With the ScaleSchool program we are building at OpenTeam, we want to build a system in Nepal where the producers get a fair price, while keeping the healthy, toxin-free organic foods still affordable for the consumers.

As you already may have heard from us, we have been busy building public understanding of the organic market though the research on the level of awareness of organic in the Agnisair Krishnasaraban Rural Municipality. Our objectives were to find out what the food decision-makers understand about organic vs. conventional, their willingness to consume more organic foods, and what conditions should change, like availability, prices and so on.

What we didn’t anticipate was the whole adventure and learnings along the way, which we feel are useful to share with all in this article!

Preparing the Survey with a Multicultural Team

The process of preparing a research study to be conducted in another culture with another mindset to research and data collection was a wonderfully challenging experience, even if some grey hairs were grown by the whole team. The preparations took place both in Nepal and in Paris. For our Nepalese research lead, many of the questions asked by our French counterpart, seemed somewhat… absurd. And vice versa, the French team had difficulties figuring out how they could best help with the process when the always available data in European research of same kind, was unheard in the Nepalese context. So what was the research in Nepal like?

We started off with a bunch of enthusiasm developing the survey questions, planning the sampling and mobilization of the surveyors, which we hoped to conduct in the month of January. Well, the challenges turned out to be vaster than we could have ever imagined. With the survey itself, many questions that would be very relevant in a European context, turned out to be irrelevant in Nepal. These questions were such niche information, to which most Nepalese don’t have access to with today’s common information channels present – and the lag of even quite basic information technologies, like TV, radio and newspapers.

ScaleSchool team, Sudarshan (left) and Subodh (right) working on the initial drafts of the organic consumer survey.

The Art of Sampling

Second, and probably the biggest challenge, was the sampling planning. It turned out that there is very little to no existing data from the area, such as listings of all the (small) hamlets, accurate numbers of households, availability of detailed maps nearby (the Nepalese don’t generally read maps – they just know or ask their way), and caste communities locations to name a few.

So we had to start the process from very initial research of the area, like the hamlet and household count, caste community count etc. … back to basics! We had to get the data ourselves, which meant Subodh, our Nepali research lead, was working maniacally over a weekend around the municipality.

In Europe, we would look at the existing knowledge and do random sampling according to statistical math. Here, however, we had to stir up the components and think over the relevant information to gather. In other words, we had to take into consideration many different kinds of aspects, like caste, which still plays a major role in individuals’ opportunities for education and economic growth. Also in the rural areas, some villages are quite isolated from the advanced infrastructure, with access only by narrow, barely accessible roads. We realized that this could have an impact in access to information, especially in the circumstances of lacking technology and internet access.

We had weeks of planning to make it happen, and still something couldn’t be planned to the very detail. In the absence of maps, we couldn’t plan the exact household to be surveyed, as the French team had suggested for the best result. Thus a lot had to be left in the hands and creativity of our volunteer team from our local NGO partner, RDEN, after training them how to collect random sampling. Despite all the challenges, we made it!

Gaining Local Support to Fund the Survey

Simultaneously, we had to prepare the documents for the municipality so the research would be funded. The documents we prepared included a project concept note, a detailed research proposal and budget, and a cover letter. As we had the document ready and printed, it was time to meet the President of the rural municipality in person and introduce the research. Well, that became the next challenge as it was still a piece of work to catch him – 3 days, to be exact! Luckily, in the end he was eager to help out as he is in the favor of the project and the good deeds it will bring in. We got the funding to mobilize the team with transportation and lunch compensation. You can read more from the funding announcement here.

The document that our Spiral Farm House Executive Director, Sudarshan Chaudhary, submitted to the local municipality for the funding application. The handwriting on the bottom is the approval by the President of Agnisair Krishnasabaran Rural Municipality, Parshuram Chaudhary.

Our First Nepalese Training Experience

Managing the RDEN team was a little challenging, as we had many delays and half of the originally signed up people were unable to attend in the end. But the word was out about the project and we had more of them helping in the end than initially we had signed. The youth team were fantastically enthusiastic to work with.

We instructed them in a couple of sessions prior to the mobilisation weekend by practicing the survey and making sure they understood the survey questions and structure – not forgetting to guide them into surveying itself.

As part of this training, we decisively expressed the role and importance of this survey and the project it contributes to, as serving to augment the livelihoods of the community as a whole. Sudarshan shared his wildest visions of what could potentially come from this project, which we hoped would help them to better understand that the possibilities are endless. Dreams are necessary for a better future – but there is hard work required to make them a reality.

Practically speaking, in the training we had some people present themselves as surveyors and the survey for the rest of the team, gave them direct feedback and learned from their peers. As mentioned above, we had to leave the sampling to the hands of the surveyor team, only distributing the hamlets and villages between the surveyors. As things can get pretty abstract by speech and in absence of maps, we did a play to demonstrate the selection process of households.

D-Day!

Early on Saturday morning, we met the team and gave last motivation kicks! Some were a little nervous, but still determined to gain from this experience. Subodh, Sudarshan and I, Sonja, went around the municipality to monitor that everything was running smoothly, giving some advice on how to get the process going easier and faster, as the team was mostly first time surveyors. The experience was new to them and the first day was a little slower than we anticipated, but still very well done with 25% of the surveys completed.

Even earlier on Sunday morning, we met about half of the team to find out how the first day had evolved. Most reported that towards the end of first day the mission started to get easier and most of them were able to speed things up. No major issues but massive learnings – and the second day went by flying. The team managed to finish almost all the surveys, leaving only some places to be finished. For the last day, Monday, we only needed a few people on the move.

Unexpected Positive Impact

At last for the collection of the surveys, we met on Tuesday morning. We also had a little discussion of the experience with them, to discuss what they had learned from the experience.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but then I saw that people were actually very nice and they offered me tea and food. They want to learn more about the subject (of organic farming). I also learned how to talk to unknown people.” told Sanu Chaudhary with the shine of excitement.

“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but then I saw that people were actually very nice and they offered me tea and food. They want to learn more about the subject (of organic farming). I also learned how to talk to unknown people.” told Sanu Chaudhary, pictured above.

When asked if they felt empowered and having self-esteem elevation during the process, eager nods returned back in agreement – “Now they want to know more about organic farming and when you are starting the program!” pointed out Sabita Chaudhary, gaining peer support for her statement. Along the process the surveyor team managed to create such a buzz in the villages about organic and what we are working on to scale it up. And for that we owe them a huge Thank you!

They took the task with such positivity and engagement, making it a opportunity to prove their abilities and capabilities to learn new skills. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to meet these youths, consisting mainly of women, who have such a drive to create a better future. We are truly looking forward to our next collaboration with them!

Final Steps

The first part of the research into organic food awareness and consumption is now done (phew!). Now, we are only waiting on the data entry to be finished then analyzed by our statistician Lydia in the French team. Keep an eye out for the results and our reflection, which we will post on Open Team News!

Sonja Stedt
Sonja is the Scale School Nepal startup manager, travelling to the locations where projects emerge to the entire world. With education in arts, Sonja has worked on several projects that provoke to question our current ways of existence and their impacts in the environment, health and social well-being. Her curiosity for the world, concern for the future on planet and optimistic approaches are the drivers of her work both in her own work and at Open Team. To her, learning is a life-long journey and discoveries big and small make her excited to take on with new challenges.

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