Power for Good

It is within living memory that one of the most common ways of publicising a message was to wear a sandwich board with a suitable slogan painted on it, and to walk up and down the local high street.

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The link between poverty and poor educational attainment is a strong one. In 'developed' nations, it has become a truism that students from deprived inner-city areas are, on average, likely to achieve lower grades than those from the affluent suburbs. For decades, the causes have been identified, debated and tackled. Educational policies designed to tackle the problem have been developed, altered, dropped and replaced. But the problem remains. It's a big, complicated issue and no-one seems to have the answer.

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With the phenomenal growth of the internet and other forms of digital media, it can be easy for those of us living in prospering economies to forget that access to it is still far from universal. The rapid growth around the world of mobile phone ownership and use may be a precursor greater web access, but for many millions of people in Africa, Asia and South America the greatest source of information is radio.

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The BBC recently screened an adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novel, Wolf Hall. Set in the 16th Century, it examined the relationship between King Henry VIII of England and one of his closest advisors, Thomas Cromwell. The series was generally very well received by the critics, but – with many interior scenes apparently being lit only by candles - some viewers grumbled about the 'dim' lighting. Perhaps they missed the point that 16th Century England was not just 'off-grid', but 'pre-grid'.

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'First World problem' is a phrase that has been coined as a kind of short-hand dismissal of worries that can only be experienced by people living conspicuously comfortable lives. Paint being chipped off your iPhone, kids hogging all three TV sets, badly made salad dressing – we can all think of a thousand of things that irritate, annoy, upset - but are meaningless when compared with the challenges faced by many living in the developing world. However, as the use of 'First World problem' increases and becomes an everyday catchphrase, an internet meme or the punchline to a joke, its power to provide some much-needed perspective is fading.

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Recent extreme weather events have resulted in much head scratching, soul searching and predictions for the future amongst scientists and politicians. Britain appears to be heading for its wettest winter on record and over the last two years the US has endured its hottest summers on record and one of its coldest winters. Meanwhile, winter 2012/13 was China’s coldest in 30 years, and both Australia and Brazil have suffered record high temperatures and dangerously low rainfall.

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