Evoking the past can be a powerful way of putting the future into some kind of context. Lumbini was one of the first things I remember learning about Nepal. My childhood memories are of romantic images of nature and of Maha Maya lounging gracefully beneath a sal tree as she watched her son, Prince Siddhartha, take his first steps while leaving a lotus in full bloom in his wake.
I remember taking the mountain flight from Kathmandu early one morning and visiting the Imja Lake. The sun’s early rays beamed at the snow-capped mountains, bathing them in a special golden glow. It was just majestic. The beauty of the country is complimented by its vibrant culture and the warmth of Nepali people.
But in the foothills of the Himalayas, and across its towns and cities, the country struggles to overcome a set of development challenges that beset much of the Asia Pacific region: unemployment, exclusion, and inequality, unplanned urbanization, environmental degradation, and a host of other issues.
For UNDP, the path is clear, to work together with the Government of Nepal, to seek solutions, to these problems. The development path is never easy but if I have learned one key lesson in my first year here, it is the resilience of the people of Nepal. Working with some of them, has shown me that there is no challenge we cannot overcome.
The proof lies in how much we have achieved, in just one year.
We work with governments, with mayors, deputy mayors, associations, industries and other partners who are all inspired to find ways to resolve these issues; to stand with the men and women who need a helping hand. And it is one reason why UNDP started the Accelerator Lab, a response to the challenge to map, explore and experiment with new solutions to unplanned urbanization and youth unemployment. Though still in its infancy, the Lab has seen remarkable progress.
2019 was an important year for Nepal and for UNDP in Nepal. For the first time, provincial and local government have formulated their own development policies and plans, which represents a major step towards implementing the new federal Constitution of Nepal. Most notably, it was also an opportune time to bring the Global Goals – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to Nepal’s provinces, cities, municipalities, wards and even to its households. With UNDP’s support, provincial governments prepared their own SDG baseline reports, charting their first roadmap for achieving the goals by 2030.
So 2019 really did play a crucial role in increasing national ownership of the SDGs.
The government and local decision-makers increasingly found value in co-creating, co-designing and co-financing development work with UNDP. This is confirmed by the new joint initiative that aims to build the capacities of the provincial and local governments.
Nepali women have inspired me probably more than any other group. As a whole, their energy, tenacity and humility are unrivalled. Of course, they do need the odd bit of catalytic support to expand their choices and lay the groundwork for a more dignified life and a better future for themselves and for their children.
There was a particularly lively group of women I met in Dailekh, Gorkha, Sinhupalchok and Kailali that stick firmly in the memory. They all resolved to combat prejudice and learn and try new things. UNDP tapped into that spirit and desire and helped create over 20,000 micro-entrepreneurs. They, along with 3,000 local government officials – roughly half of them women – learned new skills that helped to translate the SDGs into real-life enhancements.
Many of the elected women came in search of knowledge and skills that would help them be more successful in their jobs and bring inspiration to their leadership. This is where the Ministry of Law and Justice and UNDP, with the support of the Norwegian government, paved the way for women mayors and legislators to advance gender equality in law-making processes and oversight functions.
More than that, UNDP continued to build risk-resilience among the most vulnerable people. That makes us ideally able to support the government in times of natural disaster and crisis. With the support of the Government of India, we made some magnificent progress in 2019 in adapting to climate change, promoting renewable energy and constructing quake-resilient houses.
I began by saying that the past can help give the future some context. From the perspective of mid-2020, when the world is gripped by the pandemic, you may be forgiven for interpreting the immediate future as bleak. But if we look to the past and at Nepal’s traditional resilience in the face of adversity, we have always emerged from the crisis with new energy and enthusiasm.
UNDP has gathered all its available strength to partner with the government to support the country’s battle against the COVID-19. Through a four-pillar response strategy, UNDP hopes to help Nepal not just to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, but also to meet the SDG 2030 targets.
The author is Resident Representative for UNDP in Nepal. Follow her on Twitter at @Ayshaniee.