A new sort of togethernessA conference of this nature had long been a political need for the NRNA leadership
For the last one and a half decades now, the annual Dashain festivities in Kathmandu have been enhanced by the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) fête. It is now a ritual of sorts for the NRNA to plan some ‘formal’ event during the Dashain-Tihar-Chhath festive season, bringing hundreds of prominent NRN personalities, often with their families, to Nepal. The NRNA founding day is also celebrated on October 11 which coincides with the fortnight-long Dashain celebrations. Even if nothing hugely ambitious is achieved through these annual NRN congregations, they certainly help to maintain a bond between emigrant Nepalis, and their newer generations born and brought up outside Nepal in particular, and their country of origin. Their visit alone adds much needed vibrancy, especially to the country’s festival-dominated economy.
This year, the NRNA organised the first ever World Experts Conference in Kathmandu from October 12-14, reportedly participated in by some 350 experts from around the globe. The objective of the conference in itself aimed at exploring avenues of ‘utilising the knowledge, skills, technology, human resource and experience gained by the Nepali diaspora for the prosperity of Nepal’ was, indeed, very benign. It was, in fact, an endeavour long overdue. But whether the organisation was geared to that end is definitely a different question altogether.
Right since the inception of the NRN movement, the expectations from both the supply and demand sides were largely unrealistic. At home, no sooner had the NRNA been formed than policymakers and people expected that large capital inflow, enough to meet the entire development funding gap, would begin. The political leadership in the country failed to realise the fact that without creating a conducive and credible business climate, any form of investment—domestic, foreign or NRN—was impossible to come by. Apparently, mainly due to the absence of a favourable business atmosphere in Nepal, investments, obviously from NRNs as well, fell far short of general expectations. This, in turn, caused increasing disillusionment towards the NRNA as an organisation and its several, often high-sounding, promises.
On the supply side, the NRN movement itself, through its over-hyped stature and overtures, was responsible for creating such ‘unrealistic’ expectations. The NRNA leadership overtly focused on generating or mobilising capital resources instead of delving into the more feasible aspects of transferring technology, production and management skills; stopping, or if possible, reversing the trend of brain drain; and coordinating with the Nepal government to undertake more effective economic diplomacy in their country of residence. Still, the association is, rather unnecessarily, chasing the mirage of setting up a $100 million fund. In fact, capital availability is not an indispensible issue for Nepal’s development and prosperity. With additional inputs from NRNs, had Nepal been able to establish itself as an attractive business destination with the required quality human resources and good corporate governance practices, other foreign direct investors would have been equally interested to come and invest.
Such an obsessive focus on financial resources has taken a toll on the corporate character of the NRNA instead of working for the cause of Nepal. As a result, the organisation, as is widely alleged now, became a political instrument for a handful of nouveau riche personalities while failing to take along a large constellation of academics and intellectuals working principally in the knowledge industry in the developed countries. So much so that the current generation of NRNA leadership is dominated by this class of the ‘accidental’ rich, barely literate but without intellectual and academic credentials to match the dignity and expanding responsibility of this global network.
For all these reasons, the aura of the NRN movement appears to be gradually fading. No doubt, some leaders of the movement have made significant investments in a few large-sized projects. But overall, the NRN movement is often alleged to have failed on both counts—to make a noteworthy contribution to Nepal’s development efforts and also to effectively protect the interest of the Nepali diaspora at large.
In almost two decades of the NRN movement, not even a single project with a sizable investment and employment has come up from the community which could serve as a benchmark (even for business school case studies) of technology transfer, exemplary and innovative corporate management and, above all, a profit-making successful venture. On the contrary, several projects undertaken by a number of prominent leaders of the NRNA have failed miserably and set a bad precedent due to sheer mismanagement. These same leaders are found evading laws and potential punitive action using the influence of their position.
The NRNA leadership in several countries, as alleged by Labour Minister Gokarna Bista on the concluding day of this world conference itself, is involved in deception, exploitation and cheating of none other than vulnerable Nepali migrants themselves. To a large extent, the NRNA leadership positions at the International Coordination Committee (ICC) and National Coordination Committees (NCC) are filled with people of questionable integrity who naturally lack moral authority to take corrective action against these erring functionaries. This reality had put a large community of intellectuals, researchers and all those mainly in white collar jobs at a good distance from the entire NRN movement.
For all these reasons, a conference of this nature involving ‘experts’ had long been a pressing political need for the NRNA leadership to establish itself as a ‘common’ organisation for the entire diaspora of Nepali origin. Therefore, serving Nepal’s overall development interest here was apparently second priority. It was also evident from the way the conference was (dis)organised. Efforts to accommodate a far more number of themes than could be justifiably discussed and the limited opportunity made available to visiting ‘experts’ to interact with Nepal’s development experts were understandably a political compulsion of the organisers.
Be that as it may, the maiden effort made by the NRNA to map out technical and managerial skills of Nepalis abroad, given their willingness to come back and work in Nepal, is important not only for exploiting the available economic opportunities but also for creating new ones. But one-off conferences of this sort are unable to yield any desired result unless the exercise of skill mapping and roster creation are duly institutionalised. As has been repeatedly pointed out, Nepal needs a credible economic and development research institution which can provide a basis for evidence-based policy and plan formulation. If this conference has been successful in coming out with any useful integrated information to that end, it can be part of those evidences. Therefore, the next natural step for the NRNA and the government together should be to initiate or support the establishment of such a national research entity which can match both demand and supply of the resources and skills available to Nepal, nationally and internationally.