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The Community Plumbing Challenge works to stop people getting sick through small, smart and simple improvements to local sanitation issues.

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 “The Teams taught us about Plumbing, how to make strong walls properly, and how to make proper pipelines. They taught us how to treat dirty water and make it safe. They also taught us the importance of cleanliness, and how to keep us and our facilities clean.”

Arbhaj Hussein (14 years old); Harstal Sanjay Jadav (12 years old); Pavan Yogesh Dondi (14 years old); Milind Takaran Ingoli (12 years old) – Maha Nagar Palika School No. 125, Muktidham, Nashik – November, 2015.

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Community Plumbing Challenge 2015 was hosted at Maha Nagar Palika School No. 125 in the Muktidham neighbourhood of Nashik, Maharashtra, between 2–5 November, 2015. This was the first ever delivery of the project: in India, and in the world.

Nashik was originally selected by the Community Plumbing Challenge organizing team (representing IAPMO, WorldSkills Foundation and Indian Plumbing Association) in January 2015, as host location of the next Indian Plumbing Conference in September 2015. We decided that in order to achieve genuine impact the project MUST be hosted in a local community setting rather than as a showcase at the conference, and so the existing Nashik IPA School Sanitation programme was identified as a suitable platform to connect with. Our organizing team visited ten Municipal Schools across Nashik in May 2015, and subsequently School 125 was selected as the most suitable location to host the very first, pilot project.

Welcome assembly at School 125, Nashik on the first morning of the Community Plumbing Challenge.
Raising the CPC flag with the school management and local dignitaries.
Our pilot project facilitated four international student Teams, representing Plumbing, Engineering and Design professions – from India, USA, Australia, and the Basque Country – to travel to Nashik to take part in a life-changing collaborative skills challenge.

School 125 is home to 400 students, between 7–15 years old, and 12 staff. The organizing team observed that the current washroom facilities were inadequate for the number of students that needed to use them, there were no handwashing facilities in the toilet areas, and – as water supply to the building was not frequent – it was hard to flush the urinals. As these sanitation issues are common to many Municipal Schools (not only in Nashik but in many other parts of the country) the pilot Community Plumbing Challenge project was designed with the aim to create practical and educational outcomes that could be used and replicated in many other locations.

Our participating teams were issued with design briefs and background detail two months in advance of the event, all of which can be found here.

As well as the collaborative design and construction work explained in the videos above, our Teams were also requested to design and deliver handwashing games/activities with the younger schoolkids...
...and hands-on, practical/skills development activities with the older schoolkids.
#CommPlumbing represents the 'Digital Hub' aspect of the CPC: development of CAD and BIM for the project site and new facility designs, incorporated into further animations to explain installation and maintenance procedures

Our '#CommPlumbing' hashtag illustrates a unique opportunity to link Swachh Bharat with Digital India and the Indian Smart Cities initiative: facilitating health and hygiene-focussed practical actions for a given host community site, but also developing further digital communications, resources and tools with meaningful and creative application for second-level, further education, and continuous professional development (CPD) users. #CommPlumbing has helped us knit together the 'story' of our project across multiple social media platforms, and allowed all participants to share their own behind-the-scenes perspectives within the project, linking everything to the bigger picture:community collaboration and education to improve public health. In Feb 2016, US and Australian Plumbers from the 2015 Indian CPC travelled to join the Healthabitat Sanitation Studio in Nepal: they were inspired to use #CommPlumbing to tag social media posts during their time there. In July 2016, we will launch a second CPC initiative in South Africa: again, #CommPlumbing will be used to tag that project and broaden the international horizons of the programme/concept further still.

In Nashik, we witnessed the pilot CPC programme connect a variety of social, educational and professional 'markets' into a positive, tight-knit collaboration working towards a common goal. We are eager to develop the programme with further input from Open IDEO community as part of the 2016 Water and Sanitation Challenge, to help us grow and learn to drive further human-centred design in the CPC programme.

How would you describe the stage of development of your idea?

  • Piloting completed

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

The experience and connections that our team gained through collaboration with local partners and authorities gives us the potential to replicate and expand a CPC programme in schools throughout Nashik, schools in other cities across Maharashtra, and on an even greater level across in India. We believe the model can be reused, adapted, and driven from multiple local community levels. At School 125, a range of educational and training resources were left behind to help continued development of public health and personal hygiene awareness among the children. In addition to leaving behind upgraded washrooms and improved sanitation, it is continuation of these small but practical actions that were developed with teachers and students – classroom exercises, skills activities, games and songs... all of which were designed and delivered by the participating student team – that offer the strongest example of human-centred design at the heart of the CPC, with huge growth potential.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

As the programme develops it will continue to engage the knowledge and expertise of local people, and using locally-available tools and materials to define best solutions for the practical works at any given project site. Final decisions must and will always come from key community stakeholders. CAD and BIM resources that have been created through our partnership with the Autodesk Education ‘Student Expert’ community and local design schools mean that a range of free learning resources and software can be offered to participating schools and communities. Between Dec 2015–Feb 2016 a four-part Autodesk Design Academy blog series has highlighted further Autodesk Sustainability Workshop tools that we hope to use in future phases of the programme... more here:

What types of financing would be required for your idea to be successful?

Our pilot project secured a range of co-financing and value-in-kind support, across a range of public and private sector sponsors both in India and internationally. As we look to the the next phase our priority is to develop a roadmap for a greater network of CPC activity nationwide, which in turn will develop a new phase of innovative and sustainable co-financing across various community and industry stakeholders. This is the area in which human-centred Open IDEO design mentorship and direction can raise the programme to the level of impact it has potential to achieve.

If you are proposing to partner with other organizations, please explain their role and reason for partnership.

Our key strategic partner for development of the Community Plumbing Challenge in India will be the Indian Plumbing Association. IPA have over 2400 members across the country, representing professional water/sanitation-related areas including government agencies, consultancy, manufacturing, contracting, trading, academia and architecture. Including the IPA Nashik Chapter – who directed and hosted our pilot event in the city – IPA has thirteen other chapters across the country: Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Chennai, Goa, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kerala, Kolkata, Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune and Visakhapatnam. Within each IPA Chapter our team have the potential to connect with existing research and development around local sanitation issues, and work together on the specific community-centred programmes needed to address them. This represents a unique network, offering excellent support and facilitation to a growing CPC programme.

In-country experience

  • Yes, between one and two years

If you have been operating in India, what has been your focus?

CPC 2015 was designed and developed by a small and organic organizing team of approx. 10 people – 6 in India, and 4 overseas/international (which includes me!). Our base for the entire process, last year and moving forward, is the IAPMO India office in Bengaluru: we aim to establish CPC as a new education and awareness programme of that centre, which offers a range of Plumbing industry-related employment and skills development programmes that have been grown since it was established in 2007. More info here:

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

What states or districts will you target/are you targeting within India?

Initial focus centres in Nashik/Maharashtra (host location of the pilot project) and Bengaluru/Karnakata (location of IAPMO India headquarters), with potential to expand across national IPA Chapter network as explained above.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have worked full-time on the Community Plumbing Challenge programme for approx. 16 months: alongside two other colleagues (from India, and Australia) I was tasked with the first 'reccy' trip to Nashik to plan this project's viability in January 2015. As such I have been involved from Day 1, and have helped it grow from a vague concept discussed via emails and Skype calls (!) to welcoming 60+ people from across the world to School 125 in Nashik last November. I am a part of a small organizing team as mentioned in previous answers above, and I feel honoured to have been part of such a unique cross-cultural effort and experience up to this point: hungry for more! Since discovering the Open IDEO concept of ‘human-centered design’ I realize #CommPlumbing has been ‘human-centered’ from the start – so am extremely excited to share our project with this forum, learn from others, and bring the CPC to the next level working with the international Open IDEO and design community.

Is this a new or recent idea for your organization? How does it differ from what you are already doing?

It is a new idea, launched and piloted in India in the hope of supporting the momentum generated by Swachh Bharat and the ‘Toilets not Temples’ publicity generated around the 2014 elections. Our organization works in the area of code and standards development for the plumbing industry – with main focus on skills training and pathways to employment, and in the area of public health. The #CommPlumbing initiative brings together other elements of design and construction professions/trades to collaborate with plumbers with a particular emphasis on young people (to encourage visions for the future, and embed behavioural change re. community sanitation facilities), and new technologies (to encourage new means of information and knowledge exchange re. community sanitation facilities). It is an exciting new platform for our existing plumbing industry partners, many of whom are expressing great interest to involve their staff and students, or provide further funding.

What are the two or three biggest risks for your idea and how will you manage the risks?

On a local community level: As this is a pilot programme, and a new concept among our local networks/partners in India, risks around expectations, assumed outcomes and responsibilities have been our main challenges so far. We are managing this as the natural progression of the programme 'finding its feet', and continue to move forward on the basis of community consultation at every step: no decisions are made, without the input and deliberation of all local stakeholders first. On a regional/international level: as our model has (up to now) been based on creating a student design+construction exchange, risks normally emerge around logistics and communications, plus safety and security of Teams travelling to and from work sites (e.g. insurances and liabilities). For future projects we are building in stronger (facilitated) cultural and leadership components, to formalize this experience for all involved, and to help expand design thinking and worldview among the community teams.

How would you propose to track or record the households or customers reached?

As per the answers below, we would work with partner programmes to collate all necessary information. We would aim to take the lead working with new and existing partners (specializing in areas including 3D visualization and IoT networking) to create an overarching data capture and mapping platform: potentially, hosted via the Open IDEO platform or another cloud service. Through workshops onsite, local communities would lead this design process and direct the recommended procedures thereafter.

If you had two years and $250,000 USD in funding, how many households or customers would you reach?

Our #CommPlumbing framework/model is an open and flexible approach that can be adapted and applied to many different settings. It is our goal – in becoming involved in this Open IDEO/ Sanitation Challenge – to connect with and support other innovative sanitation programmes in India, and structure new Community Plumbing Challenge projects in collaboration with other Open IDEO partners to further THEIR impact in their given community environments. Our proposal is to form a Open IDEO Sanitation Challenge Alliance, through which (for example) three core programmes would be run over the next two years. Each would have a #CommPlumbing 'backbone' to further enhance that programme (e.g any one of the three), which would be managed by our organization. The three core projects would vary strategically, with the goal to impact as diverse a cross-section of communities, in different regions of India, as possible. Combined, this would achieve maximum reach for the collaboration.

How would you propose to invest $250,000 USD if you received philanthropic/grant funding support from

A budget of approx $75k USD would be allocated to each of the three selected programmes, with the remaining $25k as contingency for further resources across each. The bulk of each $75k budget would be allocated to all local labour, tools/materials/equipment purchase or hire, venues, utilities etc. necessary in the development of that given programme: this would be organized on a case-by-case basis across the three programmes with close, equal teamwork. From the #CommPlumbing perspective, key activities to be included within each partner programme would feature (some aspect of) national or international student/young apprentice exchange – further value-in-kind investment from partners on our side – to kickstart practical action on the ground, focussing on design and construction of new sanitation facilities or services. Vocational skills development and pathway to employment in plumbing/related sectors would also be key deliverables.

What type of support beyond grant funding are you most interested in?

All of the above aspects. We believe the #CommPlumbing initiative will only ever be as strong or as relevant as the community programmes and local teams doing the tough and thankless work – on-the-ground, day after day – that we can connect it with. This is why we are keen to join and collaborate with other partners who have joined the Open IDEO platform, in order to make the biggest possible impact and deliver the greatest benefit for host communities concerned.

Does your organization have Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) approval?

Currently, no. We would be happy to apply for this to accommodate partnership(s) in the years ahead, or, alternatively, we would suggest channelling support via our US-based headquarters which is a registered 501(c)(3) charity.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Maryalice

Hi Sean - I really liked your post and your decision to host #CommPlumbing in a local community that needed your help. I have worked in government and academia and I see so many of these conferences about international issues held in cities that are at the forefront of solving global problems -- not the cities that could use the most help or the tourist dollars often generated through these conferences.  Could you clarify whether any current #CommPlumbing project managers remain in Nashik today, or whether there are any plans to return there to build upon the conference you already had to see if the solutions and training you provided are growing and making a difference? Or is your plan to hold a conference in a different community every year? I think both strategies are important so that more people can benefit from the knowledge you provide, and more sanitation problems may be eradicated when your experts follow up after an initial launch to make sure your solutions are "holding water."

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