Understanding the ecosystem: Fellowship journey of Bidhya

Featured | JULY 10 2019

This blog post is written by Bidhya Rimal, an Open Data Women Fellow 2019

I got the opportunity to be engaged in Open Data Women Fellowship and it was one of the most unique experiences where I got to learn various ideas and engage with other women who were working in data. It was serendipitous as I stumbled upon this opportunity just when I was done with my final semester examinations. I came to know about this fellowship through Facebook and applied promptly. I vividly remember the first day which was the orientation, I was introduced for the first time to all of the intriguing ladies selected for the fellowship. Everyone was from a diverse background and had eccentric qualities of their own.

The structure of the fellowship was such that there were ten different organizations and ten different fellows to be placed in each organization. But before that happened, all of us would have to visit the respective organization for training. It was fascinating to visit all the organization and learn about the distinctive work that they have been doing. Most of the work they were doing was quite extraordinary. One, for example, it made me aware of how the issue with open data in Nepal is not the lack of accessibility but availability of data in digital form. I got to know that each of these organizations was contributing to the issue of open data in their own way.

As the program went forward, I was placed at Freedom Forum among the ten organizations. Freedom Forum is a pioneer working toward the protection and promotion of human rights, press freedom, freedom of expression, and right to information in Nepal. The work Freedom Forum has been doing is phenomenal for the strengthening of freedom of expression in Nepal.

My first week working there was overwhelming for me because everyone was a senior with an ample amount of experience in the field and I was just an undergraduate with very little knowledge. Nonetheless, everyone was cooperative to help me understand things I found difficult to comprehend. So, the first week was reading all the previous reports and research work.

I also had the privilege to attend a discussion on the IT Bill 2075, where the members of parliament were present. The discussion consisted of topics such as the Registration of Social Networks, Data Retention, Censorship, Intermediary Liability Issues. As a student of IT, this was an enriching opportunity for me where I got to learn about how policies affect the industry’s progress and how regulation is not the answer we are looking for.

I was also working on a demonstration of mapping and analysis of existing open data initiatives at the federal and local level in Nepal. The research was carried out in 2017 reviewed and analyzed the supply side initiatives of the government and intermediaries, as well as access to information by citizens, particularly women and marginalised groups (WMGs). According to the survey, the main barriers to access and use digital information were education (57%), language (49%), and technology (45%). Others were lack of interest  (37%), data availability (33%), and presentation of information (26%). Interestingly, cost (19%) and accessibility for the disabled (5%) were not seen as major barriers. This suggests the need for a combination of awareness-raising measures (to address lack of interest); capacity building and supporting access to technology as some intervention areas.

Other workings at Freedom Forum that I would like to highlight and had a wonderful time doing was Gender Contents Monitoring of National Media which showcased that Women as reporter and article writer comprise 9% and 22% respectively in the main news stories and articles of nine print dailies. Likewise, online news contains 15% news with female byline. 

Overall, working in Freedom Forum was an everyday learning experience which I shall forever cherish. With regards to Open Data, there is so much to be done to make data freely available, accessible to everyone and we are just taking baby steps to make it possible.

Lastly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude toward Open Knowledge Nepal and Freedom Forum for being there throughout this journey, helping me and guiding me in every way possible.