I was approached to write about my experience managing a LIFE project after participating in the successful LIFE for water - water for LIFE conference this October. This has induced me to revisit the challenging 3 ½ year project, which was completed in June 2008.
A few words about the project itself: the Southern Arava Sustainable Waste Management Plan took a regional and sustainable approach to improve management of agricultural waste on both sides of the border between Israel and Jordan. It combined elements of research, monitoring, education and pilot programs to achieve its goals:
Our project was particularly complex, involving many stakeholders: public administration, and mainly the Hevel Eilot Regional Council (the beneficiary); local settlements, namely Kibbutz Neot Smadar and Kibbutz Lotan (the partners, managing the two project’s pilots); university and research institutes - Ben Gurion University, the regional R&D center and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; and two high schools – one Arab and one Jewish, including teachers and pupils. Other stakeholders which the project involved were Jordanian agronomists and local Israeli farmers as well as players from the private sector i.e. Ardom Regional Enterprises.
As project manager, I was required to learn how to meet the demanding reporting and other requirements of LIFE. This was a serious learning curve - I was sent the SAP, and I must have read it at least 15 times. Numerous issues came up, most of which were satisfactorily solved by referring to the SAP or after consultation with the LIFE monitoring team.
One particular challenging issue for LIFE was understanding the unique economic structure of the two kibbutzim who were partners in the project. Kibbutzim are collective communities, once agricultural based, but today also operating industrial, service and information enterprises. The assets and means of production are equally owned by the members of the kibbutz. The members do not receive a direct salary, rather a small budget for their personal needs. This meant that there were no payroll slips to serve as documentation. However, the economic value of their work is calculated and accounted for within the accounting system of the kibbutz. Ultimately we succeeded in explaining this issue to LIFE.
The LIFE reporting system, both the financial and narrative reports, served to monitor the project and determine how the project used the resources to meet its goals, and produce the milestones and deliverables as per the project proposal.
I found the timetable of milestones and deliverables an effective project management tool and it helped me in my role with the partners. There were many difficulties meeting the timetable due to issues beyond our control, especially regulatory issues with the infamous Israeli bureacracy. While acknowledging that constraint, my role was to constantly pressure the partners to meet the timetable. To a great extent I was seen as working for LIFE, and would threaten the partners regarding the timetable and achieving the deliverables.
The cooperation and sense of regional mission was a crucial factor to the successful implementation of the tasks and to the management of the project. A regional steering committee was formed and met throughout the project. This was a very productive forum for supervising the progress of each task and to exchange information between the task managers. Each of the committee members had pertinent contributions for their colleagues, and the discussions contributed to the overall synergy of the project and to transferability.
A crucial factor to the success of the project was the external monitoring by Dr. Yael Meroz of Astrale. The opportunity to run issues past her and receive clear answers, her help in reviewing the reports, and her willingness to lend a sympathetic ear at difficult moments, all contributed to enabling us to accomplish the tasks and complete the project.
The two visits of the LIFE monitoring team were yet another important element for project management. These visits were opportunities for the local team on-site here and the LIFE team to meet each other, and directly raise issues and clarify questions. It was very positive to meet the LIFE team on a personal basis, and we were impressed by their grasp of our project and the complications involved in implementing it. Their pertinent comments helped us focus on the issues relevant to achieving the deliverables and project goals.
One of the project tasks that I was directly responsible for was dissemination. In our modern information saturated world, it is a tremendous challenge to disseminate environmental initiatives to the press. In the case of Israel this is especially so when one is in the periphery of the country. The press releases were sent out to both local and national press, but the great majority of published press releases were only in the in the local press (including Eilat -the major city near the region). A significant success was the recent publication of a scientific article in Environmental Science and Pollution Research Journal where details about the monitoring results of the project pilots were provided by Professor Avi Golan of Ben Gurion University.
When I started with the Hevel Eilot Regional Council managing the LIFE project, I brought to it my experience in project management, although not from a specifically environmental background. After 8 months into the project I was appointed the financial director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES), where I continue to work today. My position entails reporting to many foundations, funds and government agencies who support AIES in transboundary research projects. My experience with the LIFE project taught me some valuable lessons:
Transparency with the funding body: When you have a problem or issue - bring it up, consult, discuss how it can be solved. Do not try to hide or ignore it. The funding body wants you to succeed, and will try to help you solve the issues within the constraints of the project proposal, in order to successfully achieve the project objectives.
Cooperation with the partners and stakeholders: Of course any project is a joint effort, and one of the great challenges is achieving the necessary cooperation between partners and stakeholders. Here I was assisted by Ms. Dorit Banet, head of the Eilat-Eilot environmental unit (and my direct supervisor). Ms. Banet was very involved with the project, and consulted with on a nearly daily basis. In addition there were ad-hoc meetings with the upper level management of the Hevel Eilot Regional Council throughout the project. These meetings included Mr. Udi Gat, Regional Council head; Ms. Rachel Harpuf- Regional Council treasurer; and the accounting staff of the Regional Council. The intense involvement of a policy maker – the Regional Council – impacted the project very positively, while the project generated attitudinal changes in the decision makers in the region.
Looking back at the project on a personal level, after dealing with the many challenges and ultimately bringing the LIFE project to a successful completion, I appreciate the sense of accomplishment and increased confidence I received. I carry that with me today in my daily work.
Southern Arava Sustainable Waste Management Plan
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