AECOM’s Australia and New Zealand partners with Pollinate Group to support employees wanting to take time to #GiveBack. This year, five employees participated on the 50th Professional Fellowship Program. As they return from their journeys, we’re following their stories through the #AECOMBlueprint blog series. This is a part of blog series that chronicles employees’ work through Pollinate Energy’s Professionals Fellowship Program over the last few weeks.

How would you like a total stranger coming into your home and asking you invasive personal questions about your life? Think about that question for a minute before reading on.

Much of my time, like others’, was spent on my laptop in an air-conditioned café or at The Hive (Pollinate Headquarters, also our accommodation). My group and I decided early on that the way we could make the most impact was not to maximize time on the ground in communities, but to minimize it. The best outcome was to spend as little time infiltrating these peoples’ homes as necessary to deliver high-quality, insightful advice in our report on the TamRas water purifier.

There’s an element of naivety to the view that these disadvantaged people would be grateful for our presence, especially foreigners with whom they are unfamiliar. Yes, there may be an element of excitement upon entrance particularly in the kids; however, there were cases of frustration too. If they don’t see positive outcomes linked to our visits, then who could blame them?

Thus, our focus became minimizing disruption while acquiring the information we required to help Pollinate better serve these communities in the future. What community visits did I personally make?

  • A pre-survey visit to get a feel for the communities — Cobra community (less than two hours)
  • Initial survey roll-out visit — New Horizons community (two hours)
  • Water sampling visit 1 — Manyata community (0.5 hours)
  • Water sampling visit 2 — Light community (0.5 hours)

Of the 11 fellowship days, I spent no more than five hours on the ground in Bangalore’s informal urban settlements. Other fellows’ community contact time would have ranged from equal to perhaps double or even more — this variation was due to project requirements, delegation of work and personal preferences. During my brief visits, I still felt I had gained a sufficient understanding and feel for community life from my first-hand experiences and while hearing others recount theirs.

All up, it’s been saddening to deepen my understanding of the quality of life many people lack. On the flip side, most people said they were happy — they have a strong social fabric in their communities and lead a physically engaging life — arguably their lives are more aligned with how humans have evolved over millennia to live; food for thought. I must say I was also filled with some hope that things could improve for these communities. Contrary to my initial thoughts, most of these communities, at least in Bangalore, are composed of economic migrants who are there by choice (a heavily constrained choice) instilled a sense of hope. Hope that with rain and/or more egalitarian government policy for India’s regions, they might possibly return to their preferred homes and lifestyles.

In relation to my group’s project, we got some water sample results back. Of the communities tested, most exceeded the allowable calcium and magnesium concentration (however, not a significant health concern). Most notably, one community suffered E. coli contamination, which would be mitigated by the TamRas product. A further benefit of TamRas is that regardless of water quality at the source, the product helps to mitigate the risks of contaminating drinking water by poor hygiene and sanitation practices. It achieves this simply through adequate contact time with copper, the product’s purifying component.

We were able to deliver a framework through which to categorize communities by health priority and saleability to help focus Pollinate’s efforts in future. We also formulated insights and advice from our dealings with community members and Pollinate’s sales team. We endorsed the TamRas water purifier to enter Pollinate’s product suite for sale and identified further work for future fellows.

In all, we felt we achieved our problem statement, which for us and Pollinate was to, “understand the water lifecycle of urban informal settlements to improve community wellbeing in India.”

Take a look back at my first blog post about this trip.

Originally published 07.8.2019

Author: Gareth Taylor