Sunday, July 28, 2013

Development and Partnerships

Development and Partnerships
I wasn’t carrying an umbrella and as I jumped out of the bus into the rain I made a quick leap to some shelter where I found a young couple and a young woman with her child sitting on some steps.  I played a little with the child and as the rain subsided,  and I decided to leave, the woman put her hand to her mouth and touched her child. 

I don’t like to give people money, but I am willing to give food.  In my mind there is a difference, although both create a kind of  dependency.   I proceeded to a small restaurant where I bought veg  momos and then tried to give these to the woman, but she rejected this,  as she had only wanted milk for her child.  I gave the momos to a man who looked as if he hadn’t been eating.  

As a  person learning to be a “development”  professional/volunteer  this was a very poignant experience.  If I had paid a bit more attention and had  been able to communicate in Nepali, I would have known that the woman didn’t want food for herself but only wanted milk for her child.    She may have been hungry but this was about her child and not  about sharing skills or building capacity to assist the woman in her livelihoods pursuit.  This was about pure charity, about being kind towards others, but was it really helpful?    

I know that from  being a VSO volunteer at Community Self-Reliance Centre (CSRC) and working with people such as Jagats Basnet and Deuja and Som Prasad Bhandari,  and through conducting TV interviews with NGO Directors, such as Radha Paudel of AWON and Ben Ayers of the dZi Foundation, that the common thread is that these organisations, including VSO,  pride themselves in listening to community members and what they want/need.  This type of “development” work is about  active listening at the “ground level”, not making any presuppositions regarding somebody else or throwing money at a situation. 

Partnerships must be part of the equation for real development  to occur.  This should include civil society in collaboration with those who have financial resources and expertise, i.e.  the  private sector e.g. the CG-Yunnus Centre Social Business Fund and government, e.g.  Nepal Government National Land Use Programme,  US AID Global Development Alliance as well as, numerous other country bi-lateral programmes.  Partnerships  can help those who don’t have access to the mainstream to become part, should people so desire. 

Becoming part of the mainstream to me means an increase in access to and use of technology.  However, I’ve witnessed a huge digital, information and life opportunities divide not only in Kathmandu, but even more markedly between urban and rural areas.  This was also the case during my three years living in New Delhi.    This divide maintains the status quo, keeping people in the cycle of poverty with fewer educational (especially for girls), health, energy and livelihood opportunities. Eventually this divide will be flattened as there are private sector markets waiting to be enhanced, but progress will be slow, as educating people about the benefits and how to use technology will take time. 

In development the operative phrase, something that we all need to be conscious of is what do others desire?  Civil society, governments and the private sector must therefore ask, and  then more importantly listen to the people who are impacted.  This could mean something as simple as  ensuring that a child’s nutritional needs are met at any given moment.  The place in which partnership comes into play has to do with ensuring that needs are met in the long term by providing opportunities for, e.g.  a family to become self-sufficient.  If this can occur,  true development focused on the ground will become a reality. 


Saturday, July 13, 2013


Pike Place Market in Seattle is considered the grandfather of public markets in the US having opened in 1907.   The Market was one of my stops on my recent visit to the States  as I enjoyed the smells, the sites, the colors offered by the variety of vendors.  One of the main attractions is the Pike Place Fish Market where one can literally see fish flying through the air.  When a customer orders a fish or crustacean,  an employee will throw the fish to the guys behind the counter.  This not only entertains the crowd that has gathered to witness the flying fish but also provides a sense of fun, bringing smiles to people’s faces.
What we witnessed was that a group of fishermen have taken what could be a very boring job and have developed, a corporate culture philosophy called FISH which is based on:

1)      Being there, i.e. being present with others.  When being with someone set aside distractions and give your full attention to that person;  2) Being serious about your work but don’t take yourself too seriously and play, be enthusiastic about whatever you are doing.  3) Making another’s day, be thoughtful, kind, give thanks and recognition to others, make others feel good; and  4) Choosing your attitude, we all have our own issues and challenges but every day, in every moment we can decide how we choose to be.

Given my affinity and love of markets, and along with the other employees, we incorporated this philosophy into my workplace when I was Director of an HIV/AIDS NGO called the Alliance for Living.  (I also introduced this to the National Trust in India).  Ensuring that we could provide our full attention to People Living with HIV/AIDS and their families and that we could still have fun, being kind and patient;  when walking in the door of the office being as positive as possible were all vital elements, if we were to perform our work effectively, with empathy and compassion. 

I was happy to be reminded of the FISH philosophy, especially choosing one’s attitude and I thought about this upon my return to Nepal.  I want to remain comfortable living in Nepal although I’m geographically far away from my birth family and friends who I’ve known for decades and the familiarity of the US.  This takes on new meaning as my parents age, my grown children get on with their lives and everyone, no matter where they are living become absorbed in what makes sense to them.  But, as a friend recently reminded me, it does come down to choosing one’s attitude, no matter what the circumstances might be.
It seems self-evident that as we choose to be positive it can help us to be present with others, to enjoy life, no matter how desperate our circumstances and  be considerate and understanding of others on a consistent basis.    It is an approach, although not easy as life can be difficult, that can only make things better for everyone.

On a much larger level implementing the FISH philosophy might ultimately mean creating more equitable societies, based on treating others with respect no matter what their life status, schooling or caste, color of their skin  or political beliefs and listening to other’s stories with empathy and compassion regarding their specific challenges.  Choosing our attitude to be positive might translate into being open to new ideas and ultimately alleviating poverty, disease and creating environments enabling a greater quality of life for more people. 

As individuals if we can live by a positive philosophy, providing space for all of the diversity in life, we can  come together to make great changes and cause our institutions to do the same.  All we have to do is FISH. 


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Further Perceptions

As I sat looking at the rain drenched runway and the line of airplanes waiting to take-off at LaGuardia Airport in New York City,   I had a moment of pure ecstasy.  It might have come from the music playing on my laptop, or maybe the fact that I just had a wonderful  three days visiting with my uncle and aunt and some cousins, or that I had spent a day with some really good friends or the fact that I was heading to visit some more friends in Boulder, Colorado, my parents and my children in Los Angeles, and others  in Seattle, all of whom  I really love and enjoy spending time with.  Maybe it was more general, just about visiting the US, where I was born and had spent most of my life, but also knowing that once my vacation ended, I would  be returning to my home in Nepal.  Whatever it was that I was feeling, it was a moment of bliss.

This is not to say that I usually feel miserable or unhappy.  I do my best to remain consistent in my feelings, paying attention to my “internal life”, trying not to let the external and others greatly impact me.  But I haven’t reached the status of or even come close to being someone exempt from the vagaries and challenges which life offers on a moment to moment  basis. 

What I’ve found during the past four years of living in India and Nepal  is that I’ve had a number of moments which stand out where I can honestly say to myself,  and feel,  true happiness.  It could be something as simple as walking from Thamel to Sanepa and photo graphing people and buildings in Kathmandu Durbar Square,  or sitting in Potter’s Square in Bhaktapur, lounging in Boudha and then walking to Kopan or visiting friend’s homes and their families in a village.  It might be about sitting with a diverse group of friends and thinking that, in this moment, this is the only place where I want to be, or seeing the smiles of children and adults participating in sports, seemingly not at all paying attention to the fact that they are playing in a wheelchair or are blind.  This might also come from traveling on a train throughout India in order to see the richness in cultural diversity, food and dress.  But the feeling might  also come from not limiting myself and  being on what I consider to be a “road less traveled” or being a “stranger in a strange land”, both of which fill me up to no end. 

I know that it is easier living in the United States. The infrastructure is well maintained, things are very orderly and familiar, there is less pollution, garbage is almost non-existent and people genuinely seemed concerned about the environment.  However, the US,  although rich in a “melting pot”  diversity, seems to lack the depth of culture, adventure, challenge, color, the unexpected and everything else that goes along with living and being part of a so-called “developing country”.   

Nepal and India are the opposite of the United States.  There is so much color, that at times it is blinding,  the cultural differences provide so much stimulation that sometimes all I want to do is close my eyes and dream,  the opportunities and challenges abound to the point where there is never a sense of  “been there, done that”.  The everyday way of shopping at open air markets and small family owned shops, where my communication skills might be limited, is so much more endearing than the large generic corporate stores, although there are more alternatives,  found to be dominant in the US. 

Of course both Nepal and India have infrastructure.  The Delhi metro  matches   similar transportation systems anywhere in the world.  Public transportation in both countries, very inexpensively, moves people, not in the most orderly fashion, but gets people to where they need to go.  The development of new infrastructure, of which there is a lot to be completed, presents incredible opportunities for developing more accessibility, leading to further inclusion, enabling a large number of people to become productive and fully participating members of society.

Unlike the US, which is somewhat formulaic, Nepal and India, although much older cultures, have the opportunity to continue reinventing themselves, to be something new, to change the perception as to how others view “developing countries”.   India with the world’s (second) largest population and  “democracy”, huge resources and ideas has become a major player on the world stage.  Nepal, on the other hand, is a small country, but due to its strategic location between two giants resulting in a major interest on the part of the US, has the capability to also be a world player. 

Both countries have large masses of people living in poverty presenting huge opportunities for government, civil society and corporates to develop creative solutions for bringing people into the mainstream.  There are major issues to overcome, such as caste, but when I think of the possibilities to come out on the other side, this creates a sense of unlimited excitement. 

During the past four years my appreciation for differences has grown, leading me to knowing that I can adapt in a variety of settings.  Given this, I’ve come to feel more comfortable living outside of the US with my perceptions of others forever changed.