With-in and with-out

With-in and with-out

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.



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