Civic Engagement, a priority for all

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Volunteerism in Nepal as well as in many other nations remains a top priority only when a calamity strikes and an emergency erupts.

All over the world, regardless the development status of the country hit by a natural disaster, be it a developed and wealthy nation, an emerging middle power or a country transitioning from internal conflicts, volunteers are always making the difference but rarely valued.

It is high time that Nepal also got organized and formally recognizes the essential contributions that local volunteers have been doing to bring Nepal to the next level of social and economic prosperity.

We need to build on the existing initiatives stemming from the rich social fabric that proudly boosts local citizens active to bring positive changes to their communities while recognizing that are still so many citizens not playing yet an active role.

These efforts happening locally must be formally acknowledged and recognized as these formal but also more often informal actions can truly make the difference in the way local governance is managed in the newly established federal system.

Imagine a line of local funding specifically created to support these micro initiatives aimed at improving local infrastructures for example a new road or a community hall.

It is true that in the past local communities have been already active with micro grants provided by the then Village Development Committees but imagine an entirely new set of funding with clear and transparent guidelines are put together with an easy and practical reporting system that ensures accountability.

While established not for profits can be part of this new local development equation, the attention should go on the potentially big but so far untapped contributions that private citizens can offer if they act together.

We should indeed acknowledge and encourage that citizens are always in a better position to respond to the needs arising from the bottom level.

Citizens should be truly regarded as the engines of local government, champions of active engagement that can make the difference on the ways decision making is made and how the money are spent locally.

The upcoming federal government should encourage a nationwide conversation on how the newly elected governments at all levels of the system can engage and involve common people in the local governance process.

The recently held regional conference of the International Association of Volunteering Efforts, IAVE, organized in November in Kuala Lumpur, showcased the best practices from Asia Pacific on how volunteers are making the difference day by day.

It was extremely interesting to learn how an old concept like time banking that was never considered as “mainstream” has been rebranded as skills sharing thanks to the advancement of new technologies.

New technologies indeed can make a huge contribution on involving more citizens in solving local problems though traditional ways of helping others should always be given the due importance and recognition.

In Kuala Lumpur hundreds of people, all volunteerism “fanatics” gathered to share their best practices and promote new ideas on boosting the image of volunteerism.

One of the challenges is definitely on how we can involve and engage those who never decided to get in the “game” and contribute.

We must absolutely go beyond those persons who are already active and try to bring on board the citizens that are not aware yet of their potential contributions in terms of community development.

Just imagine establishing locally, perhaps at neighbors level, community engagement forums, a gathering where people from different walks of lives are brought together to discuss and think about their communities.

Think if each participants of such forum, a well diverse group of people, would make a pledge to do their part to improve the society.

We are not thinking of big acts or big gestures: we need to think beyond the stereotype that big changes happen only when money is at disposal.

If you were a business person attending this gathering, people might expect a donation from your side, a fat check that can possibly also offers you some visibility and recognition within the community.

To me this represents “business” as usual, an old approach that should instead give room to a different kind of commitments, all based on a belief or a personal passion and special dedication towards a cause.

The idea is that everybody can contribute equally and not necessarily through money.

Wealthy or poor alike, you as citizen attending such special gathering, could, free of coercion, pause and reflect and think about one or two, maximum three personal priorities where you know you can mark a difference.

You could put together such list of things you feel strongly about and think on what you can do about them: can you dedicate some time on one of these issues and engage other peers to find a solution? Can you bring together a circle of friends or neighbors and think together about doing something on that particular problem?

We are talking here about a sort of Community Engagement Personal Commitments Plan where you decide on what you can do or at least try to do as a simple, plain citizen, as a member of your community.

Professionally run organizations or local governments units must help these citizens achieve their plan.

Active citizenship, if fully embraced at the bottom and promoted also from the top, can truly transform Nepal, one small step after another.

That’s why we need a national conversation able to convince citizens, no matter their levels of income or ethnicity, creed that the new Nepal needs each of them.

Transformations at community and society level can happen if engaged and caring citizens acknowledge their responsibilities and unleash their potential and commitment.


Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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