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.


via GIPHY

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.

Nepal must not fall prey to donation scams

Survivors wait as a relief helicopter lands at their remote mountain village of Gumda, near the epicenter of last month’s massive earthquake in the Gorkha District of Nepal. AP

The catastrophic earthquake of 7.9 magnitude and the powerful aftershocks that hit Nepal last Saturday and Sunday took the lives of more than 6,000 people — and the death toll continues to rise. The devastation that affected a quarter of the Himalayan nation’s population has caused unprecedented loss of life, physical property and heritage sites.

Since the disaster, foreign governments and international aid agencies have been scrambling to help those in distress. The suffering has drawn the attention of the whole world and the results can be witnessed in that the only airport connecting the country with the rest of the world is now congested with relief materials and rescue aircraft.

Foreign aid has been trickling in to Nepal in a largely instinctive manner. The total commitment of foreign aid has already crossed US$50 million (1.6 billion baht). Aid has been flown in from all over the world. The United Nations has allocated US$15 million from its emergency fund, and the Asian Development Bank also announced an initial release of US$3 million. In addition, the US government has announced US$9 million, making a total of US$10 million including US Aid. Among other donor nations are the United Kingdom with US$7.6 million, Australia with US$3.9 million, China with US$3.3 million, Thailand with US$3.13 million (excluding the contributions from the Thai Royal Family), the European Union with US$3 million and Bhutan with $1 million.

Furthermore, spontaneous fundraising events and organisations willing to support the ailing nation have emerged around the world. Thailand is no exception. Fundraising campaigns have swept the entire Thai nation. The initiatives range from individuals to organisational campaigns. Almost all the leading media outlets as well as humanitarian organisations have set up relief funds and have appealed to the general public to contribute.

Undoubtedly the intentions of the majority of relief agencies, governments and kind donors are good. Nonetheless, the presence of criminals trying to take advantage of the anguish cannot be denied. In a scenario like this, the philanthropist has a very crucial role to play to ensure the effectiveness of funds through a proper channel.

It is the donor’s responsibility to make sure that hard-earned money does not fall into scoundrels’ hands. One way to avoid the criminal element is to contribute to trusted relief funds like the funds set up by government or international humanitarian agencies like Thai Unicef.

We have witnessed several online donation drives going viral on the internet over the last week including scams. One piece of caution in bequeathing to these organisations is to ensure that they are registered charities and that the donations they receive are tax exempted. Otherwise, not every baht of your contribution might reach the people that need it.

It needs to be understood that the real job of the donors starts when they make the decision to donate part of their income to support those in need. Deciding to donate means portraying love for the cause. If the donor’s love for the cause is genuine, it should go beyond the donation itself and the donor should check whether or not the donation is reaching the hands of the destitute.

I have no intention of discouraging the kind-hearted donor. Nonetheless, in a humanitarian disaster of this magnitude, donors must be mindful of the fact that contributions might not reach the rightful beneficiaries.

These concerns are founded on past experience from the Caribbean nation of Haiti. In 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the country, causing the deaths of an estimated 230,000 people. In the aftermath, multilateral and bilateral agencies poured in billions of dollars in relief and recovery efforts to alleviate the pain of the country. Five years down the line, some 85,000 people still reside in awful conditions in crude displacement camps leaving major questions about how the aid money was channeled and utilised.

In a quest to answer this question, American author Jonathan M Katz in his book The Big Truck That Went By; How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster implicates mismatched and mismanaged interests among a complex array of stakeholders: foreign governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), business groups and public personas. He blames the vested interests of each actor as contributing to the ineffectiveness of aid and blames them for the stalled aid delivery.

Crucially for Thai donors, Katz also sees a problem in the “noble and narrow mandate” of the private donations which were larger than the foreign aid. The private donations stressed humanitarian aid but not development assistance, causing projects to repair infrastructure and restore normality to become victims of what Katz calls “diminishing returns”.

It is the nature of the news and of social media to quickly flitter from one story to the next. Therefore, private donors, foreign governments, aid agencies, NGOs and business groups need to be mindful of what we have learnt from Haiti and undertake not to repeat this failure of commitment anywhere in the world.

Nepal is in dire need of resources to restore normal modes of human existence. The Nepalese government and the country will not be able to bear the cost of recovery alone. This beautiful Himalayan kingdom does not just need short-term support but requires a long-term partnership to heal the lives and restore the physical property – chiefly the 600,000 homes of the poor as well as the lost cultural heritage such as ancient temples.

Development in the aftermath of disaster is not an easy task. The UN appeal itself calls for a total of US$450 million, and Nepali government sources estimate US$2 billion will be required to rebuild the country. However, if the stakeholders work closely and forego vested interests, the task, while difficult, will not be unnecessarily complex. We have seen Asian giants like Japan and Thailand recover from disasters and Nepal and its people will, after a sustained period of hardship and convalescence, no doubt be revitalised.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 04, 2015.

Students from the global south embrace open online courses

In conversation with Matt McGarrity, Senior Lecturer in the Communication Department at the University of Washington, whose Intro to Public Speaking course is one of the most popular MOOC’s. (Photo by Ranak Martin)
Think of all of the stress you might suffer applying to get into an Ivy League school — and all the money you’d spend to actually attend one.
Well believe it or not, these days the courses offered by these Ivy League universities are available free of cost in few clicks. These online courses have been hailed for “democratizing” higher education.
A typical MOOC — shorthand for “Massive Open Online Course”  — uses a blend of technologies like virtual classrooms, discussion forums, online texts and libraries, video lectures, wikis and web videos.
Leading platforms for online learning include Udacity and Khan Academy, as well as newcomers Coursera and edx.
From my home in Nepal, I took “Introduction to Sociology” with Princeton Professor Mitchell Duneier in 2012, and was eventually invited to visit Princeton University (in person) because of my active participation in the online course. Ever since then, MOOCs have been a subject of great interest to me. I’ve taken more than a few MOOCs myself and always enjoyed them.
But I wondered about the experience of other students from the global South.
How did they find out about the courses? What motivated them to take the course, and to stick with it? What platform did they use for the course? What struggles did they face while taking the course?
“I read about it in the news and then decided to go for it,” says Ankur Jhunjhunwala, 25, a student of Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) at Delhi University, in India explaining how he first found out about MOOCs. “I took the course before joining MBA because I had free time; I take the courses today because I can add them to my CV.”
Jhunjhunwala has completed three courses on Coursera: “Understanding Einstein: The Special Theory of Relativity,” “Introduction to Philosophy” and “What Managers can Learn from Great Philosophers”
Referring to the wide range of the availability of the courses Jhunjhunwala adds, “Why should I have any confusion in tapping the opportunity to learn world class content residing in the third world?”
However, not everyone who signs up completes their courses — not by a long shot.
“I signed up for 15 courses and completed five courses,” says Tara Ballav Adhikari, a government employee from Nepal.
“I completed one of the courses on economics and I was not motivated to complete the coursework in second course because I took this course out of curiosity,” says Dikshya Dhakal, a student of Economics at North Seattle College.
“I would be more serious about the course if I would get the credit for it,” Dhakal adds with a faint smile. “I would be even more serious if I had to pay for it.”
Dhakal’s subtle humor reminded me of Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX talking about “active learning” — where a learner has the control of the learning pace and constantly interacts with the content — in the Harvard Edcast: edX Marks the Spot.
I wondered how educators like Agarwal will be able to meet the aspiration of students like Dhakal.
Coursera, one of the leading MOOCs providers. (Photo by Saifullah Muhammad)

Coursera, one of the leading MOOCs providers. (Photo by Saifullah Muhammad)
A recent Coursera blog claims to have 7.5 million learners from 190 countries on its website and offers courses from more than 100 renowned educational institutions.
Another platform, edX has several courses offered by prominent universities ranging from the computer sciences to law and literature. The user base of the platform has increased to over 1.6 million.
But a study done by Harvard and MIT earlier this year showed that only five percent (43,196) of the total signups in the first 17 courses offered by edX actually earned the certificate by completing the coursework.
This horrifying statistic has forced many people to consider MOOCs a failure. But on the other hand, with so many students signing up, even that low completion rate is yielding huge numbers of certified students who might otherwise never get an opportunity to learn that material.
“Comparing a small classroom with MOOCs is wrong!” says Matt McGarrity, senior lecturer in the communication department at the University of Washington who has reached over 300,000 people with his public speaking MOOCs on both Coursera and edX. “It is like comparing a novel with a movie adapted from that very novel. Novel is a different genre and the movie is different. Standards from one can inform the critique of the other but should not dictate it.”
But Adhikari says no matter what the critique are, he will continue taking the MOOCs.
“Despite the poor internet service and 16 hours of power cut every day, having the access to world-class courses free of cost gives me a sense of privilege.”
(This article originally appeared in www.Seattleglobalist.com on August 6, 2014)