Laurence Brahm is the founder of Himalayan Consensus, a non-governmental organisation for protecting ethnic diversity, culture and environment. The organisation is a member of the United Nations Theme Group on Poverty and Inequality, United Nations Global Compact, and is in the process of becoming a member of ECOSOC. Brahm was recently in Nepal for the curtain raiser event of the First Himalayan Consensus Summit being convened in Bhutan in July 2015 with a high-level and influential group of leaders from a spectrum of community, business, finance, civil society and government. In an interview with Angila Sharma of New Business Age, he discussed about Himalayan Consensus and its importance in Nepal. Excerpts:
What is the purpose of your visit?
The purpose of this visit is to hold a dialogue with Nepal Economic Forum for the opening of the Himalayan Consensus Summit. Since South Asia is on the rise now, we believe that this region must learn from the experience of the West and China. Here, South Asia can adopt policies of Middle way economics. We need to be thinking differently about development. Development does not necessarily mean high growth, but it means healthy growth. If we do not consider the environment while conducting developmental activities, we are going to lose the glaciers of this region, which will affect the water supplies. So, in the opening of the SAARC summit, we presented our ideas and we will have a statement asking the SAARC heads to consider the Himalayan Consensus into the future agenda of the SAARC organisation and programmes.
What is Himalayan Consensus?
Himalayan Consensus is built on the philosophies of the Himalayan region, which focuses on the interest of the community and the importance of environmental integrity. So, we realize that there can be no healthy economic growth unless there is environmental integrity, which is the key chain to environmental economics. And, environmental economics talk about seeking opportunities in renewable and efficient energy development and the need for conservation of water. These are the opportunities for innovation and employment whether it is government infrastructure in reducing amount of carbon or businesses engaged in the process. It also involves respect and empowerment of local identity and culture through business. There are three principles of Himalayan consensus - support ethnic diversity and indigenous identity through sustainable economic platforms such as micro-finance and social entrepreneurship, while prioritizing environmental protection and community development.
What prompted you to start Himalayan consensus?
I worked as a lawyer and economist for many years in Asia, primarily in China. I was an advisor to the government and my advisory work began in 1990 with Vietnam, China and Mongolia. There I realised that the traditional western approach of shock therapy of trying to impose conditions and push everything to the market is not relevant to many countries facing the challenges of development. From 2002, I left my role as a commercial lawyer and began working with government and went to the grassroots. I spent a decade in Tibet and other regions focusing on heritage preservation, building of schools and financial empowerment of communities and setting up medical clinics. Only then I realised that business can be profitable but can also have enormous transformational impact on society and can protect the environment. So, working in Tibet, I started linking ideas with other people in South Asia region.
When and how did you come up with this concept?
The concept evolved through communication with other people. It is not a one person’s idea. Rather it is an amalgamation of pragmatic solutions pioneered by people across this region. I am just one of those people. But, there are people conducting many such programmes where they realise that aid does not solve the problem but increases dependency. It is better to create a local business and to use that to empower communities and also to address the environmental issues.
What is the main objective of the Himalayan Consensus Summit?
We will hold the Himalayan Consensus Summit in 2015 in Bhutan. On the eve of the SAARC summit, we announced plans to do that. But more importantly, we have put out the idea to the SAARC leaders that Himalayan Consensus, as an economic paradigm or a way of approaching development, can be owned by SAARC. A number of speakers talked about heritage preservation, importance of identity and heritage as a part of people’s identity and how that can be preserved in business. We also had some speakers who talked about the environmental side. Individual speakers articulated practical solution from their own experiences that can bring us to a new consensus for the Himalayas.