My Path to Daayitwa Fellowship

n-a Urja Thapa , 12th August,2020

Many a time, you are not always certain of what you want to do in life. You just go with the flow and accept whatever life has to bring, without actually making deliberate efforts to push your life towards a certain direction. Although I wouldn’t call this a literal ‘Mantra’, retrospectively thinking, I feel like things happened to me and I complied, rather than me making active choices to push my bandwagon. When you are little and people ask you, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always had this ready-made answer, swaying from “Doctor!” to “Chartered Accountant”. These felt like the most standard accepted protocol to “what do you want to be” question. 

However, during high school, I ended up taking management/business classes. Why? Maybe because they were considered easier than their science counterparts. Or maybe because I wanted to be this big corporate lady, making concrete business decisions. However, the need to be influential and strong can be felt through my aspirations, no matter how vague. Further, I had seen my father, a retired civil servant, work in the public sector and had received some level of exposure to the tremendous opportunities and fulfillment of public service through policies and decision making. So, maybe looking at a bigger picture from a long term perspective, I was inclined towards public service through international and national platforms. 

However, one particular exposure in high school helped me make my aim a little more concrete. A ten days exposure visit to Belbhanjyang, a rural Nepalese village, gave me my first revelation of economic disparity prevalent in Nepal. One of our tasks was conducting household surveys to understand the socio-economic conditions there. During the survey, apart from the evident statuses throughout major households such as migration of the bread earners as unskilled laborers for foreign employment and labor-intensive agriculture for basic sustenance, there was this one family whose living conditions struck me the most. I believe this family conclusively represented the bottom line in the income inequality spectrum. It consisted of an elderly woman (above 80 years of age) and a young grandson with a mental disability. Her husband, who worked on the farm, had recently passed away and her son along with his family had migrated to the city for employment in search of a better living standard, while she was left behind to sustain the benevolence of the neighbors for her daily livelihood.

This case highlighted some of the ways such economic issues could have been prevented. What if the son had started a business locally so that he didn’t have to migrate to a city? What if the family did not have to rely on a single bread earner? What if this woman, during her prime, had saved up for her old-age? In a broader sense, how important was financial literacy to fight poverty and overcome social challenges? What were the lags in policies that led to such a lopsided development in an already lagging economy? The above experience also made me ponder on my roles in society. Is it justified that I receive education from the same society and not make a contribution to uplift it? What are my roles as a young, empowered youth and a woman, to actively engage with the community?

This introspection led to a penchant for subjects such as economics and finance. In particular, I was interested in the interplay between the two subjects and the role of financial policies and institutes to stimulate economic drivers and lead to economic growth. In pursuant, I studied a B.COM (H) degree from India where I took Financial Markets, Institutes, and Financial Services as a major course. This course highlighted the importance of an efficient and robust financial system for economic growth, including strong money and capital market systems, roles of commercial banks, micro-financial institutions, mutual funds in an economy, and so forth. 

After returning to Nepal, I pursued an MBA with a specialization in Finance and simultaneously worked full-time in a financial institute. Although having been placed in the Human Resources Department (HRD), I was initially responsible for processing employee loans, including home loans, vehicle loans, contingency loans, and salary advance. These loans were granted in substantially low-interest rates and repayments option were available through EMI. Since priority was given to lower-level employees with limited financial resources, the credit gave them the means to secure their livelihood, allow their children and dependents to study at competitive schools, and improve their standard of living altogether.

However, although being engaged in a financial institute, that need to create a larger impact and exercise policy-making roles still existed. My current role wasn’t fulfilling this need as much. I started questioning if this is what I wanted to do in the long term. On a tired and drained evening after returning from work, I started looking up volunteerism and anything closely related to developmental activities. This is how I stumbled upon the Daayitwa Public Policy Fellowship. I went through the activities of the organization and found myself looking up people who worked and were engaged here. After going through some of the stories, I decided that is the aptest platform to venture and explore my need for developmental affairs. Although I was a bit skeptical if I was what the organization was looking for, for the fellowship, nevertheless I was thrilled to have been selected because this provided me a concrete platform at least for the next three months to pursue and be part of the policymaking process, simultaneously reflecting and trying to understand if I would be happy to further push myself down the public affairs road. 

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