Advancing Digital Literacy and Open Data in Nepal

Portrait of a GroundBreaker: Ravi Kumar

Ravi Kumar is a Founder of Code for Nepal, a nonprofit working to increase digital literacy and the use of open data in Nepal. Ravi is a member of the Asia Society’s Class of 2018 Young Leaders and in 2017 was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list of social entrepreneurs in Asia. On this week’s feature of GroundBreakers’ Portraits of a GroundBreaker Series, our discussion with Ravi ranged from the importance of digital inclusion for women to the necessity of inclusive data for policymaking.

What motivated you to start Code for Nepal?

There is digital inequality in Nepal and lack of access to data in general. We wanted to create an organization to increase digital literacy and expand access to data for women and men and increase the use of this data. Today, we are also using civic technology to create products that will help people have access to useful information and more opportunities.

We know that what doesn’t get measured is not valuable. It’s very important to have inclusive data to inform good policymaking because policymakers might not know the challenges of their communities if they don’t have the data. Inclusive development depends on inclusive data but data by itself is not enough. There must be political support for inclusive development so that opportunities are created where everyone can contribute to the country. A high level of political leadership is needed for this to happen.

We mainly analyze the data published by official sources including the Nepali government and development partners. Not everyone is a data scientist or economist so not everyone can look at the published data and make sense of it. We built a website, nepalmap.org, that presents accessible data sets about Nepal in a understable and shareable way. This data helps to increase understanding of the various needs of communities and where the gaps are. Using data in this way helps researchers, policymakers, and entrepreneurs.

“With access to technology, the progress a person is able to make in life accelerates. We have seen that women don’t have access to opportunities largely because of culture and social norms. Oftentimes sons are invested in more than daughters. Increasing digital literacy is very empowering, especially for women in Nepal.”

What advice would you give to young people who want to become social entrepreneurs?

You have to be resourceful and figure out how to find a new way to attack old challenges. You have to be relentless about your work and the impact you want to achieve. It’s important to look at the problems in our society and see what could be made better. For those of us who are privileged, we don’t always hear the viewpoints of those who are struggling in society. We have to get out of our comfort zone and look at societal problems and see what we are able to do to address them.

It is important to make a strong business case to convince both yourself and others of your idea. Building a trustworthy and committed team as well as a network of advisors is also very important.

How is increasing digital literacy especially empowering for women?

With access to technology, the progress a person is able to make in life accelerates. We have seen that women don’t have access to opportunities largely because of culture and social norms. Oftentimes sons are invested in more than daughters. My mother is illiterate because she never had access to education and I’ve seen her struggle. This experience influences my work. Increasing digital literacy is very empowering especially for women in Nepal as women can often bypass these cultural barriers with the help of technology.

How did you use data to identify needs during and after the 2015 earthquakes?

The earthquake in 2015 was a tragic event for millions of people. I was based in Washington, D.C. at the time and as we saw what was happening, we realized that the information we were seeing online was largely coming from Kathmandu and the initial relief that was being provided was mainly in Kathmandu. The epicenter of the earthquake was far from the capital and more devastation had occurred outside of the capital area.

I am passionate about providing inclusive services and so that’s what we did. We created and shared a Google document to curate and disseminate information about resources like food and medicine in Kathmandu as well as outside of the capital. The second thing we did was to translate the government’s data that was written in Nepali about the destruction that had occured and created a map of the country to show casualties and damage in various districts. This was done with the intention that NGOs and International Organizations would find the information useful as they worked hard to find the best way to help people in need.

“We know that what doesn’t get measured is not valuable. It’s very important to have inclusive data to inform good policymaking because policymakers might not know the challenges of their communities if they don’t have the data. Inclusive development depends on inclusive data but data by itself is not enough. There must be political support for inclusive development so that opportunities are created where everyone can contribute to the country. A high level of political leadership is needed for this to happen.”

Who are some of the people who inspire you in your work? Some of your mentors?

A lot of people have helped me to be where I am today. I grew up far from the capital in Nepal. We didn’t have TV or radio. I was the first one to go to college in my family and didn’t know much about the world when I came to the U.S. A lot of people helped me, and when I wanted to help them in return they told me to pay it forward. In particular, Bruce Ellingson, my professor and advisor in college had a huge influence on me.

Focus Areas

  • Advancing Gender Equity
  • Agriculture
  • Environmental Impact
  • Expanding Opportunities for Youth
  • Holistic Education
  • Increasing Capacities in the Informal Economy
  • Livelihood Strategies and Employment Generation
  • Maternal Health
  • Modern Slavery
  • Public-Private-People Partnerships
  • Refugee Rights
  • Technology and Social Impact
  • Transportation as Upward Mobility
  • Waste Collection
  • Geography

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