Swisscontact, established in 1959 in Switzerland, is a leading partner organization for the implementation of international development projects. In Nepal, the organization started operating in 1991 and is currently implementing six development programs across all seven provinces of Nepal.
With twenty years of work experience in the development sector and an additional decade in the private sector, Sanjay Karki has been working as a Country Director for Swisscontact in Nepal. Nepal Live Today spoke with him on a range of topics related to vocational and technical education, economic development, and empowerment. Excerpts:
What is Swisscontact’s overall strategy in Nepal and how does it contribute to sustainable development in the country?
Swisscontact focuses on strengthening the competencies of people and improving their employability through upskilling and reskilling, initial vocational education and training, and labor market insertion in Nepal. We engage with private sector enterprises to increase their competitiveness to achieve impact and scale. Swisscontact in Nepal also supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem by working with startups and growing enterprises and entrepreneurs by supporting access to a plethora of business development services and financial needs by linking them to private service providers. We also work towards sustainable agriculture development through commercialization and agricultural market development.
Swisscontact Nepal implements projects in a pragmatic way to address complex development challenges, which are participatory, inclusive, and sensitively adapted to local conditions. It is key that we partner and engage with the private sector in all our initiatives for sustainable development. The approach helps in empowering local actors to develop capabilities and networks to overcome existing barriers. Addressing equal access for women and men, as well as disadvantaged groups, are critical aspects of any initiative we at Swisscontact Nepal take in all levels.
Could you explain recent key achievements from any one of your projects?
The Step Up project, in close collaboration with the local and provincial government, has supported the development of a Labour Market Information System (LMIS)- Shramsansar. Shramsansar is a holistic platform that not only provides intelligence on employment and entrepreneurial opportunities but also allows greater engagement and information exchange among the actors of the employment and entrepreneurial system. As of now, over 2,700 jobseekers have registered on the platform gaining access to a range of employment, training, and business development services offered by more than 50 service providers. The Ministry of Social Development of the Koshi Province will lead the implementation of the platform in close collaboration with the municipalities.
Shramsansar is available at https://shramsansar.koshi.gov.np and also through a mobile-based application. It has helped increase the access of the platform. Through Shramsansar, we expect a behavioral shift in the use of databases, digital technology, and information systems at both demand and supply sides which will help strengthen the employment ecosystem of the Koshi Province.
That sounds like a unique initiative. You mentioned having six programs currently being run by Swisscontact. Do any of these projects work in the TVET sector and are they in line with the policies and programs of the government of Nepal?
In fact, we provide technical assistance to three projects on behalf of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and two of these projects are currently working in the TVET sector. Nepal Vocational Qualification System Project (NVQS-P) Phase-II is driving transformative change in the country’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) landscape, aligning seamlessly with Swisscontact’s mission to harness private sector engagement or even partnership for system building in the TVET sector in Nepal.
The project has undertaken comprehensive groundwork, instigating systemic changes essential for the successful implementation of the NVQS. It is equipping Nepali youth, including discriminated groups and women, with skills and certifications to bolster employability. The project’s relentless efforts in skills standards revision, accreditation of assessment centers, and robust awareness campaigns have contributed to the certification of thousands and a clearer pathway to gainful employment. The approved qualification framework gives the possibility of higher-level mobility to young people, thus making TVET stream aspirational.
Keeping the youths in mind, the Quality Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) for Youth project is a bilateral project between the Government of Nepal and Switzerland. It aims to support systemic changes in the TVET sector through accreditation of TVET schools, TVET instructors licensing, and the development of a national curriculum framework. It is expected that this will enable TVET schools to increase the quality of programs they offer, ultimately increasing the enrollment and retention of the youth thus providing better employment opportunities and higher income. Though the project began in September 2022, we have already been able to set up the project in all seven provinces, selection and workshops are ongoing with 279 schools across Nepal to help them move forward with accreditation, and various committees at the federal level are working on finalizing the policy documents needed for different components.
You also run a project called the Nepal Agricultural Market Development Programme (NAMDP)– Sahaj. Could you shed more light on the work being done by this project?
Sahaj, funded by SDC, works with both the public and private sectors to commercialize agriculture in Koshi province. The program supports service providers and Agri-SMEs in priority sectors (i.e. vegetables, maize, cardamom, and dairy) to develop better quality products and services, increasing Nepal’s consumption of domestic produce.
For instance, in the maize sector, we have collaborated with four machine rental providers to address quality and quantity challenges through mechanized post-harvest solutions. This initiative directly addresses the problem of labor shortages due to increased migration. Furthermore, this project offers training programs to maintain and repair agri-machinery, reducing dependence on technicians outside of Nepal.
Sahaj recently collaborated with the local engineering campus in Dharan to design sorting and grading machines for fruits and vegetables, with winning designs to be produced by local fabricators. In the large cardamom sector, our partnership with local fabricators created a smokeless dryer, enhancing quality and income. Additionally, the project also supports local municipalities in producing traditional Nepali foods like Gundruk and Sinki with machines meeting quality standards.
That sounds interesting. Do any of your projects work in the area of climate change as well?
We do. In fact, the Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA) program is promoting sustainable agriculture by forging strong partnerships with the private sector to unlock constructive ways to deal with climate change challenges as well as promote solutions for the efficient use of resources. At the farm level, the project encourages partnered Agri-SMEs to build a climate-resilient supply chain by designing activities that promote Good Agriculture/ Manufacturing Practices, Post-harvest Management and Integrated Pest Management that improve water and irrigation management and soil conservation techniques, while also improving productivity. CASA also promotes the use of organic fertilizers and climate-smart technologies such as drip irrigation, mulching, and tunneling that have improved the farmers’ adaptation to climate change and increased yield while simultaneously curbing GHG emissions through reduced food wastage. At the firm level, CASA has supported the development and incorporated environment, social, and governance policies to create new green growth models for our partnered agri-businesses, which ensures reduction of costs and increased productivity, resource efficiency and sustainability, access to new markets, and eligibility for green financing. The project has executed energy audits and increased the uptake of digitization to conserve power and increased the uptake of energy-efficient equipment and renewable energy.
With the ecosystem undergoing rapid transformations, the significance of climate change initiatives has notably amplified. Moving forward, could you enlighten us about the Senior Expert Contact (SEC) project? Apparently, this is one of the longest running projects.
The SEC project is ‘Promoting Entrepreneurship through Expertise’ where SEC experts have been providing direct and uncomplicated support, since 1994, to SMEs in the private sector who aim to grow with specialist knowledge where it is needed. We have provided our SEC Services to over 750 SMEs and institutions in 5 provinces, with 40 SEC assignments conducted on average every year in Nepal. SEC expert assignments are conducted to SMEs in the areas of Skills Development, Education, Food, Hospitality, Tourism, Agriculture, Construction, Hydropower, Health, Pharmaceuticals, Textiles, IT, and Management among others.
Through our SEC services, the private sector eco-system is strengthened by generating value for business development services and technical assistance services. The SEC IMPACT Evaluation conducted in 2018 for 5 years (2013-2017) shows 93 percent growth in SEC clients–40 percent of them rating the contribution of SEC Expert advice as crucial for their growth. This study of 205 SEC assignments shows that SEC experts have contributed to the creation of 4700 jobs and an increase in turnover of USD30 million in 138 institutions. Behavioral change in staff and management is the primary outcome of the contribution.
What approaches are taken by the organization to ensure that the impacts of all these initiatives are channeled to the most disadvantaged groups?
Swisscontact designs projects in a way that enable equal participation of men, women, disadvantaged groups in project activities, and project benefits are distributed equally to men, women, and the disadvantaged groups. In addition, we analyze and integrate, as part of our adaptive project management, the way “how” specific groups participate and what the impact of the project on the relation between men and women is. To create gender-positive and transformative outcomes and impacts, projects must consider affirmative actions regarding access to resources, opportunities, and rights that are aligned with our project goals and activities. In a context like Nepal, Gender and Social Inclusion (GESI) is key to sustainable and inclusive development. We ensure that GESI is mainstreamed in all our initiatives in Nepal.
To ensure that the impacts of all our initiatives in Nepal are channeled to the most disadvantaged groups, sex-disaggregated data are analyzed to monitor projects and to measure outcomes and impacts regarding gender equality. We collect sex-disaggregated data in all our projects for all indicators on all levels and aim at further disaggregation based on social status. In addition, we measure change with quantitative and qualitative indicators defined by each project. Based on reporting regarding gender and social exclusion, we continuously adapt our project interventions and document our experiences.