The Not for Profit Sector in Nepal still lacks a “manifesto” culture. This should change

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In a country like Nepal where political parties master the art of short term bargaining mostly expressed through an endless series of informal “point agreements” and where policy formulation is totally delegated to bureaucrats, it should not be surprising that the behavior and organizational culture of many actors of civil society merely reflect the same trends so common in the political spectrum.

In short members of civil society do lack a “manifesto culture” that expresses new ideas through a process of analysis, reflection and policy formulation. Consequently, looking at this scenario, you contextualize the minimal or almost nonexistent contributions offered by the few active think tanks.

While identification of the players within the framework of  civil society certainly is not straightforward, Nepal counts on a rich network of local associations, community based groups, NGOs, foundations, trusts, umbrella organizations that put together and constitute the national not for profit sector. How to forget the role of international not for profit organizations, though they must be considered outside the “box” of the national civil society, they are strictly linked and bound to it.

All these groups, despite having shown a high degree of maturity expressed in recent stages of the political transformation experienced by the country, still lack the capacity or  willingness to become seriously engaged in the policy making arena when we talk about development.

We need the not for profit sector coming up strongly with an innovative agenda for change. Unfortunately divisions abound: ideological, ethnicity, caste, a too rigid separation between national and international actors impede cross sector collaborations and innovative partnerships in the advocacy sector.

In addition most of the players have an uncompromising attitude that is certainly not conducive to lay the foundations for a new civic conversation around the major challenges faced by the Nation.

While it is natural for associations, umbrella groups alike to have different and often divergent opinions reflecting their histories and cultural/political affiliations, the not for profit sector should come together not only to define common priorities but also, most importantly, to propose new solutions and ideas that, if discussed and mainstreamed in national policies, have the potential to improve living conditions for millions of people.

Unfortunately not for profit players of all sizes and shapes are unable to shape any foresighted, long term vision for the social and economic development of the country.

A couple of examples: we all know that the Social Welfare Council, SWC is not in the best shape with tremendous room for improvement existing to increase its organizational effectiveness. We all know that only strong political will can improve its performances and working style. At the same time only a strong determination of the government with more allocation of resources won’t be enough.

Serious discussions should be held on “how” to change and reform the Council. The not for profit sector can prove its added value by tabling new propositions on different ways to enhance the SWC.

We need original ideas expressed by actors with a high degree of openness, readiness to listen to other perspectives and skills to forge compromised solutions that can cut a middle ground. These attitudes are key but, sadly, petty considerations or unwillingness to engage others prevails.

The same could be said for the National Planning Commission, NPC. After the announcement by the government of India to scrap the Indian equivalent of the NPC, there were timid voices in Nepal asking for a change in the way the NPC works. The government eager not to be left behind also announced an overhaul of the Commission but details were lacking. Yet there was neither a real discussion nor suggestions formulated on which changes should be made to make the NPC more effective. You could only find a few op-ed articles from the major dailies.

Two things are really paramount to revitalize the role of the not for profit sector in Nepal.

First we should discuss its role within the broader development process. Here we are not just talking of mere service providers or implementers. Not for profit organizations need to have the “intellectual” courage to come up with ideas and constructive criticism. Given the fact that Nepal boasts a quite high per capita number of PhDs holders, capacities and skills should not be a problem.

Second, remaining divided will not contribute to creating any good. not for profit organizations and the associations representing them will not come to agreement on everything. Divergence in positions and opinions are often healthy in a dialectical discussion but the problem is that they do not talk enough among themselves. Imagine the Association of International NGOs coming together with representatives from the NGO Federation and other similar umbrella organizations to share and reiterate their differences and search for a common minimum understanding on other issues.

Why should the different Dalit federations only be involved on issues pertaining to marginalization, discrimination and equality? Why should the National Federation of Disabled Nepal just have a role and proper recognition on issues related to disabilities? Arent’ persons living with disabilities and citizens from historically marginalized groups alike capable to express their voices also on other major development issues?

Coming together and talking to each other will be the first step towards a national development consensus. Policies formulation, preparation of working papers, real lobbying and advocacy will only come after when the not for profit sector will be able to effectively articulate its vision for the country. I call that the “manifesto era” of the not for profit sector.

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

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