Parameswaran Iyer, the man behind Swachh Bharat Mission, takes charge as World Bank Executive Director


Iyer is an Indian Bureaucrat, who led the implementation of Swachh Bharat Mission, India’s sanitation revolution. “If young changemakers follow the courage of their convictions, they can literally change the world,” Iyer said.

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Parameswaran Iyer will now be Executive Director, World Bank, representing India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. “A privilege to take charge in Washington DC as Executive Director, World Bank, representing India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka,” the former CEO of NITI Aayog, Indian government’s apex policy think tank, said.

Iyer, 62, was chosen by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 to implement Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), the country-wide sanitation campaign to eliminate open defecation and improve solid waste management.

In 2019, India was declared as Open defecation free. Iyer achieved the mission’s goal of building 110 million toilets in 5 years in an unconventional and ‘non-bureaucratic’ style which increased efficiency and delivery and led to the success of the program. He was also entrusted with the Jal Jeevan Mission, with the goal of providing piped water supply to all households by 2024 through integrated water supply management.

In 2020, Iyer quit the civil service to become the CEO and Manager of the 2030 Water Resources Group, a public-private-civil society partnership hosted by the World Bank. Two years later, he returned to head the NITI Aayog.

“Old habits die hard and open defecation is a habit that goes back generations,” he said. “It was key that all stakeholders continued their efforts to sustain safe sanitation practices, and also ensured that gaps, if any, were plugged and that no one was left behind. Systems were therefore developed to ensure sustainability, including continuation of the communication campaign, capacity building at the local and community levels and incentivising key stakeholders,” Iyer said.

 “I think one of the main lessons I personally learned along my career journey– particularly from the Swachh Bharat experience – was about thinking big, as Prime Minister Modi did, and then believing in the achievement of the goal.” He further said, “Going from a sanitation coverage of less than 40% to an ODF country in 5 years was something unheard of in the history of the world, let alone at the scale of a country as large and diverse as India,” he said. The biggest difference between those who said it could never be done, and those who said it could be that the team truly believed that ‘impossible is nothing,” he said.

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