A Report from the Ground: Update from IIC Fellows

Garima is the Hindi word for dignity. In line with this, the overarching goal of the IIC team working with the Tata Trusts’ Mission Garima program, is to implement interventions directed at improving the dignity of sanitation workers in Mumbai. The job of a sanitation worker is frequently looked down upon, with workers facing a range of deep-rooted prejudices and socioeconomic challenges. Our team works closely with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the Tata Trusts to address the neglect faced by nearly 28,821 sanitation workers, and to enhance their living and working conditions.

At the very outset, our team adopted unconventional mechanisms to understand and address these problems. Recognizing the importance of a human-centered approach to improve lives, we began our field visits to workers as early as 6AM, when they started their workdays.

In doing this, we laid out the preliminary tenets of design thinking - empathize, co-create, and co-design with small groups. We did this with over 300 workers, and the insights we gained from these sessions were rich and profound. We are certain we wouldn’t have had access to such information had we used conventional survey methods. Our approach not only enabled us to connect with workers at a closer level, but also helped us identify the areas where we could innovate and facilitate change in their work-life.

Our research helped us identify waste-separation and nutritional issues as the key areas of intervention. The former includes triggering households to separate waste and thereby prevent the dangerous bulk of mixed waste that workers have to deal with. The latter focuses on making nutritious food accessible to the sanitation workers at their chowkis. In addition, our findings also helped us create designs for a ‘model Chowki,’ which we are working with our partners to build in Mumbai in the coming months.

Efficient waste management system will reduce the exposure of workers to harmful and sometimes hazardous waste.

Mission Garima visits a chowki in Nehru Nagar. 

Mission Garima visits a chowki in Nehru Nagar. 


This will reduce the instances of infections and diseases inflicted by such unhygienic conditions at their workplaces. The nutrition initiative aims to create avenues to make nutritious food accessible to workers. This has the potential to lower the instances of deficiency diseases, which a partner NGO of Mission Garima - working on curative health aspects of workers - notes as a chief concern. Consequently, both of these methods have the potential - directly and indirectly - to improve the health of workers in the long run.

Over the next quarter, we hope to leverage the resources within and outside the government system in Mumbai to scale and sustain the models we have found to be most effective. The waste separation model seeks to use small monetary and behavioural incentives to facilitate behavioral changes towards improved waste management. Such small incentives can contribute to managing waste in an efficient way in a big metropolis like Mumbai, eventually making the work of sanitation workers easier and safer.

The nutritious food plan of Aamcha Aahaar, Aamche Poshan has elements to nudge both the demand and supply side towards healthier food alternatives, thereby, alleviating the growing numbers of deficiency diseases in workers while making their workplaces more humane and employee friendly. We are currently developing a proposal for a scheme that would incorporate supply-side business models, as well as complementary nudges on demand side. This would be presented to MCGM for large scale implementation across different wards. 

Parushya contributed to this article.