Unleashing the Power of the Nepali Diaspora

The Other View by Sujeev Shakya

“I am planning to start a company that will go global.” This was a voice I heard echoing among the Nepali diaspora as I interacted with many young students and professionals. One of the key features of the people I met was how they treated themselves as global citizens. They did not have the nationalism of the diaspora politicians embedded in them and were rather focused on setting up big dreams and ambitions. The voice of the Nepali diaspora used to be generally controlled by politically affiliated people who carried the dirty Nepali politics of entitlement, male chauvinism, and ritual-centric events rather than content, thoughts, and action. The big news is that the control of the Nepal narrative as captured by diaspora political leaders who run different organizations in the name of Nepal is waning.

There are also discoveries of newer challenges. People who are closing on to retirement or retired are trying to figure out how to lead the rest of their lives – to be in Nepal or in the US. Moreover, a new way of living is what people discuss and ideate on while taking into account the need to taking care of aging parents, whose life expectancy is rising dramatically each decade. The choices are between building a couple of houses in Nepal that one can visit regularly or shuttling between the two countries at regular intervals while setting up a platform in Nepal that will provide professional as well as personal engagement. Social media network is promoting interest amongst the second-generation Nepalis to explore Nepal through stories around trekking, cultural escapades, and the diverse cuisine. Young American Nepalis are traveling with friends and discovering Nepal like they explore other countries but while staying away from the usual itinerary of relatives, predictable food, and guffaw around politics.

One of the key trends visible is the slow disconnect with Nepali politics and politicians. There is no showing off that they are related to some politicians or party bosses or key leaders. There is realization that the politics in Nepal is uncertain. Period. That is what everybody is beginning to accept and when one focuses on politics only, US looks even more complicated and its future even more challenging than Nepal. The lens of looking at Nepal as land of opportunity and being proud of Nepal’s heritage and the journey of the country in past couple of decades is slowly becoming mainstream discourse.

The narrative is shifting to the transformations in Nepal as people visit and see the changes themselves from load shedding to expansive electrification, the adoption of digital payments, the proliferation of internet and the young Nepalis being at par with their contemporary folks in US in terms of exposure. This is far cry away from just two decades ago when folks visiting from the US showed off gadgets, clothing and other things that were not available in Nepal and told stories about supermarkets, the cars, the restaurants, the food, the experiences. It is rather the other way around, when folks coming now are taken aback by now much their friends and families spend on going out, buying vehicles that are multiple times the cost in US, and having  experiences that people show off on them.

The next ten years will be critical as more Nepalis will be going to US to find opportunities and more Nepalis in US will be looking at Nepal for opportunities. With technology business related exports closing onto USD 1 billion as per official records, many realize a mixed picture of Nepal that holds potential coupled with challenges. The narrative of challenges is shaping a new discourse from being an impediment to decide not to do something in Nepal towards looking at challenges being something one has to overcome in emerging markets is shaping new discourse. People are also seeing Nepal as a potential country to test ideas, products and services that one can take it to other emerging markets in Asia and Africa. There are companies that are developing software and technology products that will then take on African markets also.  Suddenly, the potential starts to look immense!

Every trip one makes to the US, there are more positive stories one hears. Countries, societies and economies need to be looked from a long-term view. Multiple indications suggest that in the long run Nepalis will not only do well in the US but also become catalysts in transforming Nepal’s journey. In US, Nepalis’ median income is rising and we see them taking up better jobs and pursuing better opportunities. From waiting at tables, they are now owning restaurants leading to the emergence of more high-end restaurants. The number of people working in global firms and institutions are not just rising but also moving up the organization ladder.  Many emerging economies like China, India, Philippines, and Vietnam have pursued economic transformation through the diaspora moving up the ladder in the countries they chose to settle in and then engaging with the country they moved from or they have strong bonds with. Nepal is surely moving that way towards positive transformation.

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