The past can be a wonderful source of insight, but the present is a place to draw inspiration for the future. As I look at the poverty and instability history has bestowed upon Nepal, I feel a profound sense of responsibility to never let the future generation go through the same.
When I returned to my country after my post graduate degree in Economics, I founded a non-profit organization Aarthyachyam which would bring women into economic decision-making through financial literacy, philanthropic consulting and also research possible ways of poverty alleviation. I was greatly influenced by the works of Anthony Atkinson, Esther Duffalo and other economists working actively in fields of economic inequality, class division and poverty alleviation. After my degree, I learnt about the quantification of problems, models that can predict results and also how I can contribute to the fields of research that would help the policy makers into developing adequate tools and policies to alleviate poverty, especially in a third world country like Nepal.
Nepal is grappling with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic is taking the lives and wellbeing of its inhabitants, and if the person is poor, socially inconsequential, and powerless, they are affected even more with a lack of public health system crippling the families with debt and poverty. The financial literacy in a country is indicative of its economic strength. Disseminating public plans and budgets with accountability becomes difficult with less than 45 percent of the population not even owning a bank account.
The entrepreneurship field is largely skewed towards the urban and privileged sections of the society further deepening the income inequality line. Financial literacy is prioritised and mandated by Nepal Rastra Bank. It has been proven that financial knowledge enables citizens to make informed financial decisions, protect them from fraudulent and predatory markets and people as well as make the citizens more equipped to challenge the existing financial corruption.
Right on the edge of registration and collecting donations and human resource, we were struck by the second wave of Covid-19, and I am helpless to carry out what I have envisioned. When I see people in and out of hospitals, their friends and family sick, their loved one dead, covered in PPE, escorted by officers unable to say goodbye and I find myself questioning if I truly know what helplessness really is. I want to help students and young adults through financial literacy but who will bridge the educational gap of the students with no access to internet or technology. I want to help working women by educating and consulting investment options and financial education, but can I help the women who are molested and abused, expected to take on full responsibility of domestic chores, new mothers and impossible work conditions, given they can even work. I want to help household women and rural women through entrepreneurship, but will I be able to give them the assurance that the government will look after their basic rights if they fail. Is my contribution of any value compared to the medical officers working day and night to let people live?
The entrepreneurship field is largely skewed towards the urban and privileged sections of the society further deepening the income inequality line.
When I find these immutable questions in my mind, I see my father gardening as he spots an earthworm and carefully lets them move freely in our tiny kitchen garden. He says the earthworm is tiny and may seem insignificant right now but with its contribution, the soil becomes more fertile, and the vegetables will flourish. The contribution of an earthworm to my nutrition is what awakens me to how the view, size or type of impact isn’t important, the only thing important is the contribution. Financial Literacy is at the heart of every financial decision. Empowering people to make their own decisions, complete understanding of the country’s role and empowering rural and underprivileged women towards financial independence will sow the seeds of economic empowerment. My contribution is based solely on the intention of goodness, sense of responsibility I feel towards the privilege I got to actually help other people and have an aim larger than myself.
I may feel unable to action at this very moment, but I know my work will permeate in the books of the future, my work will touch the lives of people and one day I can contribute to the wellbeing that I have intended to. If I am able to empower people economically, one day no family will have to choose between treating the sick members of the family and feeding the healthy ones.
Ashama Dhungan is the Founder and Chairperson of Aarthachyam, Nepal, and an Economic Research Associate for Kedia Group of Companies.