Panelists discuss connectivity and national unity at Kantipur Conclave

To understand connectivity, one needs to peel the layers and look at the issue from an interdisciplinary lens. After all, a connectivity discourse that is limited to roads and electricity transmission lines will severely discount its importance.

With this in mind, the Kantipur Conclave hosted a panel titled 'Connecting Global Nepalis' on the second day of the event. Prativa Pandey, founder and CEO of Catalyst Technology, moderated the session, with Miss Nepal World 2019 Anushka Shrestha, author Prajwal Parajuly and Managing Director for Southeast and North Asia of Growth for Knowledge Sagar Tamang offering their views on the matter.

Nepal is not new to the idea of its citizens travelling abroad for work or education. The over 5 million unskilled migrant workers notwithstanding, there are over 300,000 students currently studying abroad. Moreover, in the last three decades, Nepalis have put down their roots in over 150 countries, becoming successful contributors to societies around the world.

In this context, simply attempting to stem the brain drain will not be effective. The discourse then turns to how best connectivity can be enhanced between Nepal and its diaspora. Further, how can the knowledge and skills that Nepali migrants gain abroad be applied in Nepal to achieve growth and development? Although the session failed to directly address these central questions, the panel brought forth some interesting points forward on how Nepalis perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others abroad.

It was clear that the panel benefitted from the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the panellists. Anushka Shrestha, before returning to Nepal and becoming Miss Nepal World, studied and worked in Australia. She worked in financial services, the banking industry and was even accorded the opportunity to intern at a leading financial consulting firm in the Vatican. Sagar Tamang, on the other hand, joined a market research company straight out of high school in 1994, and has since lived in multiple countries—rising through the ranks in data analysis, data science and telecom. Prajwal Parajuly offered his perspective as an Indian of Nepali heritage who is successful as a novelist. Their perspective on the idea of living in Nepal and connecting with Nepalis naturally differed, given their experiences and goals.

In terms of identity in the Nepali diaspora, the three had differing views. Shrestha saw that there was unity among Nepalis settled everywhere. This “national unity”, she said, needed to be maintained. As the number of Nepalis abroad is only bound to increase, Shrestha stressed on the need to build on this unity, and to maintain connectivity “while the number of people abroad are manageable” in number.

On the other hand, Parajuly spoke about the Indian Nepali’s need to differentiate—to create a separate identity. Although he agreed that Nepalis “are united by our similarities” over their differences, he also showed the example of how Nepalis in India have re-branded themselves as Gorkhalis. He said that differentiating may have something to do with the fact that Nepalis from different communities around the world do not know much about each other. He stressed the idea that a person can belong to multiple groups at once, that “it is okay to be hyphenated”, and that people can pledge allegiance to various states and still consider their separate national identity.

Tamang’s experience in various markets showed him how Nepalis lack a strong brand abroad. Most people would mistake him for being from Southeast or East Asia, as they did not know much about Nepal and its diverse population. He pointed out that for more Nepalis to break into executive positions at large corporations and institutions, there was this need for the diaspora to strengthen its branding and network more. He shared an instance from a networking event at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, where he was pleasantly surprised to see a group of Nepali students looking for mentorship and connections with other professional Nepalis. Shrestha too shared how she learnt in Australia that relying on being a “good student” alone would not have gotten her an internship with a global corporation—it was equally important to network. Parajuly mentioned how he never set out to write representational work about Nepalis and the diaspora, but that his work has been recognised as adding to the Nepali brand.

When Shrestha mentioned how in this globalised world Nepalis are free to grow and move around, that they need not be settled in one place, it seemed to resonate with everyone on stage. This brought forth another thread: how Nepalis seem to feel restlessness and want to give back to Nepal when settled abroad. In this aspect, Shrestha shared her many conversations with Nepali students—how they all want to give back but do not have the monetary resources to do so. To such Nepalis, she mentioned how they could still contribute their time to share their knowledge over the internet. Her first social contribution after coming back focused on using digital connectivity to connect student-teachers in Australia with students in rural Nepal. Tamang too stressed how Nepalis need not return to Nepal for good to contribute. People could contribute during vacations to Nepal, or through digital connectivity. He also stressed on the need to connect and network with others in the diaspora to help each other grow.

The major takeaway from the session is that Nepalis need not all return home to benefit Nepal. Many can use their skill to educate others and their influence to connect other Nepalis to opportunities. To enhance this connectivity and benefit Nepal, the need to strengthen Nepal’s branding and to focus on national unity was felt by all.