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Siti Hasanah

It’s all in the name

After nearly two decades in the resident mission, this urban development specialist takes her place in headquarters, ready for new challenges and the same old purpose—helping people.

June 2019

Straightforward and no fuss. This is how urban development specialist Siti Hasanah appears. Asked what her proudest achievement is, she struggles to answer and says her life is “simple”, and by all forms of nonverbal cues as if to explain there is nothing else to uncover. Except perhaps there is, and it begins with her name.


Siti. City. Born in Bandung, Indonesia, Siti has made a career out of working for the good of a city. In the beginning, it was for Jakarta, where she moved after finishing a degree in environmental engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology, a reputable university which counts West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil and ADB Vice President Bambang Susantono as some of its notable alumni.

Siti was a water supply engineer for a consortium of international and local consulting firms for about a year, until she switched over to the public sector. She joined the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, monitoring projects financed by the World Bank. During her stay at the agency, specifically under the Directorate General of Human Settlements, she helped formulate strategic plans. The experience eventually prompted her to take a master’s degree in city planning at the University of California in Berkeley. Around this time, she got married and started a family.

In 2001, already back in Jakarta, Siti became a project officer at the ADB Indonesia Resident Mission (IRM). That moment, consciously or not, seemed like a culmination of her preparation and the beginning of a dedicated pursuit for better communities and cities through ADB.

It was only in January this year that she left the IRM and moved to ADB headquarters, joining the larger Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division (SEUW), where she now handles projects for Cambodia and the Philippines. “It has been 17 years in the RM. I guess I needed to change my environment and get new challenges,” shares Siti.


The following is an excerpt of an interview with the engineer, city planner, and mother of two, who towards the end finally found the words to say out loud: “I think I like my job.”

...To have more cooperation between government and citizens. Livable cities are not just about infrastructure, but also about how government and citizens interact.

Siti Hasanah 
Urban Development Specialist 
Southeast Asia Urban Development and Water Division

Why did you join ADB? 


Siti:  Before I joined ADB, I was with the Ministry of Public Works. My main task was to monitor projects financed by the World Bank. I joined several review missions and I thought the job was interesting. I was also involved with monitoring the implementation, project evaluations, and I was able to interact with World Bank officers. To me that was interesting. So when I saw an advertisement for a similar position in ADB, I applied.

Even at the Ministry I was already focused on water supply networks and preparation of engineering designs for distribution networks; but as part of the ministry I was doing more management work, not engineering. Same with ADB.


You’ve been with ADB for almost 18 years. What do you like most about your work?  


Siti: Yes, 18 years by this July. What I like doing are review missions because I get to know the people, the beneficiaries of the project. When I get to talk to them and share what the project brings for the community, they appreciate it. For example, we worked in villages to provide water and they told us that it really helped because they have been waiting for these facilities for 10 years, some for 20 years. Because of the project they don’t have to spend time to get water – so this is what I like, talking to the people. It helps us to understand why we are doing this. After all the painful exercise of preparing documents, when you talk to the people who really benefit from the project, it’s really something else.

And I also get to visit places I would not have necessarily gone to in my personal life, like isolated villages in Indonesia. For a rural development project, we went to really isolated areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan to provide water. I remember when we went to one village in Kalimantan, we had to take all means of transport: plane, then by boat, then riding a motor vehicle to go up the trail in the mountains. The trip took almost six hours, a real adventure! There was one part which was like a swamp and you had to take a boat through a small river, like going to the Amazon or as if a scene in the movies!

We learn from these review missions. Sometimes on paper everything looks beautiful, but when you go to the field you see that what you think is good for the people is not always the case. That’s why it’s good to talk to people to get feedback from them.


Tell us more about the projects you’re currently working on.   


SitiI’m processing two projects and I am part of implementing three projects. The first one (for processing) is the Third Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Services Sector Development Program in Cambodia. The second project is the Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project (Additional Financing) in the Philippines. We just updated the RRP and we’re about to get the comments for this. This additional financing project is for the aqueduct, since the first Angat project was about constructing the tunnel, which is almost done. Water from the Ipo Dam will be conveyed to the water treatment plant through the tunnel and through the aqueduct.

As for project administration, I'm also involved with the Second Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Sector Project in Cambodia, the Angat Water Transmission Improvement Project (AWTIP), and the Water District Development Sector Project, also for the Philippines. We work with LWUA, the local water utility authorities, to provide support to water districts to improve services. We’ve just started working with four water districts to expand their services and reduce nonrevenue water.

At the same time, I’m also supporting a project in Indonesia. This is processing the RISE project with UCCRTF (Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund).


Speaking of RISE, a project about revitalizing informal settlements, you have done a number of projects on slum upgrading as well, which is not a key focus of ADB.  


Siti: Yes, at that time the government requested us to do slum upgrading. We financed two projects in Indonesia. The first one was completed in 2010 and the second one we started in 2014. We processed the loan itself without a PPTA. While it was a bit rush, we managed to process it, and as far as I know the project is closing this year and it went well. This project has one of the best achievements, out of several targets. We not only provided small-scale infrastructure for people living in slums, but we also built a new housing area, at least two hectares.

When I see the housing, it’s really nice. It provided families who used to live in crammed areas with no services a place with a new environment and with an area where kids could play. The people are very happy when we talked to them. Even when we were still doing the project, people were telling me to ‘please put me on the list’. This project really changed people’s lives.


If you could change one thing to make cities more livable, what would you change?


Siti:  It should be to have more cooperation between government and citizens. Livable cities are not just about infrastructure, but also about how government and citizens interact. For example, we provide a drainage system but people are still littering, so it won’t work. Trash will go to the drainage and clog the system. Another example is sidewalks – instead of using it for walking, people with motorcycles use it. Citizens also need to understand and cooperate.

There are also cases when government provides a service but without consulting people. That won’t work as well. It needs to be a collaboration. Building something is one thing, but it also requires proper operation and maintenance. This is a challenge in my experience.

What inspires you?


Siti: I think I like to challenge myself. I have to do it, otherwise I cannot sleep. This keeps me going. When I’m involved in a project, I like doing it. I feel I have to complete it. Also, like I mentioned, meeting with people. In a recent review mission, I was talking to some of the people and they said this facility really helps them. To me, it means we need to work better and faster to provide services for the people. These people, for example, they really need water. Their houses get flooded and we need to improve their drainage. These kinds of things push me. Another thing is, I think I like my job.

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