Virtually empowering women in Nepal with geospatial skills during the COVID-19 lockdown

05 Jun 2020

Virtually empowering women in Nepal with geospatial skills

Twenty-five women from across Nepal and Australia joined in on morning conference calls for four days in May 2020 with a singular focus: to expand knowledge and skills in geospatial information technology (GIT). These women are part of the third batch of ICIMOD’s empowering women in GIT training. ICIMOD has been organizing this training under its SERVIR Hindu Kush Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) Initiative for the past two years. As capacity building of women remains a special focus, the Initiative offers training events exclusively to help women students and professionals adopt careers in the GIT field.

Over 300 applicants had applied for placement for 40 seats in the training last year. In its third iteration and in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ICIMOD reached out to shortlisted applicants from last year’s pool to pilot a remotely organized version of the in-person training from 19 to 22 May.

The 2020 batch comprised women with academic backgrounds in agriculture, architecture, disaster risk management, engineering, environmental sciences, forestry, knowledge engineering, project management, and water resource management, among others. They are currently based in different parts of Nepal and Sydney, Australia, and are affiliated with nine different institutions.

Conducting a four-day training during lockdown

Given the current lockdown in place in Nepal and ensuing work-from-home arrangements at ICIMOD, the resource persons from ICIMOD delivered the training remotely from their homes using the Microsoft Teams platform. They also set up a separate backchannel using Viber for communication and 4G hotspots for possible internet or power outages.

Rajesh Bahadur Thapa, Remote Sensing and Geoinformation Specialist at ICIMOD, shares that slow internet and internet/power outages were a concern while conducting this training, and the team planned for contingencies accordingly. The team made all presentations, resource materials, and session recordings available post sessions via Microsoft Teams to allow participants to review and catch up on sessions. The Microsoft Teams platform also facilitated collaboration and peer-learning among participants especially during the hands-on exercises, when participants helped each other by sharing screenshots and troubleshooting tips.

Birendra Bajracharya, Chief of Party for the Initiative at ICIMOD, shares that the COVID-19 pandemic prompted ICIMOD to roll out this yearly training virtually. This also allowed participants from a wider geographical area to attend and offered opportunities for remote collaboration.

Leading by example: EO/GIT in use to address environmental issues

The training also demonstrated how ICIMOD and partner institutions have been developing solutions to address issues related to core areas of thematic interest under the Initiative: agriculture and food security, land cover and land use change and ecosystems, water resources and hydro – climatic disasters, and weather and climate services.

Kiran Shakya, Geospatial Application Development Specialist at ICIMOD, provided an overview of the different science applications developed under the Initiative: the Glacier Dynamics Application for Afghanistan, National Agricultural Drought Watch – Nepal, Streamflow Prediction Tool – Nepal, and Regional Drought Monitoring And Outlook System, among others. Shakya also introduced the Regional Database System, ICIMOD’s in-house data repository, and demonstrated how open-source GIS software could be used to develop and roll out similar applications.

Participants reflect on the training


Our analysis (based on pre- and post-training surveys) suggests that all participants developed an enhanced capacity and ability to apply the knowledge gained during the training.

An analysis carried out using pre- and post-training surveys suggests that all participants developed an enhanced capacity and ability to apply the knowledge gained during the training. Around 96% of the participants responded that the sessions were of extremely high and high quality in terms of information and value.

Anju Sharma Poudel, a PhD scholar at the Central Department of Botany in Tribhuvan University, is optimistic that the training will help her in resolving queries related to the application of Earth observation (EO) and GIT in the study of invasive plants. Part of her PhD dissertation focuses on predicting the current and future potential distribution of Ageratina adenophora, an invasive species, in the Chitwan–Annapurna Landscape, and developing a spatio-temporal distribution of the invasive plant using satellite imagery.

She adds, “The training was really empowering. It also established a network of ICIMOD resource persons and women from different fields. I am optimistic that this network will be very helpful for future queries and collaborations regarding EO and GIT.”

Priyanka Singh, Business Support Assistant at the World Food Programme (WFP) in Nepal, shared that she wants to be a role model for all women, especially in southern Nepal, by building on her knowledge and skillset as a civil engineer. At WFP, she is involved in a project on Forecast based Financing (FbF) that works on developing forecast-based actions to prepare communities in Nepal’s flood-prone areas. She adds that the concepts of GIS and remote sensing gained during the training will give her the requisite skills and add significant value while operating in emergency preparedness.

Singh shares, “The training was well structured and organized, and it packed a lot of information in a very short time. Despite technical challenges, the trainers were very calm and conversant. This training was a really productive use of my time and I look forward to learning more in the future.”

Kripa Shrestha, Research Associate at ICIMOD, applied for placement in the training to learn more about QGIS, an open source alternative to ArcGIS. She shares that she found the online training very effective and adds that the recorded sessions helped her catch up on sessions she missed while juggling work obligations, meetings, and household chores. She plans to use lessons from this training for a future training on landslide susceptibility models for watersheds using QGIS planned under the Koshi Basin Initiative at ICIMOD.

Requisites for an equitable society: Involvement and capacity building of women

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit the HKH region, the mountains were already plagued by inherent issues and challenges such as climate change, food and livelihood insecurity, inequality, migration, and poverty. The pandemic has further compounded these issues and heightened gender inequalities.

David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD, reasserts the timely nature of this training, and the need for capacity building of women, and their involvement in developing solutions to wide-ranging HKH issues.

“My experiences have taught me that men and women see problems differently, have different point of views, and come up with different solutions. By involving women in developing solutions and harnessing the power of these technologies, we can come up with solutions towards achieving a better society and planet”, shared Molden.

After successfully implementing the model for three consecutive years in Nepal, the Initiative plans to scale out this intervention in other ICIMOD Regional Member Countries, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. This pilot virtual training event also paves the way for how ICIMOD trainings will be conducted in the future, given the uncertain nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adapting and learning

A photo gallery of participants at work and learning from home


Anju Sharma Poudel with field assistants in the field near Archaley Khola in Dhading District, Nepal (Photo: Sudarshan Aryal)


Anju Sharma Poudel taking the training online from her home (Photo: Krishna Dhakal)


Priyanka Singh at a training for masons in Sainamaina Municipality, Rupandehi, Nepal (Photo: Sameer Singh, NSET)


Priyanka Singh attending the training from home (Photo: Priyanka Singh)


Kripa Shrestha mapping springs for a watershed management plan in Dhankuta, Nepal (Photo: Gunanidhi Pokhrel/ICIMOD)


Kripa Shrestha in-training during the empowering women in GIT training (Photo: Asha Shrestha)