Graduate Studies Blog

By Chan Min Li and Garima Singhal – Nanyang MBA 2016/2017

In December 2016, our Nanyang MBA candidates, Min and Garima, had the opportunity to volunteer with Conjunct Consulting to work on a programme evaluation study for Lien AID. Conjunct Consulting is Southeast Asia’s first social change consulting organisation; providing pro-bono consulting to strengthen social good organisations in Singapore.  The project sponsor, Lien AID, is an international non-profit organisation, which seeks to enable sustainable access to clean water and sanitation for the rural poor in Asia.

The study was initiated to evaluate the effectiveness of Lien AID’s enhanced marketing campaign and initiatives as part of its Community Water Enterprise (CWE) Programme in Cambodia. To do so, the team of 3 (Min and Garima together with Samantha, President of Conjunct Consulting) spent a week in Siem Reap in mid-Dec 2016; shuttling from Msar Krang to Ta An commune, and spoke to more than 100 household representatives to understand their perception of clean water and the CWE initiative. As part of the study, the team was required to develop a detailed research plan based on existing project materials and to propose frameworks for programme evaluation. We soon understood the project would be a great learning opportunity as we quickly realized we lacked thorough understanding of the project details and that we should take into consideration the potential project limitations (such as language barriers) when designing the research plan. Following a skype call with the local project team, we gained a good reality check, and clarified our doubts which prepared us for data collection.

After weeks of preparation, we set off with mixed feelings. It was Garima and Samantha’s first visit to Siem Reap. While we were excited to discover the city together, we also hoped that we could contribute effectively in order to make this a fruitful trip. We were warmly welcomed at the airport by Socheat, the programme coordinator, and one of our two translators, Chhayn. As the Msar Krang commune was far off from Siem Reap, they have arranged for us to stay at a district hotel near the commune to save travelling time. It was a different experience to experience life in the suburbs, and to learn how everything is linked to sunrise and sunset.

We were awakened the following day by a series of loud wedding music (there was a wedding event happening near the district hotel) and that seemed to set the vibe for the entire trip – zippy, fun and zestful. Sipping warm Khmer tea with noodles and rice in the early morning was a different experience. We kick-started the study in Msar Krang with a series of focus group interviews with the villagers (current and non-current CWE users), village chief, water promoters, entrepreneur, and the water management committee to gain an understanding of the real situation on ground. Through the discussions, we learnt about the villagers’ perception of clean water, their use of alternative water sources (such as rainwater, well water or pond water) and their receptivity to the hygiene promotion campaigns by Lien AID. Despite the relatively high level of awareness on the hygiene level of existing water source and importance of consuming clean water amongst respondents, we realised that villagers’ consumption behaviours were mainly influenced by their seasonal lifestyle habits. It was an interesting discovery given that the CWE initiative was only launched a month prior, and we sought to find out more during our door-to-door household visits and interviews.

Focus Group with existing CWE users in Msar Krang

Water Treatment Plant in Msar Krang.
L to R: Garima, Min, Chhlay, Water Promoters and Socheat

For the interviews and visits, we were split into two teams and had the opportunity to venture around the villages on bikes (Imagine having 3 adults on a bike, kudos to our other talented translator, Chhaly for the safe rides). Beyond the excitement from the rides, we were overwhelmed by the hospitality from the villagers in their households. Despite the language differences, they answered our questions patiently and warmly, (through our translators, of course! *though we really wished we could understand Khmer then*) and some even showed us around their households to jot observations that could be useful to our research. Not surprisingly, the findings from the door-to-door household visits and interviews were a good complement to the focus groups.

While we were in the villages, we also took the opportunity to chat with local distributors, and learnt about their self-initiated promotional tactics (for some distributors) such as free sampling, or delivery for the CWE water. Interacting with distributors apart from villagers helped us understand perspectives from different stakeholders. There was also an occasion where there was a wedding on the street, and we almost attended the wedding on bike while crossing the road. Experiencing few days in villages helped us understand their views from the ground which could not have been possible without going there.

Door-to-door household interviews in Ta An

Our adventurous car ride with Samantha behind the wheel!

The same procedure resumed as we moved on from Msar Krang to Ta An commune. Given its closer proximity to Siem Reap city, we observed a difference in villagers’ attitude and receptivity to the CWE initiative as villagers were more exposed to clean water education, by other non-profit organisations. At Ta An, the initiative as a community effort to provide clean water, is strongly advocated. It was a rewarding find as it was what the CWE initiative set out to be – a self-sustainable programme to provide affordable treated drinking water to the commune. The understanding of which created a distinction in marketing efforts; villagers were more price sensitive and were more enticed to purchase due to discounts.

Throughout the week in Siem Reap and through the conversations with different personnel, we gained different perspectives and most importantly, we understood the importance of clean water to the rural poor. Having lived in the cities most of our lives, we often overlooked the value and significance of clean water given our easy access to it, especially in Singapore where tap water is potable. It taught us a lesson – to cherish what we have, and be appreciative of it.

During the trip, we also met a few respondents that left us deep impression. There was a middle-aged lady who shared that “You only have one life, so be good to yourself” when we asked her why she chose to purchase CWE water. On a separate occasion, there was an old granny who was living alone with her grandson, approximately 8 years old, after her children passed away. The granny built her living area on her own, and reared chickens for a living. Despite her sub-optimal living condition, the granny was optimistic and thankful for what she had. Her resilience impressed us. When we left her household, she held our hands and whispered words of thanks. She later conveyed her blessings to us through our translators, telling us to “work hard” and “be strong”. Her words bring tears to our eyes.

We embarked on this journey with a mentality to contribute whatever we can, but gained much more from the conversations and kind hospitality from the local team and the villagers. It was rewarding to know that our little actions affirmed the organisation’s commitment to clean water provision to the villagers (we heard that several villagers started to purchase CWE water after speaking to us ?). Beyond these, we also had a wonderful time together with Socheat and our two translators; driving along rugged roads, getting “free food” from eateries, and watching sunset at Angkor Wat.

Thank you, to Conjunct Consulting and Lien AID for making all this possible!

Team photo at Msar Krang’s commune office

Watching the sunset at Angkor Wat!