Leveraging diasporaGiven South Asia’s geopolitics, it is becoming more important to engage with the global community
In a nice bar around Dupont Circle in Washington DC, many young Nepali professionals were huddled together chatting. Many young folks had turned up for the gala hosted by Tshering Sherpa, who is working with a financial-advisory firm in the US. I went there to catch up with some young professionals who had spent time at beed and the Nepal Economic Forum. Some of these young people are at the World Bank, some working for various global companies and some pursuing their doctoral studies. It was different from meeting young people back during the days I spent a few months in Washington DC doing a fellowship with the World Bank, when some senior Nepali professional used to think it was beyond his dignity to meet other Nepalis or to be refered as a Nepali. The discourse was not about Nepali politics; it was about global issues. It was about the key challenges to global development, be it in the UK or the US. It was music to one’s ears.
For this generation, the English Premier League or the game that their favorite baseball team is playing is more important than the political game back in Nepal. Such gatherings have become necessary to connect with other Nepalis. It is the same set of people who are running the supposed associations for decades, which are basically a means for them to get a business card with a designation to get access to the political corridors when they visit Nepal. They can then use the political connection, not to bring in investment or some technology to Nepal, but to expedite their application for a passport or get a free upgrade by getting someone to call the airline if they have not already managed to get a paid invitation to an event in Nepal.
I was discussing the issue of political patronage in the country with Chhitij Bashyal, Program Director of Daayitwa, a movement connecting young Nepalis abroad and in Nepal. We discussed the importance of politicians. I keep wondering why it is that for us Nepalis a politician is so important? Is it due to our feudal structure that even after the abolishment of monarchy, we continue to look up to the ‘mini-monarchs’ for patronage? In Nepal, someone really needs to make a yellow page book or an app on these ‘mini-monarchs’! Why is it that during the funeral of an artist, the prime minister or a minister needs to show up, and people wait hours for them? Why is it that a sports tournament needs to be graced by a minister who themselves may not even know the rules of the game they are inaugurating?
What inspiration can we get by listening to a school or college dropout speaking at a graduation programme? How can a pot-bellied leader motivate an athlete? Perhaps the excessive attention we give to politicians has made them so larger than life that they themselves do not know how to handle the power and get swayed by the power brokers.
As a citizen, our interface with the government is limited. We interact with the government to issue some documents, while paying taxes and in case you get into litigation, the judiciary is a point of contact. Yes, in the absence of locally elected bodies, our interaction with the federal government has increased, but it does not mean that we need it to be present at every event of our lives. When interacting with international agencies, I posed a question why a business delegation to Nepal needs to meet the ministers or politicians. In the US, when starting a business or investing, people hire lawyers and advisors; they do not go to meet a politician. I am always scared that after a meeting with a minister, even an investor who was about to write a cheque would retract the deal due to excessive inspiration! Our political culture has never been about inspiring others; it is about finding ways to keep one’s own future secure. The time has really come to question why we need politicians to grace our functions like the erstwhile royals did. Perhaps if they have fewer events to attend, ribbons to cut and group dances to perform, they will focus on getting their work done. It is not rocket science to figure out that ministers can be more productive if they do not have to inaugurate every ATM machine in the country!
Role of embassy
The Nepal Embassy at Leroy Place, Washington DC has had a good makeover and was looking good from outside. An embassy is like the business card of a country and the people in the embassy its contents. However, we have never seen it that way. From the days of the monarchy, embassies have provided concierge service for the people linked to power and the ambassador’s residence has been a guest house for all and sundry. The ambassador is relegated to a cultural attaché, chaperoning people or pulled in different directions by hundreds of Nepali community associations.
With more than a quarter million Nepalis in the US, the Nepali embassy can become a profit centre. The embassy has to be empowered to take critical decisions whether in engaging a local contractor or in issuing passports or visas. It should be allowed to hire professional staff and contractors to provide efficient service. Even if a fifth of the diaspora and students use embassy services, a simple $50 fee can fetch millions of dollars. This revenue can be used to promote Nepal in the US and leverage the skills and networks of the diaspora. Given the geo-politics in South Asia and our recent experience with the blockade, it is becoming more important to engage with the global community, including think tanks.
The needs are clear and the ever growing number of young Nepalis who have learnt to dream should find better ways to connect with Nepal, a country they love. Only a few tweaks would suffice; it is not an uphill task at all.