Featured User (11) in October 2015 - Sowmya Rajasekaran from India

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Featured User (11) in October 2015 - Sowmya Rajasekaran from India


We have the pleasure of announcing our 11th featured user today: It is Sowmya Rajasekaran from India!

See previous featured users here:
forum.susana.org/forum/categories/145-featured-users

Sowmya is the founder and CEO of Verity Smart Life Solutions , an enterprise engaged in ecofriendly toilets for bringing forward transformative change for human well-being and sustainable environments. She has studied an MBA and has lived and worked in India, Nepal and Sweden as financial analyst and researcher in various companies. Without academic training in sanitation, but with interest and a creative mind, she found her way into sanitation, conceptualized a toilet design and takes actively part the SuSanA forum discussions.

Since Sowmya joined SuSanA in May 2014, she has made 68 posts, received 43 likes and was given 22 karma points. See her forum profile and last 20 posts here:
forum.susana.org/forum/profile/userid-4050

She ranks her position 26 in the list of most active users (see here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/userlist ). With her detailed, thoughtful and in-depth posts, Sowmya contributes to the warm, friendly and highly professional atmosphere in the forum discussions.

Questions & Answers to learn more about Sowmya, her professional life, her views on sanitation, opportunities to bring change and what she'd take to a remote island will be available here in several parts over the next two weeks. So take a moment to get an insight from another very interesting person from the network.


Interview Part 1: Sowmya's background and professional life

1. You registered with SuSanA on 02 May 2014. Do you remember what made you join the network then?

I started working on my toilet model in Nov 2012 and, by Apr 2014, listed all the design criteria, identified the core technologies and a model of how the toilet apparatus should work, assessed that the model is valid based on my literature review of the sanitation situation in India (epidemiology, health impact, environment, climate change, water, agriculture, economics, policy). And I named my venture, Verity SmartLife Solutions.

A venture starts with making a commitment of time and other resources for a specified purpose even before revenue streams become a reality. So, it is important to be strong on the validation aspect (product & business value potential, competitive analysis, expert advice/opinion) during business discussions, and it is important to be updated with key developments (technology, regulatory changes, etc) which can significantly impact the business environment.

I did not have formal/certified academic training or work experience in sanitation and my development sector experience in India was also quite limited. I needed a reliable method of being updated with the key developments in sanitation sector, know whom to contact when I need expert advice/opinion and be able to present a knowledgeable competitive analysis during business discussions.

I had some experience of how a forum membership can quickly fill knowledge gaps and connect with the right persons to work/collaborate with from being a member of HIFA2015 (health information for all) and EVIDEM Collaboration (multi-criteria decision analysis for health sector resource allocation and priority setting). So, SuSanA appeared to be the perfect solution. So, I joined SuSanA on 2 May 2014 – immediately after naming the venture Verity.

I joined SuSanA because of a business venture imperative. But I got into global health and sanitation because I want to contribute to development and empowering people everywhere, particularly at the grassroots. So, while I followed developments in sanitation technology and projects, I love learning from / participating in discussions on the broader development issues, such as, gender, health, the policy (particularly, SDGs), certification and technology assessment. For me, SuSanA is like an industry association – a place to transcend boundaries and restrictions, and find ways to collaborate with everyone and contribute towards achieving the sector’s goals.

2. What is your nationality and where do you live currently? Have you lived somewhere else before? Where and why – if relevant?

My nationality is Indian and I currently live in Chennai, India.

I lived in Lumbini, Nepal for around 2 years (2006-2008) during which I worked at the Lumbini Eye Institute. This was a turning point in my life that inspired me to decide that I want to apply my knowledge and skills for achieving development goals and empowering people.

I lived in Stockholm, Sweden for 1 year (2009-2010) to complete a Masters Program in Global Health at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm. Given that all my academic training and work experience was in business/corporates and I had very little knowledge of healthcare, I wanted to be in an academic program that would help me quickly gain knowledge of the health sector, how to understand clinical medicine, research, evidence-informed policy, how ‘think global act local’ applies to the health sector in actual practice. This MGH course at Karolinska Institutet helped me gain this knowledge, thanks to my course leader, professors and classmates from whom I have learnt a lot.

Working in WASH sector, for me, is continuation of my global health career because sanitation is the most effective solution to eliminating diarrhea, the number one child killer, as well as other diseases transmitted through human feces. Health is defined as a state of complete physical and mental well-being. Therefore, WASH and health sector have other strong linkages as well, such as, gender & women empowerment, human dignity and social determinants of health (SDOH). And, since joining the WASH sector, I have been able to learn of other sectors linked to WASH, such as, agriculture, water and climate change – which are also connected to healthcare.


3.What and where did you study, and why? Which further trainings were important for your career?

I have two decades of academic learning and work experience, each part of which has helped define my learning needs and career goals. I started with a MBA degree and since then, interspersed work experience with further academic training for accelerated learning to fulfill my change in career goals (to include strong development sector focus) and increasing responsibilities at work.

After completing MBA in Apr 2000, I joined a KPO starting in the operations team (cash flow analysis of commercial real estate properties in the US). A year later, I moved to the company’s corporate finance team – an experience that made me want to focus my MBA career in business strategy and corporate finance. Therefore, to build a stronger foundation in this focus area, I enrolled & completed intermediate stage of the 2-stage Chartered Accountancy (the Indian equivalent of US CPA) and Cost and Works Accountancy (the Indian equivalent of CIMA) courses in mid-2004.

Following this, I joined the Strategy & Business Development team of a large corporate group in the telecom space (debt financing mostly and analysis to support strategic decisions). After two years, I moved to Nepal where I started working at the Lumbini Eye Institute (analysis, systems strengthening, new projects, research). This experience broadened my career perspective from MBA to “business management + grassroots development” and also helped me gain a sector focus (health). While working at Elbrus Capital Advisors India Pvt Ltd, an investment banking consultancy in which I am a Co-Founder, I prepared for a career in global health also, thanks to my best friends Meenal Dutia and Ram Sharaph, the key people behind Elbrus, who understood and encouraged my global health career.

Once again, for accelerated learning and strong foundation in my specific career goals, I applied for and completed a one-year Masters Program in Global Health at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm (Sep 2010). Huge, big, sincere thanks to all my professors and, particularly, Dr. Rolf Wahlström, my course leader, to whom I owe all my global health learning, for his encouragement and for always being there, for showing us how to stand by our convictions and make study/work a most beautiful experience for everyone, and my supervisors, Dr. Birger Forsberg and Dr. Pär Eriksson for all their patience, support and encouragement from whom also I have learnt a lot.

Since the Lumbini work, my learning has also been through being member of forums (HIFA2015 since mid-2008, EVIDEM Collaboration since early 2011, SuSanA since May 2014 and CHIFA since 2014), TEDtalks, MOOC courses (mostly Coursera and Novo-ed) – I learnt a lot from the course material though I did not complete due to time constraints, focused reading on specific themes with reading material from different sources (Wikipedia, John Hopkins, eTOCs of journals – mostly AJPH & BMJ journals, policy documents – different countries, mailing lists – Equidad, Dan Campbell’s listserv for sanitation-zoonosis linkages, Sanitation Updates, SD in Action Newsletter) and general browsing and Google search – find and update myself to the extent possible on cutting-edge research, such as, the Human Connectome Project and FuturICT.

Since understanding the highly interlinked nature of the SDG goals and targets, I have started to pivot all my learning to the SDGs. This is still exploratory – taking the SDG perspective of seeing business, development, systems and policy. I start with a few thoughts on the linkages and choose a specific topic as a research module structured as literature review followed by a solution that fulfills a specific SDG goal for a particular demographic. And, I try to spend some time on other learning (exploratory – anthropology, maths, computer science, etc) – the learning pattern/path varies because I do this for love of learning and after this comes exploring how to apply knowledge from a particular discipline to health/sanitation/SDGs.


4. What were your main employers, work locations or career milestones?

Work locations: India and Nepal.

Main Employers: I started my career at Global Realty Outsourcing India Pvt Ltd (now part of Accenture) where I worked between 2000-03. GRO is one of the first KPOs in India and a pioneer in creating the system to outsource complex analytical work from top banks and REITs in the US to India. In the Operations Team, I worked on cash flow analysis and made asset summaries for commercial real estate properties in the US, learnt advanced MS Excel skills and initiated & implemented work automation. A year later when I moved to the Finance Department, I continued to do work automation and developed a payroll software for which I was awarded ‘Employee of the Month’.

My next role was with the Strategy & Business Development team of the Sterling Infotech Group (later, Siva Group) during 2004-06. I worked in debt side for a pan-India greenfield telecom project, and provided research inputs and analysis to support strategic decisions and performance monitoring.

I then moved to Nepal and worked at the Lumbini Eye Institute (2007-08), during which I got to work with the hospital management and staff of various departments and primary eye care centers and a lot of encouragement from Seva, the major donor supporting LEI. The staff at LEI and several members of Seva Canada, Nepal and US offices found opportunities so I could learn more and were always generous with their time for me. At LEI, I studied the financial sustainability of the primary eye care centers (PECCs), developed database of district profiles for planning community outreach activities, prepared concept paper for a Center for Community Ophthalmology, participated in the 5-year strategic planning meeting and worked on research studies (providing inputs, summarizing data tables and drafting manuscripts) that were published in peer-reviewed national and international medical journals.

Coming back to India, I became part of Elbrus Capital Advisors India Pvt Ltd, founded and led by my best friend, Meenal Dutia. At Elbrus (2008-09), I contributed to charting the strategic growth path, provided research inputs for client pitches, transaction structuring and deal closure as well as co-author papers on developments in finance and regulatory environments. Honestly, this was more of learning program for me! Till I joined Elbrus, I had only known the corporate finance & strategy side of business. At Elbrus, Meenal gave me the opportunity to see the consultancy and investment banking side of business. Though both relate to funding, investment banking and corporate finance have very different perspectives and I am grateful for all that Meenal has taught me.

After completing the Global Health course, I continued to do some research on my own during which time I joined as member of the EVIDEM Collaboration, an independent non-profit organization with members from across the world working to promote multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) in health sector resource allocation and priority setting. I was one of the members who worked on EVIDEM’s international survey on decision criteria in 2012.

During 2011-12, I held three jobs simultaneously (all three organizations/projects were founded/led by the same family). These were management positions at Agada Health Sciences and National Network for Organ Sharing and research position at PURSE-HIS study. The work spanned developing new projects, fund raising, assessing business opportunities, drafting legal documents, consultation with experts and analysis.

I worked with my former bosses from Siva Group in building business models for startups as well as large projects (2012-13). I joined Elbrus Capital Advisors Pvt Ltd again (2013-15) but again, quite frankly, this has also been more of a learning program than work! This time I worked with Ram Sharaph, Meenal’s husband and my elder brother, and just kept learning.

I started working on my toilet design in Nov 2012. I used to try product design irregularly since college because, since my early teens, I have wanted to start my own venture. With no academic training in sanitation, I just kept conceptualizing and working on the toilet design, did a lot of secondary research to understand the sanitation space (health consequences epidemiology, environmental impact, sanitation economics and policy status with respect to India). In April 2014, I named my venture Verity SmartLife Solutions and joined SuSanA.

On 3rd Sep 2015 (this month), I joined the Chennai office of Real Foundations.


5. What are the three things you would take to a remote island? Or what are the three “things” that are really important for you in practical terms?

If you mean, what would I want if in a situation like Robinson Crusoe (shipwrecked on an island but without reserves from the ship or Friday), I would want a long roll of strong plastic cord, a cigarette lighter and a hunting knife (I should probably say Swiss army knife but this is adequate). With these three, we can make everything else required to live. The plastic cord is non-biodegradable, can be used again and again. The lighter helps light a fire even if the right sort of dry stones are not available and immediately too rather than starting from sparks. The hunting knife is essentially a shard of hard metal with a handle. For recreation, I would remember all the books I have read, all the music I have listened to, do sand art, look at the stars in the sky and remember the people in my life. And, of course, have a 24x7 smoke signal while I try to find a way to get back to mainland.

Three “things” important in practical terms is my laptop (access to all knowledge I want – including reading books – and I can communicate, pay bills, play, listen to music, watch movies, list goes on and on), comfortable shoes so I can walk anywhere on any terrain for as long as I want and a smart comfortable backpack.

6. What books or magazines can be found on your bedside table?

My bookshelf and bed are on opposite walls – so the moment I open my eyes, I can read the titles of the books, think of the content, visualize. When I want to read on a particular topic, I take a selection of books and read the relevant pages.

7. What are your hobbies?

Books, music, movies, recipes / cooking, travel, trekking. Used to swim but it’s been a long time since I did this.

8. Do you have a personal slogan or a motto that keeps you motivated at all times?

I have a prayer that I drafted around 8 years ago. The first sentence of this prayer is, “May I always live in the Truth so that the Truth may live in me”. It is special because it is an adaptation of a conversation between Krishna and Rukmani in Krishnavatara, a book my best friend Meenal and I loved reading so much. And, I think of “half a million years of peace and prosperity, health and happiness for the whole world” – this is my dream and my vision. All my work (sanitation, SDGs, OneWorld, inter-sector collaboration, etc) is aimed at realizing this dream. And, the faith that my friends, family and teachers have in me that I will do what is my best at that point of time keeps me motivated at all times.

Congratulations, Sowmya. We are looking forward to the remaining parts of the interview and also to see you in action!

Posted by Jona on behalf of the SuSanA secritariat

Posted by a member of the SuSanA secretariat held by the GIZ Sustainable sanitation sector program
Located at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany
Follow us on facebook: www.facebook.com/susana.org and twitter: twitter.com/susana_org
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  • SuSanA secretariat currently allocates 2 full time person equivalents of time from members of GIZ Sustainable Sanitation Team: Arne Panesar, Cecilia Rodrigues, Shobana Srinivasan, Mintje Büürma, Franziska Volk and interns Judith Munz and Hans Christian Dworak.
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Re: Featured User in October 2015 - Sowmya Rajasekaran from India

Dear SuSanA members,

Here comes part two of our featured user Sowmya Rasekaran.

Part 2: Sowmya's interests and thoughts on sanitation

9. Where do you work now and what does your organization do? How is it funded?

In sanitation, I continue to work on my toilet design, based in Chennai (India), self-funded. The venture is named Verity SmartLife Solutions ( www.veritysmartlife.com ).

I work as Senior Financial Analyst in the recently-started Chennai (India) operations of Real Foundations (RF, www.realfoundations.net ). RF provides real estate-focused management consultancy, managed services and energy solutions to industry leaders in the US and has branches in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, UK and India. It’s a great office, wonderful colleagues, very interesting work and I get to learn a lot.

10. What would you recommend to youngsters from countries in the global North who want to get involved in development work – how should they go about it? And does it even make sense?

Does it make sense? Yes, I think it does make sense for youngsters from countries in the global North to get involved in development work. When you are exposed to a very different environment from what you are used to, your mind will automatically register the differences. When you try to view these differences in terms of context (resource availability – not just financial, it include systems, technology, human resources, time, opportunity cost, etc) and solutions (systems as the combination of all resources and technology which has the highest potential for non-linear / leapfrog / disruptive growth), you will start getting a lot of ideas. Our present and future is shaped by ideas. Be it your narrative of your personal life, your business venture or activist movement, the best of who you are is determined by your ideas. Even 2-3 years spent in development work or just working in a developing country context would be extremely useful.

How to go about it: You will probably have the best experience if you take up development work after you have completed your studies and have a few years of work experience. Usually, you would probably be working with a development / social sector organization in the developing country. If you are reading this on SuSanA Forum, you will probably contribute best by adding to the management / technical bandwidth at these organizations. Hence the suggestion of completing higher education and having some work experience before taking up development work.

The time you spend in the developing country (or any other “different” context for that matter) will broaden the horizons of your mind, help you connect better with people and develop a global OneWorld view as well as improve the quality of your work so you can contribute your best to your employer organization and society (be it friends and family or larger society). So, plan it well and view your developing country time from the perspectives of both your personal and professional lives. It is also good to do this work immediately after a few years of work experience. Reasons:

(a) Opportunity Cost – the higher you go up the organizational ladder, the opportunity cost of taking a 2-3 years’ break / sabbatical to do something very different increases unless you are going to be doing the same work in a developing country (for instance, if you are transferring your work to the developing country operations of a MNC / INGO, you would essentially be doing the same work but broaden your depth of experience but you could also opt to do something related but in a very different sector – like applying your mechanical engineering knowledge from defence /aeronautics to solving maintenance issues of biomedical equipment in hospitals);

(b) Give yourself the option to make a career shift. Development / social sector work has much more opportunities today compared to a decade ago. You have a lot more options and can have a completely satisfying career. However, unless you specialized in development studies, you will probably be doing a career shift to do development work full-time. A career shift will almost always involve some unlearning and relearning, adjusting etc and you will still want to have the option of getting back to what you were doing earlier if things don’t work out. So you need to ensure having adequate time if you want to make a career shift.

(c)Give yourself time to make the best of your developing country experience. You will have insights into some challenges of a developed country context because of your developing country experience. Maybe, a product idea for senior citizens or palliative care. You need time to find the right collaborations to develop this product, bring it to the market. Or, an insight into policy in which case you need to gather adequate scientific evidence, build consensus and complete the whole chain from research to translating scientific evidence into policy. Or, be in the developing country operations of your employer where you can add value and also have a good career. Again, you need adequate time to complete the goal – so start early but after completing studies and a few years of work experience.

Some suggestions: Prepare. 2-3 years of your life is a huge time and probably cannot be repeated. So, prepare well.

Write a Statement of Purpose (just for yourself) in which you write your motivation to do this (development work), what of your background (technical, social, personal, other) will help you make a valuable contribution to the developing country context, a broad outline of what sort of work you want to be doing (you will probably have to wear multiple hats, so good to always know which ones to prioritize), and at least 3 specific goals for your 2-3 years time and 3-4 specific, concrete ideas about what you want to do after the few years in the developing country. This will help you focus on the learning goals even while you keep an open mind to different experiences and perspectives.

Try to get some experience beforehand. Make friends with people in your college / office / neighborhood who were born in a developing country. It will help you develop the global, OneWorld view at a personal / inter-personal level – you will begin to identify basis for shared understanding sooner and you wont have culture shock either! Try to do some regular volunteer work in a resource-scarce or other difficult setting. You will need to understand how to identify an issue you want to espouse, how to gain support for the cause, and how to handle conflict (if it arises) in a different setting than you are used to. When you do regular volunteer work at the same place, you will develop that understanding.

Choose one developing country and learn about it at a personal / social level. Read some of their popular fiction / novels, watch movies, follow news, read the community forum messages of some theme you like. Depending upon your hobbies, learn what it is like in that country. If you like cooking, read a few recipes and try them! If you like music, read up on their musical heritage and listen to some popular, contemporary music as well. You might finally decide on a different developing country also but when you are conversing with people and mention that you liked this or that song / movie / book from that country, people will understand that you do bond with people from a different context. They will take to you and you will probably gain lifelong friends within a shorter period of time. Try to understand people from their books and movies – their sense of humor, dreams, values, daily narrative, relationships, so much about their lives.

Do a Google search, if you can get good advice beforehand, it is better than learning from experience! Also, research the organization you will be associated with during the 2-3 years’ time. You should be convinced that they are trustworthy – no unethical activities, etc. If possible, interact with someone in the organization or a former volunteer etc before you buy your flight ticket. Keep an open mind but you should also have done some homework.

If possible, maintain a journal or record on your mobile phone. Just a few lines everyday and review every week / fortnight to see if you are really expanding the horizons of your mind, understanding, social experience and the goals in your Statement of Purpose. If possible, discuss with someone (could be someone back home also).

Keep an open mind, maintain focus and also a sense of perspective. Balanced, adaptive, continue to function well across settings, expand horizons of the mind, maintain all your old and new relationships (while you shift between face-to-face and long-distance and back to face-to-face).

Good luck!

11. What do you see as the biggest threats and the biggest opportunities for India’s future? (In terms of sanitation and public health or in general)

Biggest opportunities: A 1+ billion people, mostly young, wanting to achieve and contribute, a core base of strong capabilities (systems, human resources, technology, manufacturing and services) that can be scaled up to eliminate inequities and build a strong society and economy. And for India, to contribute significantly to solving global development and security issues, both the SDGs and other matters.

Biggest threats: There is high enthusiasm and willingness to reach across boundaries amongst people in India. This is reflected in movies, interviews, advertisement messages, media, everywhere. And, the Indian Prime Minister has strongly supported maintaining religious harmony and focus on development (from legislation to programmes), which is much lauded and welcomed by all. Challenges always exist but the current highly positive scenario also gives rational hope that the challenges can be overcome. The country is close to realizing its economic potential and what I would watch for is that, it happens hand-in-hand with reducing inequalities and social transformation towards a rights-based society. There is no threat of increasing inequalities but, as a researcher and as a personal value, my focus is on “the momentum does not compromise the basic ethos of everyone completing the journey together”.

Sanitation is special for me. India has the highest OD population in the world. The Indian PM has given it special status by talking about sanitation in his first Independence Day speech as the Prime Minister, a first for any Indian PM. Corporates have responded with enthusiasm. Sanitation has greater visibility and focus in the SDGs (compared to the MDGs). And SuSanA is starting its first country chapter in India and with the explicitly stated aim of supporting the “Swacch Bharat Mission”.

My hope is that, the Swacch Bharat Mission becomes the showcase programme, the first of several to come, that addresses important development issues and superb in implementation – participatory, inclusive, equitable, scientific and yes, a demonstration of India’s manufacturing, logistics, mobile payments and implementation capabilities. That it has best practices in its very design (not just technology, it includes superstructure, materials, systems, etc) and sets the standard for development programmes. From financing, payments, monitoring, evaluation, third-party observation / concurrent audit (for example, by SuSanA and Transparency International).

And, a very very special wish – India has been ranked on the corruption list. I would like to see the country-wide sanitation programme to demonstrate that India is willing and does rise above that, and for it to be validated by those who have fought for it (such as, Transparency International and Public Affairs Foundation in India).

12. What kind of research topics are needed in the sanitation field?

Some suggestions:

1.Implications of the linkages between sanitation and other SDGs. Sanitation has linkages with 10 other SDGs. We need to understand what it means, starting from intent and specific target language, about synergies, collaboration – minimum requirements & opportunities to explore, key points for programme design (like the booklet about addressing women’s issues in sanitation programme design and implementation posted earlier on SuSanA – this publication is by women’s rights experts and that makes it valuable sanitation professionals can understand what exactly is required to fulfill women’s rights goals in sanitation projects), any parameters to be added / modified in M&E checklists in sanitation projects, technology assessment, implementation protocol, information systems, legislation, financing, Public-Private Partnership (PPP) structure, ICT, etc.

2. Extent of awareness amongst professionals & organizations in sanitation and related sectors (construction and healthcare, for instance) of the sanitation-and-other-sectors linkages (a) in theory / “underlying principles”, (b) in practice, be it policy or grassroots implementation and (c) potential synergies and collaboration.

3. Extent to which all stakeholders (at all levels & everywhere) understand the MDGs/SDGs to be the fount of all activities related to sanitation.

4. Extent to which the linkages between sanitation and other SDGs have been integrated in practice (real-world change & impact) and stakeholders’ views on the same.

5. Knowledge management in sanitation with respect to synthesizing learning from each projects and applying it across other projects.

6. Extent to which certification and technology assessment is done in sanitation projects.

7. As the base paper for the first SuSanA TDS highlights, the extent to which legislation is aiding/restricting introduction of incremental/significant innovations of core sanitation technology as well as building materials etc (inclusion in government programmes as well as product certification – product safety, C2C certification, safe-for-use in agriculture, etc), implementation across geographies and what can be quickly applied across contexts (M&E systems, for instance).

To be continued in a further post...

Posted by a member of the SuSanA secretariat held by the GIZ Sustainable sanitation sector program
Located at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany
Follow us on facebook: www.facebook.com/susana.org and twitter: twitter.com/susana_org
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  • secretariat
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  • SuSanA secretariat currently allocates 2 full time person equivalents of time from members of GIZ Sustainable Sanitation Team: Arne Panesar, Cecilia Rodrigues, Shobana Srinivasan, Mintje Büürma, Franziska Volk and interns Judith Munz and Hans Christian Dworak.
  • Posts: 829
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Re: Featured User in October 2015 - Sowmya Rajasekaran from India

The final part of the interview with our featured user of the month. Thank you Sowmya for taking the time and putting so much effort in your answers!

Part 3: About Sowmya’s opinions about the forum

13. Do your colleagues or people in your network also use the forum?

Having come from a background different from sanitation, I have met most of the people I know in relation to sanitation through SuSanA! And they are awesome. :) Knowing SuSanA from personal experience, I feel that we should try to bring more people to the forum. Experts, entrepreneurs, NGOs, advisors, students from both sanitation and other sectors.
Students particularly. Even if everyone does not participate, it is great to learn from the messages posted. Design, engineering & business students, for instance, can learn a lot about product design, starting a venture, etc – a greater immersive experience than a case study can provide, its just like learning about a developing country before actually buying the flight ticket for the 2-3 years’ work in development (my reply to question #10 above). Follow the discussions for a couple of years, learning at your own pace and applying all that you are learning at school/college to the messages posted, and you get a much deeper learning experience that’s helpful right from the beginning of your career.
Not sure about how to fit this into my schedule but I have been thinking of speaking of SuSanA and HIFA2015 to colleges in and around Chennai and, once the process/format is set, hopefully request people in my network who are in colleges to spread the message. We will probably need a welcome session to help students get acclimatized to the Forum, adding the personal touch!
Would love to have suggestions & advice from Forum members in this regard and their own experiences & insights (several of our members have teaching & academia experience also, I think?).
Apart from this, I try to spread the message as much as I can to the people I meet who are connected to / interested in sanitation.

14. Which topics or categories on the forum do you feel most passionate about?

Inter-sectoral collaboration (special thanks to Dr. Neil Packenham Walsh, moderator of HIFA2015, Elisabeth von Muench, moderator of SuSanA and WikiDoc James for the enthusiasm and continued work), SDGs, technology discussion / assessment, niche areas in sanitation that have to be prioritized (Mughal’s several discussion threads on sanitation during emergencies, small island problems to which others have also contributed making it a great learning experience, sanitation during Ebola), new developments in WASH research. The Tippytap (which I first came to know of through Chris and later the discussions on the Forum), Chris Canaday’s toilet model ( inodoroseco.blogspot.in/ ) are just great and I absolutely love it! :)
I happily recommend reading the threads on handwashing. It is a known fact that we are unable to get everyone to practice proper handwashing hygiene despite 150 years after Dr. Semmelweiss gave his life for it. A topic that might be uninteresting to some (what’s more to know?) but just read through the discussion threads to learn all the needs assessment, research, the awesome design, that is going into making handwashing global and ubiquitous.
Handwashing & Tippytap: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/160-ha...acilities-at-schools
Moringa plant as handwashing soap: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/23-han...-as-handwashing-soap
Using Senecio lyratipartitus extract for handwashing: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/23-han...rn-africa-kenya#4427

15. What don’t you like about the forum or about other forum users?

The Forum just becomes more wonderful with time! So, there is nothing to dislike! :)

16. What is your advice to the forum moderators?

Can't think of any advice to give. If this is of any use to others, I would just like to share what I have learnt from observing the forum moderators:
  • Encouraging others to contribute, helping them get over initial hesitation.
  • Handling sometimes-difficult issues, such as, if a certain member request cannot be fulfilled, they always reply with reasons. Don’t remember fully but someone had posted a request for suggestions to which members could not give the solution. The moderator explained why such a request is difficult to answer and other members gave some pointers – that post was not left unanswered.
  • Encourage members to come forward and write on the Forum, encourage open discussion and high participation.
  • They find experts who can add valuable knowledge/insights and invite them (I have seen this happen across several discussion threads). It sometimes takes several steps in their networks to reach the expert but the moderators always take that extra effort to do so.
  • Focus on the discussion. Sanitation is highly linked to several other goals/themes. So, they maintain focus on the discussion threads, take certain posts into new threads, rename, keep all the members engaged with both threads.
  • Get members’ feedback on the technology. For instance, they check with a few members at least to see if the features are functioning properly, even if it is a button etc.
  • Even for a user survey, they circulate the survey forms for discussion and inputs. They make it so participatory and keep engagement levels high.
  • Regularly discuss ways to encourage the silent members to participate in the Forum. And members like Chris always support and give suggestions.
  • One of the best things about SuSanA moderators is that it never stops with words – there is always action taken. Like suggestions for improvements to the website, they discussed and implemented it. Elisabeth likes inter-sectoral collaboration and, liking a concept is a personal thing, isn’t it? But she joined HIFA2015. And, since it is a personal value, she edits Wiki pages, and so much more. We all need to manage our time but its great and inspiring to see people take action based on their core beliefs.
17. Which developments do you like, which don’t you like?

I joined the Forum only last year. So, cannot discuss “developments” which is sort of “change over time”. From what I have observed by reading Forum posts, there are a few things I like very much:
  • The discussion threads and survey about improvements to the Forum. Every suggestion is answered, every change discussed (changes to the Forum, the brochure, logo, everything) openly with the Forum members and suggestions incorporated – it is truly participatory and I think a lot of effort goes into engaging members in introducing changes also so the members feel more “our forum” than “theirs” about changes also. Exceptional change management capabilities and very people-friendly.
  • The website has become really wow, now more than earlier. Examples are the arrangement of the Resources section and the variables in the filters, the intro for new members, the arrangement of the material, the Calendar of Upcoming Events, the homepage is fabulous and I like the mobile-friendly version of the website (posted message through the mobile-friendly version and it is absolutely fabulous, a lot of thought has gone into it including the useful tips like being able to use smileys in this version also).
  • The breadth of themes being discussed / messages posted has increased.
  • The extent of collaboration with other sectors has increased.
  • The discussion topics also have expanded much more in other than technology themes.
  • Posting newly published research and milestones has increased I think (lot of research material always got posted but now I am seeing new publications getting posted on SuSanA quickly).
  • Posting notification of events on a broader theme has also increased. I absolutely loved the notification post on “Critical Issues Free Webinar: Water as one resource” event hosted by American Geosciences Institute’s (AGI’s) Critical Issues Program. I could not participate due to time constraints but I registered and got the link to the transcripts which I am hoping to read at the earliest because I find the water resource topic really fascinating. In India, we grow up learning mythological tales about rivers and oceans and, as an adult, seeing the same topic being a global concern and the very pressing issues and how it is all connected in a OneEarth way. Don’t know, I just loved the post.
  • Members also posted messages about actively collaborating / discussing with experts from agriculture and other related sectors.
  • Special listservs / mailing lists get created and posted for specific topics that may not really be of mainstream interest. Like Dan Campbell’s mailing list of new publications, research and updates on zoonosis and sanitation (its about Ebola and other zoonotic diseases with sanitation linkages as well).
  • I like the Sanitation Updates which I got to know of through SuSanA though, I would love to see the Updates posted in a SuSanA discussion thread as well so all the info is in one place that is accessed by all.
  • Webinars for members to interact real time and see/hear each other. (Sorry, I didn’t set right my system that time but I loved it.)
  • The webinars, the Twitter conversations, transcripts, YouTube videos that get posted contemporaneously with important live events (Stockholm Water Week and SuSanA meetings, for instance).
  • Enabling sanitation sector knowledge to reach more people through excellent content on Wikipedia.
  • SuSanA’s first country chapter is to be started in India! Super-like for this. :)
  • [/ul]
    18. What is your experience in interacting with your fellow SuSanA members?

    Joining SuSanA is one of the best decisions I have made in my life, thanks to the Forum and all its moderators and members.

    Being a member of SuSanA has helped me grow as a person, learn more about sanitation and the larger development issues – across research evidence, technology updates, practical experience at all levels and across countries, insights and taking action quickly (such as, the Ebola response), and connect with people in sanitation and related sectors.

    I have learnt by observing moderators and other members (how they communicate and interact), reading forum messages, participating in discussions and special thanks to Elisabeth von Meunch and Chris Canaday for the mentoring and advice when I first joined SuSanA (I was quite unsure when I first joined because I had no academic training in sanitation and SuSanA members are such experts and so very knowledgeable).

    The first thing I love about SuSanA members is that there is always someone to welcome a new member / new post by a member who does not regularly participate. They never let these “first” posts go unanswered, the response is always warm and friendly and several members regularly discuss ways to increase member participation in the forums and how to make the forum more accessible / convenient for those unfamiliar with the format (members whose first language is not English, for instance).

    Another thing I love about SuSanA members is their enthusiasm to share their knowledge with others as well as collaborate with professionals from other sectors. Another much-loved aspect is the consistent feature in all SuSanA discussions to focus on scientific evidence supporting the discussion. Members always post the reference / URLs. What’s amazing is the level of analytical depth and selection of expert reports irrespective of the members’ specific background in sanitation. An example is the discussion a report on sanitation economics – Joe and Christoph were just fabulous. A special mention of Mughal, Chris and Krischan – the depth of knowledge and selection of references is magnificent, to say the least.

    Special thanks to Elisabeth von Meunch, Chris Canaday, Dr. Lucas Dengel, Mughal, Pawan Jha, Dr. Neil Packenham-Walsh, Joe, Krischan, Denniskii, Rose George, Dorothee Spuhler, Marijn Zandee, Bankabio, Trevor Surridge, Christoph, Elisabeth Kvanström, Patrick Bracken, Roslyn Graham, Carol McCreary, Adam Saffer, Shobana, Premanand Biswal, Martin George. Some members like Jeurgen Eichholz, WikiDoc James whose posts I have liked and hope to interact with in future.

    A special thanks to Dr. Lucas Dengel, the first member to reply when I posted my intro, we met and he also offered to show his project – its totally wonderful, I got to see firsthand what difference a properly designed and implemented sanitation project can do for people and how it overcame people’s myths and preconceived notions to become a wonderful project, introduced me to his team (I absolutely love their team spirit and had a lovely time learning from the team members), a researcher who was trying a new lovely innovation in his project, and agreed to help with spreading the use of menstrual cups (Ruby Cups posted on SuSanA and Dr. Lucas has already worked on these matters earlier) and also offered to let me pilot my toilet design in his project. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity for all his encouragement as well as his steadfast conviction in people-friendly programmes that has strong grassroots impact from which also I have learnt.

    Thanks to WTO for the scholarship for participating in the Sanitation Summit in New Delhi in Jan 2015. I got to learn a lot, met very interesting people & projects - altogether amazing.

    And thanks to all the members who reached out and for their interest. I sincerely apologize for the times when I am unable to continue the conversation – this is due to time constraints and I will try to manage my time better.

    19. Whate are examples of some discussion threads you most like and learnt from?

    I have learnt both from discussion threads in which I could not participate in because I did not know enough to even ask a good question :) as well as those in which I could contribute some thoughts/insights/data.

    Some of the most informative and interesting discussion threads from which I have learnt but did not participate: Mughal’s posts on sanitation during emergencies, several discussions on small island problems, Dietvorst’s posts, the threads on IFOAM certification for soil amendments from ecosan toilets, several threads in which members had posted evidence of plant growth and crop impact from their projects, Wikipedia article on history of ecosan started by Elisabeth, thesis on SuSanA network analysis by Adam Saffer, UNC Chapel Hill, Bengaluru wastewater reuse example, DRDO biotoilet technology (its awesome, congrats to Bankabio, learnt about biotechnology and psychrophilic bacteria from Chris Canaday’s post of YouTube video explaining the DRDO technology and Pawan Jha’s question and Dr. Chatterjee’s replies), sanitation sustainability indicators, Performance Assessment System by CEPT University in India, toilet certification (from where I gained the goal to have my toilet design certified too, the C2C certification post by Jeurgen Eichholz – extremely valuable info to know, I love IWA’s Technology Assessment Criteria and it is great to know that something like C2C certification is possible), countries with legislation that include material-flow-based and/or resource-oriented (sustainable) sanitation and waste management (important, as a sanitation professional, to know the legislation status of sanitation technologies in different countries, mesh it with learning about the background from history of ecosan and other threads), gender and sanitation marketing.

    Some of thought-provoking discussions in which I could particpate in and have learnt a lot: sanitation during Ebola, inter-sectoral collaboration, the Thematic Discussion Series in Feb 2015 (the Sanitation Ladder) and Jun 2015 (Urban Sanitation Finance – from Macro to Micro Level), TippyTap in schools – way to go? (and other group handwashing facilities at schools) and wastewater disposal in deep wells in US.

    Some memorable and amazing discussions are the Uttar Pradesh cousins, Dan Spears’s work on OD linkages to child mortality puzzle among Indian Muslims and Ruby Cups. Initially, I found it difficult to participate in these discussions but am very glad that I did because I learnt from other members about how to participate in a discussion on sensitive issues and this continues to help me articulate and communicate my thoughts better and with more confidence.

    Thank you very much for such interesting and thought-provoking discussions!

    20. Is there something else you would like to say?

    Firstly, a huge thanks for making me “Featured User of the Month“. I love being a member of SuSanA and so, it is very special for me.

    I cannot think of a better moment than now to say my sincere thanks to all SuSanA moderators, members and the Forum for being such a wonderful part of my life. And to thank the wonderful people who have encouraged and mentored me in reaching this moment.

    A huge thanks and hugs to my parents, sister and our families, my best friends Meenal Dutia and Ram Sharaph, Meenal’s family, all my friends, teachers, colleagues and well-wishers for being there for me, for the understanding and love and encouragement. My work experience at the Lumbini Eye Institute (LEI), Lumbini and learning at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm are the major turning points and foundation for my global health / sanitation sector career. A special thanks to all my colleagues at LEI (Dr. Irina Kanskar, Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma, Mrs. Sudha Risal Sharma, Hari Thapa, Dr. Sandeep Gurung, Mr. Ajay Kumar Bhandari, and several several others who continue to be friends long after I came back to India) and mentors at SEVA (special thanks to Mrs. Catherine Howett, Dr. Ken Bassett, Ms. Linda Young and Mr. Ramprasad Kandel for the teaching & mentoring, encouragement, support and always warm wishes when I was in Nepal and later also). A special thanks to Dr. Rolf Wahlström, my course leader, he is there in everything I have learnt and do, who made the course more beautiful than my wildest imagination, for encouraging me to learn as much as I can, for the patience and understanding, and for being such an inspiration in my life. Special thanks to my thesis supervisors, Dr. Birger Forsberg and Dr. Pär Eriksson, for all the wonderful books and encouragement and patience and for maintaining focus (even when I didnt!) and because of whom I do better scientific research and write better reports (an ability which is very important for me). And thanks to all my professors who taught so generously and classmates who shared their knowledge and experience so nicely and for all the good times together during the course and afterwards.

    Thanks all of you and hope for a wonderful journey together in contributing to achieving sanitation goals. :)

    Posted by a member of the SuSanA secretariat held by the GIZ Sustainable sanitation sector program
    Located at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, Eschborn, Germany
    Follow us on facebook: www.facebook.com/susana.org and twitter: twitter.com/susana_org
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