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Supporting the Voices of People on the Move

The Citizen Helpdesks are a pioneering citizen feedback, dialogue and community voice platform for people on the move in Nepal

Photo of Narayan Adhikari

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Nepal is a country plagued by corruption, economic mismanagement and an unemployment rate of over 40%. As a result, it faces huge challenges related to migration- as many as 1,600 people leave the country every day in search of work. But the processes- for migrating, working abroad and reintegrating into Nepali society- are corrupt, opaque and dangerous. Nepalis are routinely sold into what is essentially modern-day slavery; the Nepali government does very little to support them in realising their rights or obtaining justice for mistreatment; and Nepali society makes life extremely difficult for those left behind. At the heart of all of this is a lack of information among citizens about processes, rights and decision-making; and a deep lack of trust in authority. The Citizen Helpdesks gather information on critical problems related to migration through community surveys. We then feed validated information on these issues back down to communities through local radio shows, community meetings, films and more, facilitating conversations about key migration challenges and working with partners (local government and businesses) to solve problems. We have also formed a grassroots network of returnee migrant workers who come together to ensure their lived experience is taken into consideration in local level decision making. The Helpdesks ensure that everyone understands migration and closes the feedback loop between citizens, governments, the media and the private sector.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The Citizen Helpdesks are now working in 14 local government units covering 4 provinces in Nepal in the districts of Sindhuplachowk, Nuwakot, Dhading, Kavre, Tanahun, Surkhet and Banke. We target these districts because these are the areas from which the highest percentage of Nepalis are migrating abroad and in which we have deep networks from our post-earthquake work on accountability.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The Hepdesks build bridges in 3 ways- first between people on the move themselves, through building a network of migrants outside Nepal who can support each other to solve their shared problems. Second, between power-holders (local government officials, business people and the media) and migrants, to help the realization of rights and ensure responsible governance. And third, between returnee migrants and their neighbors in Nepali villages, where they work together to improve their communities.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

The Helpdesks are solving for joy, hope and dignity, and beyond these- trust. The program has done everything from working to release jailed migrants from prison in Malaysia, to reuniting families, to supporting women to push back against sexual exploitation. All of this creates a demonstration effect for others- even when the situation seems bleak, friends and loved ones will return safely. The Helpdesks also support dignity at a very fundamental level- by supporting Nepalis to understand their rights, meaningfully engage in paid labor, and support their families to live better lives. One of the key pieces of feedback we constantly receive is that the dignity it provides is essential to community wellbeing. In the longer-term, the Helpdesks build trust- between citizens, and between citizens and power-holders. In a place where government and business have never been oriented towards ordinary people, this provides the basis for an entirely new way of supporting development in Nepal.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The Helpdesks create change in three key ways. First, they solve immediate problems for migrants and their families- related to legal, financial, procedural and societal challenges. This supports these communities in tangible ways. Second, the process helps to streamline processes for migration going forwards more broadly- it provides information to communities to create a shared basis of understanding, debunks rumors and engages power-holder in the challenges. Third, it creates a larger conversation about changing the laws and rules governing migration out of Nepal- as we use the evidence and information to ensure governance changes at the province and central levels. We measure all of this through ongoing data collection, story-telling from communities and feedback from migrants and returnees using real-time surveys, townhall meetings and door-to-door meetings. We also have several external evaluations of the impact of the program.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

It is a travesty of the development process that citizens are rarely consulted about the decisions that affect their lives, particularly in hard-to-reach places. Where data is collected, the process is extractive and often used by malign actors to reinforce the corrupt status-quo, in which the voices or people on the move- like migrants in Nepal- are ignored or neglected. This is not good enough. After the earthquakes in Nepal we mobilized our networks in all the worst affected places- and heard appalling stories of neglect, abuse and graft from internal migrants and those leaving to escape the chaos and support their families. We knew we had to do something about it. Too many organizations did the well-meaning thing- focusing on immediate relief efforts, but we realized that real change in communities will come from much deeper and longer-term work to support hope, build trust and push for better governance for people on the move. That is what the Helpdesks do.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

These parts of Nepal are often very poor, remote and excluded from decision-making. Outgoing migration from these districts is huge- more than 1 in 2 young men from these communities leave at some point for work abroad, despite the dangers. This leaves women and elderly people in the communities, often for years at a time, to deal with ongoing challenges. The men in power who remain have often participated in corrupt, exclusionary decision-making for decades and have no lived experience of the challenges. Many of these areas were badly affected by the earthquakes in 2015, and migration has only increased since that time. But the resilience and innovation among the citizens with which we work is incredible, and with the support of the CHDs they are transforming their communities through active participation in decision-making, network-building and sustained advocacy for the rights of people within their communities on the move.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Supporting people on the move requires a shift from the “needs assessment” mindset to the “asset mapping” mindset. The communities we work with have incredible assets that support collective solutions to the problems we work with them to identify- these are intellectual (their increasing trust and unfailing humanity); institutional (community organizations and religious bodies); physical (their natural resources); social (knowledge and networks); and finally financial (in-kind support and small amounts of money). We find that financial assets are rarely the most important resources a community has or needs. We support the communities to leverage these assets through gathering information about the challenges (creating a shared basis of understanding about the issues) and working with partners to understand how these strengths can be mobilized and brought together in ways that can improve lives (solving problems and building trust).

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Our work is a collaborative effort. First, we work with 14 local government units to respond to the needs of migrants, change policies and procedures and address concerns. Second, we work hand in hand with individual journalists and the media to gather and disseminate information to the communities- for example radio DJs use our infographics for Q and A shows on air. Third, we work with a network of NGOs that are dedicated to human rights and migration issues, and can provide services to the migrant workers and their families. For example, the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice helps in providing legal support to migrants, and the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee provides rescue support. In addition, we also work with government institutions at the central level such as Department of Foreign Employment and the Foreign Employment Board to gather validated information on policies, connect migrant workers with government services and support legal changes.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Returning home

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full Scale Roll Out: We have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base (i.e. when innovation has reached 84% or above of the target population or above 1,000,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Accountability Lab Nepal

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Accountability Lab Nepal makes governance work for people by supporting active citizens, responsible leaders and accountable institutions. In Nepal, migration is such a huge social, economic and political issues it is impossible to talk about governance without touching on it in some way. The Citizen Helpdesks provide a mechanism for us to approach the issue of people on the move from a governance perspective- working to solve the core underlying issues as well as critical, real-life problems for citizens. This builds trust in the process and has allowed for its development over time. The Helpdesks are a core part of our Theory of Action that seeks to support collective efforts, influence decision-making and shift norms in Nepal. We are the right group to solve this problem because we have deep experience with the issues, a large network with the migrant community both in Nepal and in the destination countries, and we are well connected to power-holders at every level who can addre

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. How can we collaborate with other international organizations to better connect migrants with information, resources, and support?Or What is the best approach to support migrant workers in finding employment? 2. How can we partner with lager multilateral organizations, such as the ILO, IOM and the UN, to improve visibility and outcomes? 3. How can we ensure the sustainability of these approaches and explore revenue models?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

We have greatly valued the feedback that we received through a number of avenues. The first being the online forum. 

The feedback given through the forum allowed us to refine some broader ideas that we had, and also to expand on the simpler ideas as to their working practicalities. It also allowed us to understand how we might best  collaborate with other like minded NGOs. Secondly, the session with our mentor and his valuable feedback has encouraged us for continued creative thinking. By speaking with the mentor, we were able to understand and recognize what was lacking, including expansion of outcomes, connecting migrants abroad and making the whole program feasible and sustainable. The suggestions such as using online platforms to connect to a larger audience and attract more people in this network who understand the value of it and see their role and also showing the impact of our already tested model in interesting and creative ways in these platforms to get attention from diverse stakeholders helped us refine our idea. 

Thirdly, the feedback from the experts has helped us understand the dynamics of working with migrant workers across the borders, tapping into the network they have already developed through surveys. Further, we have built additional connections with partner organizations and multilateral organizations to add them into our resolution channels. 

Finally, our mentor encouraged us to further discuss our work with communities. Therefore we have consulted the communities that we are working with including local governments, returnee migrants, their families and civil society organizations.The need of the idea was approved by these stakeholders and they are enthusiastic to be a part of this process to build an ecosystem where feedback is a priority for both citizens and power-holders. 

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

One of the core objectives of BridgeBuilder funds is to promote meaningful engagement and sustainable, community-led change which directly aligns with the objectives of the Citizen Helpdesks model. The funds will allow us to enhance the capacity of diverse stakeholders to engage in discourse around migration and co-create solutions to the issues they identify. The BridgeBuilder Funds would allow us to tap into our existing strengths and build on our efforts to date.  Other funding opportunities often have their own objectives and do not allow us to do this in such a coherent way. Similarly, the network that BridgeBuilder Challenge has helped us build across the globe will also help us in engaging with the migrant communities that we find difficult to reach-- especially across borders.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

The BridgeBuilder funds will be used to support three key elements of our Citizen Helpdesk work, that we find difficult to cover from other sources. First, building the capacity of returnee migrants and local government units to engage and co-create solutions on issues related to migration. Second,to bring out unheard stories of migrant workers by engaging youth in visual-storytelling, and third, to support government make evidence based decisions on migration. Overall, the funds will support in creating a grassroot movement to sensitize the issue of migration in a sustainable manner and call for actions. The total estimated budget is US$200,000.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

18 months activity plan: (a) Enhancing capacity of migrant’s network through leadership, advocacy and peer learning workshop. Engage them in discussion through mini-meetings and facilitate their discussion with local government in Townhall Meetings.

(b) Bridging returnee migrant’s feedback with local governments  through periodic perception surveys, crowd sourcing of public voices through bulletins and IEC materials, peer learning, expert led workshops and facilitated dialogue. 

(c)Support central government to make evidence based decisions by providing them with real time feedback from the ground. 

(d) Build an ecosystem to resolve migration discourse by creating a common platform of resolution channels within and across borders to support migrant workers. (e) Visual story-telling school on migration for youth to bring out the unheard stories of migrant workers and their families. 

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

By the end of 2021, 14 local government units where CHD works in will have the capacity to engage with migrant workers and will co-create solutions to the problems they identify together. Similarly,  an organized but informal network of 2000 migrant workers will advocate their issues with the concerned stakeholders. Further, the central government makes evidence based decision from periodic feedback. Measurement: We will use both quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure we are tracking impact. The engagement of local government units with migrant workers will be recorded, and we will track and measure evidence based decisions made by local and central governments. We will track the engagement of migrant workers both offline and online as well as the issues raised and cases solved during the process.  Question: How do we encourage other local government units across the country to support migrant workers?

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Narayan Adhikari, Idea Leader: Provide support in formulating the strategies and overall guidance for the project. 

Soni Khanal, Project Manager: Oversee execution of the project; ensure effective running of project in a timely manner and within the budget; monitor progress, assess risks and make changes according to needs. 

Anu Dangol, Project Officer: Support the project manager by collecting, managing, and  analyzing data. 

Sunil Poudyal, Finance Manager: Manage project finance as per the grant agreements and compliance with local laws. 

Bikin Ghimire, Design, Data and Visualization Manager: Design the  surveys, bulletins, impacts info graphics and disseminate it. 

Community Frontline Associates (CFA): 7 CFAs will be responsible for planning, organising, and conducting the meetings/surveys on the ground.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

One of the major assumptions that we had earlier made was that the scope of our project was “reaching the ground” and engaging the migrant workers and communities in meaningful conversations. However, with the expert and mentor feedback, we realized that we have to highlight our impact in a much broader way and  engage a larger community in the migration discourse, as this will generate a different kind of sustained interest that will help us. Additionally, we realised that there is a need to tap into the existing networks for returnee migrants inside and outside Nepal through data collection and feedback . We will add this to our survey plan with the returnee migrant workers. In the improve phase we have consulted with a range of organizations, local government units, central government representatives, and additional mentors and experts to ensure we get diverse perspectives on the ideas.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Swatee Deepak

Hi, I'm Swatee, one of the expert reviewers. I love the work you are doing and hope my comments are useful! Good luck!

1.How can we collaborate with other international organizations to better connect migrants with information, resources, and support? Or What is the best approach to support migrant workers in finding employment?

The good place to start would be from surveying your returnee migrants or those using your services, where they are returning from/going, geographically - is it India, internally in Nepal or to other countries? Do you know which organisations they come into contact with along the route or in country? If so, it would make sense to link to organisations that are reaching out and build alliances with them.

In terms of international networks, many focus on specific issue areas such as trafficking or on children, such as ECPAT: https://www.ecpat.org You might also want to check out or the International worker solidarity network

In terms of supporting them finding employment - as you are working with such a vast group of people in multiple locations you might want to think about using social media- a platform that is accessible and people can use. You can then start message boards, e.g. Opportunities in Darjeeling, India and other people can add the information and details - not just for employment but training and other support as well.

2.How can we partner with larger multilateral organizations, such as the ILO, IOM and the UN, to improve visibility and outcomes?
I always think it’s important to question what impact you hope to achieve with partnering with multilateral and large organisations. They rarely have funding they give to new partners but can provide useful spaces to meet with relevant local partners, and understand how to frame your work for greater visibility or advocacy opportunities.

The best way is to network with any officials you may know in these organisations but if you don’t know anyone, join their mailing lists and follow their pages on social media: facebook, twitter etc, and keep an eye on the events so you can go and meet these groups. You can also post stories about your work on social media and tag them into the post to further your visibility.

YoI would ask yourself, how your work is u can also speak with Freedom Fund which is working to build local collaborations in Nepal:

3.How can we ensure the sustainability of these approaches and explore revenue models?

I would reach out to the current supporters of your work, funders, government, local communities and try and understand the value of your work to those putting in funding and build ideas from there - could they introduce you to other funders who could support your work, hold fundraisers and raise visibility about your work, could your networks and teams provide support to the Nepali government in offering or training government staff in return for payment for these services?

You could also sign up for free courses on creating social enterprises or building your business model on sites such Philanthropy University which also have access to funding opportunities:

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