Behind the Scenes – A Report from the Back Office

Of course the project group did not stop to meet in Germany during the time, Jonas, Julias, Rebecca and Edgar were abroad. Besides back office tasks, we also continued with project work.
That’s me, Sara Konrad.

Hello, I’m Sara Konrad. At the end of this year’s journey, I’ll share a different perspective from the back office. The back office has actively supported the outgoers from a distance, but has also maintained the normal project operations in Darmstadt. 

I am 25 years old and am studying Mechanical Engineering and Energy Science and Engineering. Already since 2015 I have been working for Ingenieure ohne Grenzen in Darmstadt, but I started working for SoWaDi only two years later.

For a long time I was exclusively involved in the organisational work of the whole regional group, wrote newsletters, organised teambuilding events and coordinated the working media of the regional group. It was personally important to me to be involved in development cooperation. However, after two years, during which I was purely involved in organisational work, I wanted to get into a project and decided to join SoWaDi. Especially in the project SoWaDi it is very well possible to enable many people to have a better life situation by improving the water supply. In SoWaDi I had the feeling to be able to use my knowledge from my studies in the best possible way.

At the beginning of my project work the outgoing team of 2017 had already been back from Tanzania for a few months and the phase of follow-up work was in full swing, so that plant optimisations resulting from the journey were tackled. The trip to Tanzania had shown that the plant could be optimized at some points in order to contribute to higher efficiency and robustness and to simplify the distribution. My task was to deal with the glass breakages that occurred in Tanzania. One of the results was that the highly stressed lower glass pane was divided into several small glass sheets. 

Besides technical challenges of SoWaDi it was not possible for a long time to find a location for a test plant in Germany which would have allowed us to have the plant in operation for more than six weeks. Therefore I was very happy that we finally found a location in early 2019 and a few months later we could build a plant at the TU Darmstadt which will be there for at least 3 years. This enables us to test changes in practice and collect long-term data.

Besides the skills I have acquired through the engineering work, I have learned a lot about working together and efficiently in large groups. Since October 2018 I have been the contact person of SoWaDi and have learned a lot about successful group management and organisation and was able to use the already acquired skills from my IOG beginning time. 

Furthermore, this work has made me much more sensitive when it comes to intercultural communication and development cooperation. Also the attendance of some seminars for further education of Engineers without Borders has contributed to this. Through this work I have gained a completely different perspective on topics such as everyday discrimination and racism. 

While the outgoing team was working in Tanzania, it was my job to support them as much as possible and to derive tasks that the back office can take over for them. This way they could concentrate fully on their tasks on site, while I always knew what was coming up for them and was involved in the important decisions. 

The activities of our back office team were mainly of an organizational nature: we wrote the blog entries and donation reports, answered questions from the outbound team and in doing so, promoted the long-term orientation of the project. 

All six SoWaDi plants have a unique serial number. Obviously, a type plate should not be missing.
From the users of the plants we regularly receive data about the plants. This allows us to see how the performance changes over time.

In addition, we had enough time during to bring in the communication between us as SoWaDi team in Darmstadt and the users of the facilities. The nice thing about it was to see that not only we could give input to the people on site, but also the dedicated users gave us suggestions for improvement of our work, so that we are already a well-rehearsed team with most of the users. This was a very important sign, which reflects the good course of the departure and hopefully is an example of how things will go when the outgoing team is back in Darmstadt. 

I am also particularly pleased that the project will continue in Germany. The test phase is also entering the next round here in Germany: In cooperation with the Institute for Technical Thermodynamics at the TU Darmstadt, we want to further optimize our measurement technology concept to increase the efficiency of the system. A twin is to join the plant, which is already here in Darmstadt, at the beginning of summer. The idea is that the improvements we will be making to the twin plant will not only be implemented even faster, but above all we will be able to evaluate them directly in comparison with the standard plant. 

Last week, the departure team had important meetings with the project partner, which had to be conducted directly with the responsible persons on site. These meetings were extremely important, so that the Kilimanjaro Childlight Foundation can be the interface between us and the users in the future, should there be any problems with the installations or with the communication among each other.

On Wednesday 04.03.2020 Jonas, Julius and Rebecca started their journey home with a heavy heart and arrived safely in Germany on Thursday morning.

Now that they have left the country, the first thing to do is to do some follow-up work so that no valuable knowledge is lost. There have been a lot of exciting discussions on the subject of the distribution of the plant and we have to continuously process the data we constantly receive from the users. 

When the immediate follow-up is complete, the biggest challenge for the team will be to crystallize the other essential project tasks and to focus on the newly set goals. These will certainly include, among other things, the technical challenges that arose during the construction of the six plants, which the outgoing team will report on in detail in the coming weeks. 

All in all, I am extremely pleased that the departure went well despite some minor challenges. We can be really satisfied and proud, the long preparation was worth it. An extraordinary amount was achieved, not only by the outgoing team and by us in the back office, but also by the people on site, most of whom we did not even know before leaving. The fact that the feedback from working together on site was always positive was a welcome reward for the last months of intensive preparation. 

We realize how important it is to continue working on our project. Not only because we ourselves are fascinated by it, but also because the local people see the necessity of the plants and their advantages over existing methods of water treatment. The problem of the water situation is and will continue to be topical in many regions of the world and for all these people it is worthwhile to further revise the plant and to optimise dissemination strategies so that as many people as possible can benefit from it.