Small Initiatives with Big Impact in Biratnagar
By Narayan Adhikari, Nepal Country Representative. The eastern Terai of Nepal, close to the Indian border, is hot at this time of year- very hot. And the mosquitos are relentless- if you’re not from around here you find yourself thinking constantly about a place to sit under a strong fan and a bottle of cold water. But there is an emerging group of young people in the city of Biratnagar who are thinking about much, much bigger things. The Lab is in the process of consolidating a network of these young accountability activists across the region- and visiting recently, we were deeply impressed with the actions they are taking.Basanta Adhikari has trained over 3,000 youth activists in the past 6 years- with minimal resources- to take responsibility for finding solutions to the challenges they face in their communities. On our visit we listened to their thoughts on accountability problems and documented the ideas they have been coming up with for making power holders more responsible. For example, several students have been using the Right to Information Act (passed in 2007) to obtain records from the government related to revenue generated from vehicle registrations- and then working with this information to ask about how these fees are being spent for the public good. This has helped them to create pressure for change but also build relationships with the authorities, which will be central to similar initiatives going forwards. Another team of young leaders discovered a corruption ring related to the cost of blood donations- through which patients in need were being charged over Nprs 1250 (approximately $5) extra for blood. The group mobilized a coalition of civil society activists and the media to expose the scam and ensure fair prices going forwards, monitored by the government. A further group has worked to build the transparency of local spending by pressuring a Village Development Committee (VDC) to ensure that legally allocated resources (of Nprs 70,000 or approximately $900) have been directed towards a rural ICT training center. They are now working to ensure that these centers are built in other VDCs in the district.
These are small initiatives, but over time they are amounting to more than the sum of their parts. Policy-makers are now beginning to listen to citizens (particularly youth) in a way that is different to ten or even five years ago. Coalitions are emerging around social, political and economic issues- and pushing for real change. Sustainable activities are taking place- based on a voluntarism and small donations from participants- in a way that is far removed from the per diem and buffet-lunch mentality in Kathmandu. The Lab’s objective is to catalyze new, low cost and enduring tools for accountability- through Bolaun (coming soon!), a new online platform; the development of wikitools; and an Accountapreneurship Fund– among other channels. The young activists we met in Biratnagar are the perfect partners for this. We’ll keep you updated on collaborations as they develop!