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)

Tale of a RADIO

Emergence of e-Radios like iTunes and Pandora has threatened the existence of conventional radio. When even the commercial radio stations are facing a threat and challenge for the survival. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to visit KUOW and understand how the private, not for profit radio is operating and coping with the challenges of changing media landscape.
It was interesting to learn that the broadcast region of the radio extends across Seattle, the Puget Sound region and Western Washington. I was also amazed to explore that the radio served nearly 419,100 listeners* each week.
Furthermore, the revenue model adopted by the radio was very new for me. We hardly have any radios that are operated by donations. The 2013 annual report of the Radio stated that in the fiscal year 2013, 63% of the revenue was individual support, 23% business support, 9% institutional support and 2% were other sources.
Even the broadcast advertisements are less than 20 seconds and contain direct message. This model eliminates the potential influence from the advertisers on the content broadcast through the radio. The studio can win the trust of the audiences for broadcasting the unbiased news.
In addition, the strategies adopted by the radio to retain its competitive edge in the changing media landscape was very exciting. Though the primary focus of the radio is radio programs, still they have invested heavily in the online platforms.
It was exciting to learn that the Human Resource in the technical departments, web department and social media has doubled compared to the last year. The changing Human Resources patterns also indicate that there have been increased efforts to provide the radio programs and contents in the web.
KUOW has also two intensive programs that help young students to meet their learning aptitude through a program called Radioactive Youth Media and support the media initiative through KUOW venture fund. Which is a positive step on the part of KUOW to strengthen radio journalism in the region. The way it serves as a practical school is a very rare sight in my home country.
During the conversation, I learnt that the reporters and journalists have changed the way they used to prepare programs. Only audio would work for the radio programs a couple of years back, however, now the same person would also need to prepare the text version for web as well as audio for radio.
The way the length of talk shows have declined to 10 minutes from 40 minutes long portrays that there has been a fundamental shift in the radio programming at the KUOW. However, people working in the stations are cynical about the way things have changed and fear that the programs might lose their qualitative strength with the change. They are also waiting for the feedback from the audience for the recent changes.

From Gossips to a Small town paper; Challenges of survival

Originating from country where having access to newspaper is a matter of luxury, it was exhilarating to learn that independent newspaper existed in a village of USA. It was more fascinating to learn that the paper’s history was longer than that of the place.
Nestled among the foothills of beautiful Mt. Rainier, Eatonville enjoys a small town charm and distinctive

natural beauty. The paper has a long standing history like the Mt. Rainier. The Eatonville Dispatch has been the voice of South Pierce County since 1893. While, the town of Eatonville was incorporated in 1909.

Our team was lucky to meet the three full time staffs of The Dispatch who are struggling hard to get the paper going. We were able to hear the stories from persons who were involved in the editorial, marketing and the office operation.
The current editor shared about the challenges of transforming the paper from the local Gossip paper to objective paper. It was interesting to learn how the paper had a surviving history of more than 121 years though it was a gossip paper. It was also interesting to learn how ‘gossip’ sales throughout the world.
The experience from the marketing personnel of the paper who faces trouble convincing the advertisers about the tangible changes in the sales was very familiar to what I hear in my home country. It was amazing to know despite that, there are several local business that still advertise.
The revenue model of the paper was new for me. The paper is owned by the law firm which has taken ownership of similar local newspaper from the other parts of the state to publish the legal notices. I never see such sight back at home. It was good to know that legal notices make a good business for the paper.
It was also exciting to learn that how doing journalism in a small-town paper is difficult. People know every other person of the town personally and it becomes hard to write about the person whom we know personally.
It was also wonderful to see 1000 subscribers of the paper in a town which has around 2,815 residents. It was also insightful to learn that the majority of these subscribers are people from the older generation who actually grew up with the paper.

Like all the papers around the world it was good to learn that the paper has its unique strategies to cope up with the changing media landscape and increase its young readership.

Gun violence has foreign visitors fearful of US

Years ago, on a long distance train ride in India, I asked a young man sitting next to me if he’d ever traveled to the United States. He mentioned a 48-hour layover in Los Angeles so I inquired about his sightseeing–imagining a whirlwind tour of the La Brea Tar Pits and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I stayed in the airport,” he said, “I was afraid of getting shot.”
This very violent month in Seattle has me remembering that conversation. I’ve been preparing to teach a class about American journalism to a group of South Asian students visiting the University of Washington.
In the three weeks it’s taken me to finalize my syllabus two young men were shot and killed on Capitol Hill (one of them, Dwone Anderson-Young, was a recent graduate of the UW Department of Communication where I teach), a shooter at Seattle Pacific University killed one student and wounded two more and a man was arrested for threatening to shoot women on the UW campus.
As all this horror hit the news I wondered about the international students arriving this week to start their program:  Did they know about these recent tragedies? Were they scared? What did they think about coming to a country where the threat of gun violence seems increasingly normal?
“We read about it in the news and my mother freaked out,” says Medha Kohli, 19, of India, referring to the SPU shooting, “We knew that shootings are pretty common at universities in America but then it was happening in Seattle that was very scary for my mother.”
Visiting students from South Asia — seen here visiting The Seattle Times — say the US's reputation for mass shootings looms large in their home countries. (Photo by Catherine Cheng)

Visiting students from South Asia — seen here visiting The Seattle Times — say the US’s reputation for mass shootings looms large in their home countries. (Photo by Catherine Cheng)
Kohli and her classmates have grown up watching American school shootings on TV and they casually rehashed some of the bigger ones (“the one with the Kindergarten students,” “Adam Lanza,” “Virginia Tech”) while navigating new American breakfast foods (the tater tots are popular, the reconstituted scrambled eggs are not).
There are a lot of stereotypes about guns in America clearly perpetuated by Hollywood, from the ubiquitous handgun in the bedside drawer (one student, from Nepal, assumes all Americans have one of these) to references to “cowboy movies.”
But mostly there’s genuine confusion about why guns are so easy to access in the United States.
“We don’t see these kinds of things happen in South Asian countries,” says Dipendra K.C., 24, of Nepal–a country where guns are tightly controlled by the government.
There’s a moment of thought before his classmate, Simran Bhui, 20, of India, pipes up to add, “We have other kinds of terrorism.”
Terrorism?
Bhui’s use of the word to describe gun violence in America seemed extreme. But it got me thinking about how our sense of fear and awareness of risk is heightened when traveling to a foreign country. It also got me wondering if I’ve become desensitized to violence in my own country.
Maybe Americans are being terrorized by gun violence.
President Obama visits victims of the 2012 movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Pete Souza / The White House)

President Obama visits victims of the 2012 movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. (Photo by Pete Souza / The White House)
“You do think of it,” says Thilini Kahandawaarachchi, 31, of Sri Lanka describing her decision to become a graduate student of International Studies at the University of Washington, “It has happened in so many universities, in so many schools and it keeps on happening…So it’s one of the things that are talked about.”
UW recruiters often hear about concerns over guns in America when in other countries says Kim Lovaas, Associate Director for International Admissions at The UW.
“Safety and gun violence is a general question, especially in countries where guns are outlawed,” says Lovaas, “I’ve been doing this 14 years and have probably been asked [about this] every time.”
Lovass is quick to point out — to me and to prospective students — that violent crime on the UW campus is low and that students should be more concerned with theft.
The South Asian students I spoke with had mixed opinions regarding whether or not the threat of gun violence would color their time to the U.S.
But K.C. says it won’t be on his mind at all.
“I won’t be thinking about it because I’m not used to the idea that someone will suddenly come up to me and shoot me,” he explains.
Hopefully someday American students will be able to say the same.
(This article was authored by Sarah Stuteville for Seattle Globalist)

World Bank Live: Google Hangout: Coding Your Way to Opportunity

Date: Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Time: 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. ET (11:00 – 12:00 GMT or convert time)
Location: Online 

On June 4th, join a panel of tech and youth leaders from Sri Lanka and Nepal to discuss how young people can code their way to opportunity in South Asia. In this live Google Hangout. the panel will also take questions about the World Bank – Microsoft regional grant competition “Coding Your Way to Opportunity“.
Last month, the World Bank and Microsoft launched a call for proposals for a South Asia Regional Grant Competition titled: “Coding Your Way to Opportunity” in Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The regional grant competition invites youth-led initiatives and organizations to showcase fresh, innovative ideas that bridge the existing coding gap in South Asia between those who have access to the gaining skills they need to be successful and those who do not. Learning to code can propel job creation and development, and boost shared prosperity In South Asia and other regions, coding and computing have become essential and desirable job skills. Jointly implemented by the World Bank and Microsoft, the competition aims to enable youth to expand coding knowledge amongst their peers, in turn helping them secure gainful employment.
The program will be organized in four South Asian countries – Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Each country will win one grant of at least US $10,000 to carry out an innovative project, one year in duration.
(This article originally appeared in World Bank Live)

Hear us too

In the recent Constituent Assembly (CA) election, eight percent youth were elected as CA members under the First Past the Post (FPTP) System.
The percentage of youth candidates in this election was even more impressive: 41 percent of total candidates were below the age of 40. 
There were many new parties which fielded new candidates. However, the number of young candidates nominated by major political parties was not so exciting. If we are to refer to the National Youth Policy, it defines “youth” as those aged 16-40.
Zakaria Zainal
This age group accounts for 42 percent of the population, but constitutes only eight percent of FPTP winners in the CA. The figures are not going to get better anytime soon, if recent activities of political parties are anything to go by. This means that the agendas and voices of young people are likely to go unheard in the new CA.
The unhealthy tussle in the major parties to finalize their PR candidates does not indicate their seriousness about youth representation. The PR list CPN-UML submitted to Election Commission, for example, sidelined prominent young faces like Ramkumari Jhankri who was at the forefront of second Jana Andolan and has since been consistently advocating for youth friendly policies. 
Other parties don’t seem very different. This practice will continue as long as our parties continue to be ruled by a few dictatorial heads. 
Most of our political parties are undemocratic and hierarchical. 
Lack of intraparty democracy is one of the major reasons. Be it student union, trade union or any other sister organization of mainstream political parties, they all lack intra-organizational democracy. These unions are as fragmented as their mother parties. As a result, they are not strong enough to challenge malpractices in the mother party.
Tokenism trumps meritocracy in most parties, while making political appointments or selecting candidates for CA election. Political leaders look for the people who buy into their school of thought and who belong to their faction. Unfortunately, the youth fall behind when they fail to follow these unwritten rules.
The youth are in no way free of blame. When they are at the forefront of political movements, they dare to challenge their leaders. But when the movements end, they forget their power and surrender before the same leaders. They have enough courage to challenge the autocratic system of the country, but are afraid to challenge a similar situation within their parties. They can come together to bargain when fuel price is hiked, but not to ask for respect for their opinion in their parties.
One of the reasons youth are being sidelined is because the interest groups working on youth are not active. When it comes to the representation of female and marginalized communities, several interest groups working for the benefit of these sections put pressure on the parties for meaningful representation. This is not the case with our youth. Representation of female and marginalized groups is mandated by law. This has forced political parties to make sure they are well represented, which, again, is not the case for the youth.
The time has come for the youth to be considered partners of today, not only of the future. It doesn’t look like the representation of youth will increase in this CA. Despite the lack of numerical strength, the aspirations and issues of youth shouldn’t be ignored in this CA. For this, present CA members should be sensitized about the issues, challenges and aspirations of youth. This in turn will call for youth wings of political parties and non-political youth organizations teaming up to serve as watchdogs.
Time will test both political and non-political youth organizations. The need of the hour is the implementation of the dormant National Youth Policy (NYP). One of the first tasks of youth organizations is to build pressure on elected representatives to do so. 
Representation of youth in CA is necessary to ensure that the aspirations of younger generation are addressed. The youth are the best persons to raise their own issues. Furthermore, the future of the nation belongs to the youth, and this is a moment when the future of the nation is being written. To ensure youth ownership of these changes, it is necessary to make them a part of the system.
Creating a special working group on youth within the CA can be a viable way to compensate for their poor numerical representation in CA. The working group should be assigned with bringing up the agendas concerning youth which shouldn’t be missed in the constitution. Furthermore, both political and non-political youth organizations should assist the committee.
(This article was published on Republica op-ed on December 31, 2013)

Surfing in the dark: Nepal’s need for economic reforms

[Myself, Daphne Koller and Professor Duneier]
More than a year has passed since I visited Princeton University in October 2012. I was there to participate in a panel discussion organized by the university. I was among the 40,000 students around the world who had been taking the online ‘Sociology’ course on Coursera and I had been chosen to visit the university and participate in the panel discussion because of my active participation in classes. I still vividly remember the excitement amidst the nervousness that had engulfed me at being on the stage, in-front of faculty members and students of the university presenting about how internet and online courses were helping students from developing countries like me. It was the moment I realized Thomas L. Friedman is indeed right when he says the world is getting flatter. The information communication technology revolution has indeed leveled the playing field for people across developed and developing societies. An Ivy-league education is at the finger tips of students around the world. Economic reforms undertaken by Nepal in early 1990s are also to be thanked for this wonderful opportunity I got. Nepal opened up its economy to the world and liberalized a few sectors (internet and telecommunications being one of them) during the reforms. And thanks to it, today more and more Nepalese have access to telecommunication services as well as the internet. Thanks to the increased competition among telecommunication service providers as well as internet service providers, the cost of access to internet have come down significantly and almost one-fourth of Nepalese are estimated to have access to the internet. I am sure the numbers will go up significantly in future and the day when every Nepalese will have access to internet is not far away.
However, when I look at some other aspects of lives of ordinary Nepalese, I find that the future that I dream of is nowhere as near as I would want it to be. Till date around 63 percent of households in Nepal lack access to electricity. Even the rest who have access to electricity suffer from power cuts during dry seasons lasting up to 16 hours daily. Ironically, Nepal is said to have a potential of generating more than 43000 Megawatt of electricity from hydro-power alone which would be enough to make Nepal a middle-income country through electricity exports. Power sector was among the sectors not addressed by the economic reforms of early 1990s and we still have a state-owned monopoly Nepal Electricity Authority which controls the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nepal. It amazes me how Nepal Electricity Authority manages to incur huge losses despite being a monopoly and how could it hire 11000 plus employees when it has already accumulated so huge amount of liabilities. While 63 percent of our households are reeling in darkness, Nepal Electricity Authority has become a preferred avenue for corruption and nepotism for politicians as shown by the recent arrest of a number of Nepal Electricity Authority officials for their possible involvement in a multimillion-dollar transformer purchase scam.
It has been less than two decades since internet came to Nepal and yet around one fourth of the population already have access to it and the number is increasing rapidly. On the other hand, Nepal got its first hydro-power plant more than a century ago in 1911 in the form of Pharping hydro-power plant. But even after a century later, about two-thirds of Nepalese households do not have access to something as basic as electricity. It infuriates me to see that politicians haggle over who to recruit as managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority or whom to award a certain hydro-power project while general public is suffering under power crisis. I believe Nepal is in dire need of economic reforms, especially in basic utility sectors like hydro-power. There is a need to introduce and encourage competition in this sector which will eventually not only result in better delivery of services but also encourage innovations. The government should break the monopoly of Nepal Electricity Authority and make it more accountable to the consumers it is supposed to serve by opening up the sectors for private players. The government should also restructure the organization under a private-public-partnership model so that it becomes more effective and efficient without losing the sight of its objectives. Only then, we can dream of a day when we will be taking energy as granted like many of us do to internet