Harkening back to 2004, where seven scholars after their doctoral degree from renowned Universities abroad were wandering and pondering chasing a key question "what new initiative shall be done in Nepal to make a breakthrough in the development". The founder members had a strong conviction that there is a dire need for policy formulation on the research-based evidence in Nepal. They were highly inspired by the legendary think tank institute of Thailand called "Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI)" which has an instrumental role in the rapid economic development of Thailand. And therefore, they came up with an idea to start up a policy research institute in Nepal that resulted in the establishment of Nepal Development Research Institute (NDRI).
NDRI stands today as a leading Think Tank in Nepal, working independently and typically free from partisan. NDRI envisions becoming a Centre of Excellence for quality research, education, and development. To achieve this vision, a mission was set to provide substantive analytical inputs for policymaking on contemporary issues through rigorous research and dissemination of findings.
NDRI comprises an interdisciplinary team of experts with the highest academic standings, mostly doctoral degrees, and a wealth of national and international experiences. It has been working on Agriculture and Food Security, Water and Climate, Disaster Risk Management, Livelihood and Gender, Health and Sanitation, Policy Research, Linguistic and Education, and Tobacco Control Programs. The beneficiaries of NDRI’s activities include political bodies, government institutions, international organizations (bilateral and multilateral), universities, and research institutes. Recently, it has been involved in several activities on COVID-19.
The activities of NDRI are divided into four strands: Policy Research, Data-Based Research, Event Organization, and Publication. Through the strand of Policy Research, NDRI identifies pertinent subject in contemporary issues, collects data/information and analyzes, runs discourses with an interface between the policymakers and scientists, prepares position papers and policy brief with the recommendation to the government.
NDRI has covered all 77 districts of Nepal for the database research such as for impact assessment of development interventions done by both the government agencies and other collaborators. The database research throughout the country has led the research scientists of NDRI to understand the ground realities of the doorsteps of all Nepalese people.
Organizing interactive platforms such as workshops, seminars, dialogue inviting critical masses from diverse sectors, and webinars are the regular program of NDRI. Those events are useful to disseminate the research output and to get feedback from peers. NDRI gives importance to producing knowledge products such as peer-reviewed journals, reports, fact sheets, and position papers that have great value for the scientific communities and the national stakeholder. Such knowledge products have well been utilized and acknowledged by the Government and development partners.
Special mileage: State restructuring for federal Nepal: At the time of the transition of Nepal to the Federal system (around 2009/2010), there was a dilemma on how to restructure the country. At that time, NDRI organized a workshop inviting hundreds of members of the constitution assembly and Finance Ministers from different political parties in the tenure of their government. The workshop gave clear guidance and consideration to be made to the constitution assembly members for state restructure for the rapid economic development of New Nepal.
Railway development in Nepal: It has always been difficult for Nepalese to believe in the prospects of railways in Nepal. However, NDRI published a peer-reviewed proceeding report titled “Railways Development in Nepal” in 2009 which recommended ample prospects of railway development in Nepal. The proceeding came from the expert’s consultation from countries where Railways have been playing an instrumental role for their economic development such as Japan, India, and others. This report is considered as the first paving stone for the Railways development which played an influential role to conceive the trust in the possibility of the railway development in Nepal. The report has been well acknowledged and referred by the Government as a primary document for all kinds of railway infrastructure studies.
Food security atlas: The food security status of Nepal looks bleak owing to the nation’s switch from the country of the food sufficient to food deficit in the last three decades. The food security situation is still going down as indicated by the increasing imports. With the view to ease the issue of food supply in Nepal, NDRI in collaboration with the World Food Program (WFP) and National Planning Commission (NPC), the Government of Nepal had prepared Food Security Atlas: Atlas 2010, the First edition and latest edition on 2020. This is the only Food Security Atlas in Nepal that has widely been used as a decision supporting document.
Tobacco control program: Another example of the recent achievement of NDRI is in the public health sector. It is well known that Nepal belongs to one of the least taxpayer countries in the world for tobacco which is 37% (excise duty) while the WHO recommendation is 75%. The repercussion of this paradoxical lowest tax rate has led Nepal to be one of the high prevalence tobacco consumers (32%) and significant GDP loss in health (1.04%). An initiative of NDRI has succeeded to convince the Government of Nepal to increase the excise duty by 25% in the fiscal year budget 2078/79, the first time in the last decade.
NDRI a platform for youth: NDRI is advocating the brain drain youths and therefore playing an exemplary role to build the capacity of youth to provide employment opportunities in Nepal. At present, NDRI has engaged about 50 competent post-graduate researchers, and about 250 graduate field researchers under the guidance of 30 doctoral senior researchers deployed for various research activities. Researchers in NDRI get opportunities to build their proficiency to the standard of international expertise. Human Resource Management in NDRI is guided by a standard and stringent policies to assure the quality research delivery.
Exceptionally, NDRI has become active in many folds after the COVID-19 pandemic came into place in 2020, transforming the challenges into opportunities. Our endeavors in the pandemic include the knowledge generation about coronavirus, the impact study on societies and economy, identifying the challenges in education sectors and possible remedies, impact on business and food security, etc. The knowledge products of our team on pandemics have been well utilized by both the Government and development partner organizations working in the pandemic. NDRI has prepared a standard research protocol on remote research and the computer-assisted telephone interview customized to the Nepalese context. With the rapid augmentation of NDRI both in scale and quality, we have realized the necessity of standardization and its institutionalization. Henceforth, NDRI has started the implementation of ISO-9000 for the Quality Management System.
Building of sustainable village: NDRI has adopted a village “Bhardeu” in 26 KM south to Lalitpur to make a Model Village Development as a demonstration site for the village development based on research. The different intervention in the village includes the education, sanitation, agriculture / women entrepreneurship development, and planned urbanization.
18 years of service excellence
NDRI has been constantly and continuously providing excellent service since 18 years. It celebrated its 18th anniversary on April 13, 2021. It was an honor for NDRI to have an inaugural lecture by Hon’ble Mr. Khil Raj Regmi, Former Chairman of Council Minister, with the guest presence of Hon’ble Mr. Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Former Minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Also, NDRI feels the privilege to have the presence of Ambassadors and Deputy Chief Mission from SAARC counties.
Few other publications:
NDRI has been perpetually contributing to the publications. It is one of the major activities that NDRI has been committed to since its establishment. The publications of NDRI includes Policy Brief, Fact Sheets, Position Paper, Peer Review Journals, Peer-Reviewed Reports, Strategic Development Papers in diverse disciplines such as Public Health, Water & Climate Change, Hydropower, Science Communication, Agriculture, Gender & Social Inclusion, Sanitation and Environment, Disaster Management and many more. A glimpse of publication is available on its official website: www.ndri.org.np.
Challenges and recommendations
Despites of several success stories in the courses of 18 years of services, NDRI is no exception from few encounters, those include the inadequate policy of the government to govern the policy research institutes, inadequate sense of authorities on the need for research and evidence on decision making, and the inadequate capacity of research institutes. NDRI is persistently advocating the need for a policy to govern the think tank research institute. The government shall operate some research funds for think tank institutes which shall be accessed through a competitive basis i.e. call for proposals in specific sectors to address the pertinent issues. Also, equally important is to make designated provisions to monitor and evaluate think tanks and research institutes in appropriate ways, in contrast to the present so-called evaluation practices by Social Welfare Council. Similarly, there is a dire need for the provision of ethical approval of research for the consistent regulation. Last but not the least, the state should consider the research capacity development through universities and other research institutes making them resourceful with a strategic plan linking with the strategic development of Nepal.