“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.” – George Moore
Some Diaspora members occasionally seem more interested in their native countries than the resident citizens. This is particularly true of many members of the North American Nepali Diaspora, as I can gather from my own personal experience. This practice underlines the deep interest that the expatriates have for Nepal, even when they are physically far detached from the roots. Because of their strong rapport with the motherland, and because so many of the Nepali Diaspora members spend so much time thinking about Nepal and discussing things related to Nepal, some people have even termed these US groups as “part-time Americans”!
The North American Nepali Diaspora played a symbolically significant role in supporting the democratic movement in 1990. Similarly, the Diaspora’s support for the 2006 People’s Movement (Janaandolan II) was even more engaged and powerful. The Diaspora organized rallies, protest meetings, press releases, and signature campaigns to help overthrow the autocratic rule in Nepal. In addition, the North American Diaspora actively implemented lobbying, letter writings, and managed other media events in support of the Nepali people’s heroic struggle. The Diaspora group continues to offer services in the development programs in Nepal.
However, it is always more romantic and glamorous to support rebellious causes and movements for democracy, rather than offer a sustained support in the arduous task of nation-building. The real transition of governance with the ensuing difficulties of creating consensus and satisfying the heightened public expectations soon offers a large dose of reality that subdues the excitement of the supporters. The local political progress in the native land is often slow, and the traditional patterns of incompetence, corruption and inefficiencies continue for long in practice. The Diaspora as well as the resident citizens can easily lose patience and become frustrated in light of these seemingly insurmountable challenges.
It is the governance and management of the political process in normal times and after revolutions which need more sustained support and ongoing care by the stakeholders. A huge surge of fiery protests can be good enough to help to topple autocratic regimes, but only patience, perseverance and sustained commitment, and continued resource mobilization can facilitate the regular democratic transition and the process of gradual and often onerous economic and social development in society. Besides Nepal, such stories have been repeated in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and several other countries, where the initial euphoria of change slowly evaporated.
To manage the transition in Nepal, the support to Nepal from the Diaspora can be in many forms, some of which are discussed below.
Founded in 2003, Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) is the global Diaspora organization of all the Non-Resident Nepalis (NRN), which has remained active in supporting the development process in Nepal. NRNA is the most visible Diaspora organization that has tried to affect some changes in Nepal.
DIRECT SUPPORT & ADVICE
Many Diaspora members have traveled to, and worked in Nepal to help build the political infrastructure for a “New Nepal”. Excitement about emerging possibilities in Nepal has also electrified the Diaspora, and some are offering analysis and alternative possibilities for federal structure for the Nepali state and their input in the constitution building. Diaspora members have offered training and advice on business operation and technology education and development. Concrete projects by the non-resident Nepalis include building of a senior citizen home, provision of district development funds, library development, and health sector support. Lately, the Open University of Nepal Initiative by NRNA, pursued jointly with the Nepali Government, has gained a strong momentum, providing an opportunity for the NRN to help education for the poor and marginalized. Initially conceived by the Canadian NRNs, this initiative has made excellent preparations for an eventual establishment of an Open University in Nepal, which will fill the much needed void in the access to higher education. Many similar initiatives have been formulated by NRNA for Nepal, with some in good stages of implementation. Examples are the Nepal library project, senior citizen home in Chitwan, skill and knowledge transfer initiatives, and school building projects.
It is always more romantic and glamorous to support rebellious causes and movements for democracy, rather than offer a sustained support in the arduous task of nation-building. The real transition of governance with the ensuing difficulties of creating consensus soon offers a large dose of reality that subdues the excitement of the supporters.
LOBBYING FOR AID
Nepal’s economy is significantly buttressed by the remittances from the Diaspora, estimated to be around 22 percent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In addition, Diaspora members contribute to finance many personal, family, and community projects. The NRN’s, through their business connections, their partnership with international funding agencies and foundations, and sometimes through their own companies, help realize various projects and programs in Nepal.
Many NRN’s have acquired high level positions in prestigious universities, large multi-national companies, international financing agencies, and powerful governments in their adopted lands. They can mobilize these valuable connections and institutional resources for the benefit of the Nepali society. Some of these potential have already been realized. Nepali expatriates who are senior officials in the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and UN system have facilitated the provision of the much needed development assistance for Nepal. Countries like India, Pakistan, Korea and China have benefited from their Diaspora’s power and profile in the international arena and Nepal can also do the same.
Similarly, many well established NRN academicians in North America, Oceania and elsewhere are continually helping the nascent Nepali science and technology infrastructure as well as several academic programs in Nepal. By some estimates, the number of NRN holding academic and research positions in North America, Oceania, Europe and elsewhere may be around 2,500. Lobbying for knowledge transfer by this group in Nepal may be as important as campaigning for financial investment. The Academic Diaspora group has also been offering programs in Nepal, including offering policy advice, teaching and research programs.
A risk here is that some disingenuous individuals can be engaged in forgery and scams in Nepal in the name of NRNs. Nepal faced such a situation in mid-2010 about a non-accredited university. Any legitimate Diaspora group proposing programs in Nepal can go through the well-established NRN Association to avoid such pitfalls.
ORGANIZING DIASPORA SUPPORT
Socioeconomic development in Nepal will greatly benefit from the infusion of foreign capital and advanced technology. More importantly, Nepal will need a new breed of entrepreneurs to jump-start the Nepali economy and take the country through an accelerated path toward prosperity. Many members of the Nepali Diaspora, particularly in the Western countries, are in a position to make and leverage significant investments in Nepal.
Similarly, in the socioeconomic front, many non-profit organizations and associations as well as philanthropically inclined members of the Diaspora are keen to help promote many areas, such as, healthcare and educational development in Nepal. Nepalis living abroad have routinely supported needy Nepalis by providing educational scholarships, organizing medical camps, and arranging training sessions in several fields. Both Diaspora and foreign philanthropists have helped many Nepali localities to build social capital, by providing education and training and helping further their cultural and family strengths.
This was the trajectory that many nations such as Taiwan, Korea, and Poland followed, and which India and China are pursuing currently.
SUPPORT IN BUILDING INTERNAL CAPACITY
The Diaspora can also effectively contribute toward strengthening Nepali society’s internal capacity. Many are in professional fields in flagship industries of the developed world. Many have risen to high ranks in the most competitive fields in these countries, and some have also become leaders in premier international organizations. These expatriates can help train, educate, mentor and coach Nepali natives in various aspects of technical profession as well as social sciences. Enhanced local capacity among the Nepali natives will be most important element in helping the transition of Nepal to a stable and prosperous country. This can also be done through remote learning process.
Some Diaspora members have provided the all important trainings to Nepali counterparts in agriculture, education, business management, real-estate development and even political management. A few committed foreign returnees have already made their marks in various sectors of Nepal’s economy by starting up innovative business and industrial ventures.
Even more than the tangible investments and funding for physical infrastructure and contribution on technology front, the Diaspora can make a difference in Nepal by continuing to stay connected with the sociopolitical development in Nepal, and being emotionally attached to the situation in Nepal. The emotional link serves Nepal well because the Diaspora regularly responds to any urgent needs in Nepal.
Proud of its roots, the Nepali Diaspora can never be divorced from their emotional bond with Nepal. To nurture and facilitate this connection, and to help maintain the cultural bridge between the Diaspora and Nepal, the Nepali government and society should also appreciate and support the aspirations of the Diaspora.
The Diaspora demand for a dual citizenship is believed to help consolidate and make permanent the emotional bond that the expatriates already have with their motherland. Both Nepal and the Diaspora will benefit from the mutual support.
Writer is affiliated with Arizona State University. He is the Non-Resident Nepali Association Regional Coordinator for Americas (2009-11)