Oxfam GB is a globally renowned aid and development charity with 70 years of experience, working and campaigning with partners in over 90 countries worldwide. Oxfam and its supporters share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn't inevitable. We chatted with Andy Bastable, “empowering people. Award 2015” jury member and technical Advisor and Head of Water and Sanitation at Oxfam GB about his work and Siemens Stiftung’s “empowering people. Award”.
How did you get involved with the “empowering people. Award 2015”?
The Siemens Stiftung contacted us and I was chosen because I have been managing our Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) innovation fund since 2002. Like the entries into the “empowering people. Award 2015” we encourage staff to be innovative. In WASH we have had a number of innovative products such as the Oxfam water storage tank which folds in on itself to become compact. We have also produced the Oxfam safe water container and the Oxfam latrine slab. Instead of having to dig a hole and cover it with a wooden slab in emergencies, we developed an idea for a plastic slab. We shared the idea with other agencies and with their input developed an inter-agency slab. We have also helped developed Chulli filters which are used in a mud stove to boil and purify water while cooking. There are also lots of solar innovations and innovations around sanitation in order to make providing water and sanitation more affordable and sustainable.
How does innovation happen?
Innovation happens through a series of dialogues, when people on similar missions chat informally and bounce ideas off of each other. Most of our good ideas don’t come from brainstorming but come out of frequent chats with a variety of people on a subject. Innovators are curious people who can persevere and don’t get disheartened. They are people unafraid to take a risk as at some point you will have to stake your reputation, money and time.
Why is the “empowering people. Award 2015” an important project?
Empowering people is important. There is a lot of apathy in the world and people often ask ‘what can I do to change the future?’ Initiatives like this competition show that you can have a good idea and you can make a difference. The “empowering people. Award 2015” recognises projects that are in the prototype stage or beyond and supports people to make their project a reality which gives everyone hope. It’s not just big companies that can do it.
How important is it to get innovations out there and promote them so that people see the work happening on the ground?
You need a champion to get the innovations out there and used in the field. If that is not the inventor then you need an organisation or company to buy into it. Often agencies see a solution being used in the field, see they are good and take it on themselves.
How important is it to share information so that there isn’t the case of two different NGO’s working on the same project in the same village, unaware of the other?
Targeted innovation is what I am into. In water and sanitation we get lots of innovations in water treatment and hardly any around sanitation. If you had two different agencies working on two different issues in sanitation then I would think that was good. I am also the technical lead for the DFID funded Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) and was funded to do gap analysis. The gaps are where we need more innovation.
Can your organisation benefit from the entries submitted to the Award?
Yes, Oxfam could benefit from entries which address the big issues of poverty and inequality reduction especially in the WASH sector. Additionally innovations that increase the sustainability of water and sanitation systems in developing countries would be extremely useful.