As a child growing up in Kathmandu, I always noticed two particular things while passing by Singha Durbar. The first was the fleeting sight of the formidable ‘Lion Palace’ as we took a right turn to head towards Patan. I’d peer through my window, and my mom would point it out to me and exclaim, “That’s Singha Durbar. That’s where the prime minister and ministers work to make big plans and laws for the country.” My brother and I would crane our necks through the window for as long as we could see the palace. All I cared about was walking past those gates to what I thought was a beautiful house. And I wondered when they’d make laws for school kids to visit Singha Durbar as part of compulsory school tours.
As we headed towards the Maitighar Mandala, I would notice the second thing: angry protesters. Young people were constantly at the busy thoroughfare, protesting the inefficiencies of the government—sometimes education, lack of jobs, petrol price hikes, equality, and other important things—that I believed only grownups could understand. My mom would inform me that they were protesting about their unhappiness about how the government was not taking proper care of the needs of the people.
I also noticed another group of young people, the onlookers. The onlookers didn’t attend the protest themselves but expected the government to take care of all their needs.
From a young age, the notion that to bring about any change meant that you had to have formal authority was embedded in my mind. When you see protests on the streets on a frequent basis (like you do in Kathmandu), you start questioning the role of the youth in the country, given the fact that more than half of the population in Nepal can be classified as such.
The youth bulge presents a positive, as well as a negative, scenario given the direction and resources directed for its development. If policies are formulated so that they increase investment in innovation, education and enterprise development, the youthful energy can be directed towards positive productivity and economic growth. Its absence, on the other hand, will fuel frustration.
My idea of the governance system had always been clouded with my negative preconceived notions about authority and leadership. With people telling you from a young age how untrustworthy politicians and government officials are, the pre-conceived notion is something that plagues most Nepalis. I have always wondered if I as an individual could make a difference despite not having any formal authority. Or how can a young person work with the government in order to bring policy changes instead of protesting? My relationship with the governance system was negative. This was also because I didn’t understand the system very well.
This changed when I started working with MP Gagan Thapa, as a Daayitwa Fellow with the Daayitwa-Nepal Public Service Fellowship. Granted not all was smooth sailing. I had days where I met extremely unhelpful people who weren’t receptive to talking over the phone or in person; or days when I had to wait for considerable amount of time collecting the proper papers—given the oft-resurfacing technical difficulties; or the fact that I had to shuffle between the various departments that are housed in different buildings.
However, the everyday technical and adaptive problems you face, and experiences and your interactions, teach you about the ins and outs of the system which in turn provides an insight on how laws and regulations are made. Although a significant amount of time is invested on this, you have the opportunity to build relationships with the people you meet in the process. It presents you with an opportunity to express the importance of the cause you are working for, which creates trust and acceptance.
As a Daayitwa fellow, I didn’t have any formal authority. I was just one of the many fellows working under an elected official. What I did have, however, was the opportunity to research on a topic I was extremely passionate about: promoting entrepreneurship. Using the informal authority I had, I utilised the space I was given to research findings to design effective recommendations that promote entrepreneurship.
The young can support policy changes from outside Singha Durbar too and for that, they have to take the initiative to be part of the discussion that leads to policy. You can still influence policy decisions by being a part of the civil society through the organisations you work for, the private sector, nonprofit or advocacy work.
Working with MP Thapa taught me one important lesson: That change is not an intuitive process but a continuous one where you have to learn to adapt and adjust to the small space that has been presented to you.
This small space for change starts becoming bigger as you increase your acceptance, ability, and authority. But more importantly, it has taught me that there is space enough for various types of discourses. And that change is possible, from with-in, as it is from with-out.
Published in The Kathmandu Post on August 20, 2016.
The author Astha Joshi is a Daayitwa Autumn Fellow 2015.
Nepal has people with varying levels of financial awareness. On one hand, we can see people from all walks of life; youngsters, women, men from all caste and creed queuing for hours to fill the Initial Public Offering (IPO) forms of various companies in Kathmandu valley. We often hear of instances where IPO offerings led to over subscription of shares and generation of excess capital which means people get less for what they had filed for or somethings nothing at all.
The excess capital generated signal a lack of investment opportunities for people looking to invest. In this case, the supply is less than demand.
On the other hand people in rural regions do not even have basic awareness about opening a saving accounts and are intimidated by banks and other formal financial institutions.
The lack of awareness regarding formal financial channels leads them to use informal lending mechanisms where the interest rate is extremely high, and so is the need to put up collateral. Failure to pay back the high interest rate sucks them in the vicious cycle of poverty.
According to recent demand side FinScope done under project UNNATI, the most commonly cited reasons for not using bank services are - do not need (33%), do not understand how it work (9%), financial accounts are not for me (8%), do not know (7%) do not know how to apply (4%) and can obtain these services elsewhere (4%). All these reasons can be attributed to lack of education about financial services which make up 65% of the total reasons for not using banking services (FinMark Trust, 2015).
The dichotomy of Nepalese people in terms of financial involvement and awareness makes the task of educating them challenging. Our financial system has a mixture of people who utilize formal financial channels and those who are completely unaware about the existence of BFI’s. The national strategy needs to cater to both the groups need and to make a distinction between them in order to provide a tailored financial education plan.
After the initial gap in awareness is bridged among people we can move towards the goal which is to create awareness, knowledge, skills, attitude and behaviors necessary to make sound financial decisions and ultimately achieve individual financial well-being.
Such a national level goal requires formulation of a national level strategy. At present, stakeholders including the central bank, ministries, banks, microfinance and NGO’s/INGO’s have started initiatives for financial literacy in Nepal. But these efforts have been fragmented and uncoordinated. Uncoordinated effort have resulted in duplication of work in some cases and delayed processing in others.
For example, Financial literacy policy initiated by NRB has been underway for over a year. Before the policy is finalized the Ministry of Finance has to review it first and then it needs to be reviewed by the National Planning Commission.
Such delay could be avoided if the respective parties worked together from the beginning. Furthermore, the fragmented approach has not been attractive enough to captivate the general public. A national campaign will stir interest among people and have higher chances of impact. The Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana initiated by the Modi government lead by Prime Minister Modi is one such example. As of June 8th ,2016, 220.8 million accounts were opened in India. (Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, 2016).
45 countries around the world have already implemented or are in the process of designing a national strategy for financial literacy (OECD, 2013). To initiate a campaign on a national level it is necessary to institutionalize the operation of this campaign. A high level committee needs to be formed with participation from Rastra Bank, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Labor and Employment, and representatives from private sector and donor agencies.
It would be necessary to identify the target groups and give responsibility of each target group to a different task force. The private sector can be mobilized for the implementation part of the financial campaign. Many international agencies like UNICEF, UNDP, UNCDF, Mercy corps are already working in this issue. Collaborating with these agencies would increase the resources at government’s hand.
The Government of Nepal or Nepal Rastra Bank needs to coordinate with the existing stakeholders and build a team to take the issue of financial literacy at the national level.
Author: Shriju Dhakal is one of the Summer Fellows of the Daayitwa-Nepal Public Service Fellowship 2016.
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