Obama Scholar helps his native Nepal adapt to climate change

Harris student stresses a neighborhood focus during UChicago’s global symposium

Editor’s note: The following is part of Urban October at UChicago—an initiative of the University of Chicago Urban Network. Throughout the month, University scholars will convene key stakeholders and present new research and collaborations that confront urban challenges around the globe.

Dipak Bishwokarma has spent years helping communities in his native Nepal adapt to climate change. Along the way—working with local residents, non-profits and government agencies—the University of Chicago graduate student learned that doing so requires more than just a technical understanding of the environmental impacts.

“There is always interface between policy and how to put it into practice,” said Bishwokarma, who is studying at the Harris School of Public Policy as an Obama Foundation Scholar. “You need to know the overall development scenario, and the policy innovation scenario. You need to understand that to make real impact on climate change.”

Bishwokarma recently joined other Obama Scholars on a panel discussing climate change and a local approach to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals during the Global Symposium on Sustainable Cities and Neighborhoods.

Hosted by UN-Habitat and the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation as part of Urban October at UChicago, the event brought together government leaders, community organizers, leading researchers and other experts from around the world to discuss how neighborhoods around the world can work together to ensure a more equitable and sustainable future. UChicago News spoke with Bishwokarma about his work, UN-Habitat and returning to Nepal after his studies.

What type of work did you do in Nepal?

Before I came to the University of Chicago, I was working on climate change issues back home—supporting communities to identify different impacts incurred because of climate change and climate change-induced disasters, and to identify and implement different adaptation activities.

I worked in the non-profit sector. That means we also closely work with governmental institutions to complement their initiatives. One project I managed looked at climate change impacts at a local level—the impacts on natural resources, especially forest, land and water—and how they were impacted by flooding, drought and fire.

Why did you want to get involved with this symposium?

You’re not simply talking about climate change and urban resilience, but also talking about how to work with people. It’s a mix of both climate change and urban development. You’re also looking at neighborhoods, which is really powerful. When you want to work on climate change, you need to work together. What happens in one neighborhood is also impacting another neighborhood. If one neighborhood has put resources to reducing climate change impacts, and the other is not, there’s a huge loss.

How valuable was it to have the United Nations involved as an event organizer?

It’s an organization that has a global impact, and also works in diverse sectors. This is how the impact level could be extended from one country to another. It definitely means a lot. In collaborating with the UN, the University of Chicago becomes even more impactful. Universities are stewards of knowledge. They generate new knowledge, whereas the UN can help more with putting policies into practice and supporting government. It’s such a good combination.

How will your UChicago - Harris Public Policy experience help once you return to Nepal?

I’ll be able to support on policy analysis, and also support government on designing more effective policies. You have to know how to analyze data, how to analyze policies, and how to predict the positive or negative outcomes of the policies that you are going to design. It would be more advanced support for the government. So far, there are not many examples of analyzing policy before implementing or designing it.

The Master of Arts in International Development and Policy program (MAIDP) at Harris provides different skill opportunities, especially on policy analysis. The Obama Scholars program not only helps fund my studies, but helps enhance leadership skills. The networking opportunities aren’t only at the local level, but across the globe. The Obama Foundation and the Harris School have packaged all those needs into a single set.