Grassroots change in Nepal (Published on Nepalnews.com)

It was a proud moment to see Anuradha Koirala being chosen as the 2010 CNN Hero of the Year. Her work has already impacted the lives of many girls and women through her organization, Maiti Nepal and now the world has had a chance to hear her story. The CNN Hero award was a remarkable accomplishment and it showed that an individual with compassion, determination and drive can create a magnitude of change.

Change is a hard process. It is difficult to change habits much less a tradition or a culture. Yet, change is necessary because in order to survive, we have to evolve. The only thing constant that we all know is change. Survival should not be our only goal; living for a purpose should instead drive us forward. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, ideas and talent have become prime commodities. In order for a country to stay competitive in the global marketplace there needs to be a constant exchange of ideas, increased opportunities and growth of talent.

Simon Anholt, a British branding expert said that in this modern era nothing is more important than reputation. Simon conducted a survey asking people around the world on how they perceived 50 countries and found that a country’s admiration falls under three factors: technology, education and environment. People nowadays find it hard to respect a country when they lag behind in technology, education or environment.

For Nepal to build a stronger reputation, we have to embrace more foreign direct investment and less foreign aid. In March 2011, the Chinese government provided military aid worth Rs 1.42 billion to the Nepal Army. Recently, as per the request of the Nepalese government, Japan approved Rs 6 million for sericulture development. This project is believed to develop and strengthen cooperatives and private entrepreneurs to establish income generating Seri enterprises/cottage industries in rural areas. We should welcome assistances such as Japan’s because it creates opportunities for local people and stimulates the local economy.

External actors playing the role of change agents in Nepal might not be the best way to go; the initiative to change has to come internally. Thus, I am wary of foreign aid for multiple reasons. First, it has a negative impact on a country’s image. The recipient of foreign aid is generally looked upon as an underdeveloped country. Second, the aid rarely comes without any strings attached. The donor country usually has political or economic interest in giving the aid. Third, when a country is the recipient of aid, the money can be misused or improperly allocated as it was detailed in an article titled “Low road through the Himalayas” in The Economist. It has been known that giving precipitates more consumption than saving and investing. When the money is earned, it is used more properly and is less likely to be misused. Fourth, aid continues the cycle of dependency for the recipient country. Aid ultimately reflects how a country is looked upon.

Considering my points above, I believe grassroots change is one of the most powerful and effective form of change in Nepal. We should provide more support for people who have taken an initiative to create positive change in our society like Anuradha Koirala, Mahabir Pun and Sanduk Ruit. I could only hope that their work inspires the next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders and visionaries.  They have definitely inspired me and there are plenty of talented individuals in Nepal and living around the world who want to make a difference and are making one every day.

One such organization that is empowering citizens of Nepal worldwide is the Grassroot Movement in Nepal (GMIN). The New York based volunteer organization supports and initiates Grassroots movement focused on bringing sustainable social and environmental change in Nepal. Currently GMIN is renovating and rebuilding government schools in remote parts of Nepal and envisions helping to improve all government schools nationwide.

I find GMIN’s work important and effective because they are investing in students and building intellectual capital which our country needs dearly. By educating students, we are empowering them to create a better future for themselves and their families and thus shaping communities. Thus at a grassroots level we are planting the seed to our country’s biggest asset: human capital. The students’ knowledge and expertise will help build stronger communities and enable the country to compete in the global marketplace. Since its inception in 2009, GMIN has renovated five government schools in Dang and rented a house for an additional school. One can see the transparency of their work in their website (www.gmin.us) or by visiting their work sites in Dang. GMIN UK was launched on May 29, 2011 with a fundraiser and awareness campaign.

Other organizations such as Help NEPAL Network (HeNN) and Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF) also bring together Nepalese people living in and around the world and raise money for philanthropic activities in Nepal. I recently connected with Raj Maharjan in New Zealand through my earlier Nepalnews article “Brand Nepal.” Raj is taking part in the Auckland Marathon on October 30th to raise funds for health and education projects of Help NEPAL Network.

A grassroots phenomenon has powerful implications for the society and the country. When a few people are engaged in a cause and are empowered, the impact is much greater and can accomplish more. Positive change is taking place as we see in the remarkable individuals who have become CNN Hero and recipients of the Ramon Magsaysay Award and Overall Social Innovations Award. Their accomplishments have given Nepalese people around the world motivation to contribute in their own way to Nepal.

Ultimately, we are shaping the future of our country. It is in our national interest to support individuals and groups who are bringing positive changes and there are thousands of people who are doing whatever they can to help Nepal. While we’re working to create a stronger and sustainable Nepal and relying less on foreign aid, we will be improving our international image and building a stronger reputation.

(This article was published on June 28, 2011)

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