Why connection can outrank competency
India is not lacking for smarts, says Ashok, but more than technical know-how, respect and building a relationship with people are tops in his book.
The rise and fall of India’s biggest industrialists is a recent read that has intrigued senior project officer (urban) Ashok Srivastava.
The way these business leaders have developed themselves and their companies into billion-dollar powerhouses is inspiring, he said. The wistfulness in his tone may well be an aspiration for the conglomerate he’s working for – the subcontinent that is India. As the urban focal for the India Resident Mission and having given 16 years of his life working for the government, Ashok is invested in seeing his country succeed.
Ashok, after all, is no stranger to the varying conditions in India. He was born in Hyderabad, a capital of the southern state of Telangana, and he grew up and studied in Rajasthan, a northern state bordering Pakistan. Eventually, he moved to Chandigarh for his civil engineering degree and then transferred to New Delhi to take his master's degree in urban planning. He has since stayed put in the country’s capital, where the resident mission is also based.
After graduation, he began his career as an urban planner under the government of Rajasthan. It was through this that he was first exposed to ADB. Ashok became involved with the ADB-funded project Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project (RUIDP), which oversaw the improvement of infrastructure and basic services in six cities. This was the third urban project financed by ADB in India, and before it was completed in 2011, Ashok had already joined ADB in December 2005. He has been with the bank for the last 12 years.
Together with him working on urban development in the resident mission are five national officers for urban, two analysts, and a few consultants. His project at the moment, the first tranche of the Assam Urban Infrastructure Investment Program, focuses on water supply and storm water drainage in two cities. Aside from urban though, he has also worked on other projects, such as emergency assistance (like the Uttarakhand Emergency Assistance Project), rural roads, and a loan for the South Asia Public Management, Financial Sector, and Trade Division or SAPF.
For Ashok, a fellow member of the Institute of Town Planners, India, urban planning is his life. There is no other goal but this. In the interview below, he shares what’s important in working towards India’s urban growth:
“What I feel is more important is connecting with the client, understanding and appreciating their requirements, and telling them what our guidelines are...”
Senior Project Officer (Urban)
India Resident Mission
Why did you decide to join ADB?
Ashok: ADB is considered a really professional organization. Here you can deliver your work professionally without much pressure from outside. It’s an insulated environment and you are respected when you work with the government. It becomes easier for persons like us to communicate with them and relate to us. Also, your supervisor respects you. You are listened to properly. If you have anything to contribute, it is welcomed.
What part of your work do you like the most? What is critical in the work you do?
Ashok: Along with the technical competencies of being a civil engineer and urban planner, what I feel is more important is connecting with the client, understanding and appreciating their requirements, and telling them what our guidelines are, such as to what extent can we support their project. The client sometimes could be expecting something that we cannot allow. We have to try to connect with them in the right manner so they understand and listen to us.
Technical aspects, of course, are important and you get respected because you have all those qualifications. However, I have seen that if you communicate properly with these people they also appreciate your point of view and then you are able to go forward.
How would you describe the current state of urban development in India?
Ashok: Urban development in India is a very large canvas. We in ADB are supporting urban development in a limited manner, primarily water and sanitation, solid waste management, and a few roads and other activities. ADB is one of the biggest multilateral partners in urban development. We are the ones delivering projects on the ground, and that makes us very visible in India in the field of urban development. Now we have a big program for the government of India called the Smart Cities program. We support government on that also, providing assistance in whatever way they want, and at the same time we’re trying to give them a loan.
How do you reconcile pushing for smart cities while other areas still require basic access?
Ashok: This is a misconception thinking that smart cities are doing something very different. For instance for water management, in some areas we’ve seen how the amount of water treated in a treatment plant is enough to provide reasonable quantity of water to the entire city but the city doesn’t get the water because of leakages in the system. If we improve this, that’s a smart water management system. Whatever we do in terms of smart cities, it’s not unrelated to the basic needs of the people. It can even be the smart delivery of a service like a request for a birth or death certificate. If we devise a small system so that citizens are able to get the service online, then that’s smart. It’s all for the citizens and anything that affects the common person is being supported.
Tell us about a memorable project.
Ashok: I think being a senior person in the sector you are given more challenging projects, so I’ve dealt with a variety, such as the Calcutta Environmental Improvement Project. Calcutta is one of the densest urban settlements in South Asia. We had to put sewer lines in areas that were already built up, and which had narrow lanes. There were many people we had to move, and doing diggings, all very challenging conditions. On top of this, we had people who were very aware. Do something wrong and they would complain. We had to do everything right. The area also has four or five months of rain, and lots of fairs and festivals which disrupt work schedules. Everything was difficult, so all this had to be managed within the ADB guidelines—and we did so successfully. We also built the capacity of the executing agency , and now it is one of our best performers. The people are very, very happy. There’s no more flooding and property values have increased. Drains have been rehabilitated and there’s no more mosquito and foul smell nuisance. Quality of life has improved.
When you get spare time from your busy schedule what do you like to do?
Ashok: To be very frank I don’t get much time. Being with family is the best way to spend my free time. I have two kids, a son and a daughter. Being with family is important. Also I love reading, although I don’t have time to read lately. My way to relax is to watch a light movie, listen to local Bollywood music, or chilling out with friends.