Investing in youth: Profiling the next generation of development professionals

Fresh ideas, fresh insights—we are pleased to showcase some of the youth talent who have passed by WASTE over the last year. Core to our spirit and ambition, WASTE is constantly balancing  the fine line between innovating while meanwhile not ‘reinventing the wheel’ when it comes to our work and creating lasting impact in sustainable development. On one hand, WASTE builds partnerships and strengthens existing models for successful scaling. On the other, we welcome dynamic thinkers and support innovative research topics in collaboration with various European & international institutions. We are also focusing on intergenerational knowledge exchange to both pass along the vast wealth of knowledge, tools and experiences cultivated under WASTE’s nearly 4 decades of activity while bringing fresh ideas and leadership into our teams and programmes.

We sat down with 6 of these young WASTE professionals to find out more about their experience and future visions for the sustainable development sector.

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1. How did you become interested in WASTE and what was your assignment?

I was actively looking for an internship and attending several webinars focusing on recycling and resource recovery when I discovered one of WASTE’s webinars on the FINISH Mondial (FM) programme. Because of the interest, I went through the WASTE website and read about the complementary local urban environmental systems (CLUES) project which motivated me to apply. Luckily at WASTE, Priska was exploring ideas to develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) document for co-composting. Priska and the FSM-CE working group provided me this opportunity because of my prior experience in forced aeration composting of municipal solid waste and green waste. Due to the pandemic situation, I had to start my work remotely while living in Germany. The purpose of this internship was to support the FM programme, as it is moving towards the circular sanitation economy, especially looking at the treatment of solid waste and faecal sludge with co-composting to bring a beneficial linkage with the agriculture sector.

 

2. How did your work and perception about the organisation evolve throughout your time with WASTE?

The objectives assigned to me were to explain the standardised guidelines on technical and operating aspects of co-composting which can be easily used by local site operators or local experts as a tool for both mapping and following operating procedures of co-composting and constructed wetland. In the beginning, it took several days to draft what would be required to complete the work, but eventually, with the support of the team, I was able to successfully outline the SOP scope through regular virtual meetings.

In the support of SOP, there was the necessity of conducting a thorough assessment of the waste generation scenario and the availability of appropriate mixing ratio of organic waste and dried faecal sludge for co-composting. To calculate, we developed a simplified excel tool to determine the possibilities and dimensioning of co-composting and construction of wetlands. The integration of SOP and tool took more time than initially though, but my colleagues were patient and supportive throughout.

 

3. How will you carry this experience and these ideas forward in the future?

Overall, the experience I had at WASTE as intern was truly knowledgeable and interesting. It allowed me to improve my communications skills and made me feel connected to the activity of the organisation even though it ended up being completely remote due to COVID-19 restrictions. I also gained a better understanding of what working under an NGO in the field of environmental services looks like. Further, I established a new network and gained a new sense of professionalism while working with the international WASTE team. Personally, I can say that the experience I gained from this internship will help me to boost my career and I am looking forward to work for the new challenges awaiting in the sustainable development sector.

 

You can find the SOPs on co-composting co-created by Ankur here.

 

1. How did you become interested in WASTE and what was your assignment?

A professor at my university, the UNU-Merit, brought WASTE to my attention after she read my Master’s thesis on addressing rural communities and menstrual hygiene management (menstrual huts) in Nepal. I immediately wanted to know more about the organisation and how I could get involved. I learned about a new innovative financial tool, the Sanitation Impact Bond (SIB), that WASTE is currently developing and needed support with. After our virtual meeting, I was eager to learn more about this instrument and the corresponding FINISH Mondial programme. Therefore, I applied for an internship at WASTE.

 

2. How did your work and perception about the organisation evolve throughout your time with WASTE?

I started my internship with an open mind about my tasks because innovative financing and sanitation were new areas for me. From the start, my adviser Valentin, stressed that the internship was about “learning to swim”. Therefore, I expected to have many responsibilities. Since I enjoy challenging myself, I was looking forward to this new field. My expectations were fulfilled—I got a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities, from working on policies for financial tools to conducting interviews for a process-related evaluation of the SIB pilot. I appreciated that my supervisor and supporting colleagues like WASTE’s CFO always made time for me whenever I had questions or needed help.

With regard to the organisation, I expected an international and multidisciplinary team, which appeared to be true. However, I soon noticed (already on the first day of my internship) that FAMILY is a better word to describe the team dynamics. I enjoyed being part of this passionate, creative and intelligent family.

 

3. How will you carry this experience and these ideas forward in the future?

Although I only spent a short time at WASTE, I consider it a valuable experience. During my assignment, I was confronted with the reality of the work and time constraints, occasionally having to let my inclination toward ‘perfectionism’ go. As a result, I experienced that practice and practical experience (doing the work) is a great way to learn, rather than spending too much time on theoretical literature. I learned a great amount from attending meetings with partners and taking notes, more than from reading general literature about impact bonds, for example. Moreover, I will keep in mind that new areas like complex financial innovations cannot be fully understood in such a short-term internship, but that one can come close with curiosity. In short, I learned a lot in a short time and will definitely carry all these lessons into future work.

 

1. How did you become interested in WASTE and what was your assignment?

I was recruited to coordinate the first FINISH Mondial Sanitation Contest 2020. This contest was looking for innovations to lower the cost of sanitation in FINISH Mondial countries. During my assignment, I had the privilege to learn from applicants including 60 innovators from 14 different countries. It was quite challenging to select the winners. In the end, we had three winners with the most scalable and cost-effective innovation. I also supported the technical working group to develop a toilet construction manual in Ethiopia and Kenya. For this assignment, I worked with both countries’ technical experts to put their innovations into a pictorial manual. We aimed to provide an easy to understand yet detailed step by step instruction to build a toilet.

The first time I heard about WASTE was when I presented my thesis at a conference in The Hague. Since then, I have been following its work. I was keen when they announced the opening for this assignment, so I applied. WASTE seemed to be an organisation always pushing innovation to make real impact. We are seeking grassroots innovations that really work and are needed, then scale them.

 

2. How did your work and perception about the organisation evolve throughout your time with WASTE?

When I first joined WASTE, I expected to work only on the contest with limited personnel. However, during my assignment, I had the opportunity the learn and collaborate with others. For example, country coordinators from FINISH Mondial countries have been a great supporter to reach more innovators in their respective countries. I also had the independence to develop and manage the contest with support from the team. Support and independence allowed me to coordinate the contest successfully. After completing my initial assignment, I ended up working on other projects with the technical working group.

 

3. How will you carry this experience and these ideas forward in the future?

Remote working is not unique nowadays. However, working remotely with at least three different time zone during a pandemic was quite challenging. My assignment with WASTE has taught me two important takeaways. First, collaboration is key. WASTE’s FINISH Mondial programme is implementing in six unique countries. Despite our time and geographical difference, we managed to conduct weekly meetings and coordinate others in between. I also admire the openness from the teams to hear my ideas and support me. Second, adapt to changes quickly. This year has been full of uncertainty. It was especially harder as I was working with collaborative projects that involve several stakeholders. It often meant we had to make change quickly and for the better. For example, we had to shift the planned live event to a virtual winner’s announcement which turned out to reach more people successfully. My experience with WASTE has been one of the highlights of my professional career to date and I am looking forward to work on other projects within or outside WASTE.

 

Fadli is now a Junior Officer at WASTE. To get in touch, see their team bio.

 

1. How did you become interested in WASTE and what was your assignment?

I started at WASTE as a thesis intern in March 2020. The aspect that drew my interest in WASTE was its innovative way of working. In my opinion, the organisation has gained a lot of expertise in designing projects and consortia that can become self-sufficient which was interesting for me. After graduating, I continued working at WASTE in the role of interim policy consultant. After working on several policy cases for a few months, we continued the collaboration in my current role as Management Assistant from February 2021 onwards.

 

2. How did your work and perception about the organisation evolve throughout your time with WASTE?

I had the opportunity to experience WASTE as a group of highly skilled experts with each their own interests and experience. In my new role, I have realised that it is important to maintain a solid and structured work environment that will stimulate and guide collaboration between all expertise’s, as the organisation has a lot to offer and diverse team.

 

3. How will you carry this experience and these ideas forward in the future?

During my research, I saw how incubator models that provide a supportive environment for further innovation could be supported under the ongoing work. I think that in general this approach could be the way forward for the sector as a whole. WASTE can be an example of facilitating an environment which allows for innovation in development finance structures, WASH, sustainable waste management, recycling, etc. I’ll use my past experiences conducting research to support stimulating the organisation and teams to think outside the box and thereby innovate, for a sustainable future.

 

Jelle is now a Management Assistant at WASTE. To get in touch, see their team bio.

 

1. How did you become interested in WASTE and what was your assignment?

I learned about the work of WASTE during my previous internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands (Directorate-General for International Cooperation, DGIS). The FINISH Mondial programme was part of my supervisor’s portfolio at that time. That allowed me to learn more in-depth about what WASTE was doing, especially regarding the programme. I was intrigued by WASTE’s Diamond Model (one of the core pieces of WASTE’s work) and the way it aims to realise systems change. I was later recruited at WASTE for two specific assignments to support the FINISH Mondial team (1) writing a position paper on financial inclusion and presenting it to consortium partners and the programme’s main supporter and donor, DGIS, and (2) conducting my thesis research on the government ‘pillar’ of the Diamond Model.

 

2. How did your work and perception about the organisation evolve throughout your time with WASTE?

At WASTE, I experienced a high level of independence in terms of working, yet natural and excellent teamwork. Every colleague is dedicated to their work and making real sustainable impact, which translates to WASTE colleagues being enthusiastic and pro-active. I was fortunate enough to be able to do fieldwork in Kenya for a brief period before COVID-19 forced me to come back home to the Netherlands and finalise the thesis remotely. The thesis taught me how implementing professionals work on the ground to implement sanitation programmes and policies (from both NGO programmes as well as the government). By talking to a variety of actors in the field, I learned about the hierarchy of knowledge that exists in development related to sanitation provisioning, and that ‘street-level’ professionals’ broker diverse interests in the field, whilst being influenced by party politics, demands from the various NGO  structures and environmentally constraining factors. This thesis research allowed me to approach the work with a  critical eye about the contributions of development organisations and governments in these cases. WASTE was transparent about their work and welcomed my critical view about the sanitation- and overarching development-sector.

 

3. How will you carry this experience and these ideas forward in the future?

The experiences I gained through writing both the position paper and my thesis research have taught me to remain critical about the work we do and the position we take in it, on personal, professional, and organisational levels. It also triggered my interest in attracting more non-grant-based financing into the sanitation sector. I am happy to apply my views and experience at WASTE, where I now work in the FINISH Mondial programme as management support and secretary of the Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) working group.

 

Ranna is now a Junior Programme Officer at WASTE. To get in touch, see their team bio.

 

 

1. How did you become interested in WASTE and what was your assignment?

At IHE Delft Institute of Water Education, I had the pleasure to interact with WASTE staff which gave me a great impression of the organisation and wanted to learn more. After a year, I came across WASTE’s work specifically targeting the sanitation circular economy. I worked on circular economy projects and I wanted to learn more to contribute to the sector moving more circular and fighting climate change. I was recruited as an intern under WASTE’s FINISH Mondial programme and was largely involved in the Faecal Sludge Management and Circular Economy (FSM-CE) Working Group to support ongoing and starting-up FSM-CE activities in Uganda and Kenya.

 

2. How did your work and perception about the organisation evolve throughout your time with WASTE?

Most importantly, I saw that WASTE’s day-to-day culture is closely bound with the organisation’s mission—WASTE lives its values. The staff is comprised majorly of senior experts with sincere respect and kindness that allows others to recognise their own role & importance to succeed in their positions. I went to Uganda a month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which allowed me to spend a few weeks in the project sites. This experience helped me understand the situation on the ground better. Our Ugandan partner (Caritas Fort Portal-HEWASA) and WASTE offered me an excellent platform and supporting team where I learned to never let harsh circumstances hinder your ambition. WASTE offered a leading platform that allowed me to work with various key programme stakeholders in Uganda and Kenya to contribute to plans to solve some local problems in sanitation and waste management, building a local circular sanitation economy trajectory.

 

3. How will you carry this experience and these ideas forward in the future?

With the extensive support from our senior experts, I have been profoundly inspired by everyone I am working with WASTE and FINISH Mondial programme. I am looking forward to working with WASTE’s Diamond model approach further to collaboratively develop and grow local circular sanitation economy approaches in profitable (and therefore, sustainable) ways. Over the past few months, I have taken up the work full-time acting as the Secretary of FINISH Mondial’s FSM-CE Working Group—an international team of mission-driven individuals from across the 6-country programme.

 

Sumeet is now a Junior Officer at WASTE. To get in touch, see their team bio. 

 

Article authored by WASTE adviser, Lauren Pope.