The past few weeks have involved a good deal of reflection on the sustainability of Project Sammaan, particularly of community management of shared toilet facilities. It has been almost 2 years since the first Project Sammaan facility was opened, and there are currently 33 Project Sammaan facilities open and operational across Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.

While the learning curve for community management has been very steep and the team has incorporated learnings on an ongoing basis, there are still a number of larger questions surrounding the sustainability of community management, especially in the absence of an external monitoring and capacity building presence. I was reminded of the salience of this issue recently while giving my opening speech for the first two Sammaan Manager Sharing Sessions.

These sessions (colloquially called the Sammaan Utsav) are meant to be a forum where community managers of different facilities can come together and share their experiences of managing the facility for their community, both positive and negative. The idea is to encourage these managers to continue to be (or to become) leaders of their communities through their efforts to promote proper sanitation practices.

During my opening speech for the first two Sammaan Utsav meetings, I asked the managers – “How many of you feel like you are leaders of your community?” Since our team have been closely involved with these communities and witness to the struggles faced in implementing management, I didn’t expect an overwhelming positive response to this question. Still I was quite surprised that of the 20 managers I asked, only 5 managers felt confident enough to raise their hands.

It’s a non-trivial point that even after providing an essential service to their communities for over a year, so many of these managers still do not view themselves as leaders in their communities. It’s obviously a complex issue which is contingent on community dynamics, as well as the degree of responsibility, accountability and ownership demonstrated by both the managers and the wider community. What is clear from 2 years of supporting the O&M of these facilities is that strong leadership is required to make community management work.

As we prepare to move into the next phase of the project and draft our handover and phase out plan, the question of leadership and agency will need to play a central role in order for community management to continue even after the project team phases out. This brings me back to the question posed in the title of this blog post – “How do managers become leaders?” I don’t think we have the answer yet, but it will be the work of the next few months for us to find out.

AuthorRashmi Bhat

Project Manager- Project Sammaan