Welcoming Smile to the Digital World

During the annual wedding seasons, women work in groups to prepare thatch grass products (handicrafts) to deliver in Barkalpur, a small village located in Kapilvastu. During one of the first consultations, the women were sharing their frustrations with the lack of market and how they spend significant time and effort developing these products yet struggle to sell them throughout the year.

Amid the discussion, the project team showed the entrepreneurs a Facebook page that sold handicraft products, very similar to what they were producing. After seeing the Facebook page, they were simply astonished at how a tool they constantly use for personal use, could benefit their business in unimaginable ways. 

The online market in Nepal is worth 25 million dollars and most of its potential remains untapped. Gradual penetration of information and communication technology to rural Nepal has created favorable conditions for e-commerce. Nepal Telecom Authority (NTA) reports that mobile phone penetration has grown up to 130 percent over time, and 62 percent of the population is connected to the internet.

Many of the entrepreneurs engaged in the Buddhist Circuit in South Asia program, have limited knowledge of how to use digital platforms for their businesses; or have never owned their own smartphone before. With the Covid-19 pandemic, the need to engage with consumers online has accelerated, with many people turning to shopping online for their wants and needs. Moreover, the present scenario with the entrepreneurs shows that they are currently hindered by their ability to communicate with not only potential buyers, but also raw material suppliers, entrepreneurs that are engaged in similar business, or individuals who can assist in the production process. Therefore, the decision to provide the entrepreneurs with mobiles as well as digital skill building sessions was made.

The digital literacy training to address gaps in knowledge regarding proper utilization of phones and various digital tools training has been provided. The various sessions and follow up sessions covered mobile apps such as: WhatsApp, Viber, E-Sewa (digital wallet), Zoom, Google Suite, and NIC Asia (mobile banking). The training was conducted for six hours by the project management team as well as digitally literate volunteers from the entrepreneur group.

It is essential to keep in mind that although operating and utilizing smart phones for some users is intuitive, it is not the case for everyone. With the smart phone provided being the first time some of these entrepreneurs have owned their own, follow up sessions and opportunities to practice the process of utilizing the digital tools is crucial for building lasting skills and behaviors. Therefore, conversations are conducted daily on WhatsApp – now the primary means of communication – as well as weekly discussions on Zoom.

With the second wave of Covid-19 sweeping through the country and Kapilvastu being in lockdown since the beginning of May, Zoom and WhatsApp have been the primary means for conducting training sessions and discussions. Therefore, the current situation, only further highlights the need for and importance of digital literacy training programs.