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Dec 31, 2014

10 awesome books I read in 2014

 I managed to read only 27 books as opposed to my lofty goal of reading at least 40 books this year. The solace, however, is in the fact that I managed to read some pretty amazing books. Long after I finished reading these books, the lessons are still etched on my mind. That is becoming a trend by the way. I mean, missing the target but reading some amazing books. Unlike the past years, this year however, I focused on reading Nepali language books.

Anyway, here are the 10 awesome books I read in 2014:

1. Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
While reading this book I was constantly thinking, why the hell didn't I read this book earlier? This book is considered the father of motivational literature. I must say the book lives up to the hype. This book is not a get rich quick book though. It is about how letting yourself consumed by an idea or a passion can ultimately land you riches. It is about how our thoughts eventually manifest themselves in reality through our actions. If you are consumed by the idea of getting rich, you will get rich eventually if you persist enough. I think, this is among the few motivational books that I really liked and found insightful.

2. Delivering Happiness: A path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
This is the story of Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, one of the most beloved companies in the world. Zappos sells shoes online but it is not what Zappos is famous for. Zappos has taken customer service to a whole new level. According to Hsieh, the main objective of his company is to deliver happiness, not just sell shoes. In the book, Hsieh recounts the journey of his life so far and how he ended up building Zappos. The story of his childhood ventures will surely bring a smile on your face and his ventures after growing up will teach you a handful of insights on what the tumultuous journey of an entrepreneur looks like and how to build a great company.

3.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by James C. Collins
The author with his research team analyzed 28 companies over the period of 5 years to determine what made companies leap from good to great. The author has derived common aspects of all those great companies. All of those companies had level 5 leadership, culture of discipline, used technology as accelerators. The concept of Stockdale Paradox (Being brutally honest with your shortcomings but optimist about the future) is extremely useful not only in business but in personal life as well.

4. Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson
It is the autobiography of Richard Branson, probably the most adventurous entrepreneur in the world, who, while not creating a billion dollar company, is busy attempting and setting world records. In this book, he recounts his journey since childhood and how he ended up creating 8 billion dollar companies from scratch. Need I say more?

5. Radha by Krishna Dharabasi
Krishna Dharabasi is one of the more creative Nepali writers out there. In this novel, Dharabasi has woven a tale that breaks the patriarchal storyline created by our religious texts and stories. Unlike in the religious scriptures, in this novel, Radha has been portrayed an independent woman fighting for her identify and respect. Dharabasi is right to portray the Mahabharat war as a war created by the egos of the elites where thousands of commoners died for nothing. Amazing book!

6. Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield
This book is to non-profits what "Good to Great" is to for-profits. The authors conducted a research among the most effective non-profit organizations in the world to find out the common things among them. Like, Good to Great, this book also have several very good lessons, which if applied, can take your non-profit organization and the cause it champions to newer heights. I think every Nepali NGO personnel should read this book as they seem to have understood none of these lessons.

7. An American Life by Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan lived an amazing life. Coming from a humble beginning, he started his career as a sports commentator and later became a very successful Hollywood actor of his time. Then after retiring from the career, he started working as a salesperson for General Electric which ultimately became a platform for him to start a political career. His political career started as the Governor of California and ended up as one of the most popular American presidents in recent history. In this memoir, 'The Great Communicator" tells about all the twists and turns in his life. He has also shared about the rationale behind the decisions he made as a president and how he contributed in ending the cold war.

8.Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
If you want to read only one book out of my list, please read this one. This is the story of three generations of women in China. The author's grandmother lived in the times of feudal lords where women were treated like dirt, her mother lived in the times of communist revolution and Chang grew up under the rule of Mao. The author provides the readers a window to the life of commoners under Mao's China, so called paradise of the peasants and workers. The book should be read by every Nepalese, especially those who dream of establishing a Mao's paradise in Nepal.

9. Kamalari Dekhi Sabhasad Samma by Shanta Chaudhari
Shanta Chaudhari, who rose from the life of a modern slave into the position of a parliamentarian, is truly an inspirational figure. In this book, she recounts her unlikely journey full of struggles and hurdles. Her life if a testament that if a person wants, he or she can overcome any barrier and achieve success, provided that they are passionate enough and persistent enough.


10. The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything by Guy Kawasaki
This is a straight-forward, no nonsense book for any aspiring entrepreneur to help them start their enterprise right away. The author provides practical tips and tricks for starting up along with lessons to keep in mind after that. One of the tips he provides in the book is start your company's name with earlier letters in the alphabet so that you get first listing in any event or publications. Another suggestion that I liked is: forget about the mission statement, have a mantra instead. There are such lessons in every page of the book. A must read for any aspiring entrepreneur.

Well, that is my list. What do you think about it? Have you read any of these books? If yes, do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Nov 26, 2014

Youth and Entrepreneurship in Nepal: My Radio Interview

On November 15, I was invited to Radio Rajdhani 100.6 Mhz's program Leo in Change to talk about the prospects and challenges about youth entrepreneurship in the context of Nepal. Below is the recording of the radio interview. Leo in Change is run by Leo Club of Kathmandu Central Town and is focused towards young audience. Hence, the informal language and the discussion format. Please skip the first one and a half minute as there is a song playing on. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comment section below.

Oct 31, 2014

Out of Country but Out of Poverty

I have recently started writing for The Global Entrepreneur which is Sweden based online magazine that focuses on issues related to globalization and entrepreneurship. As the first write-up for The Global Entrepreneur, I wrote about the migration for foreign employment trend in Nepal. Well, that is not exactly a novel topic in our case, is it? However, in the article, I have tried to explain how foreign employment is helping Nepal and why it is not that bad to be dependent on foreign employment and the remittances it brings. My argument is what else can a rational person do when the rulers and government have created an environment where a person cannot hope to flourish through hard work and enterprise.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

Image Source: http://www.nepalmountainnews.com
Every day more than 1,500 able-bodied Nepalese citizens leave their abodes, seeking better lives and better opportunities in foreign countries. Many of them end up in the Middle East as construction workers, building stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar, and infrastructure in other gulf countries.

If Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022 successfully, Nepal will be among the nations it will have to be thankful to.

Some of the workers have to be content with working menial jobs in different industries. Uddhab Danuwar, 28, is one of them. A native of Panchkhal Village of Kavrepalanchok District, he first migrated to Kathmandu and worked for a pashmina manufacturer for a few years. Uddhab was employed in the coloring and dying process there, and earned Rs. 15,000 a month (USD 154). Last October, he flew to Saudi Arabia for an employment opportunity at a hotel where he currently earns 1,200 Saudi Riyals (USD 320) a month.

“With my meager income back home, I and my family could hardly survive. Here, not only have I been able to cover my expenses, but also save some money to send back to my family,” Danuwar tells The Global Entrepreneur.

“The work is very tough here. I still find it difficult to adjust with the culture and climate, and I miss my family a lot, but I think it’s worth the struggle.”

Paradoxically, their sacrifices didn’t come in the form of sweat and labor alone; in the last year alone, 862 Nepalese lost their lives while being engaged in employment abroad, many of who were building the skyscrapers and stadiums.

As immigrant workers, they are not treated properly as domestic workers would have been. The horrible working environments these migrant workers have had to face in the host countries have made headlines in international media. Some reports have gone to the extent of alleging that foreign workers in Qatar are being treated like cattle.

Yet, the line of emigrant workers waiting for their flights at Nepal’s only international airport keeps getting longer and longer. Care to wonder why?

Read the full article in The Global Entrepreneur by clicking here.

Sep 14, 2014

Promoting Entrepreneurship in Nepal

Click on the image to view full size!
Lately entrepreneurship has become a buzzword in Nepal. Entrepreneurship development seems to have caught the attention of the non-profit sector as well as the private sector, even the government to some extent for better or worse. Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and International Non-government Organizations (INGOs) are trying to incorporate entrepreneurship component in their areas of work, private sector has started experimenting venture capitalism and the government has come up with plans to dole out money in the name of entrepreneurship. Increased interest in entrepreneurship among the various actors in the society is appreciable. Entrepreneurship is the ladder delivering economic growth and development in any society regardless of its current economic status. Hence, recognition of entrepreneurship as an important issue for the society can be considered a step in the right direction. Better late than never.

However, entrepreneurship as a skill set or as a resource of the society is different than any other resources in the society. Treating entrepreneurship development like any other developmental issues is likely to corrupt it and lose its value for the developmental sector, if not for the society. As Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, the world renowned entrepreneurship development consultant pointed out during his visit in Kathmandu last week, thousands of initiations by international donors in developing societies like Africa have done more damage than good despite their noble intentions. The major mistake made by the donors is to assume that they know better than the locals and patronize them. The follies made by international donors in developing societies of which Sirolli was once a part has given him a simple but difficult lesson to make economic development initiations more effective i.e. shut up and listen.

Understanding the real problems

Unlike other issues, entrepreneurial journey is about innovating and taking risks to produce something of value to the society which in turn brings revenue to the enterprise and uplifts the living standard of the people involved. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and even for those who aspire to be entrepreneurs, success is not guaranteed. Hence, entrepreneurship promotion is a job that requires detailed observation and continued support during the various stages of the entrepreneurial journey.  

One time intervention and misguided help may in fact do more harm than good in promoting entrepreneurship. One classic example is the case of doling out money with the intention of promoting entrepreneurship like the Government of Nepal did with Youth Self Employment Fund. Contrary to the popular belief, having easy access to finance may not promote entrepreneurship. In fact, easy money could easily kill the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity making the person dependent on donations. Despite spending huge amount of money, Youth Self Employment Fund barely had any impact in developing entrepreneurship in Nepal as a large volume of low interest loan was lent to speculative business instead of new ventures that create employment opportunities. Similarly, the notion in the development sector that entrepreneurship is equal to sum of accounting, technical skill and a team is also misguided. Entrepreneurship is always more than the sum of these various aspects. Besides uncertainty is always a constant factor in any entrepreneurial venture.

Hence, promoting entrepreneurs requires understanding the various aspects of an entrepreneurial journey and identifying at which an entrepreneur is and providing help accordingly. It is essential to shut up and listen to the entrepreneurs and understand the ground reality that an entrepreneur is operating in. As Sirolli points out in his popular TED speech, small scale entrepreneurs are generally besieged by lack of expertise required to delegate the major aspects of businesses and grow the business into another level. Entrepreneurs find it difficult to get support in these areas regardless of where they live and operate. The civil society organizations as well as the private organizations aspiring to develop entrepreneurship in Nepal should take heed of these lessons if they want to be effective in their efforts. 

Ensure Safety of Life and Property

Similarly, in the context of Nepal, various political and social problems pose a serious threat to the existence and growth of any enterprise. The security of life and property is so weak that people still hesitate to expose their success to the society for the fear of being extorted or attacked. It is a shameful thing that it is usually the political parties themselves who are involved in extortion and disruption of businesses. Frequent bandas and strikes pose another major problems for small scale entrepreneurs who face severe losses if the operation of their enterprises is disrupted even for a few days.

Lack of infrastructure and government’s apathy towards infrastructure development has resulted in increased cost of doing business for any enterprise regardless of its size. The increased cost of doing business usually affects the small and medium scale enterprises more than the large scale enterprises. Lack of infrastructure and rule of law also discourages the aspiring entrepreneurs from embarking into the entrepreneurial journey.

The government bears the ultimate responsibility in making the provision for the infrastructure development as well as maintenance of law and order. If the Government of Nepal wants to help thousands of entrepreneurial individuals across the country rather than just a few large scale enterprises, it should focus on developing infrastructures that ease up the cost of doing business and ensure safety of lives and property of its citizens so that more and more people are encouraged to dream big and make it big in the entrepreneurial journey.

(Published in The Himalayan Times- Perspectives of 14th September, 2014)

Aug 31, 2014

So You Registered a Company. Now What?

Legal compliance is not over with the company registration process. In fact, the legal complexities and burden for any entrepreneur just begin with the completion of the company registration process. The following chart lends a help to the already over burdened entrepreneurs on what compliance to follow after completing the registration process. Thanks to Venture Plus magazine for coming up with this infographic.

Click on the image to view its full size!

Jul 31, 2014

How to Help Developing Countries Effectively?

These days everything is getting smart. Beginning from our phones we are in an endless quest to smarten up every gadget we have been using in our daily lives. The quest has resulted in revolutionizing majority of the industries of the world by changing the way people interact with each other as well as the machineries. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of a few institutions and industry, most notably of the global aid industry. The global aid industry has been spewing billions of dollars for endless list of causes around the world. And yet, the effectiveness of aid in helping developing countries stand on their own has been debated again and again. Among the myriads of issues faced by developing countries what are the most important issues, which issues should be the priority for the development aid agencies? This is one question that has never been properly answered. Which issue gets the largest share of aid money at any point of time, seems to be determined by the hype and glamour the issue is commanding at the time.

In this context, Matt Ridley has come up with these five priorities for the development aid to focus on if they really want to make an impact to the developing countries. These five priorities are not based on his personal preference though. It makes economic sense to invest in these priorities as they have been found out to bring the highest return on per dollar spent on the cause. The priorities were determined based on the extensive cost benefit analysis done by The Copenhagen Consensus Center, an internationally reputed think tank.

According to Ridley, following are the issues rich countries should be spending aid money on if they really wanted to help poor countries:

1. Reduce malnutrition. When children get better food, they develop their brains, stay in school longer and end up becoming far more productive members of society. Every dollar spent to alleviate malnutrition brings $59 of benefits.

2. Tackle malaria and tuberculosis. These two diseases debilitate huge populations in poor countries, but they are largely preventable and curable. In the most harshly affected countries, two people often do one person’s work because one of them is sick. Benefit to cost ratio: 35 to 1.

3. Boost preprimary education, which costs little and has lifelong benefits by getting children started on learning. 30 to 1.

4. Provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health, which would save the lives of mothers and infants while enabling women to be more economically productive. It would also lower birthrates (when fewer children die, people have fewer children). Benefits could be as high as 150.

5. Expand free trade. This isn’t considered sexy in the development industry, and it may seem remote from humanitarian issues, but free trade often delivers phenomenal improvements to the welfare of the poor in surprisingly quick time, as the example of China has demonstrated in recent years. One of the discoveries of the Copenhagen Consensus process is that incremental goals such as expanding free trade are often better than supposedly “transformational” goals. A successful Doha Round of the World Trade Organization could deliver annual benefits of $3 trillion for the developing world by 2020, rising to $100 trillion by the end of the century.

You can read Ridely’s complete article at this link.

What do you think of these five priorities? One of the popular causes, climate change has not made it to the list. What is your opinion on it?

Jun 17, 2014

Who failed in the SLC exams? Students or the Government?

The Iron Gate has opened ajar. Only 43.9 percent students taking the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams made it through. As it happens every year, disappointing results come out, the education officials make a few apologetic remarks; the government promises yet another education plan with huge funding; public intellectuals berate private schools for their success and lament the inequality; people make consolatory remarks such as passing SLC is not everything; and after a week or two, the hue and cry dies and then it’s business as usual.

SLC may not tell much about the prospect of a student in life but it does tell a lot about the educational system. The pass percentage, despite relaxation of standards and cheatings allowed during exams, is embarrassingly low. If we segregate the SLC performance of public and private schools, a clear picture emerges which points out to the root of the problem. Ninety-three percent of students from private schools have passed the exams this year as compared to 28 percent from public schools. For the past four years, the pass rates for private educational institutions have been above 80 percent whereas the maximum pass rate for public schools was 46 percent in 2011. 

The problem is not with the whole educational system but with the public schools and the way they are run. Private educational institutions are doing just fine and in fact are the saving grace of our educational system.

Why such a disparity? Most people, like the Ministry of Education spokesperson, would be quick to point out higher investment in private schools as the reason behind better results. But there are many private schools with less investment than government schools and are yet doing much better. Consider Samata Siksha Niketan, popularly known as Bamboo School, which charges Rs 100 a month and yet achieves 100 percent result; or Melamchi Ghyang Secondary School in Helambu which has achieved glorious results despite being in a remote place and without much investment. It is also interesting to note that one of the toppers of this year’s exam, Sanjog Karki, comes from Reliance Academy in Kapan, a school catering to middle or lower middle class, and not from an elite school.

Upon being asked about their secret to success, many schools attribute it to good management and dedicated teachers, which are precisely the things lacking in public schools. Government school teachers are paid ranging from Rs 14,000 to Rs 31,000 whereas private school teachers generally get paid between Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000. But these costs for government school teachers are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Lifelong pension after retirement and additional benefits for rural assignments comprise another major chunk of overall cost. It is important to note here that millions of dollars received in aid through government and non-government channels are also spent on public schools. And yet, the excuse government comes up with is lack of investment as if more investment in the past has done any better. A full 331 community and government run schools across the country had zero results this year. There is just no justifying that. 

Lack of a linkage between the performance of the school/teachers and the revenue they get is a more credible reason behind the poor performance of public schools. As news reports in the past have highlighted, teacher absenteeism is a major hurdle towards learning for pupils in public schools. We have had many news reports detailing how teachers of government schools are more interested in side jobs, political activities and protesting for permanency rather than teaching. Early at the start of the educational year, reports surfaced about millions of rupees allocated for textbooks being embezzled by school officials, and pupils were denied access to something as basic as textbooks.

Hence, the problem is neither with the overall educational system nor lack of investment in education but more with the incentive structure of the educational system. In fact, as much as a billion rupees is being spent on ‘fake’ schools, as reported in April 2014, using the same channel (the government) to invest more is completely ludicrous. 

One of the major flaws with the government-run schools is that the guardians never have a say on the revenue generation or rewarding of the school or the teachers which encourages them to neglect their responsibilities. Since the schools and the teachers generate their income from government rather than the guardians, they have very little, if any, incentive to heed the wishes of the children or their guardians. 

The first step towards reforming our educational system would be to change the incentive structure. The government should fund the students, not the schools. The government expenditure on education is for the sake of the children not for the sake of the schools or the teachers. Experimenting with the education voucher system being practiced in countries like India, Sweden and the US (as well as with charter schools) could be one way to restructure the incentive system. Similarly, encouraging and helping organizations like Teach for Nepal is important because they truly care for better education in the country. 

There are dozens of measures the government could take to lift public schools’ performance and set them at par with the private schools. Pouring more money into the existing structure is not one of them.

-Surath Giri

Jun 8, 2014

Luxury or necessity?

Google’s driverless cars are making headlines once again. These self-driving machines have logged more than 10,000 miles already without a single ticket and are being touted as the future of transport, at least for the developed world. Similarly, automatic drones which can be controlled by smart phones are revolutionizing industries ranging from online retails to pizza delivery through more effective and efficient transportation. 

On the other side of the world, however, we Nepalis are being forced to look at a simple four wheelers with wistful eyes. Thanks to the exorbitant rates of import duties and taxes the Government of Nepal levies on the import of automobiles categorizing them as luxury items, vehicles are out of the reach of the majority of Nepalis.
Nepal government levies 241 percent tax and duties on vehicle import. This is the highest imposition of tax on the automobiles in the world. As a result, when the world’s cheapest car Nano entered Nepal it was already seven times more expensive than it was in India, effectively out of reach for majority of Nepalis. As of April 2014, the number of vehicles registered in Nepal is only about 1.7 million which means our penetration of vehicle rate is just 5.67 percent of the population which is one of the lowest in the world. 

It is interesting to note that while the government thinks vehicles are luxury goods and not every Nepali should have access to them, the government officials and politicians ride on ultra expensive vehicles with taxpayers’ money. Hence, we have a scenario where only the rich, the government officials and the politicians can afford four wheelers. For the rest, the choice is between purchasing a two-wheeler with safety hazards and using the public transport which is not just unreliable but risky and costly if you consider the opportunity costs.

The usual justification given for the exorbitant taxes and duties is that it will minimize the use of private vehicles and thereby save environment, prevent congestion and save our foreign exchange reserves as the country has not been able to produce any vehicles of its own. The justification is true only as far as the theory goes. 

In practice, the question would be: Has the NRs. 11 billion plus revenue generated from the exorbitant import taxes, duties and road taxes and license fees translated into better roads, better public transport and better traffic management? Not exactly! In fact, it works the other way round. Because of the poor road conditions and unreliable public transport system more people are opting for private vehicles. Nepal could very well be the only country without a mass transit system in the world. The public transport run by cartels is as unreliable and as costly as things can become when impunity from both crime and competition is granted and ensured by the government.

Road construction is mired with corruption and government negligence in action. Roads are black-topped during the rainy season which last only for a few weeks before they are patched again. 

Because of the high taxes and the resulting increase in prices, primary medium of transport for many Nepalis, especially for those living in the cities, is two wheelers. Two wheelers are inherently less safe compared to other vehicles, resulting in more fatalities during accidents. The risk has been increased tremendously by the condition of roads and lack of traffic rule enforcement. As a result, we lose thousands of precious lives every year because people are compelled to ride unsafe vehicles. Roads are relatively safer for the rich but not for the poor because our government thinks safer and more comfortable vehicles are a luxury, not a necessity.
One of the concerns shared by the policymakers and general public with regards to lowering of import taxes is that it will encourage everyone to own vehicles and lead to high congestion in the roads. The fallacy stems from the trend of thinking of only cities and urban centers while designing national policies. 

The road network of the country does not even receive traffic enough to make them sustainable. Although road networks have connected all the 75 districts of the country, the actual utilization of the tracks is very low. The highest vehicle movement per day in Nepal is along Nepal-India borders which get 2500-3000 vehicles. On the other hand, most of our roads get only 300-1000 vehicles per day making it hard to sustain the regular maintenance and upgrade of these roads because of the low revenue generated from less traffic.

It is high time our policymakers rethought this policy of treating vehicles as a luxury item rather than as essential goods required for economic growth and development. Only when we make automobiles affordable in this country will the infrastructure development and its intended benefits materialize. But above all these concerns, the primary question we need to ask is: When the world is dreaming of affordable space travel why should we be denied access to something as basic as a four-wheeler?

- Surath Giri

May 21, 2014

How to Register a Company in Nepal?

Registering a business company in Nepal is not an easy process. In an attempt to make the process easier the Office of Company Registrar (OCR) made online company registration process mandatory in October 2013. As a result, Nepal has gone up three spots in the Doing Business Index (2014) ranking 105th among 189 global economies. But that does not mean, navigation of the bureaucratic processes and hassles has become easier. Following chart shows the company registration process in detail. I hope aspiring entrepreneurs in Nepal will find it useful. Please feel free to share the image among your friends and network.

Company Registration Process in Nepal

May 20, 2014

Entrepreneurship Education : Need of the Hour

Imagine this classroom scenario. The teacher asks the students, “What do you want to be in the future?” Bright students in the class reply, “I will become a doctor or an engineer or a pilot.” Others usually say that they want to join the army. The rest have no clue as to what the answer would be. This scenario is likely to have occurred in every classroom of Nepal regardless of time and location.

Our education system so far has been focused on making students employable once they graduate. Whether it has been able to meet the objective is debatable. However, our education system has definitely been unable to develop entrepreneurs who will create jobs that most students will aspire to get later on. As a result, out of the 450,000 young people who enter the job market every year, only a handful get employment opportunities. Most of the remaining leaves the country seeking employment opportunities. 

It can be argued that in our context, level of education is in fact inversely proportional to the chances of the person being employed and doing something productive. The prestige associated with formal education vis-a-vis lack of dignity of labor makes it difficult for an educated person to engage in menial or traditional jobs. At the same time, proper jobs are hard to come by as country is reeling under political instability and mismanagement for decades. Hence, an educated person finds himself/herself in a precarious position of having an education but limited job choices. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find a person who has multiple degrees and is yet jobless.

While we continue to struggle with the inadequacies in our system, the world has been changing at an unprecedented speed. Thanks to the rise of information communication technology and globalization, jobs and industries are transforming and disrupting the status quo like never before. Consider this! Some of the most popular jobs today like smart-phone apps developer and social media expert did not exist until a decade ago. The phenomenon, however, is not limited to information technology field. Jobs like sustainability expert too were not in the mainstream until a decade ago. And many jobs that existed a decade back do not exist today. 

This means that education alone does not ensure meeting the needs of the market. Having students graduate without skills to adapt to the latest market demands is becoming a major issue for developed societies as well. Therefore, the major question today is not whether students have the right set of skills and abilities but whether they are entrepreneurial enough and can adapt to the changing environment. The question is about whether we are creating entrepreneurs or just job seekers. Nepal is in dire need of the former.

In this context, it is high time that we in Nepal include entrepreneurship in our educational curriculum from the school level itself. If we start teaching students about employment skills from an early age why don’t we start teaching them to think entrepreneurially from an early age? When we teach them about Malla Kings and Lichchhavi Kings why not teach them how Nepal was a nation of entrepreneurs and how our historical monuments stand to bear the fact that once we were very prosperous and entrepreneurial. While we tell them that Nepal is home to eight of the ten highest peaks in the world, why not tell them about the immense opportunities of entrepreneurship in the tourism field. Showing them the opportunities while they are young will probably help us counter the pessimistic mindset that seems to have been infesting our nation till date.

Instilling entrepreneurial mindset among the pupils will not be enough. It is also necessary to introduce them to workings of a market and the role of an entrepreneur. This can be achieved by involving students to run small scale enterprises on their own. It can also be achieved by adding entrepreneurial components like profit-making, revenue generation and sustainability to the existing projects related to different subjects such as environment studies or social studies. 

The success of student entrepreneur groups such as Enactus and Students for Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship around the world in creating entrepreneurs out of high school students shows how entrepreneurship is the solution to not only our economic but also our social problems. These two groups have been teaching entrepreneurship to high school students and encouraging them to start their own ventures which could be either profit-making or social enterprise while they are in school.

Teaching entrepreneurship to our future generation while they are young is the need of the hour for Nepal. It could be the surest and the most sustainable way to seeing a reduction in the length of lines of migrant workers waiting for their flight to foreign countries at Tribhuvan International Airport. It could also be an effective way of countering the myriads of social problems that besiege us.

-Surath Giri

May 11, 2014

Proposed Foreign Investment Policy 2014: Is that what we need?

Ministry of Industry has recently come up with the draft of the new proposed Foreign Investment Policy 2014 whose lack of common sense has surprised even the most ardent believers of bureaucracy in Nepal. Notwithstanding the fact that countries around the world, especially the ones lacking capital, are courting foreign investors for capital and technology to spearhead their economic growth, Nepal’s attitude seems to be that of a nation who already has too much of an investment and can afford to be selective in choosing investors. The policy is an example of how our bureaucracy is so out of touch with reality. A few provisions proposed by the policy will prove this assertion.

One of the provisions made by this policy is to ban foreign investments of less than 200,000 US Dollars which is a four-fold increase from the existing floor of 50,000 US Dollars. The policy also bans foreign investments on hydro power projects of less than 30 Mega Watts and less than 3 star hotels. It is difficult to understand why the government wants to dissuade small scale investments and investments in smaller hydro power projects as well as smaller tourism establishments when it is already among the countries with least amount of foreign direct investment in the world. As of February 2014, the total foreign investment in Nepal is valued at around US $1.14 billion from 78 countries which is very low compared to not only its huge neighbors but even compared to other economies in the region. Sri Lanka attracted US $870 million as foreign investment in 2013 alone whereas Pakistan received about US $ 1.4 billion during the same period.

Putting a minimum floor on foreign investment not only decreases the amount of foreign investment coming to the country but also helps concentrate those investments towards larger businesses and industries only. This increases the possibility of undue influence among policy makers and government officials by the few large scale investors among. Such a floor also prevents foreign investment and technology transfer in small and medium scale enterprises whose capital requirements are lower compared to their labor requirements such as restaurants, tourism agencies and information technology companies. Majority of the IT companies in Nepal are small and medium enterprises requiring investments much lesser than the minimum floor proposed by the policy. Implementation of such policy would eventually result in elimination of small scale IT companies who have been providing large number of lucrative employment opportunities to Nepalese IT professionals.

Similarly, the provision of not allowing foreign investment in hydro powers of less than 30 Mega Watts will bring nothing more than harm to the economy. The cost of production for one mega watt of hydro electricity ranges from 150 to 180 million Nepalese rupees which is unlikely to be raised from Nepalese investors alone. On the tourism sector too, what we need is more innovations in more destinations rather than large scale investments in already crowded sectors and activities. 

Big Contradictions

Hence, the prudent step for the government would be to encourage more small scale foreign investments not discourage them.Some government officials have been quoted as saying that the minimum floor of investment is needed to prevent some foreigners from opening up small scale enterprises and using such investments as a reason to keep staying in Nepal. One would wonder what the problem in that is. On one hand, Nepal is trying to attract a million plus tourists in Nepal. On the other hand, government does not want these people to make small scale investment and use it as a reason to stay in Nepal. It is definitely hard to find logic in these contradictory approaches. 

And if foreigners staying in Nepal using small scale investment to their advantage is a problem then isn’t it a problem of department of immigration? Banning all the small scale investments just because some foreigners are “misusing” them is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 

Another provision in the policy that raises huge concern is the formation of Foreign Investment Promotion Council. The council, per se, would be a positive step towards facilitating the investment process in Nepal but the way it is staffed raises concern. The council is supposed to be chaired by Minister of Industry and consist of representatives of more than 12 government agencies. Since the membership is so diverse and the council duties are not among the priority for the officials, the council is likely to never convene or be efficient enough for making decisions which will ultimately end up leaving investment processes in limbo.

What next then?

With all these clauses, the new proposed Foreign Investment Policy 2014 is more likely to do more harm than good to the Nepalese economy and can be considered a regressive policy when compared to the existing foreign investment policy. The right thing to do for a developing economy like Nepal, is to attract as much investment (both local and foreign) as possible not discourage them. In this era of globalization, too many countries are courting foreign investments and we cannot afford to be choosy with regards to investment. The best policy for Nepal would be to welcome any investor with any amount of money who is willing to create jobs and prosperity for our citizens. It is imperative that policy makers understand this reality and revise the policy accordingly.

-Surath Giri

Apr 30, 2014

It's a hard earned poverty: Let everyone know!

Prithvi Narayan Shah, in his lessons for his fellowmen once said “It is not an easily earned nation, let everyone know”. We have neither forgotten his teachings nor rested on our laurels, although what we have added to our list of achievements is a much more formidable and unique thing that we believe the world should appropriately envy us for―abject poverty and backwardness. Any citizen of the world on an average earns about $11,640 and people around the world are reeling under the pressure brought about by increasing wealth and prosperity.  Whereas, it seems, we have laboriously worked to keep our income under $1300 and also keep any shreds of prosperity at bay. The world may wonder, how have we managed to achieve such poverty despite all the pressures but there are not many secrets for our success― although it does take an incredibly hard effort to do so. The world should learn from our efforts and follow us if it doesn't want to suffer the weight of choice, opportunity and prosperity.

The primary enemy of poverty is an individual. The ominous inbuilt impulse of every individual to seek ways to put oneself in a better position is the most formidable enemy for any seeker of poverty. Hence, letting individuals politically, socially and economically free is one of the surest ways of making them fall into the miserable pit of prosperity. Secure private property rights is the evil base for prosperity as the world has already realized. 

We have been working hard to make people insecure about their lives and properties till date. In the past, we let the Kings own the whole nation and do as  their whims pleased ,we had autocratic Ranas to shoulder the burden. Currently,  our political leaders and some self-appointed masters of the country  taken on themselves the task of bearing the burden of property and prosperity so that our mass can bask in the glory of poverty and backwardness. Anyone who dares to fall into the charm of prosperity is promptly brought out by our leaders who have aptly collaborated with criminals to strip these people of their properties and, in many instances, of their lives. Our political leaders and elites have been working hard to take away all the property of the mass and keep it to themselves so that they themselves suffer the evils of prosperity and save the rest of us. Some people question our leaders for amassing wealth while preaching about collective poverty. I find this unfortunate. People don't understand how hard the politicians and elites are suffering under the pressure of wealth so that we can enjoy our wretchedness.

Entrepreneurial instinct is another hurdle on our way to success. To counter this instinct and mitigate its impacts, we have made sure that our children grow up hating the concept of entrepreneurship and profit-making. State worship and cult of political leaders/kings are some of the concepts we instill in them. Ask any of our young people, if they know how nations around the world have fallen into the misery of prosperity and they will amaze you with their ignorance. Just utter a few words like economic freedom, free markets, capitalism in front of them and you will be taken aback by their hatred for these evils of prosperity even if they do not know what these really mean.

Despite our efforts to curb entrepreneurship, some people have eventually fallen into the trap. Enamored by this evil, they take risks, start ventures and many times convince enough people to buy their products and services and make enough wealth. But we have not been passive about this at all. Political interference and indoctrinated laborers have been our major tools for fighting against entrepreneurship. We have trained our workers enough and even equipped them with weapons to fight against any wealth creation. We want to be a nation of proletariats not of entrepreneurs. How could anyone undermine the importance of continuous labor agitations, industrial shutdowns, except that which stems out of sheer ignorance? Sometimes, our laborers are easily misled from their path of struggle by the shreds of wealth entrepreneurs throw at them. And that's a pity. In such cases, our leaders send their cadres to crush the enchantment and continue the agitations. But some people are really ungrateful. They complain of being jobless and curse the efforts of our labor unions. How ungrateful of them― instead of enjoying the new found poverty they question and curse our leaders' judgments. They and the world as well, should appreciate the way we have been tackling the problem. For e.g. If a business becomes well known or starts reaching out to too many people or starts spending a lot of money on advertising it products or tries to have an affiliation with the foreign prosperity, we promptly shut them down or ask them to depart with a significant portion of their wealth to feed the leaders so that they remain within our sphere of poverty. It definitely is a tough job, and the world should realize that.

You must be wondering how do our governments and politicians manage the wealth then. Well, that's not a tough job if you are well-skilled. Just look at our roads for an example, which have to be mended almost every month. If our government had built them properly and without careful strategy, we would have no place to pour our wealth and we would have accumulated wealth. Just imagine how disastrous that would have been. Take any instance of our government's work and you will find they have been carefully done in a way that we get a chance to pour wealth every once in a while. We have also taught the people that paying taxes to the government so that they can be poured into the aforementioned jobs is a very patriotic act. Just observe the success of our strategy through the hue and cry that arises when tax evasion by a person or company is found but not an utterance of protest when government (agencies, departments, officials, ministers) carefully mismanages and destroys that wealth. 

Political interference in any task has been our overarching tool for achieving poverty and inefficiency across the sectors of economy and classes of people. From educational institutions to religious institutions, from a family to districts, we have virtually left  no sector free from the loving embrace of politics. For, we are well aware of the fact that, political meddling is the sure shot way of making an economy kneel down. If a property is allowed to be mobilized by its owner, there is a high chance that it can be used to create prosperity so we have preached the virtues of collectivism and putting society above individual needs and rights to everyone. Just look at how every political party of ours’ talks about collective poverty but never of wealth creation. That is our secret.

Another very effective tool we have found for achieving our purpose is the blame game. Although, majority of our people have never seen or been to United States and is located on the other end of the world, we have made sure that everyone knows it is our primary enemy. Similarly, our political leaders have made it a condition that we all show our patriotism by cursing and blaming India. We know, if we people were to look within themselves and analyze, they might find that doors to prosperity lies within. It would be very unfortunate that if people stopped blaming foreigners and started self-analyzing. We could very well, bid our hard earned poverty good bye.

Despite all our efforts, we couldn't convince a portion of population about the virtues of poverty and backwardness. Lured by opportunities and prosperity in other countries, they have been quietly sneaking into those countries as laborers and workers. We did not put much thought to the trend at first because we were working hard to preserve our hard earned poverty here in home. But one day, to our horror, we realized that these people sneaking out of the country were responsible for a sudden decline in our poverty. We panicked, so did our international friends (organizations) who admire poverty. So we quickly adjusted the figure and have been thinking of ways to counter the trend. We have already countered the tendency of people going to foreign army through our effective tool of 'nationalism' and 'patriotism'. But we have been finding it difficult to counter rest of the emigrants. So we have been trying to make it harder for them to go abroad and making everyone aware that it is unpatriotic. These people should have enjoyed the poverty at home than going and laboring in the foreign country for the lure of prosperity, our argument goes.

We have been known in the world for our natural endowments rather than our achievements. That indeed saddens us. Hence, we intend to preserve our poverty and make it so unique in the world someday that we will be the only 'poverty blessed' nation on Earth. However, our achievements so far are equally appreciable. So, the world better know that our poverty is a hard-earned thing and it takes enormous efforts to do so.

(First published on www.bichardabali.com )

Mar 3, 2014

The Wealth Gap : Should We Be Concerned?

Relationship between Economic Freedom and Inequality
Last month international development organization Oxfam released a startling figure about the wealth gap between richest people in the world and the poorest half. According to the report, 85 of the wealthiest people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. In other words, less than a hundred people have control over half of the world’s current wealth. The revelation has appalled many people and has refueled the tirade of criticisms being raised against capitalism and free enterprise. Nepalese media and intellectuals too have picked up the issue and resumed their criticisms against market. Income inequality is an issue Nepal should be concerned with too. It ranked 157th in the Human Development Index 2013 and the Gini Coefficient is 32.8 suggesting a significant income inequality. In this context, it is imperative to dwell on whether such income inequality is desirable for a society and what can be done about it.

Not just economic implications

High levels of income inequality and concentration of wealth among a few people is certainly not desirable for a society. It can dampen the benefits of democracy and skew national policies making them favorable to the political and economic elites only which in turn will have negative effects on economic growth and development process and poverty alleviation measures. Income inequality has been found to correlate with violence and higher crime rates in a society too. 

However, it is essential to dwell on whether income inequality is a problem in itself or is it a symptom of underlying structural problems in the economy. Hence, the question is not just why 85 people own half of the world’s wealth but it is also why the poorest half of the world is producing and creating so little wealth when there seem to be immense possibilities for creating a wealthier world.

Lack Economic Freedom: The main cause

It is interesting to note that majority of the poor in the world live in societies that are miles away from free market system and are supposedly pursuing policies aiming equality and wealth redistribution. India alone hosts one-third of the world’s poor and until 1990s, its major policy thrust had been wealth redistribution and state control of the economy. China which is another major home for world’s poor, started down the path of market economy only after disastrous 3 decades of anti-market and supposedly pro-poor policies. By moving towards market economy and promoting growth rather than redistribution, India has reduced its poverty rates from 51% in 1991 to 22% in 2013. China has achieved an ever more impressive progress by reducing poverty rates from 84% in 1981 to around 12% in 2013. What critics of market system have left out is the fact that the wealth distribution around the world was even more skewed before 1990s when many countries around the world started moving towards market economies.

Empirical studies conducted in the context of developing countries have also found that economic freedom and income inequality have inverse relation suggesting that higher degree of economic freedom would result in lesser income inequality. For instance, a study titled “Economic Freedom and the trade-off between inequality and growth” conducted by economist Gerald W. Scully has found that economies with higher economic freedom not only enjoy higher growth rates than less free economies but they are also more equal. Economic freedom reduces inequality by increasing the share of market income going to the poor and lowering the share going to the rich. Economic Freedom of the World Index, a cross-country study on economic freedom conducted by Fraser Institute of Canada also shows that freerer societies are comparatively more equal than societies with lesser economic freedom.

Feb 10, 2014

Why is Nepal poor? Some common arguments we hear everyday!!

Why is Nepal poor? Why has it not been able to develop economically? These are some of our most favorite topics for conversations in tea shops. Infographic below lists 5 of the most common arguments we hear about why Nepal is poor and analyzes whether these arguments really hold their ground. Enjoy!

So what do you think about these arguments? Feel free to share your views and opinions in the comments!

Jan 16, 2014

17 very good books I read in 2013

I managed to read 35 books in 2013. Not as much as I had wanted but still more than I had read last year and the year before. Except for one or two, I found all of these books very interesting and knowledge-enhancing. And here are the top 17 of them. I found these books particularly interesting and recommend my readers not to miss them:

1.India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age by Gurcharan Das

I had heard so much about this book and yet had not been able to get my hands on it. Therefore, it was the first book I sought and read last year. Das, a brilliant businessman and a gifted writer, recounts India journey from its independence from British colonial masters in 1947  to independence from its internal elite masters in 1991 and its transformation from an impoverished centrally planned economy into a wildly growing vibrant free-market economy. Das has done a remarkable job of explaining how Nehru's socialist dreams and his daughter's actions ended up choking every entrepreneurial urges in India, what a businessman's life was like during the "license-permit raaj" and how the reforms of 1990s were initiated and what they have achieved so far. If only, half of the Nepalese who spend time blaming India for Nepal's woes read this book and learned about India own struggles, I guess Nepal would have been a different place.

2. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mouborgne

This book kinda challenges what you have learned about competition and strategies so far. The book discusses about a new strategy, 'Blue Ocean Strategy' which is in contrast to prevailing Red Ocean Strategy where competitors have turned the ocean red with each other's blood. In Blue Ocean Strategy, you disregard the prevailing assumption about your sector and industry and try to create an entirely new market for your products or services. If implemented properly Blue Ocean Strategy would turn the competition completely irrelevant. The book has included a few examples of what blue ocean strategy is like in practice and you can Google for more case studies. All of the case studies are very very interesting. I did have several aha moments. This is a must read book for any aspiring entrepreneur! 

3. The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves by James Tooley

The book is aptly titled a personal journey. It describes the personal journey of James Tooley who accidentally discovers low-cost private schools in the slums of India catering to the children of poor parents. He finds out that parents despite being literate and poor, take a lot of care while choosing schools for their children and hence, opt for low-cost private schools with low resource than for the free education provided by resource rich state run schools. He also finds out that students from these low-cost private schools generally perform better than their counterparts in state-run and INGO funded schools mainly because the school administration and teachers are more accountable in these private schools. The trend, however, is not endemic to India. Tooley travels across Africa in search of such schools and finds them. But what about China?, he wonders. Does China have such low-cost private schools too? You need to read the book to find out the answer.

4. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children by John Wood

In 1998, John Wood, an executive at Microsoft was trekking in Nepal to enjoy his vacation and relieve the stress from work. Apparently, a friend of his had told him, "If you get high enough in the mountains, you can't hear Steve Ballmer yelling at you anymore." His guide took him to a small school in Bahundanda whose headmaster told him that he hoped John would be different than other visitors and fulfill his promise of coming back next time with books. What happened from that point onward is history. John left his job at Microsoft and founded Room to Read which has provided millions of books and built thousands of libraries for schools in developing countries in Asia and Africa. The organization has also built many schools and provides scholarships to female students. This is a heart-warming tale of how a passionate individual could make the world a better place.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

One of my most favorite novels tills date, A Fine Balance is a poignant story of a strong-willed widow, two tailors trying to escape caste violence and a boy who has been displaced from his naturally beautiful village. Living in the 1970s under the authoritarian atrocious rule of Indira Gandhi, their lives get inter-tangled when they are forced to share a flat. The novel is grim, very grim in fact. There are moments of joy, moments of hope for sure. But in overall, the book does not shy away from presenting grim realities of the then society and life in general and more than that the book does not spare its characters from vicious tricks of fate and life. But rest assured, the grim fiction presented by the novel is more closer on the reality's side than on fiction's and long after you finish the book you will be haunted by its characters.