Revisiting Bhubaneswar’s Sites

The drastically reduced budget for the Community Toilets in Bhubaneswar will only allow us to build only 26 of the originally planned 60 facilities. This meant that the team had to decide which communities would receive a facility and which would be forced to keep their fingers-crossed in hopes that sometime in the future their needs will be met. Doing so was no small task, and one that required the participation of virtually all those working on the initiative. Further complicating matters was the two-week deadline mandated by the government to complete the work.

The first step in this process was visiting all proposed sites to identify any encroachment issues. As the land was identified and allocated to the project nearly 2 years ago, there was serious concern that many of the sites would no longer be open and available for construction. In fact, (more…)

Changes in Bhubaneswar

The project team received some very disheartening news in a recent meeting with senior government officials: funding for the Community Toilets in Bhubaneswar has been drastically reduced. This budget cut translates to the construction for 34 of the 60 planned facilities being delayed indefinitely.

The timing of this news was especially difficult for the team as the tender documents for the 60 planned facilities had just been finalized and the release of the notice inviting bids from interested contractors thought to be imminent. Given the 15 months of effort that involved the (more…)

Project Sammaan Website Improvements

The Project Sammaan communications team has spent the past several weeks making improvements to this website in the interest of increasing the amount of project-related information we’re sharing.

Above and beyond minor aesthetic tweaks such as updating the images used and adding social network connections for the blog’s authors, there are three significant improvements that we felt compelled to call out: a repository of resources and project documents that visitors can download, a map that identifies the locations of every individual facility we intend on building in both Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, and a ‘search’ feature that allows visitors to navigate the site’s content much easier.

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Progress Report & Looking Ahead

Over the course of the past several weeks, the project management team has launched a bit of a letter-writing campaign to our partners at the municipal corporations, as well as various other senior members of the Odisha state government. The purpose of these formal correspondences is to ensure that the challenges and opinions of the non-government partners working on Project Sammaan are taken into consideration and, more importantly, become part of the permanent record for the initiative.

It can be extremely challenging navigating the bureaucracy of the municipal corporations especially when seeking to ensure that all pertinent information is communicated to all necessary parties in a timely and efficient manner. Emails are ineffective as some of the government partners lack regular access to computers and, further to that point, few have personal email addresses, making it difficult to know if messages sent to generic, catch-all (more…)

Sammaan is looking for a Project Manager

We will soon be hiring a Project Management Company to overlook construction. We are thus looking for an experienced Project Manager to manage their efforts, to represent the project consortium to the government and to oversee the project overall. Please find below a detailed job description for the same, along with job requirements and eligibility criteria.

Project Sammaan_Project Manager_Job Description_4 June

Letters, Meetings, and a Whole Lot of Patience

Maintaining a website and a as-real-time-as-possible blog for Project Sammaan has been extremely challenging for several reasons. The most basic challenge is simply getting people from the various organizations working on the project to contribute. This is certainly understandable, to a certain degree, considering that many of these people have no background, or even interest, in writing. The problem inherent in this recalcitrance though is the mandate to capture the Project Sammaan experience for inclusion in the end-deliverable of a toolkit that will help guide the efforts of others interested in replicating the project. After all, only you can share your story; no one else can know or adequately capture what your experience has been like.

This is well and truly an ancillary concern though, and one that we’ve taken great strides in addressing through various strategies, whether it be creating questionnaires for people to fill out and then work with me to structure the answers into some cogent and coherent narrative or simply me chasing after and threatening people to get them to contribute. The real issue (more…)

Bridging the Gap

Project Sammaan is a highly innovative and demanding project, and one of the major concerns involves dealing with government policies and process. As one of the Interface Managers, my major responsibilities revolve around acting as a bridge between the Project Sammaan team and the government partners. I am also responsible for weighing in on decisions, both large and small, in such a way that risk is controlled and uncertainty minimised for the project.

My day-to-day activities include risk assessment, representing the project’s interests, enhancing relationships between the government and non-government partners, and maintaining (more…)

A Tale of Two Cities

We have written extensively about the challenges that have been faced over the past 2+ years working on Project Sammaan. Whether it’s managing the efforts and interests of multiple stakeholders, revising architectural drawings based on ground realities, navigating the complexities of working with urban local bodies in India, or “simply” keeping the initiative within its budget, the hurdles have been many, and significant.

One additional challenge that we’ve been remiss in discussing, though, involves accounting for the different working styles and protocols of the partners based in the pilot cities and those based elsewhere. As one of the only foreigners working on the project, and in the Indian context for the first time, adjusting to different working styles was a given. However, I was largely unprepared for just how divergent, even seemingly antithetical, the office dynamics can be from one city to the next.

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An Engineer’s Retrospective

Approaching the one-year mark of my involvement with Project Sammaan, I’ve spent a good deal of time lately reflecting on not only this initiative but the sanitation situation in India as a whole as well.

Being a part of this project is in and of itself something I take a lot of pride from. As it’s my first professional venture and one that involves working on a just cause (i.e., to address the serious and severe shortfall of sanitation facilities for urban communities, which, till date, is most neglected in India), my one true hope is that I can do my bit and contribute in a positive manner. It’s been a wonderful experience in meeting amazing people from different domains (more…)

Project Sammaan at the 2014 Reinvent the Toilet Fair

If you thought toilets and shit aren’t popular topics of conversation, you would have been in for a big surprise if you were anywhere around the recent Reinvent the Toilet Fair (RTTF) that happened in March 2014 in New Delhi. In the second edition of the fair (the first was in Seattle in August 2012), more than 700 participants from about 47 countries gathered to discuss how to bring safe sanitation to the 2.5 billion people who lack access to it. The fair in India was co-hosted by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the support of India’s Ministry of Urban Development, and it showcased innovative products and approaches from various Gates Foundation grantees from across the (more…)