April 13

Jenara Nerenberg

From the Field: Nepal’s Power

I live and work in Kathmandu, Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, where GDP per capita is $1,100, 42% of the population is unemployed, and 65% of women are illiterate. Recently, I had some expatriate friends say to me that living here is the hardest place they’ve lived, even harder than living with the daily threats of violence in Afghanistan. I personally do not feel that way but when I pressed them on why, it was clear that the fact that we only have power for 8 hours per day played a role in their uneasiness, as did the roads, overcrowding, pollution, lack of infrastructure, high rates of TB (almost 50% of the population) and more. To me this is all part of living and working in a developing country.

I wanted to take a moment to focus on Nepal in this post. We all study, breathe, and agonize over how to help countries develop and sometimes I think it’s odd that we don’t have an elixir, some magic formula that we can simply put in place and poof! magic happens, democracy is restored, people’s bellies are full, families earn a strong income, and all else positive that comes with development magically happens.

Nepal has several options for development. I’ve wondered before about finding that elusive product that only grows or is produced in Nepal that could be its primary export, such as a fruit, material, or other natural resource. It is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world in terms of hydro power potential, but less than 1% of that potential has been developed; the country is, ironically, in talks with India to buy power from them.

Another option is to increase foreign direct investment (FDI) and get MNCs invested in the country, bringing in jobs and affordable products for the base of the pyramid. This is where I’m focusing my work right now. I recently pressed the “Go” button, as Francisco would say, and am trying to make this interest a reality through BOP Source. BOP Source seeks to connect those living at the BOP with the MNCs that want to hire them and design products and services for them. We’ve reached the point where we need volunteers, advisors, and more, so do get in touch if interested.

But as it stands, like so many other countries, Nepal’s primary export is labor. Estimates indicate that nearly 10% of Nepalis have moved to the Middle East and Southeast Asia to work as laborers; their remittances account for 20% of Nepal’s economy and close to 50% of the money in Nepal’s banks is from remittances.

While remittances are a solid temporary option to help people make a living and support families back home, ideally those jobs would be available in Nepal and young men and women would not have to leave the country in the first place, separated from their families and homelands for years at a time, often enduring harsh living conditions.

So, where does this leave us?

This is not a cry for help or a plea for the Western world to come “save” Nepal, but as a writer for out in the field, I just wanted to share my experiences and perspectives hoping to learn from you, especially those of you with bright, innovative ideas that could work in a setting like Nepal. I’d like to extend that invitation to you – an invitation to learn, share, and collaborate on innovative ideas for Nepal’s development. I’m all ears and am open to hearing from anyone who is interested, so please do get in touch.