In late 2022, dZi welcomed Rakesh Karna as the new Nepal Country Director. A policy analyst and program management expert with over 20 years of experience in democratic governance, sustainable development, and post-conflict and disaster reconstruction, Rakesh will lead dZi’s in-country strategy, partnerships, and operations. Having directed large-scale projects for a number of donors in Nepal, Rakesh’s ability to achieve long-term goals and in-depth knowledge of Nepal’s development landscape made him the perfect choice. 

Ben Malmborg-Wild, dZi’s Strategic Partnerships Coordinator, sat down with Rakesh and Wende Valentine to learn about what drew Rakesh to dZi, his aspirations for the years ahead, and he and Wende’s growing partnership to guide dZi’s global vision.  

Rakesh, why were you excited to join dZi? 

I was drawn to dZi by the clear model, equity-centered approach, and long-term strategy. First, our Seed-Grow-Sustain model is comprehensive and understands that there are no shortcuts on the journey to transformation. Second, dZi’s strategic approach to community building demonstrates our commitment to equity, empowerment, and opportunity for all – not just building pockets of prosperity. And finally, dZi’s inclusive approach was important. We work with all community members, but our focus on amplifying the voices of poor and excluded people within the broader community framework is essential to transformational change. 

What experiences will help you in your new role?

A lot of my development experience will be useful in my new role, but my ability to connect program design with practice to drive systemic change will be especially helpful. When I talk about programs, I do not just talk about the specific things the community would like to change, but also how it can drive something larger at the subnational level. They are part of the same cycle and I look forward to instilling this perspective in our work at dZi.

Finally, I do not believe in one actor doing everything. In my previous work, projects have been most successful when there is a collaboration between multiple organizations. When we are one of many actors working toward a common goal, we can achieve systemic change.

What challenges or opportunities are you most excited about? 

For me, challenges and opportunities are two sides of the same coin. I do not see challenges – only opportunities. As an organization, dZi has grown a lot over the past two decades. Our partner communities have matured, Nepal has adopted a new system of governance that better supports local and inclusive development, and we are entering a time of tremendous opportunity. By knowing how to work with the people – not for the people – to create lasting change, dZi is well-positioned to do even greater things in the years to come. But, in a time where opportunity is everywhere, my biggest challenge is to focus and prioritize what opportunities are worth pursuing. So, I guess that is a challenge! (laughing) 

What about dZi’s culture has made the biggest impression on you?  

I’m moved by the intensity of the staff’s devotion to dZi. Some team members have devoted their lives – ten or fifteen years – to dZi’s partner communities. They have lived dZi and given so much to the growth and evolution of dZi. To me, that is a true testament to their care and commitment!

Rakesh with four dZi staff standing and wearing a marigold garland
Rakesh (second from the right) with dZi staff in Salpasilichho Rural Municipality, Bhojpur District

Wende, what made you know that Rakesh was the right fit for dZi? 

The moment I met Rakesh, I knew he was the right person to support dZi’s next chapter. His thought partnership, consideration for how long-term strategy impacts our daily decisions, and alignment with dZi’s values make him the perfect fit. Rakesh has the vision, skills, and expertise for fostering partnership and collaboration essential for systemic change. I am so grateful to be on this impactful journey together. 

Wende and Rakesh, what are you excited for dZi and our partner communities to accomplish? 

Rakesh: We want to establish a model that can be customized, replicated, and sustained. A model of autonomy and sustainability that’s driven by the people and accessible to anyone. We don’t want to be an organization that creates dependency, but rather one that fosters multi-stakeholder collaboration and partnership and leads to independence from international support. A focus on self-determination has been at the core of dZi’s work since our inception, and we’re committed to remaining true to those values. As we move forward, we will continue to substantiate our work – to measure and communicate the impactful results we see every day.

Wende: I couldn’t agree more! The opportunity to define and implement a model that can demonstrate its impact over time is exciting. Together, we are focused on a “partners in prosperity” model that can be replicated elsewhere in Nepal and that’s relevant to rural communities worldwide. I love Rakesh’s emphasis on co-creating shared prosperity for communities, and that it is only attainable when the whole model is rooted in partnership. dZi’s work up to this point has laid a solid foundation for the next chapter because, for the last 25 years, we have focused on building trust from the ground up, engaging communities on their terms, and mobilizing resources and support, all of which many development organizations skip. dZi can take these rich ingredients into the next iteration of partnership, where there is a place for everyone to become a part of this thriving, inclusive, and resilient future.

A moment of celebration  after dZi's Project Agreement was approved by the Social Welfare Council
A moment of celebration after dZi's Project Agreement was approved by the Social Welfare Council