Charity’s hiring woe highlights lack of tech know-how in NGO community

Technology can have a significant impact on development Copyright: Flickr/International Rivers

Send to a friend

The details you provide on this page will not be used to send unsolicited email, and will not be sold to a 3rd party. See privacy policy.

[LONDON] A UK-based charity’s struggle to recruit a technology policy advisor highlights a dearth of interest in technology among Western NGOs and funding agencies, insiders say.

Practical Action (PA), a charity that supports the use of technology to tackle poverty, is now re-advertising the senior policy and practice advisor role. The lack of interest in the post could be symptomatic of development organisations’ dismissive attitudes to technology.

"Technology is not seen as pertinent to poverty reduction," says Astrid Walker Bourne, PA’s policy director.


  • UK charity has had troubles filling a key technology role
  • This highlights a general lack of interest in technology among Western NGOs and funders, say insiders
  • But even simple tech can make a large impact on development

When NGOs talk about poverty reduction, she says, they focus on food, health or education. "People see health, but they don’t see the fridge and the health centre that need energy. That’s a technology," she says.

Duncan Green, strategic advisor for Oxfam GB, says that people within the NGO community "don’t like talking about technology".

He is unsurprised that PA is having trouble finding the right person for the policy role as few people’s interests span both technology and aid policy.

Yet people on both sides of the divide should realise that "where technology meets society, something happens", he says.

For PA, the concept of ‘technology justice’ — the idea that everyone has the right to access the technologies they need to lead full lives — is at the heart of its work.

Walker Bourne says that technology can be simple. For example, reducing the use of coal or kerosene stoves would dramatically improve air quality in many homes.

But concepts such as access to energy are intangible to many in the developed world, she adds. "In the West, we don’t see the technology behind energy."

Now the PA is trying to recruit "somebody who is able to break down what technology means in different spheres of poor peoples’ lives", says Walker Bourne.

William Hoyle, chief executive of techfortrade [sic], a charity that works to set up technology-based trade networks in developing countries, says that part of the problem with getting NGOs and funding agencies to engage with technology is that it is so wide-ranging.

"The term technology covers anything from GM technology for new seeds to ICT [information and communication technology] and e-learning," he says.

Money for technology is scarce, he adds. Funding agencies, Hoyle says, are cautious about investing in technology programmes because they lack experience in the field.

"We have to help funders understand the business case for funding technology," he says.

Walker Bourne is hopeful that PA will be able to hire someone who can relate the mindset that while technology can be simple, it must be considered in development debates. "We need to explain how this niche fits with the big buzzwords of development," she says.