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Innovating against the inevitable

April 18, 2018
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Local street in Calamba City, Philippines

Paula Atun, a young Filipino entrepreneur living in Calamba City, thought she was filling in an online survey, with her idea on how to catch and filter rainwater. She’d seen the idea on the Discovery Channel.

A few weeks later, CARE Philippines had signed her up as one of their local ‘innovators’, tasked with investing over PHp 1,000,000 ($20,000) into this idea, and leading the production and distribution of it to 15 local households, the inhabitants of which are either elderly or living with disabilities.

Paula had, in fact, inadvertently applied to the Philippines TUKLAS Innovation Labs project. And her idea was eventually chosen as one of forty, shortlisted by CARE Philippines and three NGO partners managing this DFID and Start Network initiative.

The Philippines is the second most disaster prone country in the world, and the objective of TUKLAS is to source ideas from local communities for disaster preparedness. It then instigates a process for funding and building the capacities of local creators and entrepreneurs to pilot or scale these.     

Paula is a researcher by trade, the President of Persons with Disability (WPD) Affairs in Lawa Barangay, as well the Board of Director’s President for Calamba City’s Association of PWD, and so the combination of her charisma, her network and her passion for community mobilization, made her the perfect TUKLAS Innovator.

Along with 39 other innovators, promoting a range of diverse and innovative ideas (from a 3D disaster preparedness strategy board game, that will teach young people life skills and knowledge on disaster preparedness, through to a multi-layer surge barrier that will reduce the impact of tsunami and storm surge to coastal communities) Paula’s Pluvia Technologies rainwater collection innovation, will collaborate within TUKLAS to pilot and then scale this intervention.

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Obligatory selfie with CARE Philippines team, Paula, and Calamba barangay health workers.

For Paula, the idea for this may have been taken from the TV, but the rationale for it here, where local communities face annual typhoons and flooding, was clear-cut: “most rural households rely on water pumps, but these over-spill during the monsoon season and are inaccessible, particularly for the elderly and for people with disabilities”, explains Paula, “the pumps also don’t tend to get fixed when they are damaged, and often the water pressure is not strong enough for them to work. Imagine also walking in extreme heat carrying 20kgs of water when you are 70 years old?”

As a solution, Paula’s design is low-cost and uses rain catching technologies to firstly collect rainwater from the roof of a household, before passing that through various filtration systems (including aeriated charcoal, which ensures the water can be used for hand washing) and into a collection tank.

“These tanks hold 110 litres, which can keep a family of five, who might be cut off from flooding, for at least three days with usable water,” Paula adds, “and, with the additional capacity building support from CARE, we are able to use these systems as a way of engaging households in awareness raising about health and nutrition, so there are additional long term benefits we can bring about.”

Since early 2016, CARE  has been running a global accelerator for its teams called Scale X Design – a response to the reality that, whilst innovation is rampant in many parts of the development sector, examples of successfully scaled solutions are less common.

CARE teams with innovative, proven and scalable ideas are selected to participate in a year-long programme that builds core skills for scaling innovations, while delivering tailored attention and support to tackle their biggest barriers to scale.

Scale X Design arms development practitioners with the skills, mentorship, and resources they need to go from idea to impact. This approach has helped shape CARE Philippines’ role in TUKLAS, using similar methods and ultimately with an ambition to grow a more robust network of innovators and ideas inside and outside of CARE’s global confederation.

Which is why, later this year, CARE Philippines and the consortium partners will host events for all of the TUKLAS innovators here, to learn from each other’s experiences and develop an even richer network of ideas, innovators and a passion for scale, that everyone I met this week, shares.

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Back in Metro Manila, and the rural-urban dynamics of the Philippines are striking – on the surface very different, yet each with a vulnerability to the predictable seismic shocks that so devastate the country every year.

None more so than the Haiyan “super typhoon” of November 2013, the largest recorded landfill event of its kind.

The last time I wrote here about CARE’s humanitarian relief work, I was in Tacloban where we had built back household structures and supported the re-building of local livelihoods, so devastated as they were at the time by the calamitous sea surges of Haiyan.

It’s been thrilling this week to see how, since that visit, CARE has connected widely with a range of partners, and in new ways, engaging people such as Paula and driving forward the work of TUKLAS, to find preventative solutions to the next season of surges and displacements, which are inevitably around the corner.

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The colourful urban skyline of Quezon City, Metro Manila.

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