Nepal has experimented with a range of government systems, from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to multi-party democracy. These shifts, however, have brought little in the way of change in the lives of ordinary citizens resulting in polarisation, civic disengagement and political apathy. Corruption and the misappropriation of public resources continue to weaken citizen trust in government.
Pratik Kunwar, the Founder of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), was motivated to initiate Shaasan in an effort to bridge the trust gap between citizens and government and to improve the effectiveness of public services and systems. Their flagship project, the ‘Shaasan App’ aims to engage citizens to promote transparency and accountability through a digital platform. The mobile app is free in order to enhance accessibility. Using the app, citizens can crowdsource and geotag civic concerns and problems via images/videos, send them to relevant public authorities, and eventually provide a score based on the effectiveness of the government response.
Shaasan was designed to transform Nepal from a procedural to a participatory democracy, enabling citizen-centered civic engagement through leveraging technology. The project integrates three significant components, specifically civic learning, civic engagement, and civic technology. It will promote active citizenry and capable political leadership, tackle political apathy and encourage effective policy and decision-making. Shaasan focuses on four thematic areas for effective and impactful outcomes; access to technology; election education and equity, social justice and advocacy, and effective delivery of public services.
In 2021-2022, Shaasan trained 800 young people in civic and leadership development, reaching 67 out of 77 districts. It has engaged more than 2,400 participants through panel discussions, community events, roundtables, and forums. Its digital and social media campaigns and outreach initiatives have reached over 200,000 Nepali citizens. Shaasan’s civic engagement app is an accessible and inclusive digital platform, which allows citizens to inform and report public service and infrastructure problems to relevant authorities. The free-of-charge application allows citizens to file complaints directly about their community’s crucial public service issues (such as unmanaged waste, flooding, and open drainage) to their local elected officials and government bodies. The application has launched in Kathmandu Valley, and the team is now partnering with over a dozen local units and municipalities.
Shaasan’s initial idea was shaped by the joint efforts of various stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. As an organization led by youth leaders, economists, designers, development workers, and community activists, it has worked closely with several government stakeholders. Shaasan drafted a plan to engage citizens through the Citizens Engagement Programme and elected representatives at both the through the Representatives Enhancement Programme (REP). They also received capacity building and mentorship through the Accountability Lab’s incubator programme to develop the idea around the Shaasan App.
The support from the government varies. Some local government bodies have engaged positively; for example, the Panauti Municipality Office launched the Shaasan App in their local communities and received support for entrepreneurship-related capacity-building interventions in municipalities through CEI. However, some local bodies could have been more approachable and supportive. Despite the challenges, the team continues to leverage its networks to drive its mission of participatory democracy.
Their approach prioritizes processes, technology, and systems, which differentiates them from others. First, the process they follow is one of inclusion. All of their programs are designed both for and with the communities they serve. They are co-designed with diverse citizens, field experts, and educators – completing feedback loops with each stakeholder after every reiteration. Second, they focus on civic technology and on building initiatives that induce transformational, rather than gradual, change. The App eliminates the cost of civic engagement and opens avenues of participation that are usually closed to marginalized citizens, including Dalits, Madhesis, migrants, undocumented residents, civil war victims, sex/gender minorities, and persons with disabilities. Third, the App publicizes each issue and connects with the local elected leader and a governmental body. This creates transparency and helps change existing inefficient systems.
Shaasan uses its social media presence to address the lack of information and disinformation, spread awareness, and engage the public on political and social problems in Nepal. Through its active Instagram campaign, Shaasan reaches over 12,000 followers by sharing relevant content, videos, and reels. The organisation’s representatives have had the opportunity to share their work at international forums and events, including the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Council of Europe for the 10th World Forum for Democracy, and the One Young World Summit in Manchester.