Nepal has an internet penetration of just 38 percent, according to the advisory group, Kepios. But digital technology has become an increasingly popular way to reach remote, even digitally disconnected communities in development.
Across Nepal, the Viamo Platform gave more than 430,000 people direct, individual access to social behavior change messaging – nearly four times the reach goal.
The Building Hope Along the Karnali River Basin (BHAKARI) project serves 121, 030 people in the Karnali province through Viamo’s suite of digital solutions to achieve social behavior change communication and emergency response targets.
A Viamo survey conducted at the end of 2022 showed that 61 percent of participants changed their practices after getting new information through automated calls about disaster risk reduction practices, techniques and behaviors that mitigate the risks and increase the capacity to cope with disaster.
The BHAKARI project is a multi-year emergency response project in Nepal funded by USAID and led by Mercy Corps, with Viamo as the digital intervention partner in the Consortium.
Through even simple mobile phones, Viamo collected survey data from Nepali callers free of charge through Viamo’s exclusive partnership with Nepal Telecom. Viamo’s mobile platform also delivered cash and voucher activities training and communications campaigns through interactive voice response (IVR) to participants.
Together, the Digital Training and Digital Campaigns services have increased digital literacy and contributed to the success of Nepal’s “ICT Policy 2015.” This policy aims to provide a legal framework on information and communications technology for every citizen. The BHAKARI project ensured remote communities are familiarized with mobile technology, contributing towards digital literacy and minimizing the digital divide, the gap between demographics’ and regions’ access to ICT.
Timely messaging saved lives and livelihoods
The BHAKARI project was designed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when the project team had to quickly adapt after not being able to travel to the field due to lockdown restrictions.
Viamo iterated the design around Social and Behavior Change Communications (SBCC) theory and clean data collection to ensure the project was tailored for efficient, remote implementation and monitoring.
SBCC message dissemination through automated calls, introduced in 2021, effectively reached the target populations. For people without reliable phone access, community leaders helped promote digital interventions.
Messaging covered a multitude of sectors including
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH),
gender equality and social inclusion,
disaster risk reduction and early warning.
These messages also informed people how they could access the Viamo Platform for more life-saving information and play path-based edutainment games. Callers began to use the Viamo Platform as a reliable source of information and entertainment. They would call in to listen to local and international news, the weather, and radio dramas addressing issues like child marriage and parenting.
During a monitoring visit to the Jumla District, one of Karnali Province’s 10 districts, a participant from the village of Lumsera shared that upon receiving the early warning weather advisories, they were able to secure a spiral pump that they used for sustaining irrigation.
“The BHAKARI [project] always lets us know in advance of rains, through phone calls, and we are able to ensure our own safety,” another caller in Jumla said.
Cash is King: The impact of direct transfers
The messaging was expanded to include market price monitoring surveys, allowing for the collection of food and commodity prices from more than 80 local traders, reported monthly.
This enabled the project to monitor market prices and allocate the appropriate support through cash and voucher activities (CVA). The survey data helped to determine the cost of the food basket during the winter months for the most vulnerable households. After the deployment of the CVA activities Post Distribution Monitoring (PDM) surveys are conducted through Viamo’s call center to collect recipients’ feedback, experience, and data to measure their food consumption, levels of household hunger, and coping strategies.
Due to restrictions on in-person training for CVA, Viamo developed a Digital Training consisting of five lessons ensuring recipients of the cash grants understood the purpose, process, and benefits of the support they qualified for.
The core of the BHAKARI project was to meet remote communities in Nepal’s need for emergency food while simultaneously building food security and resilience in the future. The project partnered with financial service providers, vendors from local markets, and pay-out networks to quickly give out cash and vouchers to those in need.
By partnering with these businesses, the project helped improve the ability to provide aid to those in need quickly and efficiently.
Keeping up with the weather: Anticipatory action and preparedness
Keeping people informed about potential weather hazards was a critical aspect of ensuring their safety and well-being. Using the government’s three-day forecast, Viamo sent nearly 8,000 audio calls to project participants to help them prepare for upcoming weather events.
Collaborating with government entities at various levels, the BHAKARI project is striving towards sustainable adoption of this system by the Nepal government. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) recognized the project’s efforts in creating awareness about weather conditions through the use of Viamo’s IVR messaging system.
The weather alert messages are available for free to the communities beyond BHAKARI’s reach through the Viamo Platform. This means that even more people can continue to benefit from the early warning messages related to monsoon preparedness, cold waves, winter rainfall, fire safety, and snow.
To ensure long-term impact, the project team actively participates in national-level forums and the Cash Coordination Group (CCG) to share both the technology used and the data generated. This promotes collaboration and opportunities for further learning, helping the BHAKARI project and others continuously improve and better serve the communities in the Karnali River Basin.
Post-distribution monitoring was carried out within a month of the distribution of cash to analyze the improvement of nutritional food intake. The results showed that 100 percent of households were satisfied with the cash-for-work support in their communities.
BHAKARI provided messaging on the importance of nutritional food during the cash distribution and, as a result, 55 percent of households started purchasing nutritionally rich food, compared to 42 percent the year prior.
BHAKARI is working hard to ensure that people along the Karnali River Basin have the knowledge and tools they need to stay safe and healthy. This has collectively contributed to long-term food security by enhancing the participants’ knowledge and behavior changes on nutrition and food purchasing and consumption.