Case Histories

This section contains examples of and comments on Gentle Action sent in by interested members of the public.

Added The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Added The Dharma Bum

Read Lord Stone's recent speech to the British House of Lords on peace in the Middle East.

Read: A paper about literacy program in India.

Please send in your own examples to


Project Hope and Fairness

Book Aid International

Cardboard Oven

Hole in the Wall

Just Change

The water harvesting innovations of Phiri Maseko

The Silent Witness

Ramon Creek


Siraj Izhar

Seeing the world in a whole new light

Moment of Silence


Project Hope and Fairness

Tom Neuhaus, President

In the past, the vast majority of development funds for Africa have gone to airplane tickets, rooms in first class hotels, conferences, and meetings with government officials. That is not how we do business at Project Hope and Fairness. We are so small, we don't even have one employee! All the money donated to help cocoa farmers goes to the farmers themselves. We focus our efforts on two African countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana.

The Ivorian farmer, who supplies 75% of the beans for the 13 billion dollar American chocolate industry, gets paid 1/4 the wage of his neighbor, the Ghanaian cocoa farmer, who mostly supplies the European chocolate industry.

In the Ivorian system, middlemen, the Ivorian government, and American multinationals suck out most of the money, depriving the cocoa farmer of a decent wage. In the Ghanaian system, the government controls the value chain at all levels and prevents much of the abuses you see in Ivory Coast.

Project Hope and Fairness focuses its efforts in Ivory Coast, where there is the most need. We deliver scales, dryness meters, and cocoa storage bags. Scales permit the farmer to knowthe weight of the beans he's selling. Dryness meters permit the farmers to know how dry the beans are so he or she can store them, waiting for the price he wants rather than feeling obligated to sell to the next buyer who drives up the rutted dirt road. Special storage bags make it possible to keep adequately dried cocoa beans for months, because they produce their own carbon dioxide rich atmosphere that kills insects naturally and prevents growth of mold.

Wouldn't it be a great day when the success of a development organization was based on the quality of their work? We were recently turned down for a $20,000 grant because we didn't have paid office help. Some measure of success

Book Aid International

At Book Aid International, we know that books change lives. We are dedicated to increasing access to books to support literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa, in some of the poorest countries in the world. Every year, we send around half a million brand new and carefully selected books to our partners overseas, which are read over and over again by millions of readers. All our books are either donated by UK publishers or purchased locally, so every book we send is of the highest quality. In villages and cities, refugee camps and reading rooms, schools and universities, Book Aid International books are giving people the chance to learn and to build themselves brighter futures.

Each book we send costs us only around £2 to source, ship and deliver - so with a monthly donation of just £6, you could to provide around 36 books worth £400 every year to some of the poorest countries in the world.

Visit to donate and find out how you can help us to change lives.

Cardboard Oven

The Kyoto Box, invented by Jon Bøhmer, has won the Climate Change Challenge, sponsored by the Financial Times and Forum for the Future. The solar powered box can be manufactured and shipped by any cardboard factory of £3.50 and can be used to cook casseroles, bake bread or boil water to elimate water born diseases. It consists of two boxes, one inside the other. The outer box has an acrylic cover to let in sunlight while the inner box is painted back to absorb the heat. Staw of newspaper can be used to provide insulation. The use of the box eliminates the need to collect wood.

Bøhmer is now working on an improved version. The oven narrowly beat an animal feed, containing garlic, that would eliminate the methane produced by cows and sheeps - a gas that adds to global warming.

Hole in the Wall

My friend Siraj Izhar who is currenlty visiting Indian sent me this example. Sugata Mitra, who us currently a professor of Educational Technology at University of Newcastle in the UK believed that given the opportunity children could teach themselves how to use computers without the need for formal training.

Of course if he had gone to an educational committee with this idea it would have been debated for some time before any action was taken so Mitra simply placed a computer in a kiosk created in a wall in an Indian slum in Delhi. His experiment “Hole in the Wall” or :Minimally Invasive Eduication” and there are now many more kiosks in rural India and similar experiments have been carried out in other countries.

Vikjas Swarup, leaning about Mirra’s experiment wrote a novel “Q and A about a young waiter who makes a fortune after he answers all twelve questions on a quiz show. This was later made into the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Just Change

Siraj Izhar also drew my attention to Stan and Mari Thekaekara who set up Just change as away of sourcing basic items such as Tea. The couple worked with the Adivasi people, tribal forest dwellers believed to be the original ihabitants of India. After launching a Tribal Land Rights Campaign some 3000 families became involved in tea plantations on reclaimed land.

But as tea producers the Adivisa would now become players in a global market economy so how best to protect their interests? In 1994 Stan and Mari were invited by the Charities Advisory Trust to explore community work in the UK. In doing so they discovered that residents of the Matson housing estate tended to be quite poor but at the same time were great tea drinkers who were paying a high price for their tea. So why not make a direct link between the Adivisa plantation and that community. The Adivisa would supply their tea directly to the residents of Matson who could then package the tea and distribute it to other poor housing estates (direct poor to poor trading).

1. The Water Harvesting innovations of Phiri Maseko

Every drop of rainwater is valuable in dry areas. But it is in these same dry areas where a great deal of soil erosion occurs and the water is lost. This happens more on steeper slopes. It is to address this problem that Mr Phiri Maseko, now in his seventies, has devoted his life. He has done this by developing many examples on his own small farm, as well as training many others in his methods.

The Phiri family lives on a 3-hectare plot in Runde communal area, Zvishavane, in Zimbabwe. This area is dry and prone to droughts: it has an average annual rainfall of 570 mm.


Phiri's plot is located on the slope of a hill and faces north-north-east. At the top of the hill is a bare rock outcrop, immediately below which is the homestead. The thin, grey soils are predominantly sand. Further down the slope through the yard and across the road into the cropping area, the soils become deeper, darker and less stony. Their clay content increases, especially towards the wetland in the north of the property. The wetland experiences seasonal waterlogging and is the source of a stream.

The ruware

One of the most important resources (one that many would see as a disadvantage) is the large granite dome, or ruware, above the plot. In an uncontrolled situation this rock could cause severe erosion by channelling a lot of water onto the land below it where the Phiri family live and farm. Instead, however, the rock provides the main source of water for the trees, crops and household.

Tiers of stonewall terraces catch and direct the flow of water so that it can sink into the soil and replenish the underground store. The terraces trap grass seeds and create swathes of protective vegetation. Silt traps ensure that the terraces do not get choked with sand.

Most of the water is then channelled into a seasonal unsealed reservoir to encourage efficient infiltration of water into the soil rather than storing it on the surface. Some of the water can be siphoned into a storage tank made from bricks and plaster. Phiri knows that if a season is good enough to fill the reservoir three times then it will have sunk enough water underground to last for two years. Harvesting water at the top of the slope recharges the groundwater so that crops, trees and natural vegetation will have moisture available to them in the soil.


2. The Silent Witness

I'd like to thank Justine Toms for this story of a colleague, Tom Greenaway, who moved to her home town Ukiah in California to work at New Dimensions radio. Tom used to attend the weekly city council meetings, not to ask questions or even protest but just to sit quietly and witness what was taking place.

Of course when sensitive issues were being discussed sometimes the hall would be filled with people but after that item on the agenda had been discussed the hall would empty, leaving only Tom. Some years later Tom went into semi retirement and moved to Tennessee. At his going away party a member of the town council told him how by simply sitting there and exercising a non-judgmental listning he felt that they had made better decisions. He believed that because Tom sat there week after week they felt themselves to be more accountable to the public they served.

3. Marilyn Fowler and San Ramon Creek

I wanted to say how much I am enjoying your book and how much your story about Claire and Gordon Shippey continues to affect me.  I am working on an activism project involving the creek in back of my home. It has been rather a frustrating slog trying to work my way through the various bureaucracies that manage the creek, but finally one morning in the middle of a meditation, I heard the story of Gordon Shippey (via your story) ring in my head.
"Gordon walked down their street, knocked on each door saying, "I am Gordon Shippey and I am your neighbor."

I got up from my meditation,knowing finally how to approach the problem.  I needed my neighbors.  So, I too walked down my street, knocking on doors, introducing myself to my neighbors.  It has made all the difference.  I now have others who share my concern about the creek, and we have decided to form a "Friends of the S. San Ramon Creek" alliance.  

I would not have been able to do that without your story, David. It has, indeed, been a case of "Gentle Action."  Thank you!  


4. Poplight

Examples of Gentle Action can range from such international projects a Heifer International, Amnesty International, Teach One Teach One to a single individual on the London Underground who sees if she can make someone smile and so change their day.

Helena Bongartz is an artist also wished to make a small change. She lives and works in the Mojave Desert and discovered a derelict cabin in the middle of a dry lake bed. This cabin is nearly the only structure in a space that extends for hundreds of square miles of darkness in every direction. However a major back road passes the cabin and so it is every night it is seen by drivers and passengers who pass by. Helena had the idea of projecting very bright and colorful abstract animations on the side of the cabin.

At night she generally sits out of site and watches as cars slow down and even stop. Sometimes the driver and passengers will get out of the car and walk up to the cabin so that the images project on their bodies. Some drive by regularly, some thing it may be a rave party, others that it is the work of aliens!

It certainly attracts attention and makes people think. While Helena was away someone even took the trouble to paint the side of the cabin white!

You can see the sorts of videos she projects by going to

5. Siraj Izhar

Siraj Izhar is an artist friend of the Pari Center who works in London.

Here are just a few of his projects.

a) Fashion Street studios. These were opened in the mid 90s on Fashion Street in Spitalfields in the East London. The space contained studios that could be used by artists as well as environmental and political activists. It was a highly active space with a great deal of cross over.

b) Public Life: In 2000 Siraj converted the undergound public lavatory outside Christchurch, Spitafields into a public space mainly used by artists. The project was funded by income from a bar in Public Life.

c) Farmer's March: In 1999 Siraj organized a march of 40 peasant farmers from India as part of the "Intercontental Caravan" set up as a mobile protest against the World Trade Organization, Monsanto and the corporatisation of agriculture. The farmers marched from Brick Lane to the Bank of England. It provided an interesting image of peasant farmers surrounded by twice as many police on horseback and motorbikes.

You can visit his website at

6. Seeing the World in a WHOLE New Light

Iona Miller,( sent me the following examples of projects in which she is involved. She writes " All of my approaches are rooted in the butterfly effect of applying strategic leverage at the right point for maximal return - at least that's the ttheory, backed by plenty of hard work."


1) Calm Birth meditation in childbirth and for medical professionals

2) Science-Artificer Guild international futuring & Glocalization thinktank
Science-Artificers Guild, Int'l

3) Reformation and transformation of Intelligence & Espionage from inside out (Watchdog Investigations / Speaker Bureau)

Osborne Effect
Osborne Ultimatum

7. Moment of Silence

Jason Evans noted the concept of Creative Suspension in the book Gentle Action: Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World and was struck by its similarity to the "moment of silence" that occurs during a Quaker business meeting.

Here is his explanation:

“For Quakers, the whole of life is sacramental and the silent worship in our meetings is intended to extend into everyday life. What this means is that business meetings, our meetings for church affairs, are held in the same prayerful stillness that we have experienced in our worship. Indeed the full name for our business meetings is "meetings for worship for business". In practice this leads to a finding of unity beyond consensus, what we call the "sense of the meeting" which is much more than the majority rule found in other spheres of life. Because it is rooted in silence and stillness, the "moment of silence" is familiar to the process from the outset and if conflict does arise it is common practice for a Friend to ask for a moment of silence to consider the views of those whose are not our own. In our book of discipline, (really discipleship), we are encouraged to consider that we may be mistaken and that new insights may come from unexpected sources.”