Reflecting on eventsSingle-use plastic bottles seem to dot climate change and sustainability programmes.
The last couple of weeks saw a spate of events in Kathmandu, including many high-level visits. The decline in Covid-19 cases meant that one could decide to host an event with minimal chances of cancellation. Airports opened in the region, so more connecting flights. It was good to meet so many people in person after a hiatus of over two years and a half. These different events provide an opportunity to observe and reflect on many aspects of events. Here are some thoughts.
The pandemic pushed for innovation in how virtual meetings are held—better quality videos over lesser internet bandwidth. Many busy speakers do not have to fly across the world to speak for half an hour. They can join virtually. More people can join and participate from around the world. Artificial Intelligence driven cameras provide better quality, and one can add more cameras without cameramen running in front of you. The digital backdrops have improved, and software innovation provides better images and video quality. Nepal has adopted these well, which is reflected in the improved quality of technology.
When multiple events happen simultaneously, figuring out how one curates an audience and the target audience inside the room becomes essential. It’s finding the right quality of audience rather than quantity. There is no point in having a hall full of people chatting or spending their time on the phone browsing the world outside the room. The world over, specialist organisations are engaged to curate the right set of circumstances through partnerships and in Nepal too, and gradually this will be the norm.
Walking the talk
It’s appalling to see those who complain openly against men-only panels participating in them. Development partners in Nepal have signed a Diversity In Dialogue pledge emphasising diversity in panels and other dialogue platforms. Still, it is sad to see some of them not walking the talk. It is not that you cannot find people. For instance, at the Kantipur Conclave, we had Pooja Sharma moderating a male-dominated field of electric power. As a personal commitment, I have decided not to participate in any panel that does not have diversity. It is crucial to have young people and women with ethnic diversity.
Boju Bajai has developed an open-source platform to look for women speakers if you are not finding one. We need never forget our demographics—50 percent of the population is under 25 years, 70 percent of the population is under 40 years, and 50 percent is women. Working hard to ensure diversity goes a long way in making the discourse inclusive.
Despite multiple discussions during the planning phase, our love for using single-use plastic does not seem to wane. We began eliminating plastic a while ago and are getting more granular. No use of plastic, be it for delegate cards or tent cards. Plastic waste is created with materials supposedly necessary for branding, popularly known as flex. It is essential to substitute plastic with digital boards or encourage artists to display their relevant works. The single-use plastic bottle seems to dot climate change and sustainability programmes. It is also essential that the message filters through to all levels of team members. At one of the events, in the quest to not have plastic water bottles, I saw hotel staff complaining about the extra work of filling glass bottles by emptying single-use plastic bottles. When some climate activists comment on social media, rather than taking them seriously, organisers get angry and defend their actions.
Managing time is a severe challenge in Nepal, especially in a culture where people feel they are only important if they arrive late! Further, a situation like the traffic chaos and the challenges posed by the gridlock during the Chinese delegation's visit does not help. On top of that, despite everyone having smartphones with a clock and different apps to manage time, we seem to go our own way. However, from experience and handling multiple events, people are happiest when something starts on time and ends on time. It is not about stopping being nationalist by respecting time, but respecting people by not wasting their time.
In a democratic secular Nepal, we still have an increasing number of rituals. From asangrahans (people having to formally take a seat on stage) to the traditions of garlands and khadas (scarves) as tokens of appreciation, it is something we do not do at our events, and many people can do away with them. Privilege rules as the important folks sit on sofas and mere mortals on different types of seats. Patriarchy rules as it is generally a woman who has to call a man on stage to speak or a woman who carries trays of garlands to be put on men by men. It is surprising to see even international organisations not wanting to demand changes to archaic rituals based on the caste system and patriarchy.
We need to bring about change, as I continuously harp upon. As a neutral venue in South Asia with good air connectivity and more hotels and conference facilities, Nepal has great potential to emerge as a great conference destination as one can have many pre- and post-conference activities without travelling long distances. The city walks, quick sojourn, excellent cuisine and entertainment options at reasonable costs open many possibilities. Able vendors provide world class technical support. Nepal has many young people who specialise in diverse fields and can be part of panels or moderate them. Translation quality and facilities are getting better, and aided by virtual support from people sitting in any part of the world. Of course, improving internet speed and electricity supply in terms of quality helps.
Looking forward to more events in Nepal, and of course, last night, it was great to host Nepal National Day in Kigali to celebrate Nepal’s Constitution Day and to share our food, culture and beauty with friends in Rwanda.