Changing from Within

Isha Subedi is a Section Officer at the Supreme Court of Nepal. She took the Nepal Leadership Academy’s course during her Daayitwa Nepal Public Service Fellowship in 2015. 

Visiting a government office as a civilian with some urgent work is not always a pleasant experience. The red tape or the bureaucratic hurdles make for a time-consuming and frustrating ordeal. Many times, people have to return home with no progress made on their applications or cases. This is something that Isha herself felt every time she had to visit a government office to get something done—whether it was to get a passport for her grandfather, her academic certificates, or replace her lost licence.

So, when Isha’s parents, both civil servants, sat her down for a “career talk” while she was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in law, it was unsurprising that she right away dismissed the idea of joining public service.

But there was still some part of her that was not completely skeptical about the public sector. She had seen how hard her parents worked despite the general criticism hurled at public service workers. Also, she was studying law and saw some of her most brilliant college seniors go into civil service, forgoing higher paying private sector jobs. Among the reasons for doing this—such as the perks of having a stable job and a pension—the one that impacted her the most was the thought, “to bring about meaningful change, you need to be a part of the system”. 

With that motivation, Isha decided to join the Daayitwa Nepal Public Service Fellowship in 2015 to get a better understanding of the inner workings of the government and experience the realities for herself. Part of her fellowship was receiving Nepal Leadership Academy’s leadership course. As her fellowship progressed, she could see shared values between her and Daayitwa, its tenet being “self-responsibility in Nepali youth for public service”. She began to understand the necessity of taking ownership of a problem shared by everyone in a nation as solving such problems would require collective effort. Considering that her fellowship research consisted of working on strengthening the skills and efficiency of civil servants by evaluating the training provided to them, one can see that she had begun to tackle the very problem that had been making her hesitant to choose a career in public service. She realized that in this day and age of instant gratification, the government processes are comparatively slower and tedious. So, bringing reforms to the public system is necessary to bridge the gap between the expectation of civilians on timely delivery of public service and the government’s inability to meet that expectation.  

Slowly but steadily, Isha was leaning more towards a career in public service. Having a supportive mentor at the Ministry of General Administration during her fellowship further fueled her nascent interest. After the fellowship, she sat for and passed the national public service exams (Lok Sewa exams). Thus began her current journey as a section officer at the Supreme Court. 

An important part of her job today, being in the Chief Justice’s secretariat, is to listen to the grievances of the people who have pending court cases and assess which cases need to be urgently moved ahead. This requires her to have a bird’s eye view of things and not get sidetracked by each civilian’s challenge. She has to understand her limitations and realise that she cannot achieve a quick resolution to all of the cases on her own. The best she can do is fulfill her responsibilities with full dedication and zeal and contribute  to building an efficient judiciary.

When asked how she keeps herself from getting overwhelmed by her responsibilities, she said that she keeps the Supreme Court of Nepal’s shared goal of reducing the pending caseload from 25,000 to 5,000 as a target to move towards. She uses this strategy to fuel her drive to serve and keep herself motivated. In addition, it keeps her from feeling inundated by the many unfortunate cases that she has to listen to. She even showed us her own additional motivator, a register notebook, where she keeps a detailed list of all the cases that she has looked over, with green highlights for resolved cases and red for the unresolved. There is definitely more red than green on it, but her taking the initiative to do this shows that she is exercising her personal agency to come up with her own innovative idea to evaluate her progress and increase effectiveness at her job. 

During our interview for this story, she would, periodically, receive calls and emails from civilians about their ongoing cases. While putting a hold on the interview while she spoke to them, we could hear the concern and commitment in her voice, giving the callers some solace that their fate was in caring and responsible hands. A youth working in the public sector, Isha does her job with professionalism and maturity, all while not losing sight of her empathy. She says, “ I may not be able to help everyone, but I can at least make them feel heard.”

There is a common belief that older generations do not support the younger. But in Isha’s experience, her seniors have been supportive of the younger generation and are genuinely interested in their feedback and suggestions. They are also very enthusiastic about their work. Despite having worked for the system for longer, they have not lost their motivation and dedication. She sees that they keep the fire alive by keeping their purpose at the supreme court constantly in mind. It also helps to be surrounded by like-minded and supportive coworkers. This was something she had understood during her leadership course as a Fellow. In the course of doing a teamwork assignment, she had learnt that shared values are important to align people towards the same goal and that it is important to work in a team where everyone contributes rather than where only one person takes the helm. 

Having been on both sides of the fence, Isha is now able to empathize with civilians as well as the government. There are definitely improvements to be made in the system but blind criticism does nothing to ameliorate the problem. To her, leadership means taking responsibility for one’s actions and doing one’s work with sincerity. She believes that if every individual does their own work with dedication, then it is only a matter of time before the whole system changes for the better.