The journey to WaterAid India

Posted 23 May 2016 by Neeraj Jain, Pallavi Chaturvedi and Avinash Kumar

This year, WaterAid India becomes our first country office to transition to being a member country. Neeraj Jain, Chief Executive of WaterAid India, Pallavi Chaturvedi, Director of Finance, PME and IT at WaterAid India, and Avinash Kumar, Director of Programmes and Policy at WaterAid India, describe how this was achieved, and look to the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Every growing organisation reaches a point at which, to achieve its fullest potential, it is driven to create lasting change. In 2011, on the basis of their vast experience in India’s policy and development sector and looking at trends indicating where India’s developmental, social and political climate was headed, Tom Palakudiyil (WaterAid’s Head of South Asia) and Girish Menon (then WaterAid’s Director of International Programmes) set a ball in motion with WaterAid UK.

In this WaterAid India’s 30th year, it also becomes the first WaterAid country office to transition into a member country of the WaterAid international federation.

WaterAid India staff.
WaterAid India staff at last year's annual staff conference.

The benefits of being a member country

Becoming a member country brings many advantages in India. Most importantly, it gives us enhanced credibility to act as conveners (within the sector and beyond) and catalysts (within civil society, government and private sector), building on our decades long legacy in India.

Becoming a local entity also means we can access local resources, have an opportunity to participate in Indian policy conversations as a local rather than an outsider, and can gain greater credibility.

India is also poised at an interesting period in which middle incomes are rising, multilaterals and bilaterals are moving out of the country, and the Union Government recently passed a bill for funding support under corporate social responsibility. WaterAid follows in the path of other prominent non-profits such as Oxfam, Save the Children and Plan that became part of the Indian policy ecosystem and have followed a similar path.

New challenges and responsibilities

WaterAid India has been a backroom boy, a donor agency that quietly plugged away behind the scenes, making contacts among credible WASH players in India over the past three decades. Few mentor agencies like this exist in India. Now, it occupies the same space and competes for the same resources and funds as its partners. The 30-year legacy that lends us credibility also makes us even more accountable.

The challenge lies in how we position ourselves, bringing value from our global experience and feeding this into our local, on-ground connections. We have to be seen as solution providers. Using our local entity status with global strength, WaterAid India intends to generate public discourse and influence the influencers.

Indian civil society has been undergoing radical changes, with the middle class youth starting to question and debate the status quo. Adding WASH issues to their radar of concerns is important, so the WASH crises India faces can be addressed more robustly.

How did we ensure a smooth transition?

One of the preconditions of transition was that it should be a fulfilling and pleasant process for everyone. There were zero job losses. Business went on as usual, and, with massive planning behind the scenes, we slipped into our new avatar without any blips. That we are a small organisation helped greatly.

Transparency was a massive factor during the transition. We created a targeted communications plan, with an open door policy in which two-way communication was encouraged so that every employee and external stakeholder felt reassured.

The collective wisdom of the board, its committees and a governance-oriented approach were crucial behind-the-scenes elements. WaterAid international provided generous support, confidence, and encouragement, which enabled the entire process.

The future for WaterAid India

Our transition heralds a break from the traditional north-south development model, and India’s trailblazing work will inform WaterAid UK’s global programme. In the coming years, more country offices in the WaterAid family may seek to step onto a similar path.

WaterAid India aspires to remain a key WASH player. Among the next steps would be to document the rich institutional history of 30 years of India as we shifted with the changing WASH scenario around India. Some of our ground staff have been with us for years and hold great memories about the organisation’s history that need to be captured and shared with a wider audience.

The institutional shifts and the stories will build a robust foundation to steer us by as we move forward. All eyes are on us as we begin new adventures in our coming-of-age story. We will not disappoint!

Neeraj Jain is Chief Executive of WaterAid India. He tweets as @neerajwateraid Pallavi Chaturvedi is Director of Finance, PME and IT at WaterAid India. Avinash Kumar is Director of Programmes and Policy at WaterAid India. He tweets as @avinashkoomar


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