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Bina | Executive Director - KOPILA Nepal

The Charity

Koirala Marga

Kopila Nepal is committed to preventing psychological problems in rural people through awareness and education, providing counselling and treatment for those who are affected by psychosocial problems, ending gender discrimination and domestic violence against women and girls and improving the independence of single women (widows) through vocational training, income generation and legal awareness.


Women in Development

Bina Name
Executive Director

Can you briefly describe your current role, perhaps a typical day?

In our KOPILA office, every day begins with our morning meeting, where every staff member gathers in my office to summarize their activities – what they accomplished the day before, and what they plan to achieve for the day.

On any given day, there is always a mountain of administration work to be done – e-mails and letters to donors and field staff, reviewing invoices and signing cheque vouchers, writing and reviewing quarterly, semi-annual, and annual reports and evaluations for our numerous projects; the list goes on. There are also in-person meetings with current and potential donors, board of director members, and field staff delivering reports from remote villages. I also help prepare and review applications for government and donor funding.

My day can also take me away from the office. I participate in various meetings with local and federal government agencies, associated NGOs and civil societies. In addition, I could be visiting remote areas of Western Nepal where our programs take place. During these trips, I meet with the target groups, our staff, and key community leaders, and I monitor and evaluate the progress our hardworking team has made over time. I then offer constructive feedback to improve our team's efforts. These inspections can last several hours, or it can range to a couple of days of true village life!
Closer to home, the office work continues by me always being mindful of our operating budget and Kopila's financial status. My team and I work to ensure that proper fiscal planning is being adhered to throughout the year so that we are operating at our maximum strength. 

Please tell us the story about the founding of KOPILA. 

 The inception of KOPILA-Nepal goes back to 2001, when my husband, Prakash, and I were located in different regions. What little free time I had in those days I mostly spent travelling to and from my job, all throughout different parts of Nepal back to my family at home in Pokhara. Through some luck, Prakash and I both managed to secure jobs for ourselves in Pokhara itself, allowing us both more time to devote to our two young daughters. However, I never forgot my experiences of travelling the villages and rural communities of Nepal, and the memories of how few opportunities the people there had, especially the children, stayed with us as we settled into life in Pokhara.
Prakash and I talked about doing something substantial to help those people. We researched the possibility of founding an organization with the specific goal of raising the standards of village life that we had left behind. After we discussed the idea with several close friends and colleagues, our mind was made up. Prakash drafted our organization's original constitution, and KOPILA-NEPAL was born.
The word "KOPILA" in Nepali means a flower bud that has not yet bloomed. We proudly and humbly adopted the word "KOPILA" into our official name to remind ourselves that it is never too late for any individual of any age to blossom into their ideal person, a participating member of their community and someone worthy of respect.

Is it common for a woman in Nepal to start up or run a development organisation? As a woman did you find it easier to relate to the needs of your beneficiaries?

Generally speaking, it is very rare to find a woman who has helped to found and manage a development organization anywhere in Nepal. Most women find themselves restrained by a hurdle of socio-economic issues prevalent in our society which prevents such an endeavour.
Even as a woman, it remains difficult to relate to our beneficiaries' numerous needs. To understand why, one must fully understand the social climate KOPILA operates in. Social stigmas continue to persist in many different forms; a few examples include mainstream gender discrimination, the Nepali caste system, and the constant political power struggles. At a more grassroots level, sexual harassment and abuse perpetrated in rural areas by village leaders against women is commonplace, as most cases are unreported or simply dismissed by authorities. In an environment where it is sometimes physically dangerous for us "outsiders" to discuss these topics with local women, this remains an ongoing challenge.
There is often a perception amongst those in the commercial world that charity work is an easier career option, with fewer hours and targets and less stress. Do you think this is true? 

I would argue that generally speaking, the hours are shorter than those working in the commercial "for-profit" world, and the goals and targets may not be as lofty. However, if that is the rule, then KOPILA is the exception to the rule. For most of our staff, our day does not just start at 10am and end at 5pm sharp – myself included. Overnight fieldwork for weeks at a time, living, sleeping, and supervising at women's safe homes and children's orphanages, even drafting proposals and replying to emails late at night from home – our dedicated staff handle all of these tasks when required.

What are the challenges you face in your work? What would you say are the benefits you’ve experienced working international development sector?

The challenges we face here are as complex as they are numerous. KOPILA operates on limited funds provided by our generous donors and partners, which constitute our operating budget. Like all NGOs, we are mindful that our funds are limited, so care is taken to allocate and spend our resources as efficiently as possible.
A further challenge is staff retention. It can be quite trying at times for our new staff members to adjust to life working in remote mountain or hillside villages, away from our families and many modern luxuries such as reliable (or any) electricity, indoor plumbing, sources of entertainment, and internet access. They also have to adjust to a different way of life which may include some food scarcity, lower standards of health and hygiene, poor/terrible road conditions, and sometimes being in close contact with livestock. Some counsellors become trained and experienced by working with KOPILA for maybe 6 months to a year, before they move on to other endeavours. At times, minimizing staff turnover can be a large challenge we face as an organization.
It is a little selfish of me to say this, but the greatest benefit to my working as part of the KOPILA team has been my own levels of personal satisfaction. As a founding member of the organization, KOPILA is truly near and dear to my heart. I enjoy and take great pride in helping others achieve their potential – this includes our own staff members and volunteers as well as our beneficiaries. Being in a position of influence with KOPILA permits me to share my vision with our hardworking staff so that our programs are that much more effective and beneficial for our target groups.
A job in the development sector can often mean a more modest salary and sometimes a change in lifestyle. Do you think this is easier for a woman to adjust to these changes?

I think that this depends greatly upon the NGO that you are working for, their management and executive teams, and their policies which determine staff salaries. Some NGOs pay their staff very well; however, there will always be others that do not.
For Nepal in recent years, there have been many, many cases of fluctuating prices for basic necessities, which can change month to month, or even week to week. The market reacts to the salaries that are paid to civil servants in Nepal's government, and every time the government increases their own salaries, the market price of most goods increases. For most businesses, let alone NGOs, they are unable to match a similar percentage increase in their staff's salaries, so the price of goods increases at a higher rate than the level of salaries. This adds to the existing burden for most women, which makes it more challenging for a woman working in the development sector.
Do you think there are more or different barriers to women working overseas in charities in less developed countries compared to more western countries?

I believe that there are more AND different barriers to women working in developing countries for a variety of reasons, and unfortunately, most of them have to do with deep-rooted gender discrimination and stereotypical ways of thinking.
In many developing countries, the man is the authority of the family unit. Especially in Nepal, many husbands forbid their wives from going outside of the home to work. Women are expected to have and raise children, care for the house, and tend to any gardens or livestock that is owned by the family. Both men and women are raised from childhood with this belief, so in many cases, women know not to try to violate this.
Even if a woman successfully obtains a job, whether it is working in a charity or not, she continues to face many obstacles. Women sometimes face verbal abuse and sexual harassment from male colleagues who believe that she should be at home instead. There are also very few outlets available for a woman to report this abuse; either there is no authority to report this to, or the authority does not take the woman's complaint seriously and no follow up work is done.
In my own experience of working through various organizations before starting to work with KOPILA, I had to take the public bus at night many times. At that time, almost no women took the bus after dark, only men, and many of them hurled verbal insults my way as the only woman on the bus. Although my experiences during this time only made me stronger as a person, for many women, they would be intimidated enough to convince themselves that it is easier and "the proper thing" to simply remain at home.
I do believe that women even in the western countries continue to face challenges to working outside of the home, but they fall short of what they would have experienced in the developing world.
Do you think development programmes are adequately addressing these issues?

I believe that, especially in the last three to five years, development programs have done a lot of positive work in addressing some of these issues.
NGOs working in many different geographical areas and with a wide range of objectives have made positive changes for women throughout Nepal. I also believe that these changes are both economic as well as social. Be it raising women's rights awareness at a grassroots level, or through providing seed money and training to develop skills needed to start and run any income-generation activities, NGOs have helped lift many women higher on the socioeconomic ladder and given them a feeling of independence they may not have experienced before.
NGOs are also amongst the highest employers of women in Nepal, either as paid staff or as volunteers. By giving women opportunities to work alongside their male counterparts and interact with their community, they are provided a chance to demonstrate their abilities outside of the home. This in turn raises the standard of women and reduces perceptions of what a woman "can and can't do". Hopefully, this inspires other women like them to seek out new opportunities for themselves.
Do you feel there is more gender equality across the development sector today?

Generally speaking, yes. There is visibly more female participation in NGOs today than for example, ten years ago.
However, the same cannot be said of women's participation in the decision making process, which is almost always male dominated. Throughout the development sector, members of the board of directors are vastly male, with hardly any female representation. The same can be said of the chairperson of these same boards; in almost all cases, it is a chairman and not a chairwoman. This gender disparity is common not only in NGOs but also in government and political parties as well.
Even though gender equality has made great strides in many areas in the development sector, there is still a long way to go until true equality is achieved.
What qualities do you feel one needs to have a successful career in international development?

In no particular order:
Academic Qualifications – you can be the life of the party but at the end of the day, you need to know what you're talking about. Getting the relevant education and maintaining your knowledge through ongoing training workshops and seminars will prepare you for your career.
Neutrality & Impartiality – in this field, you must leave your beliefs at the door, including religious, political, and personal leanings. You are helping your fellow human beings, and everyone should be treated with equal respect and courtesy. There is no room for bias here.
Commitment & Dedication – be ready, willing, and able to do the jobs or tasks that you don't want to do. Many times during my career, I questioned why I was expected to undertake certain tasks which I did not want to do. At the end of the day, it is all about serving the needs of our beneficiaries, and "doing what is required" is part of the job description.
Openness & Honesty – many of the people we try to help are the most disadvantaged in our society. Most likely, you will come from a relatively privileged background and will be experiencing their world for the first time. Don't act aloof and don't hold high opinions of yourself – you will never earn anyone's trust or respect this way. Be kind, be frank, and be open and honest with others; they will appreciate your trust more often than not.
Self Confidence – trust yourself and your abilities!!! If this is the career you've always imagined for yourself, do not let anyone distract, demoralize, or disregard what you are trying to accomplish. If you will not believe in yourself, why should anyone else? You should also see the organization as if it were your own project and accept that you are working for the benefit of others. You should never join the development sector for financial reasons.
Who or what has been the greatest influence/inspiration on your career in development?
Firstly, my parents have been my greatest inspiration my whole life. They encouraged me to follow my dreams and not to be held back to social norms. Even after I had my first daughter, the message was the same – get yourself to school and find a job that you love. They were amazing, earnest, and hardworking people, and they are all the more inspirational to me, considering that they were both illiterate.
My husband Prakash is truly the light of my life and one of my great inspirations. Even when I first met him almost thirty years ago, he was, and remains, totally different from a typical Nepali man. Everything that I have done either at home or throughout my career, Prakash has supported and encouraged me 100%. One fond memory I have is of working in Mid-Western Nepal; even though I could drive a small motorbike, I was not prepared for the huge motorcycle that the company assigned me to use! Prakash travelled almost daily to meet with me for driving lessons, something very rare for a woman at that time for such a huge bike! In the end, Prakash gives what I like to call "progressive love" – love for not only oneself, but encouragement and support for activities one takes to better themselves.
This list would not be complete without Dr Dick Harding, a representative for the United Mission to Nepal (UMN). He was one of the interviewers for a much sought after vacancy in the UMN. I had fewer academic qualifications than most of the other applicants for the position, and my English was quite poor. Dr Harding recommended me to the post, and I then worked alongside him for many years during my time with the UMN. He was the single most responsible person for allowing me to begin my life's calling in the development sector, and I owe much to him to this day.
Last but certainly not least would be my two daughters, Prabina and Pratistha, who continue to inspire me every day. They did not make great demands of me or my time, and never once begged me to stay home; they inherently understood what I was doing and why I was doing it, and never put great strains or pressures on me. I am proud of the well-rounded and compassionate young women they have grown up to be, and they serve as my daily dose of inspiration at home.

What advice would you give to other women considering starting a career in the field?

Women must be confident in their own abilities and address each task one at a time. Do not get overwhelmed looking at the forest as one huge project; look at each tree as a separate task instead.
Secondly, you must be able to trust that your family can survive without you always being around. Through your words and actions, build trust with your partner and your children that home life will continue even if you are not there, either because you are staying late at the office or you are away for a few days in the field. Giving yourself this peace of mind will allow you to focus all of your thoughts and energy at the task at hand.
Next, do not be afraid to show humility and compassion towards the people that you are trying to help, who are often amongst the lowest people in society. No matter your background or where you come from, be prepared to sleep on the floor. Help them in their work, cook and eat with them, be prepared to walk a mile in their shoes. This is the only way you can build trust and a meaningful relationship with others.
Do not be afraid to speak out on issues where you feel you are being mistreated or not heard. If there is any harassment or mistreatment, be prepared to speak out against it. If you do not, others will walk all over you and devalue your contributions. Don't get pushed around – push back instead.
Finally, and most importantly, GO THE EXTRA MILE! Your client is not the donor or the sponsor; it is the disadvantaged people who are the beneficiaries of your hard work! Going the extra mile serves two purposes, the most obvious being that your efforts will bring greater results and meaning to the work you are doing, ultimately helping others. But it also helps you out as well; you may be judged twice in everything you do – once on the quality of your work and once on the quality of your work as a woman. Throughout the developing world, women are automatically judged as being inferior to men both in terms of quality of work and performance. Going the extra mile and delivering on every single task and commitment will aid you in breaking this stereotype, for yourself, and for other women in your field as well.