( IAP ’19) Sophia Wu, G
Reflections: the Good, the Bad and the In-between.
The Good has been overwhelming. The work has been successful. While the actual water quality testing kit is still a work-in-progress, we have successfully received feedback and interest to inform next product development steps. The fieldwork has proved fruitful to create awareness that EcoConcern will be launching a new product in the coming months. Important stakeholders are aware of these new product options and has helped inform the product attributes.
Most notably and generally, stakeholders are interested in a low-cost, E. coli specific product that is easy to use. The general feedback indicated interest in a plastic containment system since it is more portable and less fragile than glass. It is recommended that two products be developed. One targeting stakeholders such as international and government agencies that meet Standard Methods guidelines of a 100ml quantitative test. The second product would be a low-cost, smaller volume test that would serve a qualitative purpose for use in the hands small scale water suppliers. These insights will help EcoConcern in the next stages of development.
The Bad is fairly petty. The pollution and traffic within Kathmandu Valley was awful. Crossing an intersection as a pedestrian was always a hazardous task. Sitting in and weaving through traffic to attend meetings was, at times, a heart attack inducing experience.
The In-Between is just one of the many realizations I have had about my career goals. As much as I have loved being in Nepal, I don’t believe that Nepal will be where I make my long-term career. Kathmandu just lacked a bit of the extra sparkle that would entice me to live there.
Upon graduating from MIT, my goal is to move abroad and work for a social enterprise and integrate myself into local communities. This past month has shown me how truly important it is to have a local perspective when engaging in development work. EcoConcern and ENPHO’s partnership was invaluable and critical to project success. I can also see how poorly the month would have gone had our partners not been so engaged, competent and dedicated to the goal. Something I know to look for in my next project is an alignment of goals to truly get momentum going.
While this may be the end to my journey to Nepal with EcoConcern and ENPHO, this is likely just the start of my work on water.
Two Forms of Impact
Being in Kathmandu, meeting with stakeholders, engaging with communities with a vested interest in safe, clean drinking water has advanced the work exponentially. We have been able to introduce new product ideas into the market and garner valuable insight about what the market desires. Thus far, it’s been informing the future product attributes for what kind of containment system the water quality testing kit will come in. Most notably, a plastic vial or bag that has a small volume size is what many market segments are interested in.
Beyond what the communities have given us, my presence here as an MIT representative has lent credibility to the work. MIT’s reputation precedes us as we go into meetings and there is a level of technical reputability that is built into the perception of the future product launch as EcoConcern and ENPHO continues to develop the product beyond my presence here. Thus far, it’s been amazing to see how much collaborating with ENPHO and EcoConcern is helping establish the reputation of the future product launch. It creates opportunities for stakeholders to see a glimpse of the product development journey.
Working with closely with EcoConcern especially has been rewarding personally to connect with fellow individuals who are passionate about water. One of my fellow coworkers has been vocal about the impact we have had on him. Not only has working together been fun, but also eye-opening to the kind of work marketing is and deepened his own understanding of the market segments. Inspiring and deepening passion for working to provide cleaner, safer drinking water to communities has been the most rewarding.
All in all, the impact has been profound for me and my Nepali counterparts. While the impact of the work towards empowering organizations and introducing new ideas to them is important, what I find even more valuable is the human connections we have formed and the ability to mutually fuel motivation. That is the impact that will last beyond January 2019.
A few learning highlights…
I’m sitting on a plastic chair in a schoolhouse built by a NGO in Banshighat, Kathmandu, Nepal. It’s brightly colored with children’s drawings, rugs and vibrant fabrics. My team and I are seated as panelists with the around eight members of the community seated across from us. Some are listening intently and some are half-distracted by the other business they have. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the time they gave us to listen to our presentation.
ENPHO and EcoConcern has previously partnered in this community to bring them water monitoring and treatment tools. The established relationship helped frame our visit. We saw the longevity of the prior work ENPHO had done. Water filtration systems install in previous projects were still actively used and loved within households. ENPHO had worked with the water user committee in Banshighat and it was the committee and community leaders to whom we presented.
A EcoConcern partner gave the presentation in Nepali. We pitched five different products with different product attributes to understand what market interest and market needs this community had. We garnered great insight and feedback. Some answers were exactly what we were looking for (i.e. a smaller sample size is better, educating people about the importance of testing specifically for E. coli as opposed to what they’re currently testing for in total coliforms is necessary, plastic is preferable to glass from a fragility and portability perspective.) However, it was the unexpected obvious ones that really caught my attention.
“Well, it is hard for us to just say what we want from looking and the demo you presented. It would be great if we could test the products within the community first.”
“If you tell the women that wearing the body belt incubator will help you lose weight, everyone will wear it.”
Beyond the professional insights, it was really the personal human connection moment that was most profound for me. One of the committee members said that they are thankful for our presence here and that we are doing this work. They are excited for the next project and look forward to doing what they can to make this a success.
The significance of this statement really make me stop and reflect. ENPHO’s previous work had really changed their lives for the better. Fewer people were getting sick from water and the taste had improved. The unspoken undertones told me that these projects are empowering to this community. The unintended and yet direct validation for the work was rewarding.
Being in Banshighat and having firsthand experience to walk around and see the impact ENPHO’s previous work had done gave me a new perspective. Historically, so much of development work has had a poor reputation with developed countries coming in and imposing their own cultural values onto local communities or doing work that ultimately has no worth in the long-run. Seeing first-hand the true positive impact ENPHO has made on their water quality and overall health cemented my desire to pursue this as a career.
Ultimately, hearing a story is really only intellectual knowledge, but seeing the fruits of labor come to bear penetrates deeper to the emotional and fundamental reasons of my passion for impactful work.
A fun interlude…
Kathmandu is not a place in the world you would associate with mountain biking. And yet, here I found myself mountain biking for the first time.
Along with a fellow MIT student, Ike Urquhart, and a coworker from EcoConcern, Sajal Shrestha, I set off to Lakuri Bhanjyang, a peak located in the Lalitpur District of Kathmandu Valley.
We first stopped by to get our tires pumped.
Thankfully we did, because soon after, we were on unpaved, rocky roads. We passed by smaller towns with farmers starting to prepare their fields for the next growing season.
We had some great scenic overlooks along the way. Best of all, as we kept climbing we left the Kathmandu air pollution behind.
We gained a friend! We passed by a village and a stray dog took a liking to me. I named him Momo and he accompanied me the rest of the 3-4 mile ride up to the peak!
It was beautiful at the top. You could see the Himalayas in the distance and also see the haze from Kathmandu pollution.
While going up was a combination of mental toughness to keep pedaling and appropriate gear shifting, zipping down the mountain was a whole other adventure. I braked for dear life as I dodged rocks and tried to maintain a good grip on the dusty road beneath me.
All in all, not a bad first time mountain biking. Most importantly, I escaped the city pollution and breathed in some fresh air. Not a bad way to spend the day.
An Introduction… (2019/01/07)
I’m Sophia! I’m a Master’s student in the Technology and Policy Program. This is my first trip to Nepal and as I write this, I’m prepping for the first day of work!
I’m here in Kathmandu, Nepal to work on a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project. We’re partnering with ENPHO, a local Nepali NGO, and EcoConcern, a social business enterprise to refine a marketing plan for the EC-Kit developed by H2O-2B. The EC-Kit is a low-cost water quality testing kit targeted at Nepal. It is the first step towards providing clean, safe drinking water for all as it informs users about the presence of potentially harmful pathogens and can be used for water quality monitoring programs. Check out our website here: h2o-2b.mit.edu
This past fall was spent developing a marketing plan and further refining the product. The goal for January is three-fold: (1) refining current targeted market segments, (2) a more comprehensive and precise marketing strategy and (3) identification of new markets.
We will be meeting with customers from target market segments. We’re aiming to meet with the Kathmandu Valley Water Management Board, bottled water producers, and leaders in local municipalities of the surrounding areas. These meetings will inform further strategy iterations. We are also partnered with the Kathmandu University School of Management and will be conducting more primary market research into customers.
I hope we will be able to reachall of our goals, but I’m concerned about how ambitious our goals are and how productive our meetings will be. Nevertheless, I’m sure I will grow a lot professionally and personally as I delve into this new work culture and social culture.
I’m here with my fellow H2O-2B teammates. Here’s a photo from dinner our first night as we recover from jet lag!
We also went out for a walk to a river we could see from our hotel.
Sometimes, looking at a photo is better than experiencing it. I could feel the air pollution through my face mask and the stench of the trash from the river made this a very quick stop.