on adaptation technologies and Nature-based solutions, an introductory workshop for the hugely popular CBA14 Dragon’s Den session and opportunities to network and get to know other conference participants.  

You can review the CBA14 side-events below. Sign-up for individual sessions using the registration links.  

Event list:Introduction to the CBA14 Dragon’s Den

Date: Wednesday, 2 September 2020
Time: 08:00-09:00 (BST)
Type:  Open to everyone

Dragon’s Den sessions offer the chance to  learn how to develop and present proposals for funding for adaptation projects. Join this preview event to find out more.

Roundtables on nature-based solutions (NbS) and adaptation technology

Four one-hour discussions will provide an opportunity for those interested in Nbs and adaptation technology to get to know each other and learn about projects implemented around the world. Numbers will be capped at 12 participants to enable meaningful conversations.

These discussions are open to the public so please register early to secure your spot!

  • Roundtable on nature-based solutions (NbS) and adaptation technology: Marine Environments

Details: Wetlands International has been working with local communities throughout Asia to upscale coastal and marine environment restoration technologies to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. Come to learn about how it works and share your own stories and adaptation technologies in the coastal and marine environment sector!

Wetland International has been working with local communities throughout Asia to upscale coastal and marine environment restoration technologies to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. Come to learn about how it works and share your own stories and adaptation technologies in the coastal and marine environment sector.

Date: Tuesday 1 September
Time: 60 minutes, starting at  @ 07:00 EDT (New York), 12:00 BST (London), 14:00 EAT (Nairobi), 16:30 IST (Delhi), 18:00 ICT (Bangkok)
Status: open to all

Read more and register for this event

  • Roundtable on NbS across Watersheds

Details: Practical Action has been helping communities and local governments in Sudan use Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) to reduce conflict and improve the ability of rural populations to cope with climate change. The approach is gaining popularity in many places where climate change is impacting on land and water. Join us to discuss how this approach can give support and momentum to the movement for more nature-based solutions.

Date: Thursday 3 September
Time: 60 minutes, starting at @ 07:00 EDT (New York), 12:00 BST (London), 14:00 EAT (Nairobi), 16:30 IST (Delhi), 18:00 ICT (Bangkok)
Status: open to everyone

Registration: This session is fully booked. You can sign-up for the waiting list in case more places become available. 

  • Roundtable on NbS in Agriculture

Details: There is growing international attention to the unerring global decline in agricultural biodiversity. Many communities and practitioner organisations are responding to this through supporting the use of so-called 'orphan crops' and a range of Farmer Managed Seed Systems. Join us to discuss how this is a nature-based solution to climate change, and how the CBA community should promote their essential experience to this global challenge. The session will be led by Practical Action who have been working on this in Zimbabwe for several years.

Date: Tuesday 8 September
Time: 60 minutes starting @ 07:00 EDT (New York), 12:00 BST (London), 14:00 EAT (Nairobi), 16:30 IST (Delhi), 18:00 ICT (Bangkok)
Status: open to everyone

Registration: This session is fully booked. You can sign-up for the waiting list in case more places become available. 

  • Roundtable on Forestry

Date: Thursday 10 September
Time: 60 minutes starting @ 07:00 EDT (New York), 12:00 BST (London), 14:00 EAT (Nairobi), 16:30 IST (Delhi), 18:00 ICT (Bangkok)
Status: open to all

Registration: This session is fully booked. You can sign-up for the waiting list in case more places become available.

Meet and greet sessions

Starting on 7 September 2020, we will host a series of informal 'meet and greets' with community-based adaptation practitioners. These will be capped to 10 participants to ensure interaction. We have scheduled sessions with Clare Shakya (IIED), Saleem Huq (ICCCAD), Fiona Percy (CARE), Tracy Kajumba (IIED), Heather McGray (CJRF), Susan Nanduddu (ACTADE), Mme Tenzin Wangmo and Ced Hesse (IIED). 

Status: Registered participants only

Registration: Participants can sign-up via the event platform

Twitter chat: CBA14 – from local solutions to global action

Join IIED and Practical Action for a Twitter chat on 8 September to discuss how to scale up local climate action. The Twitter chat will use the hashtag #CBA14.

Orientation sessions: Ask the organisers

Do you want to know more about how the programme fits together? Do you feel a bit uncomfortable with Zoom and need a refresher? Join us at one of our 'drop-ins' where you can ask organisers about how to make the most of the conference and programme. 

Dates: every Tuesday and Thursday at 13:00 (BST) to 17 September

Time: 13:00 BST

Register for this event 

CBA14 Main programme

The main conference programme runs from 21-25 September. Full details of the schedule are on the programme page.

The ecosystem approach: a holistic perspective to marine biodiversity conservation

Fri, 28/08/2020 - 06:56
A new briefing by IIED and the Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea explores the implementation of the ‘ecosystem approach’ in the international legally-binding treaty to protect marine biodiversity.

Described as a “strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources”, the ‘ecosystem approach’ recognises that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems and promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.

The approach has been acknowledged by those negotiating a new international treaty on the conservation of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) – areas of ocean over which no single country has authority or rights – as a key part of efforts to implement more effective and sustainable governance of the high seas. Yet, its role is still ambiguous.

The negotiators of the treaty still need to agree how the approach will be incorporated in the new treaty, and articulate clear guidance on putting it into practice.

Helpfully, a new briefing by IIED and the Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea (NCLOS) considers how the ecosystem approach should be integrated in future legislation to become an effective guidance of marine conservation.

The publication highlights four key elements on which the ecosystem approach is based:

  • Ecological integrity: the overarching aim is to preserve key functions and components of ecosystems to protect and conserve their biodiversity
  • Integration: conservation activities need to be all-inclusive and encompass ecological interdependencies and connections
  • Information: the use of detailed knowledge around ecosystems is key to assess whether a conservation plan or measure is effective, and
  • Iteration: conservation measures need to be constantly assessed in order to respond successfully to changes in the ecosystems.

“From the process’s early stages, the ‘ecosystem approach’ was identified as an invaluable tool that would help avoid fragmentation and build a global legal regime that allowed for an integrated assessment of human activities and their interactions with the marine environment,” says Vito De Lucia, an associate professor at NCLOS and author of the publication.

“However, the approach’s potential role remains unclear.”

The briefing sets out four steps that negotiators should take to ensure the effective implementation of the ecosystem approach, including how the planned new treaty should explicitly acknowledge and incorporate the social, economic and equity dimensions of the ecosystem approach.

"An ecosystem approach that stops at the jurisdictional boundary between areas within and beyond national jurisdiction falls well short of its conceptual and ecological ambitions” – Vito De Lucia

The key policy points also include the need for negotiators to ensure both national and international jurisdictions, as ecosystem boundaries traverse often jurisdictional lines. And IIED and NCLOS call for negotiators to reach a consensus on how the approach will be introduced and articulated in a new treaty, considering a coherent application and compatibility with existing treaties.

The briefing has been produced as part of IIED’s work on ensuring an inclusive blue economy.

COVID-19 highlights three pathways to achieve urban health and environmental justice

Thu, 27/08/2020 - 06:02

The pandemic is an opportunity for cities to dramatically rethink use of housing, transport and public spaces in ways that would serve all citizens, especially the socially vulnerable.

Environmental justice has many health implications, and COVID-19 is no exception.

As research has shown time and again, low income and minority communities are consistently exposed to greater environmental hazards and have less access to environmental amenities than their more affluent and white counterparts. As such, their health is often compromised and life expectancy is lower.

Cumulative social and environmental vulnerabilities combined with COVID-19 have dramatically increased the risk of infection and mortality.

While much is being said about increasing cities’ resilience to future outbreaks through measures including density reduction, pedestrianisation and urban greening, we need to analyse how inequalities shape the exposure, vulnerability, and eventually the risk and outcome of infectious diseases.

Drawing on our work at the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability on European cities, we look at how three domains of urban infrastructure – housing, transport, and public space – can build greater urban health and environmental justice.

This is the latest blog in our series, curated by IIED senior fellow David Satterthwaite, examining different aspects of global urban change, including analysis of the social, political and environmental factors that cause cities to thrive or declineHousing

Despite lingering narratives that urban density aggravates outbreaks like COVID-19, home overcrowding and unsafe housing conditions are emerging as the real problem, coupled with socio-spatial inequalities.

In the UK this spring, the country’s five most crowded areas saw 70% more coronavirus cases than the five least crowded, where richer homeowners live in larger houses with extra bedrooms and bathrooms, reducing the risk of family infection. To prevent the spread of pandemics, cities need affordable, adequate, secure and accessible housing.

In view of the current health and economic crisis, cities and states should declare a moratorium and/or a relief on rents, mortgages, and evictions for vulnerable groups.

Housing should be greatly decommodified, as in Vienna, where it is considered a basic human right. A minimal guaranteed income should be put in place, as in Spain or The Netherlands. National governments should also reverse decade-long cuts to housing infrastructure, especially public housing, as seen in the UK.

Cities with high levels of tourism-and expat-induced gentrification, like Barcelona, should use the crisis as an opportunity to increase housing justice. In July 2020, Mayor Ada Colau announced payments of up to 1,200 euros per month to landlords who agree to house vulnerable families.

The city also plans to expropriate up to 426 flats owned by 14 corporate landlords (including BBVA bank; the UN-denounced private equity Blackstone-subsidiary Budmac; and Sareb, the government-owned 'bad bank' and asset manager) unless they are designated low-income housing units within the next months.


Public transport systems are widely regarded as transmission hotspots. Many professional workers can work remotely to avoid travelling on these systems, and the wealthiest of those who cannot are likely to turn to private modes of transport. So it is the low-income workers who have no option but to use public transport who will be most at risk of new infections.

As those travelling on public transport drops significantly (by 88% in Paris between January and April 2020), who will pay for the greater number of subway, tramway, and bus carriages and lines needed? Many mass transport systems already have crumbling infrastructure – investment is needed to achieve social equality and transport justice.

To avoid public transport, more workers are expected to commute by foot or bike. But this invites another equity question: who will be making the short commute (up to 10km)? It is those living close to their workplace who can afford city living; it is the well-off who will likely enjoy new bike and other active transport lanes that cities such as Barcelona or Milan are already building in their centres.

Those living on the peripheries do not have the luxury to commute by bike or on foot. Other affordable and low-risk solutions need to be put in place.

Public space

COVID-19 presents the chance for cities to take back public space from cars – with broader sidewalks, cycle lanes and less-congested roads. But the car lobby and industry is a powerful force in setting political agendas.

In addition, public decision-makers are aware that in the European Union alone, for instance, COVID-19 has put 1.1m automobile manufacturing jobs at risk. Cities need to move fast if they are to reconfigure the use of streets as public spaces before the car lobby strikes back.

Now is the time to act – to decongest streets (air pollution causes chronic heart and respiratory disease that can exacerbate COVID-19 cases), regain pedestrian rights, and push for safer post-COVID cities in terms of both infection and accidents.

The move toward healthy cities is likely to be accompanied by a more serious effort to make cities greener – and equitably green. In Valencia, Spain and Nantes, France, decentralised networks of small green spaces are providing residents with easy access to nature for all residents without compromising access to larger parks.

Many cities should also consider extended use of vacant spaces such as flat rooftops that can be converted into community gardens and provide more access to green space.

Shifting priorities

These are just three domains of urban infrastructure where changes to the urban environment could slow widening inequalities.

Decades of social injustices have placed low-income and minority communities at greater health risk and economic disadvantage – they now face the further burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.

The urgency for change in these three domains is even greater in the global South; the environmental justice principles are valid here too, although responses must be rooted in local context and priorities.

We need to avoid the emergence and spread of pandemics as much as we need to transform our societies and cities and their underpinning unequal economic structures.

Are our cities of the future landscapes of grandiose LEED-certified buildings and privatised parks serving the elite’s interests? Or are we ensure that the existing infrastructure is repaired, strengthened and improved to serve all residents, especially the socially vulnerable?

With thanks to Helen Cole and Panagiota Kotsila for their contributions to this blog.

Q&A: Are you ready for the Dragon’s Den at CBA14?

Wed, 26/08/2020 - 13:10

Dorice Bosibori Moseti of SDI won the Dragon’s Den competition at the 2019 International Conference on Community-based Adaptation. We talked to her about what she learned, and what she has been doing since. 

For over 15 years, ther vibrant and growing community-based adaptation (CBA) community of practice has come together to develop practical, innovative, locally-driven initiatives to support communities adapt to climate change. But these initiatives need funding. 

The Dragon’s Den sessions have become a highlight at the annual conferences. Participants work in teams to develop ideas for adaption projects, create supporting business plans and learn how to make powerful investment pitches.

The sessions culminate in a competition-style plenary session where participants present their idea to a panel of people with investment experience. These ‘dragons’ ('Dragons' Den' is the name of a popular TV programme) assess the merits and viability of the pitches, seen through the eyes of investors. They offer feedback, give guidance on funding options – and pick a winner. 

Last year, it was Dorice Bosibori Moseti of Slum Dwellers International who most impressed the dragons with her waste management project 'Trash to Cash'. We caught up with Dorice to find out how her project has been developing and why she’d recommend the Dragon’s Den sessions to participants at the upcoming CBA14. 

The CBA Dragon’s Den is a key part of the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA14), which will take place from 21-25 September 2020. Find out more about the programme and register.

On 2 September we’re also holding an information-sharing event that is open to everyone, and that will be hosted by the expert trainers who will be leading the Dragon’s Den at CBA14: read about the introduction to the Dragon’s Den and register.

Q: Your Trash to Cash proposal was the winner of CBA13’s Dragon’s Den. Have you been able to turn your proposal into a project? 

DBM: Yes! My Trash to Cash idea tackled the problem of unmanaged waste in the slum of Mukuru in Nairobi, Kenya where I live. Unmanaged waste leads to many problems, including polluted water and poor sanitation to name a few.

The burning of waste, especially plastic, deepens Mukuru’s air pollution problem which is a major cause of premature death and disease. In the mornings and at night, acrid toxic smoke fills the air. And as climate change brings heavier and heavier rains, drains clogged with waste cause households to flood and sewage to overflow. 

My waste management idea included ways to prevent flooding (household waste collection, sorting waste at source, cleaning drains) and recycling plastics. But that’s all it was – an idea. After I won Dragon’s Den I could see there could be real investor interest. I wanted to make this idea real. 

During the session we looked at the practicalities of funding projects – looking at different funding options and matching pitches to the right finance sources. But I realised I still had some gaps. Our group mentor said to me: “Your idea is good. How much money do you need to get this off the ground?” I didn’t know! 

I realised I needed to refine what I’d learnt and work out exactly how much I needed. I’d drafted a business plan in the Dragon’s Den sessions, but this needed tightening up. When I got back to Mukuru I enrolled on a three-month online business training course. Now I have a clear, 31-page business plan.

Q: Have you been able to raise money and develop your project? 

DBM: Our Trash to Cash business is based on a mindset shift that views trash as an opportunity to develop a viable business enterprise. The business is owned by Ladies of Hope CBO, which has 12 shareholders and is governed by a project committee. 

Our  business will offer an integrated waste management mechanism comprising waste classification, recycling, waste disposal, waste treatment, on-site management, and turning waste to energy. 

We will fully embrace the concept that is the circular economy, where companies and individuals can use our recycled products. Society can no longer exploit our scarce natural resources – as this will only lead to an unsustainable future.

Q: What did you do when you got back to Nairobi after CBA13 – how did you get people interested?   

DBM: After the CBA13 conference I was so excited that I arranged meetings with women in our community. I told them of the Trash to Cash idea and told them how we can work together. I thought it would be difficult to convince my group – it was easy and they agreed to work with me to achieve the goal. 

Q: How did you raise money through crowdfunding? 

DBM: I applied for a circular economy competition and I was selected to participate in Mombasa where we were trained to pitch and we were given an M-Pesa pay bill to crowdfund for a period of 30 days. It was hard to raise the cash, but I managed to get the US$2,000 and leap2 merged the other half. 

Q: What did you buy with the money? 

DBM: We bought 11 dust coats, gumboots, 15 spades, 25 rakes, other tools, five wheelbarrows, two carts and a store. 

Q: How many people you are working with?

DBM: Women are involved in sorting waste and we can manage to employ four women three times a week. Others come in just for one day, when we are taking out the waste to be taken to the factory.

We sort different waste carton boxes, white paper, shoes, light iron, pipes, and plastic. Our team are also involved in weekly clean-ups that we do with other community members.

Q: What did you enjoy most about the Dragon’s Den? 

DBM: The organisation of the session was great – running through the problem, thinking through the intervention, and then coming up with the solution. Then, working up your business idea and ways to make that business attractive to investors. Each of these simple and logical steps really helped frame your proposal. 

Preparing the PowerPoint presentation of my pitch was also incredibly useful – I hadn’t used PowerPoint before. When I took to the stage to present, I could talk through each aspect of my proposal. It made me realise that you can have a great idea – but you need the right documents and material to back it up. Especially when you’re standing on a stage in front of 300 people! 

It was also great getting to know the people in your group – listening to the different challenges that communities are facing, coming up with proposal ideas, working out what the funding challenges would be, how to get around them. And I learnt a lot from the mentors – they all had direct experience of working with investors and donors so had valuable insights to share.

They explained that investors need clarity on how their money will be spent and the risks. And, of course, what their potential returns will be. It was useful understanding why all this information is crucial, particularly for private investors.

Q: How did you impress the dragons? 

DBM: Climate change is exacerbating problems in Mukuru. My project can’t stop the slums from flooding when the heavy rains come, and it can’t eradicate the pollution. But it showed how communities can work together to manage waste and at the same time go some way to help manage the knock-on effects of climate change.

I had lots of questions from the dragons about my plans for involving people all across the community – particularly women and youth. They seemed impressed by this.  

Q: What was the most useful lesson from taking part?

DBM: Investors want to see the business plan. If your business plan isn’t clear, doesn’t show clear ways of making a profit, and the numbers don’t add up, no partners can invest.  

It was very clear that when you pitch you need to know who will be your customer, how much you will need in the business and what will you get from the business. And most important, what change are you bringing in and for this it was impacting on climate change mitigation by cleaning and opening rivers and drains reducing burning of waste.