This is the story of an organization that started small, with a big idea. Build Nepal started 8 years ago in Tarakeshwar, Kathmandu with a vision to be a “community instrument through which the people can do for themselves”. Working in northern suburbs of Kathmandu, one of the rapidly urbanizing area of Nepal, Build Nepal has grown into a not-for-profit organization solely devoted towards community development. As an extraordinary contributor in community development of Tarakeshwar, some of its staff and supporters treat its survival with some surprise, even as a “miracle.” But Build Nepal has done more than survived: it has created jobs, services, is a trusted partner in a wide range of community interventions and an increasingly strong voice speaking on behalf of community. Wealth in communities is more than money. Since its establishment, Build Nepal has created economic ideas directed toward the good of the community rather than private profit.
First, Build Nepal carried out feasibility studies to find out what could be done in communities for economic transformation. It explored in diverse communities throughout Nepal, in places like Dhorpatan, Dumre, and Dolakha. Second, it studied communities close to home in North Kathmandu and formed ‘North Kathmandu Development Council’ that would help the organization to gain deeper understanding about the situation, opportunities, and challenges of the place. Agricultural farms in North Kathmandu and Dhorpatan were formed in consecutive years. Third, Build Nepal’s leadership understood that economic transformation through entrepreneurship alone was not enough, but they also had to help people build capacity and confidence, creating critical mass in communities. For that, Build Nepal started prioritizing education sector and youths. ‘Responsible Student Network’ was formed and students’ clubs were commenced as ‘RSN Club’ in several schools of North Kathmandu. Fourth, Build Nepal’s purpose from its beginning was “the goal of community building”, and building community requires accountable governance. Accordingly, it used technology as a medium to aware people about services provided by the government, with the development of a mobile app entitled ‘Open NK’ which informs communities about every relevant activities being carried out at North Kathmandu by the government or by the public. Finally, Build Nepal has recently taken a much more visible role in the advocacy for the accountability and gender-responsiveness in communities, initially through public debates and now through action research entitled ‘Accountable Governance and Gender Responsive Public Services’. As one local resident of North Kathmandu explained, Build Nepal has moved from a focus on the awareness to the more mainstream community-led approach of development.
Build Nepal has faced many challenges over the years, some unique and others common to other community development organizations. One challenge is how to build community: how to engage the community, how best to encourage it and what Build Nepal’s role should be in community-led development. The second is how to manage the tension between financial sustainability and a social vision, which includes organizational development and leadership within Build Nepal itself. The third is how to build multiple partnerships in the community, with government agencies and profit-oriented companies, as well as other not-for-profits, while maintaining autonomy. Its own leadership has been a crucial element in its ability to form partnerships but remain true to itself.
Currently, Build Nepal’s vision of a community-driven development practice is being materialized to some extent. North Kathmandu has been seeing significant growth in formations of communities believe in community-led development practices. People are more conscious about Government’s accountability as well as citizen’s responsibility. Eventually, the dream of building a ‘Smart City’ in North Kathmandu which was dreamt by Build Nepal, has gained recognition and love, and it has evolved into a public dream of whole North Kathmandu.