A Digital Dream Coming True in Nepal
“My day starts at 5 am. I wake up, wash and then get on with my house chores. I have a 10 year old son who I get ready and then drop off to school. Around 10 am I open my store. We live in a small community with about 150 people, our village is far from developed but we have access to television, electricity (about 5 hours a day), fresh drinking water from our community reserve and internet. It’s not much but we are happy here.” Subhadra Dahal is a 33-year-old women from a small village in Nepal, 35 km away from Kathmandu. I met her as we were in Panauti shooting a short documentary. Subhadra lives alone in a two-flour house with her son, her husband has been in Qatar for the past 6 year, common practice for men in Nepal to travel abroad for employment.
She is the owner of a small store where I stopped to buy a bottle of water. I couldn’t help but notice her using a ‘smartphone’. With a smile she said it was a gift sent by her husband. A small courtesy chat turned into an hour long talk when she mentioned that she was just about to pay her electricity bill with an App on her phone. She went on to explain that it enabled her to do everything from paying her utility bills, to top-up to checking her accounts online. The name of the App: IME Pay.
The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) programme MM4P has been providing technical assistance to IME Ltd to develop their digital finance project. Best foreign practices have been brought in to create an enabling environment for IME team to develop their mobile wallet system. The mobile money products, namely the mobile wallet is offered through the existing 7000 remittance agent network of IME Ltd. Reports show that 23 million people in Nepal are registered mobile phone users. The growing rates of internet banking services shows Nepalese people’s genuine interest in moving away from cash to a more cash-less arrangement.
In 2015, the department for payments systems of the central bank of Nepal, released its by-laws on payment and settlements. Since then, IME together with many other institutions that did not belong to the banking sector applied for a license. On June 21st 2017, IME became the first non-bank payment service provider to receive this license for operations in Nepal. This is an excellent news for people like Subhadra who can now reap the benefits of mobile money. “I don’t have to wait for hours in line to pay my utility bills now as I did over a year ago. I remember my customers complained that I closed my store on peak business hours and that was very inconvenient for them. I have also lost many customers who thought I didn’t take my job seriously. Now, those days are behind me and I can truly focus on my work and family.” says Subhadra with a bright smile.
Subhadra’s case is not an exception but a norm in context of sub-rural regions of Nepal. The majority of people who do not have access to personal computers or laptops have access to smartphones, which are their most valued asset. My encounter with Subhadra reminded me of an old saying, “A lack of knowledge creates fear. Seeking knowledge creates courage.” She is a true example of a new generation Nepalese women. Having to take care of her family, she has broken the age-old dogma of women being confined to kitchens and house chores. She has set an example that with the right knowledge and access to digital finance she can very well take on new endeavors to sustain the economic development of her family.
By Aliska Bajracharya, KM Consultant in Nepal