I feel a sense of accomplishment when my efforts lead to creation of long-term value for not only primary but secondary as well tertiary stakeholders involved.
During my extremely fulfilling career with national and international organizations, I have had unique opportunities to create such an impact for people both at the top as well as at the bottom of the pyramid. The one that is most dear to me is the strategy and execution plan I developed to resettle and provide adequate accommodation to 14k plus people who were impacted by a government initiated infrastructure project.
When I joined JICA’s study team in India in the year 2017, I was entrusted with the uphill task of creating a resettlement action plan for the villagers who would be displaced during the construction of the 508km stretch of Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail corridor. The next release of funds for the project was contingent on the approval of the plan by the funding body from Japan. This posed challenges on multiple grounds. Firstly, to convince the villagers impacted and assure them that adequate compensation and rehabilitation would be provided. Secondly, to set compliance guidelines for the Indian contractors involved in the development, and ensure their adherence to the standards. Lastly, to get a buy-in from the funding body, which was stationed offsite, to approve the plan. During the next 22 months of the project, I co-led the team, which addressed each of the challenges head on and came up with a strategy that was mutually beneficial for all the stakeholders. We had to handhold the Indian borrower on meeting the JICA’s environment and social compliance requirements as well as explain the Japanese counterpart on local site related challenges. In the process, I undertook regular site visits to understand the ground-level perspective, identify key influencers in each village, and explain to them the measures that were being planned for their rehabilitation. I mapped the stakeholders in the project at different locations and ensured that the Indian borrower conducts a meaningful consultation with them. I highlighted the concern of economic displacement of people and urged the Indian borrower on the requirement of preparing income restoration plan for the project-displaced people. This created a dual impact – on one hand, the Indian borrower earmarked a resettlement budget of USD 2000 Mn for the project and on the other, the Japanese counterpart sanctioned release of USD 900 Mn as first tranche of the project. The plan was also transparently communicated to the villagers resulting in agitation and protest free acquisition of land.
This project has not only helped me in developing thought leadership, but has also helped me push my boundaries and overcome my limitations. I have realized that as a problem solver, it is critical to understand perspective and interests of every stakeholder and put yourself in their shoes to create a holistic strategy. The project also made me understand the power of consistent persistence and assertiveness in raising the ground level situations to the higher officials. It takes time for business stakeholders to appreciate environment & social concerns; however, a solution centric approach benefits everyone in the long run.
Today, I appreciate the fact that there are no perfect solution but only better solutions. I am confident that this realization will help me in designing sustainable strategies across various industries during the course of my career.