Monday, December 8, 2008

Empty Pocket Finances

Firstly, the Dr X, and colleagues that I mentioned earlier were not able to come up with an estimate of how many voluntary testing and counselling facilities would be required for a country the size, population and population distribution of Kenya. In a one liner, Dr X thanked me for the question but said he didn't know. I'll keep an eye on this particular issue and hope that there are people who are able to help in this matter.

I need suggestions for ways of making money or saving money in places where there is very little money or resources. For example, I have mentioned Solar Cookers, which have numerous advantages and can be made cheaply or for free. Solar Cookers and other sources of renewable energy are sometimes referred to as 'intermediate technology'.

Another example of a way of making or saving money is the production of reusable sanitary towels using recycled materials. However, I am thinking of these for areas where there is little or electricity, such as Kibera. What would the hygiene implications be? At present, a community based organisation I am in touch with in Kibera are using donations to buy and distribute sanitary towels but they are made in China. They also distribute antiseptic wipes, but these are made in the USA.

Surely it is possible for a country the size of Kenya to produce certain products that use indigenous and perhaps even recycled materials? I know there are people who produce all sorts of things and I really need advice from them. I believe you can make soap using meat fat, ash and probably some other things. Can you use other oils, that could perhaps be produced cheaply here?

I have heard of oil producing trees in parts of India being used to make lamp oil. Here, many people spend a lot of money on kerosene. Is this necessary? Ok, if you are thinking I could just research this myself, you're right, and I will do that when I have the opportunity. But getting time online can have complications.

There's is a range of attitudes among people working in community based organisations towards secrecy and openness. Some want to talk to other people and share ideas. Others keep their ideas to themselves. Some people I have spoken to have lots of experience and they will happily share it with others. Some feel that they should be careful about what they tell other organisations who may be 'competitors'.

If there is a lot of emphasis on funding, which organisations must get from somewhere, then 'commercial' principles may be at stake and each organisation may be competing. But a major difference between non-profits and commercials is that the former aim to reduce the market, whereas the latter aim to expand it. The commercial wants to maximise sales, the non-profit, hopefully, wants to reduce suffering.

Well, maybe I'm misrepresenting things a bit, but let's look at two small community based organisations applying for 5000 pounds which is available to help 50 commercial sex workers to give up or reduce their dependence on sex. Are the two in competition? The donor could give it all to one or half to each. But would the funder suggest that the two organisations join together and share the 5000?

I suggest that the 5000 pounds could go a lot further if it's administrated by twice as many brains, but perhaps I'm hopelessly idealistic. As a matter of fact, I would like it to go on record as being idealistic, whatever about being hopelessly so.

I came to what may seem like an absurd conclusion about how a country like Kenya is going to dig itself out of the hole it is in at present. Firstly, Kenyans are going to have to do most of the digging. Secondly, they will have to do it on virtually no funding. Therefore, they need to discover something that is of very high value but costs absolutely nothing.

So the challenge is to find things that are accessible to Kenyans, have a high value and cost little or nothing. While I can see the absurdity, I think there are such things. After all, some things may seem intrinsically valuable, but other things have value because people value them. Some people value being able to convert their waste to biogas and fertilizer, some value being able to pump water using the wind, others enjoy the benefits of cooking by solar energy.

The working title for my quest is Mfuko Mtupo, the empty pocket. It can stay empty, of course, that's the point, really.

I need more suggestions, I need suggestions till they come out my ears, I need help, only free, non-monetary help, and only help that costs little or nothing to implement.



Claire said...

Hi Simon, on the world service last night there was a story linking the replacement of wood-burning stoves to meeting climate change. So any reason this issue is highlighted is good! they mention them in this article:

Claire said...

They were only talking about getting the wood ones more efficient, though.

Simon said...

Thanks for that, Claire. Funny how Western countries are always going on about what developing countries need to do! But yes, I think there are more efficient methods than just different wood burning stoves, cheaper ones, too.

David Cook said...

There are lots of fluent English speakers in Kenya right? I don't understand why they are not competing with India in the call centre business. All you'd really in terms of equipment would be some telephones and basic computers connected to the internet. In terms of clients, probably a good place to start would be British NGOs. Most NGOs presumably use call centres to accept donations (a relatively simple interaction compared with, say telephone banking), and NGOs should be receptive to the idea of outsourcing this work to Africa.

Simon said...

Hi David, hope you're keeping well and enjoying fatherhood. I was thinking of small projects that individual could set up themselves, ones that would mean they don't have to rely on donors and ones that don't cost a lot to start. However, I'm sure you're right about NGOs. On the other hand, good computer equipment here is much too expensive for most people and internet connections are usually terrible. Many places, even capital cities, have regular power cuts, which ISPs can take a long time to recover from. But maybe NGOs would outsource to here, I don't know. Anyhow, all the best, hope you're working!

David Cook said...

Hmm...well at first it would probably make more sense to get an NGO to pay for the computers, to pay the phone and ISP bills, to provide a generator and fuel, etc.

And, thinking about it, perhaps a flaky ISP wouldn't even be a problem.

Payment of donations doesn't need to be instant.

The call centre could just log the payment details and process them later.

Of course it would need someone like yourself to go and sell the idea to an NGO, and then to run a project to set the call centre up, but that doesn't sound implausible to me.

And yes, being a dad is brilliant and I'm working like a Trojan.

Simon said...

I see what you're getting at but I am sceptical of high tech solutions and was really looking for low tech solutions.

Glad the family and work fronts are good. My brother and his wife just adopted a baby girl who I'm very much looking forward to meeting when I get back. Hope you have a good family break.

David Cook said...

Just searched for 'call centre africa' and the first result that came back was about a new call centre in Kenya, funnily enough:

So it can be done. Guess I'm not helping you much though. Good luck plotting a more suitable scheme.

Simon said...

Yes, I'm sure it could be done, but it is not the sort of model that 'Empty Pocket Finances' is looking for! All the best.

Dad Mzungu said...

In my experience, solar cookers are not very popular as they are not traditional.
However, a gas ring powered by methane from a methane collector is more acceptable, as it is similar to cooking on kerosene or charcoal/wood.
A methane collector can be made from a couple of oil drums (readily available in Kenya) and the methane can also be use to run a IC engine to power a water pump or generator - and the methane is free.
I will be carrying out more trials when I get back to Kisii.

Simon said...

Hi Dad Mzungu. It's hard to see a gas ring cooker being traditional but I know what you mean, people are pretty reluctant to move away from what they are used to. However I have heard of people claiming success in persuading people in East Africa to use solar cookers. I'd be very interested to hear more about the methane collector you describe. When will you be back in Kenya?