One of the reasons that I was in Nepal over two weeks in November was to contribute to a peer review of our programme there. This process was led jointly by our country programme director of Pakistan, Arjumand Nizami, and our deputy programme director of Bangladesh, Shamim Ahamed. Peer reviews are a great idea for knowledge exchange, giving persons in similar functions the opportunity to bring their experience to a different context. Primarily, those involved contribute ideas from an “insider outside” perspective, but of course they also gain experiences that can enrich their own work.
A few of us based in Switzerland joined with key staff of the Nepal programme when Arjumand and Shamin presented their observations. One aspect they highlighted for particular praise was the systematic focus of activities on the economically poor and socially disadvantaged. As mentioned in a previous posting, this is a strength of our programme in Nepal – not only in how projects are conceived, but also how they are monitored and evaluated. The team is committed to continuing and deepening this focus.
Our peer reviewers also praised the diversity of pertinent and often innovative projects in the Nepal country programme. Indeed, there is a wide portfolio of projects – supporting vocational training, trail bridges, access to safe drinking water, opportunities to cultivate land more productively, psycho-social counselling, and advice on safer migration, to name a few. Nevertheless, the reviewers questioned our effectiveness in bringing the wide experiences of these projects to the attention of policy makers. Our programme in Nepal is large – some CHF 20 million per annum (which makes it our largest country programme in the world, by quite a margin). Having been present in the country for over 50 years, we are widely known and respected. Yet in the eyes of the reviewers, our activities often stop short of having any impact beyond the lives of those whom we touch immediately. Can we not contribute to a wider impact?
Here is a simple example. Under the Safe Migration Project, SaMi (a form of “sister project” to our one in Sri Lanka on the same topic), we provide advice to would-be migrants on how to migrate wisely. As in the case of Sri Lanka, migration is a major source of remittances to Nepal, contributing probably well over 20% of the country’s GDP. Over half a million Nepalese left home to work overseas in the last fiscal year – and that is according to official figures. Most of SaMi’s clients are men, because the Government of Nepal has banned the migration of all women as domestic workers. This law was introduced to protect women, after many reports of sexual violence and abuse in receiving countries. The intention is clearly good, but the result is that companies supplying domestic workers either falsify the job description as a factory cleaner – or send the women via India so that there is no official trace of their departure or destination. This renders them highly vulnerable. SaMi staff, and others working on migration issues, are well aware of these abuses, and have discussed the point with government officials when opportunities have arisen. However, no revision of the law has been made so far.
As in this example, projects often do pass information to individuals in the government – through documents, workshops and the like. Indeed, in some cases, we partner directly with government institutions. Yet often this in itself is not enough to catalyse policy change; more concerted engagement is needed. This has been particularly challenging in recent years, given the general stalling of government operations whilst awaiting the elaboration of a new constitution for the country. This has taken far, far longer than originally anticipated.
It is to be hoped that by the time we have a new country programme strategy in place, the much bigger challenge of Nepal’s constitutional reform will have been completed. Whether or not this is the case, in our new five year country programme, we need to be clear about how we can best support the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged citizens in having their voices and experiences heard in policy debates.