Inside the mind of a ‘master’ juggler

(This post was written on November 20, 2016)

Does this title sound familiar?

You are right! the title of this post is inspired by this TED Talk of Tim Urban. As Urban discusses during the talk, the “ingenious idea” of writing this blog came when I have a tomorrow noon deadline to submit a paper and another deadline at work.

Anyways, let me “juggle between” my assignment and blogging for now!

I have been juggling between a whole lot of things in my life for quite some years now. Now that I look back to my few years of life, I realize I’m gradually improving on this art of ‘juggling’ between things. Currently, I navigate my life through a full-time job, part-time Ph.D. student (my university considers me a full-time student and have to attend 2 four hour-long sessions, read 20,000+ words, write 3500+ words and occasional presentations in a week), active social life (1+ Social gathering each week) and 3 weekly running sessions.

I consider the following things to have helped me for now:

Isolation: 26 years of life, I was surrounded by people (family, relatives, and friends) and never had time and consciousness to ask what I wanted out of my life and focus on what I really wanted. Staying away (geographically) has helped to find my true passion.

Focus: Being in isolation helped me to find what I enjoy doing and Focus is automatically there because I’ve somehow found what I really love to do.

HungerI was always hungry – hungry to learn and grow. I consider my hunger to learn and grow has brought me to this stage of life where the desire to learn and know new things seems inbuilt.

 

Four Takeaways from 4 days at Amsterdam

The 13th ISTR International Conference in Amsterdam
was a very productive encounter for me. I had attended
two Asia Pacific editions of the conference in Tokyo (2015)
and Jakarta (2017). However, I was attending the international
conference for the first time. I was not only new to
the conference, but also Amsterdam was the first European
city I had visited.

I left the Bangkok airport with a mixed feeling. While
I was excited about the opportunity to meet some of the
authors whom I had been following and reading for a long
time, my heart was pounding with nervousness to present
in front of distinguished academics of the sector. In this
post, I highlight four takeaways from the conference.

Learning: Overall, the conference in Amsterdam was
full of learning. Sessions were very insightful and very wide ranged.
I was able to attend roundtables discussing good
practices in nonprofit education to emerging research areas
in the third sector. It was wonderful to explore the
diversity of interest and myriad aspects covering a wide
range of topics concerning the Third Sector.

Methodology Development: One of the important
personal learning takeaways from the conference was definitely
the ‘Building the Data Science Toolkit’ session. It is always
exciting to know that you are not only the one who is working
on a certain research idea. Megan LePere-Schloop’s work of
using machine-learning to categorize NGOs in Ghana was
identical to my efforts of to classify NGOs in Nepal. The
only difference was she was using machine-learning while I
was using a simple excel-based intervention. I realized the
extent of my efforts could be streamlined using the emerging
machine methodologies.In addition, Brent Never’s introductory tour to spatial
methods helped me see the potential limitations of using
simple linear regression on geospatial data. After attending
the session, I ended up reanalyzing my own data overnight.
The next day, I was able to sit with Brent again to compare
the results from the old analysis to the newly-learned analysis.

Mentoring Program: The ISTR Secretariat connected
me with my mentor, David O. Renz, from the University
of Missouri -Kansas City. Dave and I were able to chat extensively
on my career aspirations and the direction of my
future research. Dave asked very crucial questions relating
to my work and motivated me to explore further in my research.
The mentorship session and additional two meals
I had with Dave helped me learn a lot about his expertise
and was able to see areas where I could ask for his guidance
and support.

Meetings and Networking: The Amsterdam conference
also allowed me to understand ISTR as an organization
more clearly. It was wonderful seeing a very vibrant
community of scholars and practitioners from all around
the world and have the opportunity to get to know fellow
ISTR members. In addition to the members meeting, several
other breakout sessions, like the Storytelling Workshop
and strategies to pursue a postdoctoral position professional
development workshop were quite insightful.
In addition to meetings, I think one big takeaway from
the conference is the ability to establish a network that is
active beyond the conference. Earlier last week, I received
feedback from Christopher Pallas about one of my working
papers. It would have been impossible for such connections
to happen without meetings like ISTR conference.
The 13th ISTR international conference has officially
ended. However, the benefits of the conference are
just beginning to materialize. I am starting my brand new
mentorship relationship, am exploring new research areas,
strengthening my methodological understanding, and most
importantly, nurturing all the crucial connections initiated
during the conference.

(This post originally appeared in the July-September edition of Inside ISTR Newsletter )

5 things I learned in my first year at Wedu

(Note: I wrote this post in November 20, 2016 to document my one year-long learning at Wedu. This has been in the draft for long)

I completed my first year working with Wedu and here I present the five things I’ve learned:

1. Spreadsheet Skills: Trust me, I learned so much of spreadsheet skills in the last 12 months, I can use nested formulas and create sophisticated systems to support decision making and data analysis using google sheets and excel. Thanks to my amazing colleagues Vivian and  Daisy for guiding and Chanikarn for coming up with problems to be solved!

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2. Think BIG? think scalability: How do I scale something that I am doing? Thanks to Mario! who has constantly pushed me to think BIG! and also think about scaling up what I do and how I do.

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3. DATA: Data-driven decision making is another important skill I’m proud of learning in the last 12 months. What are these different numbers and texts on my computer screen saying and how do I infer meaning to improve my work has been the mentality throughout the year.

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4. Work-Life Balance: Now, I know when to work and when is the time to STOP! Thanks to my amazingly professional colleagues who have inspired me to learn when to stop.

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5. Ask Questions: Asking questions was not really in my blood (excuse – Asian values). In the last one year, I have realized there is no way I can understand things without asking questions.

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What have you learned this year?

Two reasons why I stopped Blogging

I started blogging back in September 2007 with Blogspot and abandoned my blog since September last year. There are  two simple reasons why I stopped. In this post, I will explore those two reasons and end with a call for your help to hold me accountable.

1. Lazy: I have this not ‘so unique‘ and proud characteristic. Well, mostly, I’m super lazy and don’t have the energy to do things and if that is the thing with writing and reading, it grows exponentially.


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2. Lack of Content: This can be best described as my desire to start a perfectly readable and highly ‘intellectual‘ blog. This search has cost me almost a decade and I’m sure I won’t find that ‘ideal content‘ I’m striving for.

via GIPHY

Moral of the Story

The best day for me to start that ‘amazing content’ was either Nine years back or it is today!

Call for Help

Over the last 2 years, one thing that has worked for me in my academic and professional life is the concept of “Accountability Partner/s”. This is a very simple concept, it is a group of friends with whom I share my goals and in turn, they ask me questions to hold me accountable. Simple! isn’t it?

While some gentlemen like Derek Silver suggest us to keep our goals to ourselves, but don’t worry there are ample published studies and articles that back my line of thought as well.

I am calling for your help to hold me accountable and continue blogging. Trust me, I have a lot of stories to share!

If you want to hold me accountable, let me know below.

Email Address *



 

Female Youth Literacy Rate in ASEAN Member Nations (1979-2013)

Finally got a free day to work on some interesting info again. This time I was curious to know the Female Youth Literacy Rate in ASEAN Member Nations. With a few clicks, i could easily export data from The World Bank’s data repository.

Youth (15-24) literacy rate (%). Female is the number of females age 15 to 24 years who can both read and write with understanding a short simple statement on their everyday life, divided by the female population in that age group. Generally, ‘literacy’ also encompasses ‘numeracy’, the ability to make simple arithmetic calculations. – The World Bank

The data wasn’t available for all the countries for the same interval of time. Out of 9 ASEAN member nations, SIngapore has the highest youth female literacy rate (99.88% in 2013) while Lao PDR had the least (78.74 in 2005). The situation might have improved in Lao as the data is a decade old.

While 7 member nations – Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines enjoy more than 95% female youth literacy rate, 2 member nations – Lao PDR and Cambodia have less than 90% youth female literacy rate.

Any organizations working in the development of young women in the region can focus more on strengthening young women from Lao PDR and Cambodia.

I will come up with the male and female comparison in my next blog post.

(Please excuse me for the poorly embedded chart below. I am trying to fix this.)

2012 Human Freedom Index and Sub-Indices


I have decided to create one more data visualization using the data published in the latest Human Freedom Index report.  Human Freedom Index, by Ian Vásquez and Tanja Porčnik is Co-published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute in Canada, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Germany.

You can grab a copy of the report from this link

The Human Freedom Index (HFI) claims to be the most comprehensive freedom index so far created for a globally meaningful set of countries. The HFI covers 152 countries for 2012, the most recent year for which sufficient data is available.

On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the nonweighted average rating for 152 countries in 2012 was 6.96.

In terms of Freedom Index and Personal Freedom , Nepal ranks second to India in South Asian region among five reported countries – India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Freedom Index of Nepal is 6.10 while India stands at 6.93, Sri Lanka (6.16), Bangladesh (5.82) and Pakistan (5.41).

Sri Lanka tops the race in Economic Freedom Index followed by India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. It is interesting to notice that Nepal ranks lowest among five South Asian Nations when it comes to Economic Freedom.

The top 10 jurisdictions in order were Hong Kong, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Sweden. The United States is ranked in 20th place. Other countries rank as follows: Germany (12), Chile (18), Japan (28), France (33), Singapore (43), South Africa (70), India (75), Brazil (82), Russia (111), China (132), Nigeria (139), Saudi Arabia (141), Venezuela (144), Zimbabwe (149), and Iran (152).

Out of 17 regions, the highest levels of freedom are in Northern Europe, North America (Canada and the United States), and Western Europe. The lowest levels are in the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Women’s freedoms, as measured by five relevant indicators in the index, are most protected in Europe and North America and least protected in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa.

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher per capita income ($30,006) than those in other quartiles; the per capita income in the least-free quartile is $2,615. The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy. Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard.

The findings in the HFI suggest that freedom plays an important role in human well-being, and they offer opportunities for further research into the complex ways in which freedom influences, and can be influenced by, political regimes, economic development, and the whole range of indicators of human well-being.

Please excuse me for this poorly embedded document. You can play with it more conveniently from this link.

Heatmap of NGOs in Nepal

I spend this weekend to create heatmap of NGOs affiliated with Social Welfare Council in Nepal between 2034-70 BS. I used the data from Social Welfare Council of Nepal. I wanted to see the concentration of these organizations in the map of Nepal and the result was surprising. Some insights:

  • Largest number of NGOs are registered in Kathmandu District (12,048)
  • Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur) alone account for 39% (14,627) of total NGOs
  • Top 3 districts with NGOs: Kathmandu (12,408), Lalitpur (2123) and Dhanusa (913)
  • Bottom 3 districts: Manang (14), Mustang (32) and Sankhuwasabha (62)

The heatmap looks as below. You can play with the interactive map and download the data by following this link.

Heatmap of NGOs

Alternatively, you can click on each district or filter by district to get the number of NGOs from below:

NGO Registration Trend in Nepal

I am preparing for my plenary presentation to be delivered at the College of Law at Nihon University during the 9th ISTR Asia Pacific Conference. One of the statistics that I needed for the presentation was the number of Registered NGOs in Nepal. So, I quickly browsed the site of Social Welfare Council of Nepal to get the number. Though the stats hasn’t been updated since last 2 years, yet, it had some meaningful data.

I spend my weekend to work on the data and observe the trend of NGO registration in Nepal. Some quick info:

  • Massive growth of NGOs after 1990 (advent of democracy)
  • Declined during 2000 until 2004
  • Peak number of NGOs registered during 2006-2007
  • Largest sector of NGOs working in the community development while least working on HIV and AIDS

Traffic police are the missing link for Thai road safety

Following the fatal accident in Chiang Mai that killed three cyclists and injured two others, demands for stiffer punishments have escalated, especially given the likely influence of alcohol.

One idea is bicycle licenses, a proposal which led to a group of bicyclists meeting Assistant Police Chief Prawut Thawornsiri on May 15 to submit objections.

Article - The NationLicensing bicycle riders is only an opportunity for additional paperwork and graft. Pedestrians and cyclists should have first priority on roads. Licensing borders on the preposterous, as research worldwide has shown it is a barrier to more cycling, which the government in theory supports.

The real problem is Thai roads are very nearly the most dangerous in the world. This year’s first-quarter data for traffic accidents notes the deaths of 3,834 Thais, while more than 316,000 have sustained some form of injury, at great cost to the healthcare system and economy.

Globally, Thailand’s rate of road deaths is second only to Namibia – one of the least densely populated countries – in a study of 193 countries by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. This study revealed a disturbing 44 deaths per 100,000 of population in Thailand, with 45 in Namibia.

It is no surprise that pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycle riders are the most vulnerable to road accidents. For instance, the Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013 by the World Health Organization (WHO) found 74% of total deaths were users of motorized 2- or 3-wheelers, 13% were drivers of 4-wheeled vehicles, then 8% were pedestrians, while cyclists accounted for 3%.

The maximum speed limits on urban roads are 60 or 80km/h. However, Thailand achieved a mere 30percent for effective implementation of national speed limits in the WHO study.

Thailand also has a national motorcycle helmet law. Studies have shown a good-quality helmet can reduce the risk of death on the road by 40%. However, most Thai motorcyclists only wear helmets to avoid traffic police fines. The WHO study suggests only 53% of riders and 19% of motorcycle passengers actually obey this law in Thailand.

Moreover, drink-driving was the main reason for the 3,373 accidents during this year’s Songkran week. Enforcement of drink-driving laws reduces the road accident rate dramatically. Thai law sets a 0.05 g/dl blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers. However, the WHO study rates the Thai enforcement level of this limit at 50%, signifying much more is required on both the part of the police and of drivers.Bangkok Traffic

Thailand can learn from Nepal – a country technically behind Thailand in terms of development. Similar to Thailand, the Himalayan kingdom had rules on drink driving which were rarely enforced until December 2011. Then, the country adopted one of the strictest drink driving rules in the world – a zero tolerance policy, setting the BAC to zero.

As soon as night falls, the night shift of Nepalese traffic police is deployed to enforce the law, armed with breathalyzers. Unlike in Thailand, where “crackdowns” may be over in one night, in Kathmandu it is almost impossible to escape the net of breath checks, including on weekends, holidays, and even during the day.

If any driver is caught consuming even a mouthful of alcohol, that person is fined the equivalent of 335 baht. In addition, what deters re-offending the most is a one-hour-long mandatory lecture on the dangers of drink driving and the long queues to pay the fine before receiving the seized license the next day.

It took weeks for Nepalese party-goers to adjust to this new rule. In addition, the enforcement seriously hampered the business of restaurants and bars. There were organized protests, including the temporary closure of businesses, but in the face of a determined stand by the Nepalese government and police force, these petered out. Crucially, the authorities were aware that an increased likelihood of punishment would, in time, deter criminal activity, as predicted by rational action theory, which states that human beings are more likely to obey the law if the chance of punishment is higher.

Furthermore, the positive benefits of the campaign clearly outweigh the negative. The number of accidents caused by drink driving declined sharply by more than 71percent from 2012 to 2013. In addition, in this country of 27 million, by the end of February 2015, the traffic police had penalized 172,557 offenders and amassed over 50 million baht – all mainly from one city, Kathmandu – since the inception of the campaign.

The campaign also had greater social benefits. Housewives and parents were happy because their loved ones went home sober. Furthermore, the rates of other crimes like gang fights, theft, extortion and rape significantly declined. In addition, the policy gave birth to new business opportunities, mainly for taxi drivers.

What is seemingly lacking among Thai traffic police is not an awareness of these issues but strong commitment and motivation to implement a sustained policy. The country needs leadership that is willing and able to cope with the significant resistance which will arise from restaurant owners and habitual drinkers. Courage and motivation are necessary within the police system in order to go beyond punishing the poorer motorcyclists and to begin curbing the reckless drinking of those higher in the social ladder who drive cars, including luxury vehicles.

Nepal took into account the police and public mentality before starting the campaign. The government backed the police and created an “encouragement allowance” where they are entitled to keep one-sixth of the revenue. The allowance resulted in a decline in bribery as the traffic police could easily earn extra legal money by punishing more drivers. This was key to the campaign’s success, which also included celebrity endorsements, television programmes, and social media.

To conclude, instead of licensing cyclists, the government should be making the roads safe for them. Introducing cycling routes in touristic destinations, making parking spaces for bicycles, clearing the footpaths and constructing new cycle lanes should be priorities. But, the Royal Thai Police needs to also do its job and reduce the number of killers on the roads.

This special article to THE NATION was written by JOHN DRAPER and DIPENDRA KC. It appeared in the print edition of the newspaper on May 28, 2015.

John Draper is project officer for the Isan Culture Maintenance and Revitalisation Programme at Khon Kaen University. Dipendra KC is co-founder of a youth-led NGO in Nepal and a rural development management MA student at Khon Kaen University. Twitter: @kcdipendra.

Quake spurs youth cyber relief work

The Bangkok Post

The recent 7.3-magnitude aftershock which followed the earlier 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal has again drawn global attention. The death toll has already surpassed 8,100. Still, it is hard to imagine the scale of devastation had the earthquakes occurred 15 years ago. Several thousand more people would have died, and much of the world would still be unaware of the catastrophe.

But, cellular technology towers withstood the quake while the buildings around them crumbled. Before the mainstream media reports came out, news from individual sources had quickly penetrated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Despite limited technological capacity, what is outstanding is how constructively it has been used during the present disaster, despite only a quarter of the population having access to the internet and 90% of them using only a 2G connection.

The media organisations which rushed to Kathmandu and its vicinity in the aftermath of the disaster are sharing the stories that they should be covering — the grim reality on the ground. However, the international media is also portraying Nepal as if everything has ended. This is doom mongering, as the quake has in fact triggered many positive instances of social behaviour.

Social media has been greatly instrumental in the relief operations taking place in the country. In particular, Nepalese youth are showing an unprecedented level of commitment. The international media to some extent has failed to share these stories of initiatives led by the younger generation.

In fact, this strata of the population was one of the first to take part in rescue efforts. Nepalese youth are making optimum use of internet technology to aid the relief work. Their Facebook walls demonstrate the amazing work that they are doing despite limited resources and skills.

In the aftermath of the disaster, technology giants such as Skype facilitated youth endeavours by announcing free calls to and from Nepal. Fortunately, those young people with a smartphone or laptop connected to the internet, reached out to temporary refugee camps, and began to help families to connect to their relatives.

In the face of calamity, people have teamed up and initiated online help desks to connect those who are far away with their family members at home. It is usually arduous to negotiate congested international communications networks in such a distressing situation. However, all you now need to do to reach your friends is to send these teams a message on Facebook or via Twitter. They then often find your family within a few minutes.

Furthermore, within hours of each of the two big tremors, Facebook introduced the safety check feature, where people could mark friends on as “Safe”. People hurried to mark their friends safe in order to reassure acquaintances at home and abroad.

In another instance, young people teamed up to use Google’s Person Finder tool to fill in the information of missing people, and those with information about someone started feeding their information into the system.

Hundreds of young people have gathered and are using their social media skills to discover where the relief is needed most, and then they pledge donations like tarpaulins, rice, or medicine. The relief material is then transported to the most hard-hit areas by volunteers, who also establish local communications and identify local youths who can serve as channels for the relief work.

The creative uses of social media have also led young people to report data regarding physical and human losses as well as to assess the availability of temporary camps and relief supplies. Youth-driven teams are crowdsourcing the information. Now, anyone with a basic cell phone can report physical damage or loss of life as well as seek help.

As the nation receives more aid from abroad, both in terms of resources and personnel, there are admittedly increased chances of financial misconduct, and the effectiveness of some of the aid work may be questioned. To address these concerns and facilitate effective aid delivery, youth groups and relief organisations are implementing a social audit of the rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts in order to make the post-disaster efforts more reliable, accountable and effective.

There is much to be learned from these independent voluntary initiatives in terms of disaster preparedness. There is a need for social immunisation by introducing strict guidelines for construction companies, as well as earthquake-preparedness classes, based on the experience of nations like Thailand.

Governments in areas of the globe vulnerable to earthquakes should have strong post-disaster relief mechanisms ready, and the youth should be equipped with basic first-aid training. Furthermore, the technology to act transparently, and democratically should be embedded in each and every step that we as societies decide to take. This use of technology and the mobilisation of youth have the potential to create resilience and keep hope alive even in adverse circumstances.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 19, 2015.