BY Sujeev Shakya
Twenty-five years ago, when I assumed a senior management position at the Soaltee Group, our biggest challenge was finding competent Nepalis to fill key roles in new projects. Most of the senior management team was made up of individuals from India or overseas. However, today, the situation is different. Nepalis are willing to return to Nepal and work in order to meet people's expectations on all fronts. They do not have to stay in Nepal indefinitely, but can work for a few years before moving on. Aanchal Kunwar, the current CEO of Daraz, is a classic case in point. Nepalis are currently employed in various roles and functions in 180 countries, apart from their entrepreneurial pursuits. They can be found in remote regions of Africa, the United States, and Australia. With more than 15% of its population living outside Nepal, there has been a significant talent churn that will ultimately benefit Nepal.
For almost 175 years, from the time of unification in 1776 until the end of Rana rule in 1950, Nepalis were cut off from the rest of the world. However, historically, Nepalis had strong regional connections, travelling far away to Beijing to build temples, or to Afghanistan or Malaysia for trade. For instance, there are striking similarities in the cuisines and architectural styles of the Nayars of Kerala and the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, which is a testament to the strong people-to-people connectivity and trade between the regions. Unfortunately, due to low levels of education and a feudal structure, Nepalis were often relegated to menial jobs in India, the only country they could travel to as commoners. They remained as the ABCDs in Indian society, which stands for Aayah (maid), Bearer (server), Chaprasi/Chowdikar (peon), and Durban (security personnel). Many older generations of Indians still struggle to come to terms with the fact that there are educated Nepalis beyond these categories. This situation had a profound impact on the bilateral relations between India and Nepal, which were never about the equal participation of people from two different countries.
The Ranas and Shahs were content to send young Nepali men to become mercenaries in foreign armies, as this provided an opportunity to earn more money. With high levels of mortality and injury, more and more Nepalis were required to fight in other people's wars, which allowed rulers to profit even further. The myopic policies of the Shah dynasty neglected economic growth and prevented Nepalis from accessing education or travelling outside of Nepal. However, after the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1990 and the end of the Shah rule in 2006, private education flourished, and obtaining passports became easier, opening up new opportunities for Nepalis. Those who went abroad for menial jobs sent money back home, which was then used to educate the next generation, enabling them to attend good universities and find better job prospects. Unknowingly, the government became a big part of this transformation.
Nepalis who used to work in menial, low-paying jobs are now graduating to better ones. In my book, "Unleashing Nepal," I discuss "Hi-gration," which refers to migrating with higher skills. For example, a helper in the kitchen with slightly better training and education can become a cook and eventually progress to becoming a chef. We hope to see these types of transformations happening at an even faster pace. Nepalis around the world have developed a reputation for their hard work, as well as their sincere and polite nature. With global travel on the rise, airlines and the hospitality industry began to recruit in droves. Countries like the UAE and Qatar started recruiting ten times more people than their own population, and these opportunities benefited Nepalis. The diversity visas of the US, liberal immigration policies of Canada and Australia for knowledge workers, and similar initiatives have nsured that Nepalis can find greater opportunities in larger numbers. In destinations like Portugal, where there may not have been a single Nepali a hundred years ago, there are now more than 30,000. Nepalis have globalised through their basic traits of being dedicated, sincere, and adaptable.
The technological revolution
The technological revolution of the past four decades has been unprecedented. We have seen great innovations replaced by even better ones, and as a result, some of the earlier innovations have been forgotten. At the onset, there was a fear that technology would make humans useless. But in reality, it has created more jobs than ever before during the previous decades of the industrial revolution. Banks, which were once just supposed to take your money, give you some interest, lend you money, and take some interest, started to do things that bankers in the 1970s could have never dreamt of. The smartphone revolution has pushed the social media revolution, which in turn has pushed the smartphone revolution further. The world has shrunk, but choices have burst at the seams. More people are required to make apps function, recognise faces in apps, and do all the menial work to ensure technology works. Many human hours are put in to ensure that you can get a response to your translation command in a jiffy. It's a fascinating world that has been built.
In the coming decades, the focus will be on humans building platforms to compete with other humans, whether it's through AI, blockchain technology, or the metaverse. This will require billions of hours of human effort to improve these technologies. The world is driven by competition between firms within countries and across borders, with China challenging the dominance of Western powers in shaping the global landscape. Nepal, with over half its population under 25 years old, is home to a large pool of talented young people who will write the code, create new platforms, and possibly even build future unicorns. The playing field has been levelled, allowing people from all walks of life, regardless of income, caste, creed, sex, religion, or other divides, to access free tools such as Gmail and Zoom. This means that someone in Nepal has the same opportunity as anyone else to use the virtual world to innovate, create, and maintain. This will be the future. Nepalis will play a greater role as we have seen with business outsourcing or software services. The second generation Nepalis are already doing well in the US and some of them are experimenting with getting back to Nepal or having a foot in Nepal too. It is about the mindset of the global Nepali that can traverse boundaries.
We started working in Rwanda in 2012, and now after 11 years, we continue to work in the knowledge management space with Nepalis and global talents in a country that values its future. The hope for the future of Nepal and Nepalis is not merely an abstract concept, but is grounded in the transformation of Nepal since 1990, particularly since 2006, as well as in the transformation of our own company. The key to our success will be to shift our narrative towards a deep desire for positive transformation as individuals and organisations, and to actively make it happen. We have the opportunity to redefine our future.
(Shakya is CEO of beed management, a Nepal-based international advisory firm that works in Asia and Africa.)