July 14, 2021 Sujeev Shakya

Embrace change

The next unicorn may be a company developed in Nepal.

It has now been fifteen months since lives around the world changed, with no parallels to draw from our lifetimes. Many, of course, face difficult times frequently, but the challenges and issues are usually more localised. Not so with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the past fifteen months, I have written many columns around change. My first column, from March 2020, when I was scrambling for the last flight to Kathmandu to bring me home from Bangkok, focused on what we can learn from the pandemic. I spent a lot of time reflecting on how societies react to situations. From lockdown musings to looking at managing death rituals better to reforming religious institutions. There were reflections on the internalising change sessions (close to a thousand people have attended this till now, and I continue to volunteer to host these for interested groups).

We also learnt that change begins at home as the political mess that began in Nepal is now more than a year old. Till societies change, politics will not change. The ‘Enough is Enough’ movement by the youth in June 2020 made a big call for change. But that seems to be years ago which has not really impacted anyone’s life, and politics remains the same. The second wave has further exposed our weak structure of governance and our poor civic discipline. In October 2020, I had written about how the response to the pandemic will further isolate Nepal. Already, international media have clumped Nepal together with India, with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant causing more fear and distrust.

The pandemic is here to stay. We are looking at recovery for the later part of 2022 or early 2023. The only way to survive is to grow, be it as an individual or an organisation. However, we have also seen some amazing trends that the pandemic has pushed through. I look at three key trends in this column.

The first is digital money. In Rwanda, as I get comfortable with the idea of not needing any cash or card, I also start to wonder whether regulators around the world are going to be keep up with the pace of adoption. With paper trails still being important as part of legal proceedings and especially when issues lands up in a court of law, will digital transactions be accepted?

While the adoption of mobile money has accelerated and central banks are now pushing for the regulation of digital currencies, what will be the global digital currency that countries will adopt? Will the Chinese Yuan in digital form become the new force that will complicate the current global polarisation towards two key economic powers? Or, does Nepal actually have an opportunity to leapfrog with a digital currency and be the clearinghouse for transactions between India and China?

Tourism will also bring changes as we will see more digital nomads travelling and the line between work and leisure blurring. The comfort of work from home can be defined as work from anywhere. There have also been many developments in virtual and augmented reality during this past year and a half. Therefore, when a tourist points his phone at the Patan Durbar Square image, he expects the details to load on this phone. A human guide may be outdated, like hotel booking desks, as people adapt to more convenient services online. The pandemic has also brought a rise in human wellness and mindfulness-related visits. What are folks thinking about this for Nepal or anywhere else?

Lastly, we see learning and education change as examinations become irrelevant. Perhaps you really do not need physical classes to get educational degrees, but you need more ways of consuming content if it is to seek knowledge. From the growth in podcasts to the adoption of Clubhouse to the proliferation of companies doing e-books and audiobooks—even in Nepal—the change is amazing to witness.

Dima Syrotkin, CEO of Panda Training, argues in his latest blog that the next trillion-dollar start-up will be an education company. We have seen how many people reskilled themselves and discovered the sea of trainings and knowledge platforms. In Nepal, it was wonderful to see so many young people take on different platforms to share information and knowledge about wide-ranging topics. Perhaps, with tremendous information technology capabilities and good track record of exporting ICT services, Nepalis have a wonderful opportunity to dive in. Who knows, the next unicorn could be developed in Nepal.

Political uncertainty in Nepal is a phrase that we are used to; its relevance will not disappear. The players may change, but the game of uncertainty will not change until the age and make-up of the leaders across the political, business, societal and cultural spectrum will reflect the demographic of the country. Till then, it’s about embracing small changes that will deliver big results.