Nepal Self Developing District Program

Developed by James B. Mayfield, Ph.D
CHOICE Humanitarian Co-Founder

The Nepal Self Developing District Program is an aggressive initiative to end extreme poverty in a designated area that can be replicated worldwide. This initiative started with training 20 Rural Development Facilitators to help leaders in 180 villages organize their communities to bring themselves out of extreme poverty. Once this happens in 180 villages in this one rural district in Nepal, the Nepali government has indicated a willingness to replicate this approach in the other 74 rural districts, helping Nepal to become the first less developed country in the world to end extreme poverty.

Introduction:  The UN Post 2015 Development Goals reflect a world-wide commitment to eliminate extreme poverty by the year 2030. Most of the discussion related to this 2030 goal talks about what an important goal this is, however, few countries have found a way to actually achieve this goal. For over thirty years CHOICE Humanitarian has been testing a variety of approaches and strategies, seeking to determine the most cost-effective method for eliminating extreme poverty. Based upon these many years of experience in many different countries, CHOICE was invited in 2013 to field test a program structured to eliminate extreme poverty in some 20 Village Development Councils in the West Central region of Nepal.

Now in this third year (2016), CHOICE has documented conclusively a cost-effective approach to extreme poverty elimination that is now ready to be replicated (2017-2020) in ten rural districts randomly selected throughout Nepal, with an eventual coverage of all 3,157 Village Development Council areas during 2021-2030, making Nepal one of the first countries in the world to eliminate the scourge of extreme poverty by the year 2030.  

The Nepal Self Developing District Program:  This new approach has helped some 1,900 families move out of extreme poverty in the last three years (2014-early 2017). What makes this approach so unique is the way it has developed, almost as “a learning by doing” process among the CHOICE staff, the village leaders and the villagers themselves. From the beginning, the CHOICE model sees the process of eliminating extreme poverty a three-step process: First, village communities are described as disorganized and often seen as self-defeating in their orientation to outsiders. Second, CHOICE introduces a three-year Self-developing District program which challenges villagers to form into “Communities of Compassion.” During the third year of this three-year program, CHOICE helps form a District Planning Council. This Planning Council is charged with helping each village council area to form into “communities of development.” This third phase is an open-ended period, generally at least 7-10 years, where CHOICE ends its formal relationship with these Village Development Council areas, moving on to other areas to restart a new three-year cycle. The initial village communities trained by CHOICE are now seen as “Graduated Villages,” able to plan and organize their own programs and projects, able to mobilize and leverage their own funds and see themselves quite independent of CHOICE. The CHOICE model includes some 11 components or principles, uniquely structured to ensure most villagers in their area have moved into a quality of life that brings purpose, meaning and satisfaction.

 (1) District Approach:   Rejecting both the traditional top-down approach primarily based upon central ministries and the bottom-up approach usually focusing on a few villages at a time, we called this new approach the Nepal Self Developing District Program working with 13,000 families, within 180 wards in 20 Village Development Council areas, large enough to provide the economies of scale, the market demand and a diversity of needed services to make this collection of communities economically viable and capable of creating their own sustainable quality of life system.

(2) Highly Qualified Rural Development Facilitators: The foundation of this approach required (in 2013) a careful selection of rural development facilitators (RDFs) with what we call the five C’s:  competency, creativity, commitment, character, and compassion. Out of a pool of over 75 applicants, vetting them in a three-day orientation workshop, we selected the very best ten men and ten women. These twenty recruits were given three months of intensive training (March-June 2013) in the theories and practices of rural development, with an emphasis on the roles, responsibilities, interpersonal skills, and facilitative processes to develop trust and understanding with all 13,000 families.

(3)  Base Line Data:  One very innovative component was to place these twenty RDFs into ten teams each responsible to interview 1,300 families during September-November2013. Three major purposes:  a) First, each RDF came to know each family in the Village Development Councils where they were assigned, b) This clearly helped the villagers to understand the purpose of the Nepal Self Developing District Program initiative in these communities, and (c) Last, it provided the base-line data needed to identify who were living in extreme poverty and with additional surveys in 2015 and 2016, allowed us to measure how and why we were making progress. While many might assume this three-month interviewing process was a misuse of staff time, it proved to be the key element in motivating formal and informal leaders to commit to work with the Rural Development Facilitators in helping the extremely poor families to bring themselves out of poverty.

(4). Building Trust and Understanding: The Nepal Self Developing District Program initiative was formally started in January 2014. During this first year, the next two components of the program were implemented: First, villagers in each Village Development Council area were trained to identify and prioritize their major problem areas, into one of the five dimensions of rural development: (a) education and adult literacy, (b) health and good nutrition, (c) income and enterprises, (d) environment and infrastructure, and (e) leadership and cultural enhancement in each of the 20  Village Development Council areas. Over this first year, CHOICE also organized expeditions where donors and supporters were encouraged to actually visit these villagers, working side-by-side. These expeditions helped provide much of the funding during this first year to implement many needed projects that benefitted the whole community. This process helped cement a relationship of trust and cooperation between the villagers, Rural Development Facilitators, and CHOICE donors.

(5) Core Values:  Another unique component of the Nepal Self Developing District Program was the way the Rural Development Facilitators invited the village families to identify the cultural traditions and core values perceived to be important in their communities. Especially interesting during this first year were the efforts of the RDFs to help villagers identify the formal and informal leaders that they trusted and respected the most, listing those qualities of leadership that were considered most important (integrity, service, kindness, and compassion, etc.). Again this fifth component’s value and importance only became clear into the second and third year as villagers began to take responsibility for bringing the extreme poor into a better quality of life.

(6) Gender Equality Leadership: The sixth component started in the second year when villagers in each Village Development Council were invited to select 20 women and 20 men (a total of 800 people) they trusted and respected and believed they would benefit from an eight-week training course:  a) First in principles of good governance (accountability, transparency, inclusive participation, and human rights and citizen responsibilities, b) Second, in the principles and skills of Results Based Management structured to improve the implementation of needed projects and programs helping villagers understand the differences between inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact, c) Third, helping these first 800 villagers to understand how and why adherence to core values strengthens leadership legitimacy (trust and respect). During that second year over 1,200 villagers received this training. RDFs mentioned in their reports that training this many women had a revolutionary impact on how and why total communities became committed to helping the extreme poor take themselves out of poverty.

(7) Resource Mobilization through Leveraging: All during the first two years, Rural Development Facilitators worked closely with villagers in finding ways to building partnerships and networks of collaboration with individuals and organizations in the three sectors of society:  a) public sector (national, regional and rural district level government agencies).b) private sector (corporations, enterprises and business organizations, and c) social sector, (foundations, national and international NGOs, universities, and other non-profit donors). During the first year, CHOICE’s contribution to village projects was roughly 50% vs. 50%, in the second year village’s contribution increased to over 65 %, and in the third year, these 20 Village Development Councils on average were mobilizing nearly 80% of the costs of their needed projects. This ability of Village Development Councils leaders to leverage their own limited resources by networking and partnerships qualified them as “graduated villages” indicating their ability to function independently of CHOICE.”

(8) Village-Controlled Cooperatives: Emphasizing every family to participate in a monthly savings program, to complete a six week (6P’s) training in entrepreneurship, and to obtain an enterprise loan from the cooperative or a local savings and loan bank. This savings and entrepreneurship-building program was introduced in the first year and strengthened in the second year. It was in the third year that local economic development (villager-developed enterprises and other income generating activities) became the dominant emphasis establishing a Mobile Phone Market Information Sharing Program among at least 40 farmers in each of the 20 Village Development Council areas and running a tabulation of which Village Development Council  areas had the largest number of new enterprises funded and profitable.

(9) Formal Commitment to creating “Communities of Compassion:” Again while this commitment to eliminate extreme poverty was introduced and strengthened during the first two years, it was during the third year, where the most progress was made. Especially interesting has been the willingness of the 400 women and 400 men trained in the second year, to formalize their villages as “communities of compassion.” It is within this ninth component that many middle and upper families have worked directly with clusters of 3-4 extreme poor families at a time, showing them how to start their own enterprises, encouraging other villagers to buy products from the extreme poor, and even to guarantee some loans so extreme poor could qualify for a loan. During this period, a competition was established to see which Village Development Council area had the largest decrease in the percentage of families in extreme poverty.

Please Note:  Many organizations tend to begin second and third-year activities at the very beginning. Such short-cut approaches invariable fail to generate the sense of ownership and local leadership commitment needed for the process to be seen as theirs and not the outsiders. A lesson CHOICE has learned from past mistakes. It takes at least three years before village leaders begin to see how they can take responsibility for their own development.

(10) Large Scale Enterprise Development: During the second and third year of the Nepal Self Developing District Program, CHOICE has been seeking investment opportunities from large corporations and social impact investors willing to work in Nepal in areas like hydro-electric projects, trekking and tourism, essential oils, and many other income-generating activities. One very promising effort has been with doTERRA, a world-wide, essential oils business, now working with CHOICE. doTERRA has found Nepal’s wintergreen oil to be of very high quality and is excited to work with Nepali farmers. As village leaders are trained by CHOICE Rural Development Facilitators, villagers are now prepared to work directly with large companies that have a commitment to help the extreme poor move into a better quality of life. While historically middle-men paid very low subsistence wages to poor farmers, with the involvement of CHOICE, many of these local merchants are now willing to participate in this program. This tenth component of the CHOICE model has a huge potential for ensuring participating farmers are paid a salary that can bring them out of poverty.

(11) Formalize District Planning Councils: CHOICE, from the beginning of this three-year NSDP initiative, explained transparently to these 13,000 families that the CHOICE commitment was limited to three years. It was emphasized that while the CHOICE model is at least a ten-year process, CHOICE staff would only be available on a fulltime basis during the first three years to focus on identifying the extreme poor and to help bring these in extreme poverty up to an equal playing field, earning at least $2.00 a day, and thus able to participate together with middle and upper poor on a more equal footing. This was the goal of the “communities of compassion” initiative. The third phase of the CHOICE model (at least seven year period) is to see all the participating Village Development Councils become what we are calling “Communities of Development.” With the establishment of the Rural District Planning Council, these 20 Village Development Council areas are in a position to function quite independent of CHOICE, able to network and partnership with marketing systems, using value chains between local farmers and regional, national and international markets, plan and help implement programs and projects that will improve the quality of life for all the families in the area, and finally to link these 20 Village Development Council areas to a number of larger enterprises (national and international) that provide employment opportunities and income generating activities allowing most if not all families in these areas to move out of the broader forms poverty.

(12) Eliminate Extreme Poverty in One Country at a Time: CHOICE is committed to working with the Nepali government starting first in one district 2014-early 2017, and then to replicate the Nepal Self Developing District Program in ten rural districts, (later 2017-2020). Finally, it is anticipated with help from the Government of Nepal, various international donors, foundations, and others, that the CHOICE model will be implemented in all 75 rural districts between 2021 and 2030, making Nepal one of the first countries to achieve the Post 2015 Goal of eliminating extreme poverty world-wide. CHOICE is excited to consider working with others organizations and to seeing this program implemented in many other countries.

To read the full report on the first 18 months of progress, click here.