Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are behind many social and community movements that people have witnessed over the years. While NGOs in Nepal receive credit for their contributions, they are also subject to much criticism. There are some 15,000 active NGOs in Nepal.
The Nepal NGO Federation claims to be the umbrella organization of these NGOs operating in Nepal, which supports different forms and scales of NGOs, as well as international NGOs operating in Nepal. Arjun Bhattarai, Secretary General of the Nepal Federation of NGOs, says his organization also lobbies and advocates for the rights and safety of NGOs in Nepal.
Bhattarai, who has been involved in the NGO movement in Nepal for more than two decades, took up the federation in 2022. A social work graduate from Norway, Bhattarai spoke to Onlinekhabar about NGOs operating in Nepal and their plans, on the occasion of World NGO Day.
How do you see the work of NGOs in Nepal? Where is the focus?
There are many active NGOs throughout the country. Many NGOs are working as social enterprises, while a whole section of NGOs in Nepal are working in the health, environment and education sectors, on behalf of children and women. Other sectors include access for people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA+ community, human rights, environmental rights, climate justice, and capacity building projects, among others.
The federation has around 6,000 registered organizations under its umbrella, including those working in social enterprises, aama samuha (women’s group), children’s clubs, youth clubs, and other businesses large or small. In addition, around 150 international NGOs are networking with us. They are all part of our social enterprise movement.
What is this social enterprise movement, or the NGO movement in Nepal, about?
The main goal is to promote and convince others that there should be more social enterprises and promote local products, create more job opportunities for young people who are now likely to travel abroad as migrant workers, as well as make the system more organized. under an umbrella
Through this, we also hope that the objectives, action plans and goals that the government has set itself and is obliged to follow, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), are met.
From the federation, we are also pushing donor organizations to shift their focus from awareness campaigns to more job-generating programmes, improving people’s daily lives and improving service delivery and increasing access for ordinary people. We are encouraging more investment in social enterprises and digital governance. We also hope to encourage you to view NGOs in Nepal as collaborative partners, in any or all partnership-oriented programs and initiatives.
How do NGOs in Nepal celebrate World NGO Day? What are your focus issues for the Federation this year?
On the occasion of the day, the federation has organized and will organize the colloquium and other acts. Our main focus is to make the country NGO friendly by easing the complexities related to running and regulating organizations. It is the day we reiterate that NGOs in Nepal must be accountable and transparent and work at the grassroots level.
But the focus this year will be more on the implementation of the Constitution of 2015 and make service delivery more seamless and secure fundamental human rights. The job of NGOs is to strengthen all three levels of government, so we’re looking into that.
What are the basic misconceptions people have about NGOs in Nepal?
In the most basic sense, NGOs are operating in all sectors, including children’s, women’s or youth clubs, local clubs and/or guthis in all nooks and crannies, contributing to the nation. Therefore, people need to broaden their understanding and the difference between NGOs and INGOs, donor organizations and bilateral or multilateral ones.
One of the major misconceptions that is prevalent is that NGOs in Nepal are all “dollar khetis” (growing dollars or a place where there is more money). But that is wrong since it originates from a limited understanding. NGOs in Nepal have been very practical with their approach by contributing Rs 7.2 billion in cash for the response to the Covid pandemic and Rs 5.2 billion in cash for the 2015 earthquake response.
First of all, it is not that NGOs get funding as soon as they open. And second, if they get the funds, that’s a good thing for the country, since they’re going to put that money into the welfare of the citizens here. NGOs get only 4 to 5 percent of international funding from donors, but the funds are also not lent, so it further relieves the organization and the nation.
Apart from such charges, what are the other challenges facing NGOs in Nepal?
There are many complexities in registration, renewal and settlement of funds for active NGOs, which we are trying to alleviate. One thing to mention here is that CIVICUS, a global alliance of NGOs, has recruited Nepal as ‘blocked’ which, if it continues, will make it difficult for Nepal to get financing and we will have to get loans to cross pushing. Nepal to the brink similar to Sri Lanka. The bureaucratic problems in Nepal only repel the donor organization, so our goal is to keep the funds here.
Third, if organizations get funding, they have to go through different channels to get approval from all levels of government and the Social Welfare Council, adding to the complexities. NGOs must clarify their source and spending with proper audits at every step, while the federation is also careful to take action against anyone who violates the regulations.
However, NGOs in Nepal have a bad reputation, although private organizations are faring much worse by the same measures.
What are your plans to make sure your plans turn into action?
The country entered federalism, but due to the lack of updates, the provincial governments have not been able to authenticate or implement the project they have done at their level.
Three laws guide NGOs in Nepal in general: the Association Registration Law (1977), National Guidance Law (1961) and Social Welfare Law (1992). Although NGOs in Nepal have contributed a lot to national development, these acts have not been able to catch up. So, we plan to intervene there and move forward.
The federation is involved in advocacy and policy formulation, as well as intervention. We have studied and monitored more than 150 laws, from which we can conclude that civil rights have been damaged and reduced without due consultation with the interested parties.
More young people are getting involved in social enterprises and have brilliant ideas, but the government has not given them a conducive environment to grow or contribute to the country and they are forced to go abroad. For this, we are also pushing for the government to introduce social entrepreneurship as a subject at school levels and include more skills-based or vocational programs in the curriculum. If the government can’t guarantee that, they should shut down all their activities here and at least teach students a foreign language based curriculum so that they at least become a competent workforce when they go abroad.
We are also looking at the implementation of the law and coordination among NGO stakeholders in Nepal. But the unstable and ever-changing government and ministers have been a nuisance, holding back any progress we have made on the amendments.