PHASE Nepal is a nonprofit with the mission to improve the livelihoods of rural people through the realms of health care, education, livelihoods, research, disaster risk management, and self-empowerment. The organization is working towards a self-empowered and self-sustained society where all discriminations are absent.
In our interview with Rudra Neupane, a Senior Program Manager based in Kathmandu and a 2018 Feedback Fellow, we spoke about what feedback looks like for an organization that often works with diverse populations and vulnerable communities. Rudra discusses how he and his team go about engaging and being present in different communities without imposing their ideals.
Kyende Kinoti, interviewer: Can you tell us what the focus of your organization’s feedback practice is and why listening is important to you?
Rudra Neupane, narrator: We are continuously growing and learning as an organization and we’d like to have better, lasting, impact with our interventions. We believe that our actions get better, more effective, and become lasting when we incorporate ideas from different constituencies and different sectors, be it beneficiaries, staff, or other stakeholders in different aspects of the programs and organizational development.
When we listen to the people, we get different ideas rather than imposing our own thoughts, ideas, and practices.
Therefore, we ask our staff on a biannual basis for their suggestions on the program and delivery design. Similarly, we also get feedback from different local stakeholders, local government, and local people on how they feel about the programs, how they want to utilize the resources, and what kind of support they want from us. We prioritize and promote improving indigenous practices, local knowledge, and local resources and we are now gradually focusing our interventions towards improving lives of the most vulnerable people – be it disaster victims, people with disabilities, single women, etc. – and that involves listening to them.
KK: How do you close the loop within your organization when you have such diverse communities that you are working with?
RN: We can segregate the constituencies for the best results. For example, with our staff, we have regular bi-annual meetings and in these meetings, they provide their personal suggestions about the program, management, and organization. We collect and compile all the ideas and suggestions, and we analyze them. Then, we go into the next meeting and dialogue with them about the ideas we collected and how we can address them, and in some cases, we have to explain our limitations.
With local governments and organizations similar to ours, we have discussions with them. These are often about collaboration in different program activities. They are generally face-to-face meetings, one-to-one conversations, and exchanges of emails. Whereas, with the communities, we do face-to-face meetings and home visits.
KK: What has been the most challenging step of the feedback loop for you? And why has it been challenging?
RN: We are embedded in the communities, and so there aren’t many challenges when we plan and engage with the constituencies and maintain transparency of our resources and processes. Our health staff stay in communities for as long as 10 months in a year, giving them a lot of opportunities to listen, to understand, and to have two-way face-to-face communication with the community. However, sometimes the expectations are a little higher than we can deliver on, therefore, we have to explain our limitations and work hard on providing supporting mechanisms.
More recently, we had initially designed a project to support 400 families but due to COVID our funds were reduced and we could support only 100 families. In that case, we were in very close communication with the local government from the beginning, including in the selection process of the 400 beneficiaries. We communicated our situation to the local government and we didn’t have to face any difficulty in reducing the number because they supported us in overcoming our limited resources.
KK: Do you have any specific examples where you have been able to close in the loop for a specific community when faced with certain limitations?
RN: In some of the communities, when we communicate very openly and transparently we have been able to gather resources from community members as well as from local government for the programs. For example, in Mugu district, we are doing a water supply project, and this was the demand of the residents. But, the project is rather big. We tried to collect funds, but we couldn’t reach the target. So, we communicated that to the community and to the local government and they agreed to contribute 10 percent of the total budget for the project and the local communities agreed to provide free labor. All together, we will be able to deliver most parts of the project.
KK: What changes have you seen happen among your constituents since you have implemented your feedback practice?
RN: When we started taking feedback from our staff, their motivation increased as well as their ownership towards the organization. They gradually started feeling that the organization supports them.
KK: What is one piece of advice you want to give someone who is just starting on their feedback journey?
RN: It is a continuous learning process. No one knows everything, but everyone knows something. My brother used to say, “we have two ears and one mouth, so, if we speak one word, we have to listen to two words. If we listen to two words, we can then speak better one word.”
Our conversation with Rudra illustrated the importance of leveraging diversity and learning from the communities you seek to serve. Indeed, people are the experts of their own lives, and the knowledge they have from their lived experiences and truths is pivotal for creating long-lasting social change.
The Feedback Fellowship is a 10-month program that focuses on building community and excelling feedback practice among the fellows. Feedback Fellows are people who work in nonprofits, government, or philanthropy who believe that their constituents, clients, and beneficiaries should have a say in the work and decisions that affect them.
The Feedback Crash Course is a training that equips participants with the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to listen and respond to feedback from the people they seek to serve.