Carpool Kathmandu | In Conversation With Sumana Shrestha

The fuel crisis in Nepal due to the ‘unofficial’ blockade by India seems to be affecting the daily routines of the Nepalese citizens terribly. Schools are being closed and so are many offices and industries in lack of sufficient fuel. The crisis has been making daily commute very difficult for the people around the nation. People have been coming up with various ideas to help each other with the transportation during this difiicult time and a medium which is currently the talk of the town is a Facebook group called ‘Carpool Kathmandu’. As the name suggests, it helps connect people who are in need of rides with the people who are willing to offer a ride. The idea is simple, if you are driving to someplace and have a vacant seat in your vehicle, you post the information on the group with a hashtag #Offer. The people who need a ride between your route would comment and you can help them. Same applies if you need a ride: you have to post your location and time information with the hashtag #Ask and a person travelling through your route might help you. After your ride is confirmed, you have to edit your post and update it with a hashtag #Filled so that others know about it.

The fastest growing Nepalese Facebook group which has gathered over 57,000 members in less than a week, doesn’t only help people connect but one of the best things about it is the heartwarming stories that people post here after helping someone or after getting helped. These stories are not only entertaining but also very motivating and encouraging. We caught up with the mastermind behind this spectacular initiative – Sumana Shrestha, a Kathmandu resident with an MBA degree from MIT Sloan School of Management, Cambridge. Excerpts.

1. How would you introduce yourself to our readers?

I am a management consultant by profession and a wanderer in everything else. I have dabbled with start-ups and building communities in the past when I was at MIT Sloan getting my MBA, which is where I had my first experience doing something on my own. It has almost been an addiction that never leaves.


2. Your initiation Carpool Kathmandu is currently the most viral thing on the internet. How do you feel about it?

It feels great that community is coming together to help each other. It has really become a community owned space. The most rewarding thing to me about the platform is to read stories of how people are moving away from their comfort zone to ask for help and to offer help and how it is really bringing about change in our behavior.


3. When and how did you think of the idea?

Literally on Monday, Sept 28th – when I had to walk for two hours in the sun, found no taxis, couldn’t even dream of getting in the over-stuffed microbus, got blisters cause I wasn’t prepared to walk and then saw lots of private vehicles zooming by with one person in the car/ bike and taxi. I wanted to ask for a ride, but it felt a bit awkward to do, the whole cultural upbringing of “don’t talk to strangers” came into play. Then it clicked. If only I could reduce the risk factor, and help me and help others get over this “don’t trust strangers” notion, it is possible to get rides and get around.


4. Had you thought that your idea would be this successful when you first created the Facebook page?

You know my friends had told me there will lot more asks than offers, why would people do it, but I have always believed in humanity, I have always believed there is something intrinsically good in us that will force us to help, and no kidding helping is addictive, more additive than smoking. However, I had never imagined it will pick up at this rate.


5. What kind of reactions have you been receiving about it?

People love it. I have received a lot of note of appreciation from complete strangers. There are people who have come forward to help by either helping to monitor the forum or coming up with suggestions. I hadn’t thought of pinning the post, it came from the community member, there are people going around educating each other how to use the forum. So much good vibe – seriously. Actually that’s how we are together – Manish (Kazi Studios) and Anish (Yellow Nepal).


6. What’s the next step with the platform?

On the tech side – we are developing a mobile app to make it more efficient to make matches. Rest of the efforts is all about keeping this community safe, warm and welcoming for everyone.


7. Why do you think that a smartphone app would be even more efficient?

Imagine a world where it is easier to vet the asks and the offers, imagine a world where it is much easier to find rides and plan things ahead. That is what I envision will happen with the app.


8. What happens once the fuel crisis is over? Do you think that people will still use it?

Helping is addictive – that’s my experience. This community is built on the notion of love, compassion and generosity. Fuel crisis has been an impetus I think, but I see no reason for love to stop just because the crisis is over. Let’s see if I am correct. I want the fuel crisis to be over yesterday!!!


9. Are you working or planning to work on anything else as well that you think will be directly beneficial for the people?

Bunch of stuff, but they are all in making, so let’s wait to talk about them until there is something to talk about. I am a very result oriented person, if it yields results, you will be the first to hear about it.


10. What do you think of the current situation of the nation? Who do you think needs to be blamed for such difficult circumstances of the common Nepalese people?

It is horrible, and an utter mess. Before I answer “who should be blamed for the difficult circumstances of Nepalese people”, I want to ask ‘what will we get out of blaming?” Let’s do brain damage on how we solve the problem in every little which way we can, no?


11. Is there anything you would like to say to the Nepalese people?

Helping is addictive, very addictive. Try it! Let’s brainstorm how we solve problems and I am sure we will come up with very creative answers.


12. Is there anything you would like to say to our political leaders?

You hold the keys to unlock the mess we are in. Please use it, please get beyond your political affiliation and please use Carpool Kathmandu to get to your office and offer rides along the way.


13. Thank you very much for your time.

Thank You!

Are you a member of this group yet? Do share your experience of carpooling in the comment section below. Click HERE to join this awesome group if you are not a member yet. Happy carpooling!


Neeraj Pun (NEO)

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