Paying Forward, Giving Back

Shrochis Karki talks about the foundation he helped set up that is enabling children from some of the poorest backgrounds in Nepal to complete their education.


The first and second batch of Samaanta Fellows. Jeni is second from right.

Jeni Shrestha was the first person in her family to finish primary school. Now, thanks to a foundation established by ODID alumnus Shrochis Karki, the 19-year-old from a small village in the Kathmandu Valley has not only completed secondary school with excellent results, she has started on a degree in business administration.

Shrochis was carrying out research for his DPhil among schoolchildren in his native Nepal when the need for more funding to help keep high-achieving students in education was vividly brought home to him.

‘Some of the students had done really well in the national secondary level exam,’ he recalls. ‘Despite their success, they faced serious problems with continuing their education for financial reasons, and some students who got distinctions were considering leaving  school to migrate to the Middle East to work as labourers.’

That experience inspired Shrochis to establish the Samaanta Foundation in 2012, to provide comprehensive ‘fellowships’ that enable children from low-income rural backgrounds in Nepal to complete their secondary education and, in some cases, go on to university.

The foundation began as a simple gesture of generosity among friends, many of whom had themselves seen their lives transformed through scholarships of various kinds.

‘When I first mentioned the problem to some friends, Vidhan [Rana, now a Samaanta advisor] instantly pledged close to $1,000 to do something about it, and his boldness encouraged me to pledge the same amount,’ Shrochis explains.

Other friends, and even some strangers, contributed logistically and financially, and soon the work took on a life of its own.

We focussed on gifted students because they have proven themselves so far despite the system.

Shrochis Karki, DPhil in International Development, completed 2015

The foundation initially recruited six fellows, including Jeni, from one school in the Kathmandu Valley, all of whom had performed exceptionally well in the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) taken at the end of 10th grade.

‘We focussed on gifted students because they have proven themselves so far despite the system, so they have the best chance at succeeding through this difficult transition,’ Shrochis says. 'We hope to empower our fellows to defy the systemic odds and successfully transition to higher education and gainful employment'.

According to Shrochis, only around 36 per cent of children in public schools pass the SLC nationally and even those who do pass may find it hard to continue their education; many are likely to drop out and look for work in the informal sector or head to the Middle East if they can raise the funds. Those who stay on might be forced to do so in schools that offer a lower standard of education with an obvious impact on their performance. And the pass rate nationally for both the 11th and 12th grades is just 40 per cent.

Thanks to Samaanta (which means equality in Nepali), the fellows were able to complete the final two years of their secondary education at a private school in Kathmandu, and the foundation renewed the fellowships for three students to continue into tertiary education. 

One earned a place to study computer science at St Xavier’s College, one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the country, while Jeni and another student received partial scholarships to study business administration in Kathmandu.

Following further recruitment, the foundation has now supported 14 comprehensive fellowships so far.

As well as paying for schooling, the foundation provides a mentorship programme to link each fellow to a young professional in their field of interest.

Shrochis emphasises that the foundation is very much a team effort: ‘Jyoti Pandey ably leads the Nepal team, with support from Dev Mahato and Shishir Pandey, and the foundation would not be where it is today without them.’

Each fellowship costs close to $2,000 a year and securing institutional funding for the foundation has been a struggle, Shrochis admits, because its aims do not necessarily chime with those of traditional NGOs or INGOs.

‘All the emphasis is on low-cost programmes, even if they are ineffective. The costs of sponsoring one fellow in higher education is often equal to the cost of sponsoring 100 primary school students, so everyone wants to sponsor 100 kids and look like they are making a bigger “impact’’,’ Shrochis says. ‘Our numbers might not appear sexy enough as a result, but the depth of our impact goes much further.’

The foundation has, however, received funding from Dutch charity Foundation Care for All (FCFANetherlands) and since featuring in the New York Times in late 2014, has received new offers of institutional and individual support.

As well as paying for schooling, the foundation provides a mentorship programme to link each fellow to a young professional in their field of interest, and has recently piloted a venture to place fellows as interns in Nepal Investment Bank. The foundation hopes to start a ‘fellowship house’ in 2015 for all the fellows, and expects to supplement room and board with a library and a computer room to facilitate their all-round development.

The fellowships also include a ‘pay it forward’ initiative, in which fellows commit to engaging meaningfully with their communities now and in the future. As the recipients of educational support themselves, the founders see Samaanta ‘as an explicit way for us to give back to our communities what we have received from others in a small but tangible way’ and they hope to nurture a similar mindset among fellows.

‘Our best case scenario … is for these fellows not just to be successful as individuals but also as community leaders,’ Shrochis says. ‘We hope that fellows will succeed in their own lives and then find the motivation to also help others in need'.

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