Sanitation sector



Today, the 19th November, is the World Toilet Day, an international day aimed at raising awareness about the global sanitation challenge: 2.6 billion people lacking access to proper sanitation, and millions of them dying because of it. Every year, this day gives us the opportunity to discuss the importance of safe sanitation on our societies and a chance to highlight innovative solutions to this pressing crisis.



To celebrate this special event, we wanted to learn more about the World Toilet Organization (WTO), the NGO that established this day back in 2001. That is why we decided to focus the second edition of our Conversations with Water Professional with Mei Yee Chan, WASH Project Manager at this organization.


Let’s see what she had to say!


First of all, for all those not familiar with the World Toilet Organization, could you tell us a bit about this NGO?


The World Toilet Organization was founded by Singaporean Mr. Jack Sim in 2001 with the aim of breaking the taboo around sanitation so that people can talk about it. If there is an issue and we cannot talk about it, we cannot solve it. WTO is a global non-profit working towards a world with a clean, safe toilet and sanitation for everyone, everywhere, at all times. Our mission is to continue to build the global sanitation movement through collaborative action that inspires and drives demand for sanitation, and provides innovative solutions to achieve sustainable sanitation for all. WTO has commemorated its founding day, 19 November, as World Toilet Day since 2001. In 2013 the UN adopted 19 November as UN World Toilet Day. World Toilet Organization achieved special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2013.


You are a WASH Project Manager at this organisation. What does a WASH Project Manager do, and what are your main duties and responsibilities?


My main responsibility is to develop and work on new/existing projects to ensure that they are self-sustainable, i.e. to be able to form partnerships that will support the projects financially as well as to cover WTO’s overhead. In addition, establishing good, transparent working relationships with project partners and giving talks at events/schools are part of my work. 


Could you tell us more about your typical workday at the World Toilet Organisation?


A typical day at work is usually pretty hectic and varied, packed with meetings and conversations. My usual day when I’m in the office comprises of responding to emails, having meetings on Skype with overseas partners or face to face at WTO’s office and getting help from our CFO to do budgeting.


Figure 1: Typical day at work? Happy are

those who enjoy their sh%& job!


When I am in the field, a typical day will consist of meetings with existing local implementing partners/stakeholder, new potential partners and site visits. A lot of time is also wasted travelling to and from sites as our projects are mostly in the rural areas. 


As a Project Manager, what are the types of projects you are involved in?


My project portfolio includes improving China’s rural school toilets, managing our SaniShop market-based sanitation solution in Cambodia and Mozambique, and floating toilets for floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia. 

Figure 2: Zhang Zhung Primary school is one of the two pilot projects WTO has implemented in

rural school in China to improve their sanitation conditions


Our China school sanitation programme, known as the Rainbow School Project aims to transform the lives of rural school children by transforming dark, dirty smelly unhygienic toilets to bright, colourful happy and clean bathrooms. Since the project started in August, we have completed the installation of two modern flushing toilet system, toilet building with privacy walls and doors, bright and colourful tiles, large windows for ventilation and natural light, sensor lights activated by sound and handwashing facility and equipped with disable toilets. In parallel and most crucial, this project aim to promote behaviour change around sanitation and hygiene practice and maintenance among children and school teachers.


And what are some of the challenges you have had to face at your position?


The key challenge I had to face every day is how to make our projects self-sustainable and to ask the right questions to the right people in order to get funding and support for our projects. Another challenge I have had to face in my position is managing and prioritising my time amongst all the projects on-hand and other responsibilities like giving talks and presentations and engaging with local schools. 



How was the path that took you to become a WASH Project Manager at this NGO?


As I was approaching the final months of completing my Masters in Community Water and Sanitation at Cranfield University in the UK, I found out that a Singaporean founded WTO and I wrote to Jack via LinkedIn. We set up a first meeting at his house where I met his whole family. At that time, he was looking for a secretary to help him manage all the great contacts he meets when he travels to advocate about sanitation! We did not discuss the possibility of me getting a job as a WASH manager as the role was not available at that time. In addition, I had to be in Hanoi for a WEDC WASH conference in a couple of days so we agreed to have another discussion upon my return. Two months later after our initial meeting, we met again for the second time and I started work at WTO in December 2014.


Figure 3: Conducting household surveys in Antananarivo,

Madagascar as part of my MSc thesis dissertation on sanitation marketing.


To people wanting to become a Project Manager at an organisation focused on WASH, what three advices would you give them?


  • Have an open mind and be ready to experience everything using all your senses. In the world of sanitation, be prepared to smell the foulest stench and see things that will turn your stomach.
  • Always have the end users or beneficiaries in mind when designing WASH solutions. Approaching a third world issue with first world idea will fail miserably. Consult the locals and get feedback. Use a human-centred design approach whenever possible.
  • Always think of how to make your project self-sustainable. Adopt a life cycle approach right from the beginning. Whether you are providing water supply or a sanitation system, always think of how a community, individual or village can continue to benefit from your intervention after your programme stops.


Thank you for sharing with us all your experiences and advices. Any final message you would like to give to our readers?


Work in the development sector is rewarding. You are dealing with real issues faced by other people on a day-to-day basis. I work a lot harder and earn much less compared to my previous mining job. The upside is, it does not feel like a job when you are doing something you are passionate about, something in which you believe in and the work that you do makes a positive difference to others people’s lives.  



























Figure 4: WTO latest project in partnership with Wetlands Work Cambodia, floating toilets for  floating schools. Chhnok Tru Primary School, Kampong Chhang


"Working in the sanitation sector is changing lives, making a difference with clean and safe toilets  accessible by anyone at all times. It is building a safe and happy place for the children of our future!"




By Fatine Ezbakhe
Civil Engineer specialized in Water

Published on 2015-11-16 21:43:23

Stay informed about new opportunities

Search on Global Water Jobs

Advertise here »

Follow us
Linkedin   googleplus   Facebook   Twitter   Twitter