Code for Nepal is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that promotes digital literacy and the use of open data among Nepalis, especially minorities, women, poor people and rural people with limited access to the internet and digital training. Director of operations and marketing at Code for Nepal, Roshan Ghimire talks about the many facets of work he has been involved with the organization and its journey of becoming a social enterprise.
1. What is the social problem that you are trying to solve or what social change do you see your product/service bringing in society?
One of the biggest challenges we saw in Nepal is the digital divide. Even though there are lots of ways through which people can connect digitally, most are still unaware of how technology can be leveraged to improve their own lives. Despite the increase in internet penetration, the divide can be seen evidently in rural areas. Most people there do not even know how to open an email account or sign up for Facebook. Thus, we are trying to tackle this social problem.
2. What are the different activities Code for Nepal is involved in to promote digital literacy?
We have nationwide projects. One such project is NepalMap.org, where you can find data for each and every district or city of Nepal. We have embedded all the data that has been made available by the government like the population of a certain area, the male to female ratio, the literacy rate, and so on. Our main motive is to make data easily available to students, teachers, researchers, journalists, economists, and anyone who needs them, which otherwise would have served little purpose, sitting idle in government offices.
Another project we are working on is asknepal.info where we connect any citizen of Nepal to the ministry or government bodies to put forward their questions through the internet for open data. For instance, people can ask questions like what the male to female ratio in Nepal Police force is and the like. Then, we work as a mediator to find out the answer by contacting and researching the Nepal Police Force. After that, we post the answer online. Furthermore, we recently started a project in Janakpur, called visitjanakpur.com, where we promote local tourism to boost the economy of Janakpur. It is basically a one-stop site where you can find everything about Janakpur from places to visit, food to eat, the presence of different cultures, etc. In Terai, every 3 people from 4 houses are living abroad. Therefore, tourism could generate a substantial number of jobs and income for the people still residing there. Currently, all our content is in English but we are
planning to translate them to Hindi, Nepali, and Maithili to widen the reach.
3. Tell me about your journey to starting your ventures. When did it start?
Co-Founders Mia and Ravi traveled to Nepal in January 2014 to better understand the landscape of Internet access and open data. Through meeting with tech companies, students, journalists, and women’s groups, we quickly realized that the digital divide in Nepal ran deep — women, poor people, rural people, and minorities had limited access to the Internet and digital training. After returning to the U.S., we launched Code for Nepal in February 2014. Accordingly, in 2015, Ravi and I worked on raising funds for Nepal post-earthquake through volunteer matching in Minnesota and Washington DC. This initiative- Nepal quake resource doc as we called it, was also featured on The New York Times for its innovativeness. After its success, I realized I wanted to do more for the betterment of Nepal so that’s when I started to work at Code For Nepal.
4. What is the legal status of your company?
We are registered in the United States as a non-profit organization. However, our model and mentality are that of a startup enterprise, so we bootstrap everything. Now, we are working to develop ourselves as social entrepreneurs with self-sustainability plans.
5. What stage is the company in right now?
We try to conduct 6 – 7 projects a year, which is one project every two months. So, currently, we are in the growth phase. We are continuously learning new things and trying to find new partners to work with. We see vast opportunities in Nepal in the area of digital literacy and open data. I believe we still have a lot to do.
6. What is your current staff strength and how many people did you start with?
The core team incorporates 8 to 10 members. Currently, we also have 6 interns and about 25 to 30 volunteers in Nepal. There are a few people in our chapter in Silicon Valley, California as well.
7. What challenges did you face while starting the company and what are the challenges you are facing right now?
I joined the company in around 2015 when Nepal was hit by the massive earthquake. We were all volunteers so one of the major challenges we faced was that of raising funds. It was difficult to ask people to work for us without paying them. Another challenge was meeting the interests of the interns and volunteers. Most of them started out with a lot of enthusiasm and efficiency. But as time passed, the eagerness declined due to lack of incentives as well as deep passion. Taking this into account, now we have started to test the passion of the volunteers before giving them too many responsibilities or opportunities.
8. What is your operating profit, scalability and market potential?
Code for Nepal could definitely become self-sufficient in the near future because we are looking for ways to become more sustainable. All of us have certain expertise and so we have been thinking of creating and delivering a training package as a private entity. Secondly, we are also planning to create a model to give out training scholarships to people and then placing them in organizations that are in need of a human resource, for which we will be charging a certain cut from the hire. Basically, we are trying to find ways through which we can operate without donations and funds.
9. What is your investment to date?
Since most of our activities are purely voluntary, there isn’t a lot of investment involved. We spend around $10,000 to $15,000 a year.
10. Who are your target customers?
Code for Nepal is for everyone looking for authentic data and digital tools. Since Nepal has become federalized, it is really important to have data and information to improve accountability and transparency in the country. At the same time, we believe in the decisions or the policymaking process that is driven by data rather than by general knowledge.
11. What are the key needs of your company? HR/ Legal/ Marketing/ Mentorship?
Our main need is human resources or volunteers to be precise. We want more youths to be involved in our work so that we can educate them about the necessity of digital literacy and open data. We also need to figure out a sustainable model for us to survive in the long run.
12. What is the future plan for your company?
We are currently working to provide 25 scholarships to women. We’re also going to host some events soon in order to make people aware of different places in Janakpur besides Janaki Mandir to promote visitjanakpur.com. Apart from this, we are also creating an online platform for literature in Nepali and other ethnic languages of Nepal. In addition to this, we are also trying to promote NepalMap with new sets of data in accordance with the Federalism.
13. Do you consider yourself a Social Entrepreneur?
We do consider ourselves social entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is not only about making money; it is also about finding a solution for existing problems in society. While there is no direct involvement of money, everything we have designed has social benefits.
14. Do you measure the impact of your product/service? If not, what are your thoughts about impact measurement?
We can see the energy of the people when we organize workshops. For our other projects, the only measure we have is the number of visits or likes we have on our website and social media posts accordingly. We don’t have a standard measurement tool in place.
For more information about this company, visit their website Code for Nepal or connect with them on Facebook here.
Interviewed and Article by Priyadarshani Shrestha.