Obituary: Julia Porter

George McRobie
Sunday 30 August 1992 23:02

Julia Karen Davies, administrator, born Bristol 22 May 1926, married 1950 Basil Canning-Cooke (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1966), 1967 Robert Porter, died Exeter 23 August 1992.

MANY WHO were colleagues and friends of Julia Porter will recall with gratitude the outstanding contribution she made towards launching the Intermediate Technology Development Group, now one of the world's most successful and important overseas development organisations.

It was early in 1965 that EF Schumacher and I decided to start an action group to develop and promote intermediate technologies - tools and equipment for self-reliance, designed to be owned and used by the rural poor of developing countries. This was not an easy idea to sell in the 1960s, when most people believed in limitless economic growth and the wholesale transfer of Western technologies from rich to poor countries. But we had the singular good fortune to involve Julia Porter in our venture. Without her, it would never have got off the ground.

She was born Julia Davies in 1926. At the age of 16, her determination to get into the war effort saw her in the elite corps of the FANYS (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). By 1950, her first marriage, to Basil Canning-Cooke, took her into the copper belt in what today is Zambia, where she lived for 10 years. Divorced, and back in England with a young daughter, she became a successful fund-raiser for the Freedom From Hunger Campaign in the west country in the 1960s. Shortly after, Arthur Gaitskell (Hugh's brother) put her in charge of the Africa Development Trust (ADT, one of the Rev Michael Scott's creations) which supported Cold Comfort Farm, a remarkable multi-racial co-operative farm near what is now Harare.

In 1966 the Intermediate Technology Development Group was formally constituted, and its first home was Julia Canning-Cooke's cupboard-sized office in Hop Gardens, Covent Garden, in London. A year later, through her work for ITDG, she met and married Robert Porter, the senior economic adviser to the then Ministry of Overseas Development.

By the following year, both the ADT and the IT Group were being run from Julia Porter's two-roomed office in King Street, Covent Garden. I joined her there on my return from a spell in India, and during the next eight years, with Schumacher as chairman, we built up the group's work programme of developing small-scale technologies. Julia was a fund- raiser of genius and she revelled in crises of which there were many; it was no mean task to raise money for an unorthodox group with no track record, and meantime recruit and organise the 100 or so business, professional and academic volunteers who helped us before we could afford professional staff.

Today, the IT Group has a budget of pounds 6m, a staff of more than 200 in four continents, and has worked in 60 countries. That it survived its first few critical years to achieve this owes a great deal to Julia Porter.

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