July 22, 2013 Sujeev Shakya

Change from Within

Last week as I was talking to the Unilever Nepal Team at their internal workshop. It was so heartening to see a company that came to Nepal just two decades ago and has already been able to build a great organisation. The team members are young and looking forward to making history. The company is one of the blue chips in the stock market, consistently providing returns that no other company can match. However, everyone seems to have one question: Is Nepal changing?

At other gatherings too, I am asked: When will things in Nepal improve? When will it get better? When will the political situation improve? These give rise to two fundamental questions. Do we think that the change that has happened is not enough or do we not see the change happening? My first response to such questions have been—Are we not better off than our forefathers? Are we not living a life that is better than we would have imagined twenty years ago?

Glass half empty
The infectious negativity in society has created a situation where everyone is more inclined to seeing the glass half empty rather than the glass half full. Business people, who have just closed their financial year with thirty percent growth in revenues and profits in a year, complain about how bad the year has been. It makes me wonder, will business people stop complaining only after they can double their wealth each month? I heard a professional heading a business complain until I asked him whether he had ever imagined twenty years ago, when he started his career, that he would be earning such money, driving such a fancy vehicle and giving his children the best education, all out of legitimate tax paid income. I go to restaurants where waiters earn a minimum of Rs 30,000 but still complain of less pay. I talk to cabbies in Pokhara and they complain that they can only make around Rs 40,000 a month. Is it that our expectations are too high and therefore, when we don’t meet them, we disappoint ourselves? Or is it our gambling genes that want to see income and wealth multiply at an unprecedented speed? What is the change that is required?

Migration and fatalism
The other big complaint I hear is about people migrating and how this is bad for the country. First, it seems it comes from, in many cases, people who could not migrate due to personal or family reasons therefore crib about the grass being greener on the other side. Second, it seems to stem from excessive reading of reports and news items from parachute consultants who have never taken the time to understand the history of Nepal. The Nepali economy has always been dependent on remittances, be it formal or informal. Be it from the money that Araniko and his artisans brought back many centuries ago or the informal remittances from agricultural workers in Northeast India, Myanmar and Malaysia or the remittances from soldiers in foreign uniforms. When a country has half a million people joining the workforce each year and there are no job opportunities for even a fifth of them, migration has been a vent that provides opportunities to work abroad and send money back home. Imagine the social chaos this could lead to. Talking against migration is as dumb founded as our hollow nationalism based on Everest being in Nepal and Buddha being born in Nepal. The change in Nepal in the past decade, especially in the rural areas, has been brought by Bipalis who bring in money in the first place and bring in an exposed mindset when they return. Whether it is having toilets at home or using washing machines or wearing clean clothes or taking care of personal hygiene, migration has brought about much impact. Change is happening.

Uncertainty is the constant
We always talk about political uncertainty as if in a couple of years a Lee Kwan Yew or a Paul Kagame will emerge and take Nepal into a golden era of prosperity. When people talk about political uncertainty, I wonder, what does political certainty mean? Is it just having elections, a constitution and the formation of government to tick off like on a donor report or is it that people really want to see change in governance, rule of law and accountability? Democracy is having multiple voices that do not want the status quo to continue. The same voices do not want to see the opposition in power internally within the party or externally within the government. When these forces continue to do everything under the definition of ‘politics’ to get after their opponent, how can there be a sense of certainty? Does society really want certainty? Do businesses want certainty? Do professionals want certainty? Certainty will emerge, for instance in a business, when everyone agrees to abide by the tax laws and implement corporate governance to the hilt. This will create a level playing field; therefore, uncertainty will not be there. Political certainty can therefore only be possible if there is certainty in each quarter of our society. So going back again, where does change need to occur?

Change is internal
If we are looking for change, it will only happen if each component of society can bring about change. If businesses bring about change by adhering to quality, if educational and health institutions can change to respect ethics, if professionals can change to respect meritocracy, if individuals can change to discourage nepotism and favouritism and if we can start seeing the glass full with less greed, change will happen. We are the change; change is never external, it is always internal.

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