QR code payments: For financial inclusion

With innovation in the payment systems in Nepal, people are shifting gears from cash to digital payments. Cash remains the king, as 97 per cent of the transactions are done through it; however, digital transactions are on the rise. Digital payments are faster and hassle-free. Digital payments are not just limited to card payments through Point of Sales (PoS) machines these days even in Nepal. People have started scanning QR through their smartphones, businesses have integrated the innovative payment system, and this is on the rise.

Quick Response (QR) code payments are an alternative to cash or debit/credit card payments. It is a contactless payment that is done by scanning the QR code using any mobile banking application, or digital wallet, which is part of the network. This avoids the use of expensive point of sale machines and cards. The customer can simply enter the required amount, remarks, and PIN. In a few taps, the payment is done.

“I’ve been transacting through my mobile banking application and digital wallet in restaurants, department stores, and even petrol pumps. In less than 30 seconds my payment is done, and I don’t feel the need to carry loads of cash since these services have been introduced,” shares a customer. Moreover, with QR codes, there is no need to swipe a card as well. People have started saving money with its use as most QR merchants provide discounts and offer with every transaction.

Under the Fonepay network, there are 60,000 plus merchants throughout the nation, and 20,000 transactions take place every day. Around 300,000- 400,000 users are paying through the network daily. Restaurants in the city, such as Trishara, Dalle and Bota, provide attractive offers to customers who use QR systems to make payments. In businesses, such as Tranquility Spa, QR payments have surpassed the traditional card payments. QR payments offer up to 50 per cent discount.

“One in every four transactions is done through QR, and the customer flow has significantly increased after introducing QR payment offers,” says Rajesh Phaiju, administrator at Tranquility Spa.

QR code payments have reached across Nepal, covering the remote areas in the Himalayas, hills, and Tarai. QR code payments have been acquired by small and medium-scale businesses in the nooks and crannies of the country. Okhaldhunga’s Gyan Katuwal, owner of Ganga Bijaya Wholesale Kirana Pasal, installed QR code payments a few months back. He shares that people are gradually shifting towards digital payments in the region. According to him, “QR code payments are quite easy to maintain and use. I do not have to install, maintain and operate a PoS machine.”

Similarly, Krishna Sharan Lama, the owner of White House View Point Restaurant, Dakshinkali has installed a QR payment system. “My restaurant is quite packed during the weekends, and many customers have inquired about QR payments,” he said. “So, I felt the urgency to integrate it into my business.” Since he started using these services, his customer’s needs for contactless payments have been met.QR payments have also been accepted in social functions, such as weddings, and also at temples. When I recently visited Tal Barahi Temple in Pokhara, I observed that even it has started accepting 

QR payments, even Gods have started going digital in a way. I installed my QR code during my wedding reception, which made it possible for the guests to scan my QR and directly send cash to my account. This saved me from taking all the cash out of the envelope, counting them, and depositing it into my account. Moreover, it is also a secure option as there is always a risk of losing cash during the rush of a traditional Nepali wedding. 

However, the acquisition of QR code payment systems doesn’t mean that people will use it right away. People have to be educated about how and why using QR payments are necessary. Having QR doesn’t just make payments simple, secure and affordable but also aids the government in generating more taxes. Now, this has a multiplier effect and contributes to economic prosperity. A Permanent Account Number (PAN) and bank account are required to acquire QR code payments for a business. This promotes financial inclusion, access and transparency. Our neighboring country, China, has adopted QR code payments religiously, even mom and pop stores, vegetable vendors, transport rental services use this technology to accept payments. 

Moreover, even artists performing in the streets do not accept cash, instead, they have their QR payment codes to accept payments. When someone makes payments using cash, they get odd stares in the streets of China. Some 92 per cent of people in China’s top cities used We Chat Pay or Alipay as their primary payment method as per Penguin Intelligence in 2017.

We can learn a lesson from the factory of the world, China, and promote digital payments through QR code payments in Nepal. Since we now have 8.4 million mobile banking subscribers, and it is increasing rapidly, this facilitates QR code payments. Moreover, digital wallets also facilitate these payments. The government must play a proactive role in enabling digital payments to enable transparency, financial inclusion, financial access, and economic prosperity in the long run.

This article was published in The Himalayan Times on December 20, 2019. 


How fair is the Chevening Awards selection process?

Every year the British government provides the Chevening Scholarships which is considered to be one of the most coveted and highly competitive scholarship awards. The awardees receive tuition fees to complete their master’s degree program in the UK, monthly living allowance an economy class return airfare to the UK, and additional grants and allowances to cover essential expenditure.

I knew about this scholarship in 2016 through someone who was a recipient of a similar scholarship. The Chevening website mentions that they are looking for future leaders and influencers who have a strong academic background. 

I was awarded the best graduating student from the Ace Institute of Management for excellence in my academics and leadership skills. At that point, I was already working as a Business Reporter in a leading English Language and publishing lead stories on tourism, business, and entrepreneurship. Moreover, I was also the Concept Director and Host of “Youth in Entrepreneurship”, an English language talk show aired in Radio Reeyaz. Further, I was also the semi-finalist of Nepal’s Top 7 Debaters and had anchored Youth television Show on national television. In 2016, I first applied for the scholarship, I scored 7 in my IELTS and also got offer letters from two out of the three universities I had applied for. I was shortlisted and reached the interview stage. However, I did not make it.

Despite, having a strong academic background and a huge potential to lead I was denied this scholarship. I reapplied it the next year and again reached the interview stage. I was confident and gave my best hoping that I would make it in the second year. However, I was rejected once more. I was shocked to see that the awardees were all men that year. I was frustrated because I was not selected, but after witnessing it was only men who were selected for the scholarship from Nepal, I was disgusted. All the men who got selected that year were qualified and deserving, and I do not hold anything against them. But coming this from an institution that boasts of being inclusive and working for women empowerment felt strange. I am sure there were women who were equally if not more deserving who applied that year but not even one got selected and it is a shame.

Chevening Scholars 2018/19 from Nepal (This picture clearly shows all men were selected. Where is inclusion? How fair is the selection process? (Source: Facebook UK in Nepal)

This was an eye-opener for me. We still live in a society where men are given so much more preference and organizations too back that up. I did a lot of soul searching that year. I was devastated but I wasn’t tired. I knew I had to work doubly hard to prove my worth. I applied for all the possible programs, seminars, professional networks that I came across that matched my ambitions. I was selected out of 1800+ applicants to be a part of the US Embassy Youth Council in 2018/19. I was offered a place at F1Soft International, Nepal’s leading fintech company where I am still working as Corporate Communications Manager. I did a lot of things in that year and then again applied for the scholarship. This time, Chevening did not reject me right after the interview but placed me as a reserved candidate. I was confident to make it this year. But then, I don’t know why even this year I did not make it.

After applying for three times, and being rejected I have become more confident than ever.  I have given all that I could to the selection process and I have learned a lot in this journey. I am no more frustrated for I couldn’t make it. Because now I know it was never me. This has left me wondering, “How fair is the Chevening Awards selection process?” 

Chevening Rejection Galore! 

Despite getting accepted by leading universities in the UK, despite getting a high score in the IELTS for thrice and despite having a strong academic background, despite having leadership and networking qualities. Above all, despite having stellar application essays and reaching the interview stage not once but thrice: 


7 things I reflected while cooking 7 days at home

Since I work full-time, I eat out almost every day. We do prepare meals on normal days but it is usually prepared in a rush.


During the past week, we have been putting the effort to plan what we consume and if you have been following me on Facebook, you might have noticed that I’ve been posting the pictures of the delicacies.


Some people have also criticized me for posting food pictures at a time when so many people are barely getting anything to eat. I understand their sentiments. However, I’ve been posting them to keep a record of this time, to update my family members about what we are eating every day and that just letting them know that we are doing fine.


Here are 7 things I reflected upon in the past 7 days while shopping for, preparing and enjoying these meals with my sister-in-law:


1.      Wasting food is a sin

As per the World Food Programme (WFP)’s recent data, 821 million people- more than 1 in 9 of the world population do not get enough food to eat. Moreover, the food that we consume every day comes from a long chain of farmers, intermediaries, vendors who work hard each day to produce. It does take a lot of effort and time to cook each meal. So wasting food is a sin. We have tried our best to not waste food, especially during the pandemic.


2.      Cooking is creating

I enjoy creating. And cooking is also an activity that allows me to create. I love the flavors and the color each vegetable or fruit brings. Mixing different items in colorful cutlery is a relaxing activity. While I was making fruit salad, I cherished garnishing the white creamy curd or yogurt with red watermelon. Similarly, adding fresh green coriander or spring onions to a curry just brightens the dish. Cooking is creating.


3.      Cooking brings you closer to home

I realized we usually cook the things we are used to eating as a child. There are so many fancy recipes out there waiting to be tried and tested. But we usually crave for the dishes our mothers made us taste. I try to copy what my mother used to do in her kitchen mostly. Nothing beats simple daal, fries, hot tomato pickle, and rice.


4.      Cooking is the main activity

Your sister calls you, the first thing she asks you, “What did you eat?” With most people staying at home, cooking is the main activity. Most people are being creative about the food that they make. It can be a mundane task for many but it is fun if you spice it up.


5.      Consuming moderate

Sometimes even cooking less is more when there are few people at home. And we tend to eat as much as we used to or even more. However, our physical activity has decreased as compared to what it used to be in the past and on a normal day while we traveled. So, rather than feasting every day, it is important to consume a moderate amount of food. Focus on hydrating yourself. “Eat less, exercise more and hydrate yourself.”


6.      Planning rewards 

We planned what we would eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even though it did not go as planned, we did realize we have so much food at our home.


7.      Cooking makes you reflect

You don’t always have to be in a classroom to learn. Sometimes you learn in a kitchen. We are so fortunate and blessed to have so much to eat every day. Pray to God before you eat but also remember to thank a farmer. Most importantly, no matter how they taste of the food is the person who has cooked as put in a lot of effort to prepare a full meal for you, so don’t forget to thank them.

Please find the link to the short video which includes some of the meals we prepared during the anti-coronavirus lockdown:


I challenge you to document the activities you are involved in during the lockdown and reflect on it. You don't have to make it public or use any hashtags, just do it for yourself and share with me if you feel like.  



Brewing stories in the Himalayas

On a late October morning, a cozy circle of eight writers at the library of artistic Vajra Hotel share what they have penned. The rays of the early morning sun fall on them as they read out the words from the pages of their diaries. The atmosphere is magical as they all contribute something unique to the group. They are on this incredible journey to explore themselves and the chaotic and mystical beauty of Kathmandu. They release all their creative juices and create magic with their words. This is not a usual workshop but an opportunity to truly immerse oneself and most probably break the writer’s block. However, these writers do not have a specific purpose—they are not after producing an output. The leaders of this tribe of writers place importance on the process and work on it rather than creating something tangible out of it.

I am the kind of person who is always trying to achieve the best. I believe I have the power to of the pen and I must use it to benefit all. And time and again, I need to sharpen my ax or let’s say refill ink in my pen so that I can write with all my heart and calm mind.

When James Hopkins, Director of Himalayan Writers Workshop provided me this opportunity to participate in Himalayan Writers Workshop (HWW), I grabbed it with both hands. The 10-day workshop was called, “Wild Writing and Calm Mind”.  James who has lived in Nepal for around 15 years now, said he created this workshop featuring writers mainly to “pull the rug out of writers’ feet” and make them explore the chaotic yet crackling beauty of the sacred places in Kathmandu. He mentioned that geography plays an important role in unleashing creativity and some holy places in Kathmandu ignite that inner creativity. He explained the valley is a mandala and was our guide for the meditation practice and touring spiritual shrines such as Swayambhu, Pashupatinath, Boudhanath, and Buddhist monasteries.

He is a creative poet and writer, however, there is much more to his personality that meets his eyes. He has worked for the beggars’ community and helped many of the women and children live a dignified life through education and entrepreneurship. One evening we visited the beggars’ camp where we were greeted with enthusiastic ‘Namastes’. It seemed like he is a Hollywood star and everyone there were his fans. However, this fanfare doesn’t affect him much and he knows how to set boundaries.

 “Write as poorly as you can,” said Laurie Wagner, our writing coach. She gave us prompts like, “If you really knew me..” and asked us to write continuously for 10-15 minutes. We would get inspiration to write from the poems she read to us. Those poems had a dreamlike effect and it brought us something we did not expect. I unlearned the assumption that we need to be perfect, and write well before we read out our works to others. Our writings could be raw, simple and yet it could be quite powerful. Writing poorly gives us the liberty to just be ourselves. We did not strive for perfection yet we created something that cracked our hearts open and on most occasions, tears rolled from our eyes when we read our writings or listened to someone else read their writings. Writing made us vulnerable and helped us express ourselves in dynamic ways.

Story slices were another interesting exercise that we practiced during these 10-days workshop.  Everyone had to form a story from whatever topped their mind. This helped me view the world more creatively and openly. “If you feel you should not write about something, then that is the exact thing you must write about,” Laurie often told us. We were assigned to take photos of whatever attracted us on our journeys and write short stories on them.

Apart from the course and the lessons I learned from Laurie and James, I will always cherish the relationship I build with my roommate Beverly Hines from Virginia, USA. Zoe Wagner became like a sister to me and I was fascinated by her rigor to understand Nepal and its culture. She was quick to pick up Resham firiri, a Nepali folk song and she also bought a Sarangi which she carefully wrapped in her shawl and packed in her suitcase. I remember the time when she beautifully sat in front of a small cottage at Namo Buddha Resort and wrote in her notebook. She looked quite lovely in that place with yellow flowers and greenery around her. I stopped to capture that beauty but since I am not very skilled at doing it, I took a while to get a perfect shot. I could sense that she was not comfortable with me taking pictures of her. She said, “Hey Abhilasha, please give me some alone time.” I apologized and walked away. In my culture, girls her most girls her age would request to take more photos if someone took photos. However, in western culture privacy, individualism and alone time is non-negotiable.

The hike with Laurie Hunt from Canada was another memorable moment for me. Listening to Lisa Choegyal’s extraordinary stories in her British accent was a treat. I was impressed to know that Jenice Gharib who lived in New Mexico, USA knew about our culture and tradition. 
One of my favorite moments of this workshop was when we had an interaction with Thuli Basnet, 86 year old woman who lived in a village in Namo Buddha. She was a simple woman who had seen five generations and had wisdom about life and living. Holding my hands she said, “I see my granddaughter in you.”

Being a local of Kathmandu, the places we visited were not at all new to me. However, I saw Boudhanath stupa and Swayambhu through their eyes, full of mystery and chaos. I observed the cremation at Pashupatinath more deeply. The Everest and Langtang Himalayan range that peaked through the clouds at Namobuddha were familiar to me but now they became more special since spotting them once was a big deal for Beverly. I don’t take these shrines or the tradition for granted from now onwards.

Himalayan Writers Workshop is a fortunate stroke of serendipity for me. I had not imagined I would be writing and unleashing a wild side of me. I did not expect to be guided into deep meditation and woken awake by the sound of the singing bells. The whole experience was like an awakening and liberating –a sign from the universe which directs me to live a more open and creative life.


US Embassy Youth Council and My Shattered Heart

I am the happiest when I share what I have understood with another human being and they get something of value.

Abhilasha Rayamajhi

In 2018, I got an opportunity to assist New York Times Bestselling author Carmen Renee Berry during her visit to Nepal with her team. I had offer letters from top ranking universities and was waiting for my scholarship results. Unfortunately, I did not get what I had expected. I did not get the scholarships and I felt devastated. I felt like it was the end of the world. I shared my feelings with Carmen, to which she said, “There will be several doors that will open for you, may be the door you chose was too small for you.”

I appreciated her concern but at that time I felt like nothing would make me feel better. All my hard work, the time I had spent writing essays, sending the documents and getting recommendation letters had gone in vain. I just had dreams, and those dreams shattered like a broken glass window which could never be repaired. I was nothing but a loser in my own eyes.

                                                                          Photo: tinybuddha.com 

However, giving up could not be an option. I was already enrolled in a Master degree course in Nepal and applied for short term programs abroad. But that phase was excruciating.
I had the dream to be in top ranking university in the world and here I was in one of the government college in Nepal.

This was the time when I stumbled upon US Embassy Youth Council’s (USYC) application form. Somehow, I fixed my broken heart and picked up the courage to write essays for USYC.
Later I came to know that I along with 55 other youths were selected from a pool of 1,855 plus applicants who had applied for the program. I felt a bit happy.

                                                                Courtesy of US Embassy Nepal


USYC is a network of youth under the age of 27 from all regions of Nepal and representing diverse backgrounds. The council was created by the Embassy of the United States of America to Nepal. The Ambassador’s Youth Advisory Council was initiated in 2011 by former US Ambassador to Nepal, HE Scott H DeLisi.

Every year around 55 youth are selected and they engage in a yearlong Civic Engagement Project (CEP).

I got an opportunity to participate in orientation and various workshop and events organized by the US Embassy in partnership with We Inspire Nepal (WIN). We were branded as “exceptional youth of Nepal”.
I was looking for a platform where I could explore my leadership and communication skills and also contribute to my country. I strived to find a place for me in a world which at that point of time felt hostile to me.

Amazing and inspiring people

I started communicating like-minded people as well as those who possessed the skill set I lacked. I aimed to work on a project that was directly linked to my experiences and interest. I understood that I would not be able to contribute much in an idea that was not related to my works. I had the experience of working in media for around five years and was training students and professionals on writing and presentation skills for two years. I wanted to create a project that would bring my experience in newsrooms and classrooms together and build a team that had common goals. Through my skills I aspired to impact and empower a community. We named our project, “Connecting Classrooms and Newsrooms”.

Thankfully, I found a team that helped me shape this vision and a mentor who would gave timely and 
much needed suggestions. Our project involved media literacy training and shedding light to Vital Registration to secondary school students.

I had an instant connection with Karuna Devkota who is interested in investigative journalism and is the 
founder of youth organization in Chitwan. Her proficiency in the Nepali language and translation skills were quite beneficial to the team. Kripa Shrestha who is LGCDP focal person at Lalitpur Metropolitan City Office, works with the local government, her knowledge and skills on financial reporting created a value for our team. Naveen Dahal’s expertise in graphic designing skills and connections were a boon for our project. Basanta Shah was one of the most helpful member of the team who was always there at the time of need. Aashiyana Adhikari’s experience in organizing workshops and her background in social sector came handy for the project. Even though Stella Mainali was not in the core team her morale support is worth mentioning here.

                              The team: From left: Naveen, Kripa, me, Basanta, Karuna and Aashiyana 
                              Behind the camera: Manoj Bohara
I am also very grateful to Barsha Shah, who recommended Uma Kanta Khanal, Senior Journalist as the facilitator for the workshop. His session was quite beneficial for the students.

Prerana Marasini, Information Specialist at the US Embassy in Nepal was assigned as our mentor. She guided us at each and every step so that we could attain our project objective and gave that extra push 
whenever it was required. The support from the Embassy and implementing partner WIN is appreciable. After all, they are the people who worked so hard behind the scene to make the yearlong project possible.  

Besides, all the youth whom I met and networked with are amazing and most of them have inspired me in some way.   

Connecting Classrooms and Newsrooms

After months of planning, designing, brainstorming and discussing we were able to conduct workshop on Media literacy at Jhapa. A month back we surveyed 120 students regarding the understanding of media focusing on fake news and disinformation in a public and private school in Haldibari, Jhapa. This led us to design our very first workshop for 36 students. 

Almost at the end of the workshop a participant came to us and asked, “How were you selected out of 1,855 participants who applied for USYC? How do you speak so confidently and fluently?” I was 
speechless. Through this project I could connect to young people and help them understand how media works and encourage them in some way. Furthermore, this project is helping me understand how I am as a person, what are the things that I value, how do I work in a team and most importantly about my leadership qualities. The best part of being USYC member is the network we have built and the friendships we have formed. The support and love I received from the friends I made here cannot be described in words.

I am the happiest when I share what I have understood with another human being and they get something of value.

After the second phase of the project, I feel accomplished. I don’t feel like a loser anymore. I have collected the broken pieces of my heart and created beautiful art.
I am sure in the journey of life, many of us feel like the way I did. So, for this piece is for you, the unstoppable soul who chose to carry on even after going through devastation and never give up.

                                          Photo: Hiveminer.com


Is it Time To Teach Back?

The son gets agitated and reacts, “How many times do I have to teach you?” The mother intervenes, hands the son a glass of juice but the son refuses, breaks the glass and walks away. On his way he stumbles upon a dad running after his young son to teach him cycling. This takes him down the memory lane when his own dad taught him cycling, photography, fishing and other life lessons. The regretful son reminisces how his dad never got tired of playing with him, how he told him stories and taught him the value of money. He then heads back home and assures his dad who earlier requested him to teach mobile banking once again, “Baba, for you a million times.”
The tearful dad and son hug each other as the weeping mother looks at them. The son teaches his dad mobile banking and the dad now successfully transacts and it is a happy ending.
The story is the concept of an advertisement by Fonepay with the hashtag #TimeToTeachBack. The advertisement calls for action to teach parents mobile banking. The video got immediate responses and feedback from the audience in social media. Some people commented the advertisement to be over dramatic and unrealistic. A few even said that they themselves don’t know mobile banking how will they teach their parents, other critics even pointed that advertisement was copied from international ads.
Nonetheless, the video was shared by thousands and viewed by millions. Moreover, many commended the video for its ability to evoke emotions and celebrate relationships.
Audiences could relate to the advertisement as the incident was common in almost every household. The intensity of the reaction might be lesser but there are times when parents or an elderly person has requested younger generation to teach how to use technology. Most parents spend their lifetime teaching children and introducing them to the world. But when it is the turn of the children they usually don’t show similar enthusiasm and in some cases like shown in the advert disrespectfully walk away.
Such campaigns signify the shift of brands towards becoming socially responsible rather than working merely for a profit motive. This is not the first time brands have used emotional appeal to attract the masses in Nepal. In 2015, Coca-cola introduced the campaign ‘celebrating relationships’ which was the local version of ‘share a coke’ campaign. Other than that there are not many noteworthy creative or relatable marketing campaigns in Nepal. Especially no other tech company in Nepal has introduced such an advertisement. The level of digital literacy among the older generation has to increase for IT companies to do well.    
However, in the international advertisement world hitting the emotional cord is not a new thing. Time to teach back is inspired by Google India’s “Helping women get online” an initiative that empowers women in India to use the internet. In one of the Google ads, a daughter is seen celebrating her mother getting online. These kind of advertisements may not create immediate action but they start a conversation and has long- term impact.
Storytelling is a weapon for advertisers. If used wisely it can connect people to brand and create brand loyalty. However, inappropriate use may not lead to desired results. How effective will #TimeToTeachBack be? Will it trigger youngsters to teach their parents mobile banking? Only time can tell.  
This article was published in Republica on May 26, 2019.

Breaking Mobile Banking Myths

Abhilasha Rayamajhi
With the increase in the use of smartphones and internet penetration, mobile banking has a huge scope in developing countries. Various research and studies have been published in African countries such as Kenya, Nigeria and other countries which shows mobile banking has decreased corruption and increased transparency. Since payments can be digitally traced when it is done through mobile banking, the cases of bribery have gone down. 
Even though mobile banking connects people to financial services in a simple, secure and efficient manner, less than two percent of the population in Nepal uses it. Here are some of the popular myths that need to be broken for mobile banking to flourish in Nepal:
1. Myth: Mere SMS alerts is mobile banking
Fact: SMS alert is only a function of mobile banking 
In Nepal, around 6.4 million users have registered to mobile banking according to a report published by Nepal Rastra Bank in December 2018. Even though the number of registered users have increased, less than 10 per cent of the total registered users actively use the mobile banking application, according to sources. Most of the users still think that the mobile alerts or the SMS’s that they receive after every transaction is mobile banking. 
Many bank account holders are not aware that they have also paid for using a mobile application when they create a bank account and tick on the mobile banking option. Lack of awareness, resistance to change and low adaptability to new technology has resulted in the low number of users. 
2. Myth: Mobile banking is expensive
 Fact: Mobile banking helps you save
There was a time when people had to visit banks to deposit and withdraw cash and make payments. However, with the introduction of visa cards, cheque books were replaced. People started making payments in departmental stores, restaurants and shopping malls through visa cards. Now, with the increased awareness about mobile banking through various marketing campaigns, people are shifting towards becoming more digital and transacting through their handheld devices. 
My mother feels that she would be spending more if she used mobile banking and it is expensive to use. However, the opposite is true. Using mobile banking will help in saving as one can get cashbacks, offers and discounts. Further, a user can save transportation cost, time and effort with mobile banking.
3. Myth: Mobile banking is catered to the young and urban
Fact: Mobile banking is for all 
It might seem like mobile banking is catered to the young, educated and urban population of Nepal. However, this is not quite true. For some people residing in the rural area of the country visit to the nearest branch of the bank could be a four hours walk. The rural population who have to waste their entire day and spend extra money on transporting to make utility payment or visit a bank, reap maximum benefits from this facility. Further, people in the nooks and corners of the country have created a business out of mobile banking by providing financial services in simple, secure and affordable ways.            
4. Myth: Mobile banking is not secure
Fact: Mobile banking is secure; a strong password is required 
One of the concerns people have is security issues. What if I lose my mobile phone? What if I change my number? What if I can’t use it effectively? These questions arise in the mind of many users. However, mobile banking is quite secure. If you have a strong password or don’t share it with anyone it is quite safe to use. Especially with the biometric feature only you can access your mobile banking through your fingerprint.
5. Myth: Mobile banking is unreliable 
Fact: Mobile banking is quite reliable  
Recently my flight from Bhadrapur to Kathmandu got cancelled. I had booked my tickets through fonepay. Initially, I was worried if I would get the refund on time, where I would have to go. However, I just had to make a phone call and on the third day, I got my refund. I did not have to meet anyone or go anywhere for the refund. In new technology where the ecosystem is not yet digitised, problems do arise. However, it is not fair to assume that mobile banking is unreliable without even giving it a try. 
People who still buy recharge cards and scratch or wait in long queues to transact through a bank or make payments will be labelled as ignorant in the coming days. Making payments through QR will not be a new thing starting from now in Nepal. Further, mobile banking promotes transparency which is the need of the hour. 

This article was published in Republica on July 9, 2019.



TEACH LAB through my eyes

Participating in workshops is a gift I give myself. Being a teacher and a workshop facilitator, I feel I need to grow and learn all the time. I want to learn innovative techniques of classroom management and content delivery so that I can help my students learn better and enjoy the process. 

Therefore, I enrolled myself in TeachLAB: Inspiring Innovation in Teaching, a 3-day immersive workshop for teachers to transform them into education innovators. I liked the idea of how the workshop incorporated the process of innovation with teaching. 

The day started with an engaging activity. We were divided into pairs and we asked each other about our favourite fictional character and the reason behind it. Even though it was a simple activity, it got us connected in a short period. I had met Shailendra Sah just on that day but I got to know a lot about him through this activity. I could empathize with him as he talked about his favourite fictional character jerry from Tom and Jerry. We also had to create a physical gift for each other using papers, clay, lego and other materials. It was a fun learning and sharing experience.

We later discussed how listening can help us understand our users in case of teaching our students.
We had Bibhusan Bista, founder of YoungInnovations as the keynote speaker. He comes from data-engineering background. He shared an insightful and thought provoking session on 'understanding the problem' before thinking about finding a solution. He gave an example of how we are generally driven by the templates of older solutions to the problems and start seeking for new ideas based on those older templates, and thus fall back on the same old/same old thinking and solutions. 

According to him, "Rather than focusing on the solution we need to understand the problem better."
We also had the opportunity to attend a session with Prof Chip Bruce. I had attending is previous workshops on "Community as curriculum" where he discussed about asking the right question. This session was a mini version of his previous workshops. This session gave me an opportunity to reflect back on the things he had previously shared.
He talked about the concept of ALOHA which stands for: 
    Ask Listen Observe Help Ask

We were divided into teams and we had different topics to work on. Assessment was the topic for our group. We had to define the problem and form a problem statement.
Then we also had a short session on designing presentations by Raunak Chaudhari. He summarized his session in a word, "CRAP" which stood for:
  C : Contrast  R: Repetition (Consistent) A: Alignment  P: Proximity 

Another session was on 'Generating Solutions' by Sixit Bhatta, CEO of Tootle. "The end goal of economic development is freedom of expression," he mentioned. He discussed how enabling students to ask questions made a difference. 

On the final day we worked on creating prototypes and testing it. In just three days we practiced the entire model of innovation and saw how we could implement it in teaching.

To sum up a whole course in three days was challenging but exciting at the same time. I think participating in workshops and conferences is like taking a capsule; you get all that you need in a short time but it might have some side effects. We did learn a lot but how much of it gets implemented depends on the participants and their orientation. And we get a broad idea of all the concepts discussed but we don't understand them in detail due to the limitation of time.
I did use some of the things like the first activity and some other techniques that I learnt during the workshop and it did work.  

Some great presentations, brutally honest feedback sessions, and the joy of learning and sharing, overall the session was productive. 
I am grateful to the entire team of TeachLab for organizing this workshop and helping teachers transform into education innovators.  

Photos: Empowerment Academy


Water from Melamchi 
Water flowing in with full pressure from the much-awaited Melamchi drinking water project may see taps running soon; but it could also cause damaging pipe-bursts and high volume of leakages
Illustration: Ratna Sagar Shrestha/THT

Following years of repeated delays, the Melamchi drinking water project is finally showing signs that it might not remain a mirage after all. The completion of replacing 1,000 kilometres of pipelines in Kathmandu Valley and their testing could be one of those evidences. However, the good news comes with a risk: Some sections of the pipe networks could burst or high volume of leakages is bound to occur once the water starts flowing in full pressure.
Reasons vary on why such accidents could happen. Some areas that still have old pipes run that risk.
The way even new pipes have been laid down and the topography of the Valley could also become reasons. The Ministry of Water Supply has even formed a taskforce whose mandate is to commission the pipelines after testing so that risk of leakages and bursts can be reduced.
During the testing phase, there was a joint slip that led to spewing up of a huge amount of water out of the pipes in Chabahil area on November 1. Bhim Upadhyaya, former secretary, Ministry of Water and Sanitation, who is now the coordinator of the taskforce, says it could become a major issue. “If this happens during the operation phase when pipes are fully pressurised, it may create a problem with massive flow.”
Knowledgeable sources say about 35 per cent pipes used in the Melamchi project are old.  That is why, they add, there is a risk of leakage, water burst, flooding of roads and even accidents when the water flows in full force. However, even the new pipes that are yet to be installed properly or where poor quality materials have been used are prone to burst. Water fountains from such bursts could be up to 10 metres high or more and they could damage infrastructure, property and passing vehicles and even injure people.
Government officials, however, say the risk of pipeline bursts is very low, but there could be high volume of leakage. They argue that Ductile Iron (DI) Pipe and High Density Polyethylene Pipes (HDPP) have been used in the construction of distribution pipeline networks and they can withstand pressure up to 250 metres but the pressure from Melamchi is only 130 metres. The total length of the existing drinking water pipeline in Kathmandu valley is 1,300 kms and 1,000 kilometres of that has been replaced.
Many sections of the pipe networks were laid during nighttime without adequate lighting and that, experts say, could have meant that some of them may not have been installed properly.
Add to that the uneven surfaces of the Valley that make pipes more vulnerable to disjoining and leaks. If installations in such locations have not been done properly, the risks of bursts grow. Of course, Kathmandu valley’s age-old drinking water pipes have always been notoriously leaky — around 40 per cent of the supplied water leaks. But because the water running in the pipes were relatively less, the leakages were not dangerous. Once the multi-million-dollar Melamchi project kicks off, the flow will rise by at least four times, which means bursts could be damaging.
The Valley will receive 170 million litres of water a day under the scheme while now the supply is nearly half of that during dry season. To cope with the spiralling demand, projected to reach 530 million litres a day by 2021, Melamchi project will add waters from Yangri and Larke rivers from Sindhupalchok. And that could mean more pressure to the pipes.
General Manager of Kathmandu Upatyaka Khanepani Limited (KUKL), Mahesh Bhattarai, however, agrees that there is a high chance of leakage of water after implementation of the Melamchi Drinking water project. “These existing system pipelines are vulnerable to leakages due to increase in the volume of water supply.”
The KUKL has formed its Project implementation Directorate (PID) to look after loss or damage in the new pipelines. This unit operates with the assistance from the Asian
Development Bank (ADB), a major donor of the Melamchi project. The bank’s officials say PID will go neighbourhood by neighbourhood to test the
Once they are assured that the leaks are minimal then they will switch the old networks to the new networks. And PID officials assure that they are equipped with patching tools and machines and that they are prepared for burst-related events.
Despite such assurances, there is a reason to worry: Even after significant increase in water supply volumes once Melamchi project is commissioned, monitoring and control of flows will be done manually for now. A computerised system, called the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), is in the process of procurement and will be installed only after two and a half years once the project has been completed. That means it will not happen before 2020. Till then monitoring and controlling will have to be done manually which may become very challenging when the water flow increases by four folds.
KUKL officials claim that they are capable of handling the situation even if that will have to be done manually for now. But there will be few takers of that given the mismanagement of sewage and drinking water infrastructure in the past. Only recently, a cyclist in Kirtipur lost his life after falling into a manhole, which KUKL has been accused of keeping intermittently open for months.

A version of this article appears in print on December 12, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

QR code payments: For financial inclusion

With innovation in the payment systems in Nepal, people are shifting gears from cash to digital payments. Cash remains the king, as 97 per c...