Citizens should be regarded as the engines of local the government, the champions of active engagement.
As in many other countries, volunteerism in Nepal gets attention only when a calamity strikes or when there is an emergency. The world over—regardless of the development status of the country hit by natural disaster, whether it is a developed country, an emerging middle power or a country transitioning from internal conflict, volunteers are making the difference. But they are rarely valued.
Therefore it is time for Nepal to formally recognize the essential contribution of local volunteers in order to take the country to the next level of social and economic prosperity.
We need to build on existing initiatives stemming from our rich social fabric that makes local citizens bring positive changes to their communities while also recognizing that many citizens are still not playing an active role. All efforts made at the local level must be formally acknowledged as these formal and informal actions can make a difference in local governance in the newly established federal system.
It is time for Nepal to
formally recognize the essential
contribution of our local
Imagine a line of local funding specifically created to support these micro-initiatives aimed at improving local infrastructures such as new roads or community halls. It is true that local communities in the past provided micro-grants via then Village Development Committees (VDCs). But imagine an entirely new set of funding with clear and transparent guidelines put together with an easy and practical reporting system that ensures accountability.
While established not-for-profits can be part of this new local development equation, attention should also go to potentially big but so far untapped contributions that private citizens can make by acting together. We should acknowledge and encourage those citizens who are in a better position to respond to the needs arising from the bottom level.
Citizens should be regarded as the engines of local government, champions of active engagement that can make the difference in decision-making and on how the money is spent locally. The upcoming federal government should encourage a nationwide conversation on how the newly elected governments at all levels can engage and involve common folks in local government.
The recently held regional conference of ‘International Association of Volunteering Efforts’ (IAVE), organized in November in Kuala Lumpur, showcased best practices from Asia Pacific on how volunteers make a difference. It was interesting to learn how an old concept like time-banking that was not considered “mainstream” has been rebranded as skills-sharing—thanks to the advancement of new technologies. New technologies can help solve local problems through traditional ways of helping others should always be recognized.
In Kuala Lumpur, hundreds of volunteerism “fanatics” gathered to share their best practices and promote new ideas. One challenge is involving and engaging those who were never part of the “game” and get them to contribute. We must go beyond those who are already active and try to bring on board the citizens who are not aware of their potential contributions in terms of community development.
Just imagine establishing community engagement forums, a gathering where people from different walks of lives are brought together to discuss and think about their communities. Imagine what will happen if each participant in such a forum, which will be comprised of a diverse group of people, makes a personal pledge to improve the society.
We are not thinking of big acts or big gestures. We need to think beyond the stereotype that big changes happen only with big money. If you were a business person attending this gathering, people might expect a donation from your side, a fat check that can possibly also offer you some visibility and recognition in the community.
To me, this represents “business” as usual, an old approach that should instead give room to a different kind of commitments, all based on a belief or a personal passion and special dedication to a cause. The idea is that everybody can contribute equally and not necessarily through money. Wealthy or poor, you as a citizen attending such special gathering could, free of coercion, pause and think about one or two personal priorities where you know you can make a difference.
You could put together a list of things you feel strongly about and think what you can do about them: can you dedicate some time on one of these issues and engage other peers to find solutions? Can you bring together a circle of friends or neighbors and think together about doing something on that particular problem?
We are here talking about a sort of ‘Community Engagement Personal Commitments Plan’ where you decide what you can do or at least try to do as a member of your community. Professionally run organizations or local governments units must help these citizens realize their plans.
Active citizenship, if fully embraced at the bottom and promoted from the top, can transform Nepal, one small step at a time. That is why we need a national conversation to convince citizens—irrespective of their class, ethnicity or creed—that new Nepal needs each and every one of them.
Transformations at community and societal level can happen if engaged and caring citizens acknowledge their responsibilities and unleash their potential and commitment.
The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities firstname.lastname@example.org.