11 - 17 December 2015 #786

Share a seat

Sumana Shrestha's Facebook groups help Valley residents find rides and source medicines
Sahina Shrestha

GOPEN RAI

Thirty one-year-old Sumana Shrestha was in America, planning a backpacking trip to Europe, when Nepal was hit by the devastating April earthquake. The financial analyst from Boston put all her plans on hold, and jumped into action.

For the first month of the disaster, Shrestha worked through Facebook, coordinating relief supplies donated by friends in the US to be sent to quake-affected villages. In May, Shrestha was sent by her company, Boston Consulting Group to work with the World Food Programme for three months and decided to stay on.

An MBA graduate from the MIT Sloan School of Management, Shrestha was amazed at how little was being done to deal with the fuel crisis.

“I asked my friends if we had a platform in Nepal where people can share and get free rides. They said no and that was my cue,” says the Kathmandu native.   Shrestha got on her laptop, worked out of a café and created a Facebook group ‘Carpool Kathmandu’. The idea was simple. People who had extra seats in their vehicles could offer the same to those looking for a ride.   

Within the first four days, 25,000 people had joined the group. The story of how people were carpooling in the face of the fuel crisis was picked up by newspapers and bloggers helped spread the word about the group. Today, Carpool Kathmandu has over 110,000 members and an app for Android devices. With users having to add their phone numbers, the app provides an extra layer of security. Like in the Facebook group, users can ask and offer rides using #ASK and #OFFER, as well as share their experiences.

What started as a short-term measure to cope with fuel shortage is now beginning to be seen by many as an eco-friendly way to travel. Most members admitted they would like to continue carpooling even after the crisis ends.

“Carpool Kathmandu has not only helped bring the community together but also build a culture offline where people give and take lifts,” says Shrestha. Shrestha has also created another Facebook group ‘Medication for Nepal’. As with its predecessor, this group helps match people who need medication with others who are flying into Nepal and are willing to carry them.  

People offering to bring medication use #CTN (Coming to Nepal), #CountryOfOrigin #LandingDateinNepal and people in need of medication use #MedicationForWhat #EstimatedWeight. To make it easier, users upload a photo of the prescription and others in the group help locate the medicines.

Shrestha is now working with the Department of Drug Administration to coordinate and create a database structure to help ease the supply of medications.

Says Shrestha: “Yes, there are problems. But, we need to get beyond the concept of simply complaining and thinking somebody else is going to solve them. We need to ask ourselves what we can do to solve them.”

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