“I realized there were already plenty of private and governmental schools,” says Mahabir Pun, a teacher, researcher, scientist, and social entrepreneur, who once dreamt of establishing an education establishment for the underprivileged of rural Nepal. “So, I thought, why not instead focus on innovation and research centers for the country’s development?”
So it was that Nangi village in Myagdi district, his birthplace, had wireless internet connections by 2003, a time even the country’s major cities were deprived of decent internet facilities. Pun then sourced computers from donors and distributed them to surrounding villages. He also produced electricity from small hydro generators, and assembled handmade wooden-box CPUs.
Pun’s loftiest vision was to arrange vocational training for rural folks so that they could be more employable, both at home and abroad. Alongside, he was keen to help poverty-stricken folks engage in income-generating programs. Thus the computers he got in grant were used in online teaching, in establishing an e-market for local products. The lure of reliable internet also helped bring more trekkers to his village.
“Visions will only be wishes if we don’t share and work on them,” claims Pun, who publicized his primary proposal via the BBC, resulting in the formation of the National Innovation Center (NIC) in 2012. His goal was to boost innovation and invention. It is now registered as a non-profit research organization and is in the process of producing and selling 10 MW electricity, the profit from which will be reinvested in the center.
As of now, coffee roasting machines, solar dryers, and drones are the NIC’s major projects, produced as they are easily marketable. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the center made PPE kits and repaired medical equipment.
A man whose childhood was spent doing household chores and grazing cattle is determined to continue to lead a simple lifestyle. “Your dress and getup don’t establish your brand—your thoughts do,” he says. Moreover, Pun adds, “People, mainly youths, try to mirror the living standards of foreigners these days. They should rather look to borrow the foreigners’ progressive thinking and creativity.”
“During my time, we couldn't even think of studying abroad. Medical and engineering colleges were yet to start in Nepal, and people’s horizons were limited,” Pun recalls. But now things are vastly different, and yet, Pun rues, most of our able-bodied youths want to go abroad.
The 66-years old Pun reckons the new generation is not mature enough to take over the NIC. “I am ready to hand over, but so far I haven’t met a person who can give full time to the center without expecting a penny of profit in return,” he explains. “The center also needs someone capable of making fast, logical decisions.”
The jovial Pun likes to use his social media accounts to show a funny and fun-loving side of himself. (His dances with center colleagues have been smash hits.) More importantly, he uses Facebook and Twitter to publicize donations and expenditures.
The newly-announced ‘Galaxy 4k TV’ has among its lineup a television program, Aabiskar (‘Invention’), featuring Mahabir Pun. As the producers have been tight-lipped about the program, there is a lot of speculation about whether Pun will be a full-time presenter or put in only a guest appearance. Pun’s absence during the program’s announcement had also raised questions.
On being queried about it, Pun explains, “The television program could promote a culture of research. They consulted me too, but I might not have the skill to present a TV program.” He says he will for sure appear occasionally but he adds that it will be impossible for him to spare scheduled time for the show.