Nepali Times
Philanthropic journalism


The announcement today that this newspaper will support and promote the HELP NEPAL Network marks a new beginning for the Nepali media. The fourth estate is usually reluctant to incorporate charity into its regular activities.
Nepali Times is changing this with its association with the HELP NEPAL Network's 'One Dollar a Month Fund for Nepal'. This is the largest network of Nepalis that tries to involve Nepali individuals and institutions in philanthropy. HELP NEPAL tries to get people to contribute a small portion of their earnings for the benefit of those who genuinely need support.

This 'Practical Philanthropy' approach does not really burden the individual who gives, but will greatly benefit disadvantaged communities. Since 1999, the Network has established chapters in 14 countries and completed more than 70 education and health projects in rural Nepal. Not a single paisa of donations received is spent on overheads, as all administrative costs are met by a separate Endowment Fund set up by generous Nepalis like Siddhartha Rana, who has contributed Rs 10 million.

After working with and being trained by some of the world's best journalists for over 15 years, I feel that the media's obsession with politics and human misery is not fully reflective of that core value of journalism: public service. Decades of reporting disasters, deaths, human misery, violence and conflict have not always helped bring about positive change in society.

The idea of 'development journalism' in the early 1970s was a reaction to this, and tried to encourage journalists to go beyond everyday stories and come up with facts that would help policymakers address issues like poverty and inequity. In the early 1990s, the concept evolved into 'public journalism'. Practitioners wanted to engage the public in meaningful debate to help them resolve their problems. Both movements were attempts to achieve the 'public service' goal of journalism.

'Philanthropic journalism' goes a step further; it requires journalists to adopt philanthropy as one of the foundation stones of their profession. Many would argue that this is not the job of the press. Fair enough, but the press is not a political organisation either, obsessed with the corridors of power. Politics is central to society, no doubt, but philanthropy forms the foundation of all good politics and creates a cultured and humane society.

Philanthropy is not just about giving money occasionally, it is about humanity, honesty, individual social responsibility and caring for those who can't care for themselves. Society can't flourish without a cultivated sense of philanthropy. However, the media's neurotic focus on politics and misery has not always served those who really matter.

Journalists can no longer be just catalysts for gossip, they have to be catalysts for change. Journalism must try to find a balance between covering politics and helping society. Leading newspapers often publish pictures of dilapidated school buildings, but rarely is there an accompanying attempt to encourage a direct remedy. Would it be wrong if those newspapers were to put a note under those pictures to fundraise for the reconstruction of the schools?

Similarly, if each of the nearly 300 FM stations across Nepal were to decide to build just one library each every year within their broadcast areas, nearly 300 libraries would be built every twelve months. It would be much better for them to take the initiative themselves rather than just report on the lack of community libraries and expect the government or a donor to help. Merely reporting the absence of a library is an example of 'development' or 'public' journalism. Taking the lead to help to build a library is 'philanthropic journalism'.

This is not about mission journalism, it is about becoming more sincere about the media's core values. Just like entertainment, environment and sports, the media should carry a separate section for philanthropy. It should aspire to ensure that this section becomes the most read and talked about, and provides the most uplifting reading.

The press has the power to generate support, unite communities, and inspire them to act for real, positive change. Few individuals or institutions in society have that power and privilege. It is pointless just to talk and complain for years on end, and never act.

I welcome the initiative taken by Nepali Times. Imagine if every major national newspaper were to adopt a charity of its choice and promote it. Imagine the potential it could unleash. Journalism can be a driving force for fundamental change, to make people's lives better, and to help transform society.

Rabindra Mishra works with the BBC World Service and is the founder president of HELP NEPAL Network.
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Nepalis helping Nepalis, RUBEENA MAHATO

1. Dr B
This is a positive step and one I applaud. I would rather the issue is branded as "corporate responsibility" instead of philanthropic journalism though since it has to appeal to a wider audience in the longer term.
As the chairman of a UK charity working in Nepal but with a Nepali family and network I have despaired in recent years of attempting to get quite wealthy individuals, corporates, social groups etc to develop a value of philanthropy, but to no avail. Astoundingly, not one rupee has been given towards the running of 7 schools in Kathmandu by ANYBODY in Nepal with the whole operation funded by individuals in the UK. So, this IS encouraging and I ask the Nepali Times not only to develop its own philanthropy but also to crusade for a wider involvement from other groups and individuals.

2. who cares
does anyone know the story behind sms support to kumar kancha?

they asked to pay, i dont know, 5 or 10 rs. but telecom reduced around double the amount. did those so called fund raiser loot me?

3. Janak
Very good initiative by HeNN to get the ball rolling on Nepalese helping Nepalese. Let's hope the partnership with Nepali Times will spread the word and more NRNs and also Nepalese in Nepal will start to contribute the cost of a beer a month. I am going to donate my one year's worth right now. Thanks to Rabindraji and HENN, Janak Dongol, Bangkok.

4. Soach
I went to Help Nepal's web site. I could not find any document that says, "Monitoring and Evaluation or Independent Evaluation Report". Perhaps I did not search harder. I'd be grateful if someone posted a link to Help Nepal-specific M & E  concerns or reports.

On the other hand, if there has indeed been no independent evaluation of Help Nepal's work in the last 8 or 10 years, then, it's hard to take it seriously as an impact-making charity. One is free to like Help Nepal as a Nepali-run and Nepali-managed charity that appears to have its smile in the right place. But beyond that, one need not take it as an exemplary charity of any sort. 

Rabindra Mishra should also stop writing about Help Nepal. He founded it. He should be applauded for it. His championing Help Nepal is nice but is also full of danger for the charity's growth. You can't fault a father for singing his daughter's praises, though after a while, the father's praises become a tad too boring and irritating, and embarrassing to the daughter. 

Mishra should instead now find unrelated but credible national and international professionals, preferably those who know a thing or two about how rural education works, to make good or bad public comments about Help Nepal's work. 

The 'nationalism card', which Help Nepal plays so well to extract donations out of, one presumes, guilt-ridden Nepali professionals (most of whom are based abroad) goes only so far before it can be a turn-off to others. (If I, as a Nepali, don't give money to Help Nepal, then, am I less of a Nepal-loving computer scientist in Brussels?)

I am not sure what made Nepali Times sign on as a partner of Help Nepal. One can only guess that Nepali Times has not seen Help Nepal's evaluation reports. In any case, I see Nepali Times' partnership a dangerous precedent. Could it not have simply said 'Help Nepal is its Charity of the Year for 2011' and leave it at that? 

Mishra seems to have a mistaken view of journalism's public service mission. Contrary to what he says, the best public service that journalism can do is to take a hard-nosed, skeptical and questioning approach to everything that anyone with power says or does . . . so that the public is not deceived by those who purport to work for the public. Taking such an approach consistently well is difficult work in and of itself, and many journalists in Nepal come short due to a lack of training, exposure, inherent biases, etc.

But Mishra does not want to engage with the difficulty of doing such hard skeptical work. Despite his background, he does not want to engage in working with local journalists develop their investigative skills to serve stories that address public concerns. He dismisses that difficulty altogether. 

He switches careers, and becomes a philanthropist. Which is absolutely fine, but since he's a journalist who's switching careers, he feels compelled to bad-mouth his former profession, which is journalism, by way of explaining why he's now into philanthropy. He then gives his work a new highfalutin name, "Philanthropic journalism". This is all very silly.

If we readers allow to go along with this so-called "Philanthropic journalism" when journalists open and run charities to serve the public, should we not also go for "corporate journalism", for journalists to open for-profit businesses to provide employment aimed at serving the public? What about "political journalism", for journalists to open and run political parties that aim to serve the public differently from how the present parties are serving? If journalists who open for-profit businesses and political parties are to be suspected of their motives, why should we be gullible about journalists who open charities with lofty aims? You can see where this is going.



5. A concerned nepali
I applaud Mr Misha article which no doubts will make nepalese realise more towards giving.

I now beg that all the journalists in Nepal should now expose the inefficiencies of our politicians and make them understand that they are destroying the country. I beg all journalists to come together to name and shame all corrupt politicians and civil servants.

6. rose
I am in absolute harmony with above no. 4. How can a Journalist funded by donors (national tycoons') money become an impartial, skeptical, and aloof in order to awaken the society ??

Philanthropic Journalist is tantamount to the Corporation funded medias in the western countries. Mr. Mishra in the name of BBC Nepali chief is himself a corporation. So, what is his motive ??? Only God will reveal it in future.

7. Jaya
4 and 6 are nabobs of negativism who are so embittered by their their own inadequacies and lack of compassion that they have to demolish  any altruistic initiative that anyone starts in a small way because it will expose their own lack of action to in doing anything for their society. But, that is natural, not everyone feels the urge to help those who are disadvantaged. I applaud Nepali Times and HENN for this work, and also for all the other individuals and groups who are donating small sums of money to fund girls' scholarships, build health posts where there aren't any, or schools so that children in remote districts have better opportunities. Nepal hamro ho. Birsi gaye pap lagla.  JR

8. Deepak
This is a great news I have ever read. This idea of philanthropic journalism should be made a must to all those large size media houses of Nepal. I absolutely love this idea of journalism. As Rabindra sir point out, all those FM station should be working to form a Library rather then just pointing out government should do this and that. We have seen a lot of examples of yellow journalism before. That is to say we are fed up with all those kinds of stuff. Come on, media guys show some rays of hope in  drowning Nepal. Lets work on creating electricity. Media houses should lead that sort of project because they are the who do  a lot of research about the successful functioning of all those kinds of things. Hats off to HELP and NepaliTIMES for this step.

9. Raul
As a founder president of Help Nepal network, Rabindra Mishra deserves all the praise. 
Personally I have a bigger reason to applaud Mr Mishra article as
unlike in the past he has chosen not to criticise Nepalese abroad who either have not been involved in charity or do not blow their trumphet  and despite contributing to charity remain anonymous. 
Charity is about helping others and not about seeking fame on the back of others poverty.
However, Mr Mishra you are doing a good job, keep going.
My best wishes are with you too.

10. Bibek Koirala
I agree that there is some motive behind all this. It could be the subconscious need for fame or just a defense mechanism like altruism. But, hey, who cares? Don't all of us in one way or the other harbor that secret desire to 'name and fame'? Just look at Bill Gates - he gives hundreds of millions of dollars to developing countries for various programs even while he has named the foundation as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At least, it's much much better than the actions of people like that filthy rich Mukesh Ambani who is wasting billions on his 'edifice' while his Indian brethren are languishing in despicable poverty and a guy named Gates has to come to the rescue all the way from Silicon Valley! Even in Nepal, we see so many rich people donating generously to temple construction and stuff. How about trying to make one life better instead of adding more adipose tissue to the already protruded bellies of mahantas at Pashupati. So my personal opinion on all of this is Help Nepal is a wonderful project which needs to be supported in every way possible. I recently started sponsoring a child through Save the Children Nepal and I will donate Help Nepal as well. Good Luck Help Nepal team!


Mr. Mishra calls his new project 'mission journalism' but others including me call it 'advocacy journalism'. The problem with 'advocacy journalism' is that there are bound to be conflict of interests because journalists have another, a more important job to do. That job is to question and investigate the 'powers to be' whether in politics, business or any other influential sector and 'shed light of the day' for the benefit of the 'silent majority'.

Let me give an example. On the Aug 23, 2010 issue of The Kathmandu Post (, it was reported that Khimti and Bhotekoshi Hydro Electricity Projects were causing the NEA to incur annual loss of Rs 2.52 billion. The reason was that those projects received favorable PPA agreements from the NEA. There may not be much to it but I thought it was an interesting story worth further investigation given the state the NEA is in. It would have been nice if Mr. Mishra himself had done the digging instead of cozying up with Mr. Siddhartha SJB Rana, the benefactor of the HeNN, and also incidentally, the Chairman and the majority owner of Bhotekoshi.

12. Soach

Jaya wrote: "4 (and 6) are nabobs of negativism who are so embittered by their own inadequacies and lack of compassion that they have to demolish any altruistic initiative that anyone starts in a small way because it will expose their own lack of action to in doing anything for their society."

That those who take a skeptical, questioning view of Help Nepal are �embittered by their own inadequacies� may be true or may not be true. Nobody knows that for sure.

Even allowing that such �nabobs of negativism� are indeed bitter and inadequate and (_______ dump your favorite adjectives here), let the rest of us have the generosity to understand that even embittered, negative people have a right to ask questions in a public forum. Their embitterment need not be seen as a disqualification for them to simply ask: After 10 years of operations and after raising so much money in such a public manner from Nepalis all over the world (applause for both activities!), why has Help Nepal not apparently gone for and not shown an independent third-party evaluation of its work?

I am not implying deception or malice on Help Nepal�s part. It may well have been the case of plain ignorance or  simple busy-ness. I am suggesting that if Help Nepal wants to grow as an organization and raise more funds, such periodic evaluations can only help, especially when it may want to diversity its income and expand its influence to go beyond the pitch that only says �do something for your motherland�   

With regard to philanthropic journalism, we need more of solid, probing journalism that informs. We also need more philanthropies that competently fills the gaps not served by the state and the market. These two are separate professions and activities. What we do not need is this sterile and dubious creature called �philanthropic journalism�, which aims to turn, among others,  media outlets into some sort of donor-funded NGOs.

13. H Shrestha
I have been closly following Rabindra Mishra's writings and work for many years and have been inspired by him. I am not sure how much of positive work the negative commentators above have done by themselves.

But by their comments, it seems they are better at talking rather than acting. People like you are better at finding faults rather than encouraging people like Mishra. They neither do anything on their own nor can see other people engage in good work.

Soach, would you have questioned the idea of 'philanthropic journalism' if it was proposed by a Westerner? You have not questioned the ideas of 'development journalism' and 'public journalism', have you? And you won't question the concept of 'environmental journalism', will you?

I fully applaud what the Nepali Times and Rabindra Mishra have done. I hope this will set an excellent precedent in journalism.

14. jhankri
I agree with SOACH, theres nothing wrong with asking a few questions, specially if a major media outlet is throwing their support behind it. Maybe NT will have an article about that. In the mean time, I found these SOACH  not good enough?

15. Soach
Jhankri, thank you for agreeing that there's nothing wrong with asking a few questions. Those who question Help Nepal are not necessarily out to tarnish it, as some of these uncritical supporters have made it out to be. As a past Help Nepal contributor, I appreciate that financial reports tell us how money came in and how it was spent. 

An external program impact evaluation, which may include a financial analysis, gives us a nuanced picture: Was the money spent any good? Has there been a surge in enrollment? Are the kids learning what they are supposed to learn? Do the kids come from disadvantaged communities? Do the teachers come on time to teach? In villages where it's hard to find people to teach, do Help Nepal teachers hold basic skills to teach? Is there a turnover of the teachers? How long do the kids walk to school? What do their parents do? Has Help Nepal made ties with other education-related charities and NGOs, Room to Read for libraries, for instance? Are there properly functioning facilities at schools over a long period of time such as blackboards, chalk, desks, computer machines, electricity access, toilets, taps, etc. Is Help Nepal cost-effective and impact-driven? Is building schools (hardware) a big thing for Help Nepal or teaching kids (software) life-long skills? Is there evidence that Help Nepal is learning from one project an applying that lesson to another project, etc. 

These are the things donors want to know more about.

Regular external impact evaluations can only help strengthen Help Nepal. As a supporter, I could use less of wah-wah coming from the founder (who should be applauded for his vision), and more of such wah-wah coming from third-party evaluators.

It does not matter whether a Nepali proposes the idea of philanthropic journalism or a bideshi. The idea, though nice, is full of contradictions. A society that dismisses journalists and exalts charity-workers can end up as a society where journalists are gullible  and charity-workers are heartless. Let there be a division of labour. Let journalists be journalists. Let charity workers be charity workers. Development journalism or public journalism or civic journalism mean nothing. Practiced well, all hard-nosed, investigative and only-truth-matters journalism is civic, public and pro-development.

16. H Shrestha
There is absolutely nothing wrong in asking a few questions. In fact, that should be encouraged. But I am talking about the overall tone of some of the emails. 

Though I am a regular reader of the Nepali Times, I don't usually comment. However, at times , I follow what others are commenting. I find it shocking to see how some people comment. They are the people who do nothing but sit and criticize others. I think it is the duty of unprejudiced and positive minded commentators to discourage unnecessarily negative comments.

In a society like that of Nepal, it is important to encourage all kinds of positive steps. Such actions may have shortcomings but it would be good to make polite suggestions to overcome them rather than dismiss the whole effort. 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)