Nepal’s local development: The great divide

Dinkar Nepal

Dinkar Nepal

Nepal’s local development: The great divide

Marred by misplaced priorities, Nepal is wasting its resources and a rare demographic dividend

I stay in Waling, a mid-sized town in the mid hills of Nepal, in Syangja district. Apart from the stretch touched by the Siddharth Highway that runs within the municipality along the river Andhikhola for 12 kilometers, there are hardly other signs of urbanization. But it was given the status of a municipality 24 years ago, when the population was merely 20,000. Ten years ago, when a local cyber cafe had put a WiFi connection for the first time and my laptop at home could catch the signals, I was amazed with joy. In the 10 years that followed, my grandmother learnt to use Facebook and Viber, and talk to her family members spread all over the world.

The transitions we have gone through in such a short time as a society are amazing. But, apart from the changes that have been forced by the global technological flux, has there been an effort directed towards a transformation guided by clear vision of what we want to achieve as a society? There are no such signs.

I got engaged with the civil society, the local government and the youths in many different ways. Through an advisory role in our municipality following the 2017 local elections, I observed the functioning of our local government closely. The signs were disappointing: haphazard decision-making, mostly guided by personal gains and party politics, and no sense of accountability. Almost all the decisions were a bargain between the influential players, and there was hardly a drive to push for collective goals for the society’s long-term benefit.

Dejected at the state of affairs, I wanted to do things on my own. As I initiated some social projects, I got a first-hand feel of the mindset that has corrupted our society. To promote the town as a tourist destination of its own kind, we formed a non-government organization, and designed a mountain biking event, Waling 100: Ultimate MTB Challenge, surrounding the Andhikhola Valley. The idea was to create an audacious one-day marathon, designed and managed by a local Nepali team, which would be sought after by mountain bikers the world over. We generated funds through local fundraising and support of the municipality. Even though participation was encouraging, the real challenge was in creating a culture of professionalism in the managing team.

Similar challenges have hit the enterprises that I have initiated at the local level. At ‘Himali: Made by Mothers’, a company that I co-founded with some friends, we are working hard to create flexitime employment for women who cannot leave their village for work. The idea is simple: if they can't leave the villages for jobs, get the jobs to the villages. But, with an ecosystem that is not only unsupportive, but at times hostile to entrepreneurship, we have faced hurdles every step. Started last year, 21 women now work with Himali, and we want to expand it to 1,000 in next five years, but the challenges are humongous.

Every day, as I struggle with issues here in this town, and occasionally get a glimpse of how things are being run politically, I often feel that our society, our politics, and the governance structure has derailed from the ideals that were promised. It’s no secret that our politicians have become a bunch of senseless individuals who are justifiably a source of mockery from all. But a close observation leads one to conclude that there is also a lot to be demanded from the younger generations who have been privileged with an access to education.

“At the moment, Nepal is facing a strange kind of mismanagement of resources,” says Prashant Singh, founder chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative, who has worked in developing sustainable solutions for Nepal for many years. “Most of the educated and skilled youths are in the urban areas and the resources they were rooted in are in the villages. As a result, the brains are not being applied to generate value using our naturally disposed resources.” As I roam the jungles that our agricultural lands have turned into in the hinterlands, Singh’s words strike deep. These terrace farms were made arable by our ancestors after hundreds of years of effort, and seeing the land abandoned is deeply painful.

But as I strived to initiate some agricultural projects like fruits farming, beekeeping and a center that can be used for experiential learning by individuals and teams, the gap between our needs and what our education is providing emerged strikingly. It has convinced me that our nation is being run by politicians without any vision for the kind of society they wish to construct, and they are in the game of politics merely to make money and push people around in order to do so.

Looking around desperately for some hope and optimism, across the nation, I don't find any meaningful discussions being carried out on how to organize and mobilize our resources to find new ways of nurturing the production systems that are necessary for social advance and prosperity. The Kathmandu-centric public discourse is dominated by youths who have survived on donor funding, and those who haven’t had to work a bit for their own sustenance. Such unjust dominance has led to an unhealthy ecosystem and the trickle-down effect of ideas, if any, is loaded with misplaced priorities.