They Counted Money in the Basket: Exploring Electronic Payment Options in Nepal (dot-GOV)

In our grandfather’s time
The words of the Nepalese folk song say, In our grandfather’s time, they counted money in the basket. Money has historically taken many forms. It has evolved from shells to coins to plastic cards. Likewise, financial transactions have varied in method and complexity. Whether you’re trading a chicken for a bag of rice - closing the deal with a smile and a bow - or wiring funds between banks – verifying the transaction with digital signatures - the process is basically the same. It’s simply a matter of matching the method with the circumstance. Everyone wants the transaction to be as simple, effective and inexpensive as needed for the situation.

Creating a more enabling policy environment for electronic transactions
USAID/Nepal expressed an interest in addressing this issue and asked dot-GOV to provide two experts who could speak from practical experience about the challenges faced by businesses and NGOs under the current Electronic Transaction Act, and what other measures might be needed to create a more enabling policy environment.

This was the underlying theme of the all-day workshop in Nepal on February 29th, 2005 (as a part of InfoTech 2005) hosted by HMG-Nepal’s High Level Commission on Information Technology (HLCIT), the Computer Association of Nepal (CAN) and USAID. The workshop, and associated meetings with local leaders, was lead by Thamel International, a business development consulting firm, engaged by Internews and the dot-GOV initiative. The event was billed as a National Workshop on Cyber Security, and titled Building e-Payment and e-Signature Infrastructure that Meets User Needs. USAID/Nepal handled local logistics and made sure the consultants had exposure to government and the private sector.

Bringing key stakeholders together to build a common understanding
Nepal is at a critical stage in its economic development. Recent government initiatives highlight the desire to create an environment free of negative forces that drag down local initiative and socio-economic change. The people of Nepal want to continue to demonstrate the creativity and capacity that has made them a regional center of trade over the centuries. To do this, Nepalese infrastructure needs to match local and international expectations, including support of electronic commerce and e-government. One of the challenges associated with this goal is to raise the awareness and understanding of related issues across a diverse stakeholder community. The purpose of the recent workshop was to bring together leaders from government agencies, local financial and commercial enterprises, and community-based organizations to explore various electronic payment options and associated legal and technical infrastructure. The intent was to build a common language and understanding of user needs.

Key messages at the workshop
Over 150 people attended the workshop. The inaugural ceremony speakers, Sharad Chandra Shahs (Vice-Chairman, HLCIT), Atma Ram Ghimire (Secretary, HLCIT), Biplav Man Singh (President, CAN), and Donald Clark (Director, USAID-Nepal) provided strategic perspectives. Background information on current e-payment and cyberlaw activities was shared by Rajib Subba (First Vice-President, CAN), Vivek Rana (Chief of IT and MIS, Nepal Bank Limited) and Santosh Gyawali (ICT Coordinator, USAID-Nepal).

The workshop was led by Bal Joshi and Robert Granger, co-founders of Thamel International, LLC. Bal Joshi is Nepalese, and is co-founder of Thamel Dot Com, a pioneering e-commerce business headquartered in Kathmandu. His first-hand experience with e-payment systems in Nepal, as well as his ability to communicate in local language and with local anecdotes was a highlight of the day. Robert Granger, a former executive at Hewlett-Packard and Peace Corps volunteer, brought a combination of content knowledge, international business and development experience. The two knit together a combination of descriptive information and analytical frameworks that helped the workshop participants understand electronic payment and signature systems in the context of the local environment. A model for “Total Economic Value” was outlined, and used as a basis for evaluating various e-payment options. User segments were identified for Nepal and the status and appropriateness of various e-payment systems were reviewed for each segment. Gauged by the number of comments and questions during the discussion period, the information stimulated interest and forward thinking.

To complement the workshop, leaders of the HLCIT, CAN and commercial enterprises held some meetings to further discuss the implication of the content. Particularly useful discussions revolved around next-steps in the evolution of Nepal’s Electronic Transaction Act and cyber law, and the potential implementation of a national smart-card service. Recommendations were made based on the needs of user segments representing significant short-term benefits to the country. This included needed enhancements to the banking systems in support of remittances from non- resident Nepalese, and the needs of the tourism and travel industry. Expectations are high that these discussions will yield an increase in the effectiveness of future decisions and actions.

Capacity building and cross-training
One of the important aspects of policy and regulatory development is the process of bringing stakeholders together for collective capacity building. In areas of specialty - like the rule-of- law, technology and business development - experts from each discipline need to expand their knowledge of the other relevant areas. This cross-training is critical to the collaborative process. Likewise, representatives of the public and private sectors, and civil society, have an obligation to educate others on the needs and priorities of their constituents. From this collective understanding of needs and content, priorities and actions can be set. As the saying goes in the world of design, form follows function. This is the desired outcome and impact of this initiative in Nepal.

Follow up potential
USAID/Nepal is determining how it will follow up this activity. At the end of the 21st century, future generations in Nepal may sing, in our grandfather’s time, they counted money in the computer. They may look with nostalgia at the days when khukuri’s were traded on eBay, paid for from electronic wallets, and the sale verified by digital thumbprints. They will remember how consumers – and businesses - first stepped into this world of electronic transaction knowing that there was a safety net of legal, technical and infrastructural systems protecting their interests. Now that’s something worth singing about.



For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Tisch, Ph.D.
Chief-of-Party, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833-5740 x 203
Email:

Laura Samotshozo
DOT-COM Project Manager, EGAT/I&E/ICT
United States Agency for International Development
Tel: 202 712-4562
Email:

USAID: Santosh Gyawali
, USAID/Nepal
United States Agency for International Development
Email:

Related DOT-COM Activity
Nepal - Workshop on Building e-Payment & e-Signature Infrastructure that Meets Users Needs
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