It is time to introduce our Project Manager, Mikaela Kruskopf!
Mikaela has worked for Niras Finland for over 15 years, presiding over Niras Finland’s water (incl. WASH) portfolio and working both as SUSWA’s Tender and Project Manager. As most of the team has not gotten the opportunity to meet her in person, I know this interview is something the team has really looked forward to, especially to hear Mikaela’s take on SUSWA and the team.
Today, Friday 29.4 as the April Newsletter comes out, the SUSWA team is finally having their Niras induction and so the whole team will have had the chance to spend some time with Mikaela – but probably not, for example, found out about her sea-related background or that what she mentions as having been her dream job was related to nuclear security. What? Yes, keep reading and you’ll find out!
Interview with Mikaela
So, what is your actual title and what does your job entail?
My title is Project Manager and Senior Consultant, but in reality, my job is three-pronged, dividing my time between being Senior Consultant, Tender Manager, and Project Manager.
As Senior Consultant I’ve worked long-term in the field as Water Resource Manager in Ethiopia for 4 years and South Sudan for 1 year, as well as working as a short-term consultant. The rest of the time when I haven’t been in the field I work as a Tender and Project manager, managing Niras projects and tenders and doing market development.
I enjoy all three roles! The best part of working in the field is that you can really focus on just one project. Tendering is, on the other hand, really exciting and there’s a lot of adrenaline. I sometimes compare it to e.g., writing a bachelor’s thesis, this intense process within a concise time, a writing project that has to include everything on a new topic and be done in about 6 weeks’ time. There’s always a huge learning curve and you work within a new team in Niras as well as the new project team, each time. Project management is in turn the goal of the other work, the milestone to be reached. The best part of that is the long-term relationship; getting to follow something from the beginning to the end, like with SUSWA.
In the SUSWA team, only Arti has worked with Niras before this project. How would you explain or introduce Niras to the rest of us?
Niras is so big it is difficult to summarize. Niras has 9 business units, with one being Niras International Consulting (NIC) and the others being ‘traditional’ consulting work in, for example, construction, clean energy, and so on.
NIC is one of the largest international consulting agencies in development work, especially as many previous competitors, such as Ramboll and Poyry, have stopped working in development as it is such a difficult, changing, and volatile business to be in.
Because it is a business. Niras is not an NGO, and Niras has to compete for and earn every single project.
NIC is home to Niras Finland, all of our NIRAS Finland staff work within NIC, no other business units.
All in all, in Niras there are about 2500 employees, with 250-300 in NIC and about 20 employees in Niras Finland, but this number changes a lot, for example, depending on changes in Finland’s foreign development cooperation policies which has an effect on the size and number of projects to compete for.
Niras Sweden, Poland, and Serbia are about the same size, with Belgium, France, and Norway Niras offices, as well as local offices like Nepal, being smaller. The UK office is big and Denmark and Germany just merged.
While now in the inception phase of SUSWA, we’ve all heard repeated that the road here was long. Can you talk a bit about that as well as what winning such a big project means for Niras?
Since I started working at Niras Finland 15 years ago, we have been trying to win a WASH project in Nepal; first RWSSP-NW (Pokhara), where I was the M&E Advisor in the Tender, and then the third phase of RVWRMP, as a tender manager. In both cases, we fought really hard, battled for a long time… and lost.
Then finally – SUSWA! We prepared for years. It was a really, really, really long battle. So, you can imagine the euphoria when we won! It was amazing – champagne all around! However, we were all working from home, jumping up and down and celebrating alone in front of our screens… so, many more champagne bottles were required than if we had been in the office.
It’s hugely important to win the projects. It is the bread and butter of NIC. A big project means long-term business, and income for several years. This means long-term stability and keeps Niras going. Every single tender is a huge investment for Niras, investing in fact-finding missions and a lot of staff time. Because of
this reason, there is a whole system in place to do a market analysis before we decide to bid in any tender process. But once the decision to bid is made, Niras goes all out.
As you were the tender manager, and now project manager for SUSWA, what does winning SUSWA mean for you?
I was originally hired by Niras to develop the water portfolio for Niras Finland. Before, Niras Finland mainly focused on agriculture and forest.
Winning SUSWA was therefore a big part of my personal mission and something I am proud of. Every win increases Niras Finland’s water weight and shows we have know-how (even though so far it is still only me – I’m hoping we will have more water staff soon!).
The past two covid years have been huge for Niras Finland WASH portfolio, winning SUSWA and having now been the sole lead on COWASH phase four for one year, having previously been equal consortium partners with Ramboll in phases two and three. Niras Finland’s two big WASH projects, COWASH and SUSWA, are also important projects for the main client, MFA.
How do you feel about SUSWA’s progress 6 months in, compared to other projects?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to compare as every project is so different… every project is its own individual, its own planet, and has its own stakeholders and environment.
This can probably be said in many jobs, but truly, no day in project management is similar, no project is similar. Nothing can be standardized; nothing can just be repeated from another project. In development consultancy nothing is predictable.
So, I cannot compare, it really would not be fair, also because I do not have a lot to compare with. This is the first WASH project I have started, from the beginning, in a new country. In South Sudan I worked in a large project, also starting from scratch in a new country and for a new client, but I was there as part of the TA team.
However, if I just consider the progress on a general level, I think SUSWA has gone forward at the speed of a steam engine… or perhaps a super space missile. Elon Musk must be involved somehow. Despite meetings with Mario (CTA) twice a week, I can’t keep up. I’m happy and proud, but also nervous, as I know I will not be able to keep up. I just have to trust that the team knows what you are doing.
Speaking of trusting the team – how do you think working with the SUSWA team has been so far?
Without having full trust in the team, working together would be hard. I have to feel like we are on the same football team, working together to kick the football towards the same goal… and trusting that we all know where the goal is and which is our football.
For SUSWA I do trust the team, and this despite very brief trust building – really just the recruitment process – and only having met in person Hanna briefly and Mario for two days. In a normal situation, I would have visited once or twice already. Not having visited really does limit the feeling of knowing the project team and understanding what each and everyone is doing, but the work division and collaboration between me and Mario is good.
Project management can sometimes be just crisis solving, with the project manager only involved when there are problems. I hope we can interact also without having big problems – like we do this Friday [Niras Induction for project team]. Despite covid, travel restrictions, and everything we need to work on finding a regular way of interacting and having these common moments.
As Project Manager, what are your short, mid, and long-term priorities for SUSWA?
For SUSWA my priority is of course to create a space where it is nice for people to work, an environment where everyone feels safe and respected and can focus on their important work – as we really do work on very fundamental issues, issues important for the world.
For Niras Finland, my goal is to create a stronger WASH portfolio.
For NIC, in the (super) long term, I guess contradicting, the goal is to make ourselves redundant and leave behind countries with capable and committed local governments who ensure WASH is accessible for all.
Finally, as you mentioned you have yet to meet most of the team in person so there is a lot we don’t know about you, but what is something about you or your past that may surprise the team?
Well, now I work as a project manager for a mountainous province in landlocked Nepal… but I am actually a marine biologist by education and made my living as a professional diver for 6-7 years during my studies! I worked, for example, as a diver for private environmental organizations, the Marine research institute in Finland as well as Marine Research Institute and the High Technology Center in Norway. I worked for the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland diving daily outside two nuclear plants in a beautiful sea – what a dream job! I also worked on the beautiful island of Seili in the most beautiful archipelago for the Archipelago research institute.
Yes, the Finnish archipelago feels very far away when in Karnali… so, final question, when can we expect you to visit us here?
Right now, summer is coming which makes it difficult, but after summer hopefully… let’s say within this year, a good deadline for me.