Connecting rural communities

Bordered by India from the east, west and south, and the Tibet region in China to the north, Nepal has a total population of about 27 million (Nepal Census, 2011). With a per capita GNI of $730 and a majority of the population depending on agriculture, according to UN estimates, about 40% of Nepalese live in poverty.

The total area of Nepal is 147,181 sq.km, mostly mountainous. In addition to playing host to the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, its natural diversity is the country’s main source of tourism, and income. However, it is this same geographic distribution and uneven terrain that is one of the biggest hindrances to the development, distribution and adoption of ICT in the country.

“I joined the Nepal Telecommunications Authority (NTA) as Assistant Director in 2011 and worked for the regulator for over three years. I was involved in policy making, primarily broadband policy,” says Babu Ram Dawadi. As a part of the ITU mission project, he was involved in creating broadband policy publications, as well as its development and implementation.

“When the broadband policy was implemented, my role was to facilitate the IT commission heads, and coordinate meetings between the relevant organizations like ministries, government bodies and telecom operators.”

Around the same time, Dawadi also got involved in ICT policy for disabled people. “This got me interested, not only in policy implementation as a regulator, but the availability of resources in rural areas and its impact on development.”

Babu Ram Dawadi

According to Dawadi, his interest in affecting communication policy was piqued further when he was selected to participate in CPRsouth 2014 in Maropeng, South Africa.

The Young Scholars conference/workshop brought together some of the sharpest minds from around the Asia-Pacific and Africa to speak to budding scholars on the changing nature of policy and regulation. With the objective of preparing these experts to contribute to ICT-related policy and regulatory reform in the region, the conference covered topics of communication policy research, the research-to-policy process and policy research methods. “It was here that I learned and understood the importance of research in affecting and implementing policy,” says Dawadi.

It was also at the conference that he met like-minded individuals, all working to affect ICT policy in different parts of the region and sharing his goal – connecting communities.

“The conference reinforced the need to carry out quality research in the field of computer science and information technology,” he added. Armed with learnings from CPRsouth 2014, as well as the contacts made, he returned to Nepal and took on the role of a researcher and academic fellow, with his main aim being to take ICT to rural areas around Nepal, including his own home town.

After visiting community centers in rural areas and analyzing their status, he began research on a sustainable and affordable way to expand ICT in rural areas. “I put forward recommendations based on current standards, like subsidization and the vision for expansion. We also pushed for free content access and a central government network in place of the inaccessible rural network.”

In 2017, the NTA commenced an in-network expansion to these areas based on his recommendations.

Not merely happy with taking ICT to rural areas but with a vision to make it accessible to all, Dawadi was also committed to addressing the lack of ICT resources among rural communities. Implementing a project initiated while working as the regulator, his vision to “connect skills and connect communities” is now in action.

“We mobilized ICT volunteers who would support ICT access centers and educate rural folk in ICT’s impact on development.” The government, who backed these ICT volunteers up to district level, just implemented the second phase of the project for 2018 given its impressive project outcome.

Currently working as an Assistant Professor and the Vice Chair of the ICT Resource Lab at the Institute of Engineering (IOE), Tribhuvan University, Nepal, Dawadi remains committed to his cause of connecting rural Nepal to the world, as well as encouraging other young scholars to affect the same in their communities.

“Right now, my research focus is on network migration in a sustainable way. We have to either replace network equipment or upgrade it. But we are a developing country, and don’t have sufficient funds. So, we are putting economical recommendations to the government,” he adds.

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