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Making Nepal more inclusive

Making Nepal more inclusive

Over the last few days, I have been thinking about the connections and interlinkages between agency, voice, representation of minority groups and the role of leadership in strengthening and reinforcing them.

The trigger was an invitation to participate at a discussion program organized by Rastriya Dalit Network (RDN) Nepal, one of the leading organizations representing Dalit citizens in Nepal during the World Social Forum.

Over the course of the years, as an external observer and practitioner, I have been grappling with questions related to ways that vulnerable groups can emerge.

On the one hand, personal and positive leadership is indispensable and with it also comes a great level of personal accountability. I do believe that leadership is something that is widespread around the society. It does belong to each single individual but the problem is that, too often, it goes untapped, unexplored.

Yet, if you are a citizen belonging to a vulnerable group like Dalits or persons with disabilities, Muslim or citizens belonging to gender minorities or if you are a woman, then, it’s much harder to leverage this innate dimension. But, if certain conditions are in place, conditions that must stem from the wider society, then it can emerge with positive spillover effects.

What am I talking about? Very practical things to start with.

Why not start with better designed and much more substantial scholarships not only at primary levels for Dalit students but throughout the whole educational cycle? What about tailor-made apprenticeship and internship programs that should at least provide decent living stipends?

These are very tangible and, I would argue, also minimalistic measures, in the sense that, if implemented, they would not require astronomical resources nor any legal provision.

At the same time, there should also be a conversation about more systemic initiatives that are as needed as the former but are also more complex to put in place. Why so? Because they would need the buy-in of the whole society, especially the assent of those in or perceived to be in the so-called historically more dominating groups.

For example, a better and stronger proportional system without loopholes, a system that would really provide representations not only to Dalit citizens but also to other marginalized groups. A conversation should also be tabled about stronger quotas, that though imperfect as they can be, they do potentially represent a game-changer tool to create a stronger, fairer level playing field.

As an observer, I do realize not only the complexity of these issues but also their sensitivity. That’s why only a national conversation can pave the way for reasoned, deliberate discussions. Yet these tools, some practical interventions, some other more strictly anchored to the realm of policy making can truly make the difference.

Thanks to them, citizens from vulnerable groups can be more visible, they can be heard and they can be part of the conversation and, consequently, they can contribute to the wider society. We need to be clear on one thing here: There is no automatism, no guarantee of success.

The reason is simple because, as strong as these measures can be, alone they won’t suffice, they won’t be enough.

Here enters the role of leadership and personal accountability. Leadership is about consistent actions that bring positive outcomes but also, as we all know, the same can bring failures. With failures that are inevitable come frustration and with it, the possibility of simply giving up becomes higher and higher.

Yet this grinding process of self-amelioration is the key to personal success.

The society in Nepal is in dire need of having more people from minority groups to be “good” at succeeding because positive achievements bring recognition and respect. Leading through actions does not require only good communication skills or charisma. What is also needed is know-how and expertise and being in a position to put those into practice.

That’s why the tangibles discussed earlier can truly mark a positive difference in what is a positive feeding loop that generates change, first at personal level, then at societal one. In more practical terms: You have to work hard but also you have to have the conditions in place as well if you want to have a shot at life.

But there is another element in this very hypothetical theory of change that could contribute in making Nepal more just.

Here I go back to the discussions related to the World Social Forum. RDN Nepal is organizing a ‘Dalit Parliament’ but this is a misnomer.

The Parliament, obviously, is not a real parliament. It is, instead, a much-needed forum for discussion and debate within the Dalit community. It is mostly a series of one-off events held annually where different groups, different stakeholders address issues and problems and try to find a common ground.

It is an important platform but there is the potential of making it even stronger. This so-called parliament could be structured on much more solid grounds in the form of a permanent, though loose, forum that meets regularly and consistently.

Obviously, we have to be realistic about what such a forum can achieve but having in place a venue where groups, activists but also concerned citizens can freely talk, can be a very positive development.

That’s because it would help bring in a sense of having a collective voice, a voice that would represent different views and opinions but would also enrich the conversation.

This dimension would complement and reinforce the efforts from the wider society and the ones stemming from the single individuals belonging to marginalized groups, helping generate reflections that could lead to change.

The goal would not be to agree on everything but rather having a place where voices are heard and ideas shared. While each group in such a diverse nation like Nepal has its own identity and traditions, ultimately what could help the country achieve more diversity and inclusion is a real national conversation.

Something that is not fragmented and divided by specific features, grievances and negotiating positions but instead is driven by the enriching and common elements, the sum of its parts that pulls the country together.

A recognition by the wider society that it is a common responsibility to make the country more inclusive and diverse, a sense of personal responsibility and willingness to contribute from those lagging behind and more collective voices talking to each other, could truly make Nepal fairer, better and more just society for all.

The author is the co-founder of ENGAGE and of The Good Leadership. Views are personal