The Chinese proverb- ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ epitomises the journey of the New Business Age (NBA). This May, the NBA completes its journey of 21 years.
--BY SARAD PRADHAN
This arduous journey that Madan Lamsal and his team undertook two decades ago has opened many windows for business journalism in Nepal. But the success didn't come so easily. Lamsal and his team spent nearly a decade in preparations before the first edition of NBA hit the newsstands.
It all began with a small-scale local publication named Financial Times. Madan Lamsal, back home from abroad after completing training in hotel management, was running a restaurant and was in a dilemma over whether to continue the profession that he was currently running or fulfil his passion. He chose to fulfil his passion and joined Financial Times as a reporter and a shareholder. It was published by Prof Basudev Amatya. Later, Keshav Gautam, who had previous experience in journalism, joined the editorial team. But this weekly newspaper could not be a self-sustaining venture. So, the duo - Madan and Keshav - left it. Madan, who had spent a few years abroad honing his marketing skills, decided to join Shri Distillery owned by Mathura Maskey from Butwal. Here he got an opportunity to travel to different parts of Nepal and understand the Nepali market. Though the job was well paid, Madan’s journalistic instinct was still alive and kicking. So, together with Hari Rai, he started Business Age in 1998. He invited Keshav Gautam and inducted him into the editorial team. But the journey that he embarked on was uneven. He didn’t like the atmosphere though he was the Editor and the Managing Director of the company. So he decided to call it a day. By then, journalism had become an integral part of his life. So, again, together with Keshav Gautam and Sabita Subedi, he embarked on a new journey in 2001 by opening a company called New Business Age Pvt Ltd. Thus began the journey of the New Business Age (NBA or NewBiz).
But, the journey was not as easy as they had thought. New Business Age has had a chequered history. To begin with, just after one issue in public, it witnessed the Royal Carnage in June 2001. The news of the carnage was a big shock for everyone in the country. But the determination of the team to continue the publication despite the unfavourable situation ultimately paid off. The business community of that time was very helpful to the New Business Age. It was because of the prodding of the private sector that the New Business Age also started a Nepali language publication.
The New Business Age is not only a business leader but it also gives ample impetus to the voice of the common men and the business community. Apart from the government, it also criticised the private sector for its unruly behaviour and unaccountability. From the very beginning, it has been vocal and impartial. In its very first editorial published in May 2001, it wrote, “Blaming the government for anything that goes wrong seems to be the usual pastime as well as the business of the private sector. After a short lull of several months, the carpetwallahs have once again started complaining that the government has not been so helpful to them. Added now are the complaints from the Pashminawallahs, who have started noticing their export orders gradually declining. The tourism sector too was doing the same before the imposition of the Essential Services Act on this sector following the 10% service charge dispute on hotel services.”
New Business Age has been very clear about its mission from the beginning. But the political situation vis-a-vis the economy of the country was not optimistic. It was mired in the Maoist insurgency fuelled by the direct autocratic rule of King Gyanendra. In such a situation, running a business magazine was a big challenge. But the publication slowly gained the trust of both readers and the business community. It encouraged the duo to do something new in the Nepali language. After a round of discussion with stakeholders, they decided to publish a weekly business newspaper in vernacular Nepali in 2006. They named it Aajako Abhiyan which later became Aarthik Abhiyan. Though Aajako Abhiyan was started with the hope of getting funding from an international donor agency, the money did not come. The publication was in the doldrums within a couple of months. But the team worked hard and created a space in the market. The publication became self-sustained by the end of that year.
By then the political situation of Nepal had changed. Nepal had transformed from a monarchy to a federal republic. Power again returned to the people. It was like a song by Curtis Lee Mayfield which says:
"We want the power for the people
That's all we ask in our country dear
The sick and the hungry are unable
Protect them and those who may live in fear.”
The journey that the duo embarked on has not been easy. Apart from the financial limitations, there was a lack of trained manpower, both in Nepali and English, for business magazines and newspapers. Many times, their workload had been doubled in the absence of the required manpower. However, instead of deterring them, it made their conviction clear and strong. In 2010, they upgraded the Aarthik Abhiyan from weekly to daily. It was a very bold decision as there was no backing from any single business house. It was started with finance from a venture capital fund which was set up some two years ago.
Birth of Minds Nepal
Even though the company had two publications - one magazine and one weekly newspaper, the duo felt that its scope was limited. Businesses were frequently asking them to do some research for them and organise business events. Thus the Minds Nepal Pvt Ltd was born. Minds Nepal is an integrated event, research, and marketing & communication consulting initiative. Under its banner, New Business Age conducted some research activities but preferred this task to be referred to some other research institutions, if possible. Thus Minds Nepal started to focus more on organising business events such as conclaves, award functions, and Business School Rating-Ranking-Awards.
The first event it did was Money Expo in 2011 which was inaugurated by then-President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav. This apart, it began its flagship event in 2013 christening it the NewBiz Business Conclave & Awards. Among the various issues that were discussed in these conclaves, the most prominent topics were ‘Doubling The Economic Growth of Nepal to 7%: The Roadmap Ahead,’ ‘A Vision: Unlocking Nepal's Growth Prospects,’ ‘Tourism Next,’ ‘Investment for Change, Nepal Startup Ecosystem,’ ‘Banking Strategies & Disruptions, and ‘Tourism to Prosperity’. Several companies are awarded in such events selected from different categories by an independent jury consisting of experts in the respective field. The company also thought of recognising businesspersons for their contribution to keeping their spirits high. Thus “Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Leadership” is presented every year in the Business Conclave & Awards. It was a kind of morale booster for them and an inspiration for those who are starting businesses. NBA honoured businessmen without taking any capitation fee, which was, and still is, a normal practice in many countries. NBA also provides a space for women entrepreneurs and honours them by organising a separate event “NewBiz Business Women Summit & Awards”.
Rating and awarding Business Schools is another flagship event that has encouraged the management colleges to excel better academically. NBA put all efforts to strengthen the business community of Nepal, not involving itself in opening the business itself. It conducted research and surveys and shared its findings with the concerned authorities and stakeholders. Despite having leverage in opening the business with its findings, the NBA is devoted to expanding its media business.
Having been in the media business for more than two decades, New Business Age has witnessed a myriad of ups and downs in the country’s economy. However, it is fully committed to not resorting to yellow journalism come what may. It has created a benchmark for responsible journalism in Nepal. The publication has never compromised its integrity, and credibility with money, and has never given any space to credulous news and commentary.
Over the last two decades, like many other media, it also suffered setbacks like the 2015 earthquakes, economic blockade, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic which has crippled the world economy. The pandemic has taken the lives of almost 12,000 people in Nepal, forced many people to close their businesses, and rendered thousands of people jobless. It has also affected the New Business Age to some extent. But the team is not deterred. Like British poet Robert Frost says in his famous poem 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening',
'But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.'
The team, despite all odds, has pledged to move on with whatever adversities come their way. And miles to go before it sleeps.