Purnima Shakya Bajracharya, Head of Exploration, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Nepal

By Yun Xuan Poon

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role.

The work I do as an explorer starts off with analysing the current trends and signals on the development challenges. I use different tools to collect and analyse different sources of data. Among the many, I prefer using KoboToolbox to collect primary data, use Microsoft Power BI for data analysis and GIS mapping for data visualisation. So far, I have been promoting these digital tools to conduct different studies from initial assessment of open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to analysing the local needs of pocket parks through Behavioural Insights Study and horizon scanning on the current scenario of waste management in the urban areas of Nepal. All of these assessments involved interactions and interviews from the local community and representatives of the local governments. These documents have been utilised as a primary source of information by the local governments on developing evidence-based planning.

Accelerator Lab in Nepal has also been exploring different technology driven solutions to minimise the impact of Covid. We introduced semi-automated SISTER Robot in partnership with Robotics Association of Nepal in mid-2020 to support on delivering food and medicines to Covid patients and help maintain physical distance between the frontline health service providers and the patients.

We also tested two digital platforms called SipShala.com and KrishiCoopBazaar.com in 2021 to promote youth employment and livelihoods of farmers respectively. We partnered with Cell App Innovation Private Limited to develop SipShala.com for Biratnagar Metropolitan City, Birendranagar Sub-Metropolitan City and Waling Municipality. The objective of this digital platform is to match job seekers with opportunity providers through AI generated algorithms. This platform also helps the municipalities to visualize skill mapping and support on preparing relevant entrepreneurship programmes at the local level.

Accelerator Lab in Nepal together with Cooperative Market Development Programme and Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation (MOLCPA), partnered with Bidhee Private Limited to materialise our concept on KrishiCoopBazaar.com, which is a digital marketing platform for the farmers’ cooperative markets. The concept of this platform is to bring farmers’ cooperatives in the digital spectrum and connect them directly with the consumers so that they can increase their market outreach; and at the same time consumers can receive fresh agro-products at a reasonable price.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

The complex problem associated with non-recyclable plastic waste is huge in Nepal. So, I have been exploring different potential options that could help generate alternative resource and divert the amount of multi-layer packaging waste from landfill sites since early 2021. I was able to explore and test the possibilities of turning non-recyclable plastic waste into bricks for non-load bearing structures; and refuse derived fuel for cement and clay-craft factories. However, the process of horizon scanning, designing the concept, developing prototypes and conducting series of technical laboratory tests would not have been possible without the joint collaboration and partnership with local governments like Pokhara Metropolitan City Office, private sectors like Green Roads Waste Management Private Limited and Avni Ventures and Civil Society Organisations like the Centre for Energy and Environment Nepal.

Observing the locally made hydraulic compressor to convert waste into fuel (left) and observing the use of Refused Derived Fuel in Thimi Clay Craft Factory (right). Photo Credit: Santosh Das Shrestha, UNDP Nepal.

In order to have a larger impact from these options and scale them up at the local level, we have conducted a series of learning and sharing sessions with local governments like Waling, Tilottama, Bhimdatta and Birendranagar municipalities. Though the interventions are still in a nurturing stage, there are three-fold impacts that they can generate in the future.

The first being the mobilisation of young Nepali research students involved in science and technology to engage and mobilize their local talents on solving local issues. Second is the potential of generating waste enterprises, creating a green economy and promoting the livelihoods of waste-workers. Third and the most important one being the contribution towards reducing the waste burden from the environment.

Interacting with waste entrepreneurs involved in the waste facility centers of Kathmandu Metropolitan City.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

While I was occupied on exploring multiple ideas on managing plastic waste, I was simultaneously testing different viable options. Since the pace of testing these interventions was not at the same speed, and I was visualising the initial changes and the future potential benefits at the same time, the whole process was messier and interlinked with socio-economic, technical, institutional and environmental aspects. During this time, I was fortunate to get the support from UNDP Accelerator Lab Global Team who introduced different tools on monitoring and evaluating such complex programmes.

As a result, I got the opportunity to learn Portfolio Sensemaking Framework in 2021. With the guidance from Soren Vester Haldrup, I was able to understand four different ways to measure portfolio progress. This learning was very useful for me to get a sense on the progress that we were doing in the field of plastic waste management by reviewing transformative characteristics and evaluating the depth and breadth of our interventions on bringing systemic changes at smaller and larger scale within the organisation and beyond.

What’s your favorite memory from the past year?

My favorite memory from the past year was the interactions I was able to have with the focal persons from the urban municipalities and the opportunity to collaborate with multiple unusual partners to explore and tap new ideas and concepts on waste to recovery.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

I was able to test Inclusive Imaginaries, one of the Foresight tools, after receiving Training of Trainers from the UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia Pacific in November 2021. I found this tool very insightful on engaging local people, especially youths and upcoming waste enterprises, on generating and planning for a hopeful future for themselves and their entire community.

Facilitating session on Inclusive Imaginaries for youths. Photo Credit: Deepesh Raj Shrestha, CEEN

I am excited to explore this tool further in 2022 with diverse groups from different sectors so that our policies and planning can be more inclusive, realistic and people-centric with better understanding on the need of preserving traditional culture, indigenous values and environment.

What are your priorities for 2022?

The year 2021 was super occupied with three interventions on plastic waste management and the exploration on creating digital platforms. Since I spread myself in many directions in 2021, I want to focus and prioritise 2022 to explore potential partnerships on scaling up and scaling deep those interventions that have been successfully tested at the local level.

I also want to continue and promote joint collaborations so that our efforts are multiplied and can create a ripple effect to unravel the complex development challenges.

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

For me, my mother is my real HERO who is the source of my strength, who teaches me the values of patience, perseverance, and empathy. I also feel very fortunate to have mentors like Professor Dr. Paul Phillips from the University of Northampton, who guided me to pursue my dreams throughout my academic journey in the past.

I also feel inspired by the work of Female Community Health Volunteers in Nepal who are the frontline health advocates in community-based health programmes. Their enthusiasm and contribution in strengthening the health service system in rural Nepal, regardless of local hardships and geographical terrain, is one of the motivating factors that prompts me on the need of working together with the community for the community.

What gets you up in the morning?

Apart from the sunshine and zephyr flowing through my window early morning, the opportunity I get on exploring new ideas, meeting and interacting with like-minded people motivates me to get out of bed and encourages me to contribute on making at least smaller positive differences in the lives of people.