Four months ago I moved to Singapore and began working as a Lombard Public Service Fellow at the World Toilet Organization (the lesser-known WTO), a global non-profit focused on increasing access to toilets and sanitation worldwide. My interest in sanitation began in 2012 on a visit to a large slum in Mumbai, India. I saw a dilapidated shack that served as a toilet for 1,440 people. While at Dartmouth, I double majored in Geography and Asian & Middle Eastern Studies with a focus on international development. Two memorable classes that inspired my decision to pursue the Lombard Fellowship with WTO include Professor Susanne Freidberg’s Moral Economies of Development class in which I wrote a paper arguing that sanitation ought to be prioritized in slum tours’ development agendas, as well as Professor Coleen Fox’s Global Health class in which I made a project entitled “Eliminating Open-Defecation in Andhra Pradesh, India: Applying a Gender-Based Approach to State-Wide Sanitation Efforts.”
While I was thrilled to find out last February about my acceptance as a Lombard Fellow, part of me felt apprehensive about beginning my post-graduate career at an organization whose very name incites laughter, if not curious smiles! “The World What Organization?” is the common response I get after telling people where I work. However, after being at WTO for four months, that apprehension has been replaced by a feeling of confidence in my decision to come to Singapore and begin my career in development work.
The beginning of my fellowship in September came at a hectic time for WTO. One week after I arrived, I assisted with and emceed the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) World Convention 2016 titled “The Future Inclusive Economy: Mass Collaboration Across All Sectors,” a three-day conference in Singapore to promote collaboration among actors tackling Sustainable Development Goal 8: providing decent work and economic growth to the 4.5 billion people living in emerging economies. Just a few weeks later I traveled to Kuching, Malaysia to attend the 15th World Toilet Summit & Expo, a three-day summit that serves as a global platform to discuss toilet and sanitation issues, including proper waste management, toilet ethics, and sanitation technology. Next up was the Urgent Run, which is an annual 5k run held in Singapore and worldwide in honor of the United Nations World Toilet Day. Shortly after that, I accompanied three WTO staff to Siem Reap, Cambodia to assess the viability of implementing a market-based approach to increase toilet access in three villages, as well as to evaluate the progress of past sanitation projects in Tonle Sap Lake’s floating schools. The final big event of the year was a 16-day roadshow that WTO put on to educate local Singaporeans about the organization and the global sanitation crisis. Being able to participate in all these events and meet sanitation stakeholders from around the world has been an invaluable learning experience. Not only have I learned more about sanitation in general, but I have also learned more about how various actors across government, private, and non-profit sectors work together on sanitation challenges.
Having had internships previously at the U.S. Department of State and at a foreign policy think tank, I have enjoyed being in a small fast-paced environment, which has enabled me to take on a variety of duties and learn closely from my colleagues. My primary task throughout the fellowship has been creating a comprehensive impact assessment of WTO’s initiatives, including its advocacy work, educational efforts, and sanitation projects. Throughout this process, I have come to appreciate the importance of impact evaluation and the monitoring process. For the remaining months of my fellowship I will continue working on this large project, which has been both challenging and rewarding.
I am deeply grateful to the Dickey Center and the Lombard Family for making this opportunity possible for me. I couldn’t think of a better place to begin my career in sanitation work.