David Walker

While still working in Nepal on my doctoral research (Understanding Pictures), I was hired as World Education’s technical adviser on a USAID grant to design a nonformal education program for rural villagers. From 1979 to 1986, I worked with the Center for Research, Innovation and Development (CERID) at the Ministry of Education.  Initially, the program focused on visual materials to stimulate discussion and generate awareness, but the groups kept asking when we were going to teach them to read and write. So that led our team over the next few years to develop Nepal’s national literacy program (Naya Goreto – A New Trail). We were also able to persuade a reluctant Ministry of Education to allow International NGOs to use the literacy program.


Women were particularly attracted to the program (men were embarrassed to admit they were illiterate), but husbands and fathers were reluctant to let the women participate. They wanted their wives at home, and fathers said no one would want to marry their daughters if they were educated. Slowly attitudes changed. Literate wives felt confident enough to shop and do small business activities, and boys chose the literate girls for marriage over those who were not.


I returned to the U.S. in 1986 and worked briefly on the development of a literacy initiative at CIE. In 1988 I returned to Nepal, this time with PACT. After two years as chief technical adviser to the training unit of Her Majesty the Queen’s Social Service National Coordinating Council, I was able to set up a separate PACT office and served as country director. By this time the literacy program had become so popular that virtually every INGO in Nepal was using it. In 1990, there was a people’s revolution in Nepal, and one of the results was a loosening of restrictions on the formation of local NGOs. Hundreds sprang up, all hoping to get donor funding, but donors generally had a rule that they would only consider local NGOs that had three years’ experience. 


With a grant from USAID, PACT launched a three-year program to utilize these newly formed NGOs to implement a massive literacy effort.  If an NGO could enroll 300 women, PACT would support them to run 10 literacy classes.  We trained trainers to train their facilitators, provided materials, and sent our trainers out as supervisors to visit every class. The project used over 1,000 NGOs in almost all of Nepal’s 75 districts to reach 500,000 women.  Many of these NGOs went on to become well-established organizations.


The newly literate women wanted to get jobs or find some way to earn money. PACT formed a few savings groups and experimented with applying the principles of micro-credit but without external funds.  Working together with CIE graduate Keshab Thapaliya, we found women were eager to save and that they could save.  The advantage of relying on savings was that the bank members themselves took responsibility for collecting their loans.  Unlike other micro-credit models where interest went to supporting the staff of an implementing agency, the interest earned in these groups stayed in the community and was distributed three times a year to the bank members as dividends, based on their savings.  Encouraged by these results, the USAID Mission funded a project that enabled PACT to bring literacy and micro-finance to over a 100,000 women. 


I left Nepal in 1998 when my wife was appointed to a position at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. I worked at the Office of Social and Economic Development and continued developing the savings-based Community Banking Program in other countries around the world, from Nepal to Nicaragua, from Mongolia to Malawi. Many experienced practitioners of micro-finance warned us that savings would never generate enough capital to make a difference.  But to give just one example, there was a 30-member village bank that started with each member contributing 10¢ a week in mandatory savings. During the first three-month cycle the bank was able to give two loans: one for $10 and the other for $15.


Soon some of the members began contributing voluntary savings. They also adjusted the bank rules to fit their circumstances. For example, they decided to give only four-week loans instead of 16-week loans; they raised the interest rate the bank charged from 2% a month to 10% (the local money-lenders charged 100% per day); and they began lending to non-members. The members also doubled their mandatory savings to 20¢ a week and later to 40¢ a week. To make a long story short, at the end of five years this village bank had $10,000 in capital and had given out over $100,000 in loans. They had also set aside 20% of their profits at the end of each cycle for a “community development fund,” which they used to build a motorable wooden bridge across a creek.


After 15 years at the Baha’i World Centre my wife and I left Haifa in 2013 and moved back to the States. We are now living in Florida. [3-21]


Email: dwalker10@hotmail.com


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