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Innovating a new Nepal

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
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Mahabir Pun needs help to scale up his award-winning work in a remote Kaski village to the national level

KUNDA DIXIT

Mahabir Pun won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2007 for his project to bring wireless Internet to rural Nepal, but he found out last week that the Internet was also a great way to remotely get through to the prime minister.

Mahabir Pun. Photo: Kishor Rimal

Pun had met Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai a year ago to discuss his pet idea to set up a National Innovation Centre to promote creativity and generate jobs so Nepalis don’t have to migrate abroad for work. Bhattarai had nodded, said it was a great idea and instructed his office to implement it.

As expected, nothing happened. Whenever he came to Kathmandu from his native village in Myagdi, Pun followed up with the ministries and all he got was smiles, pats on the back and nodding of heads. Last week, Pun vented his frustration with a direct Tweet to the Prime Minister’s Twitter handle, @brb_laaldhwoj, and in a message posted on the listserv of NNSD (Nepal Network for Social, Economic and Environmental Dialogue) whose members include Nepal’s top academics, civil society activists, politicians and bureaucrats.

‘After talking to responsible political leaders, high level bureaucrats, development agencies, and educated elites in Kathmandu for more than a year, I have a feeling now that nobody cares about the immense need of one innovation center in Nepal in order to uplift Nepal from a beggar nation to a well-to-do nation,’ Pun began his passionate appeal.

He went on to lament that while donor agencies poured billions of dollars into Nepal, no one seemed interested in stemming the haemorrhage of working age people out of the country. He said he was shocked to read in the papers that the cabinet had sanctioned Rs 3 billion buy helicopters for the Nepal Army.

‘If government has that much money to buy helicopters, how come it cannot provide half a billion rupees as loan to help start an innovation center?’ Pun asked. Pun has registered a non-profit company called Nepal Abiskar Kendra with noted ex-bureaucrats like Rameswor Khanal, the man behind the Chilime Project, Dambar Nepali, and others in the advisory board. The plan is to build a 10MW hydropower plant, and sell electricity worth $6 million a year to the grid.

That money will be used to service the loan and run the Centre sustainably into the future. It will use information technology to help creative Nepalis with financing and know-how to launch businesses. Pun is seeking a soft loan of $6 million for equity to build the hydropower plant, either from the government or a multilateral donor.

Pun posted his message on the NNSD bulletin board at 7:45PM on Friday, and within three hours there was an SMS from the Prime Minister’s Office summoning him to Baluwatar the next morning. This was surprising because the all-party negotiations on setting up a CJ-led election government were reaching a critical stage.

HARD WORKER: As a boy, Mahabir Pun used to graze sheep in the high meadows near the village of Nangi below the Annapurnas. Years later he got a scholarship in the University of Nebraska. Photo: Kishor Rimal

Pun cleared security to enter Baluwatar, and within five minutes Bhattarai was there with Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun, Chief Secretary Krishna Hari Baskota, and the PMO Secretary Lila Mani Poudel. The PM began by saying he had read Pun’s Twitter message and fully agreed with the concept of a Nepal Innovation Centre, he asked the Finance Minister how the government could support it.

The meeting dragged on for an hour, and Pun remembers that as expected the minister and the secretaries had no concrete ideas about how the government could help to finance the 10MW power plant. But before the entire PMO, including the prime minister, went off for a picnic in Godavari, the meeting agreed to invite the World Bank, ADB and other multilateral agencies to push the idea.

“It will be a miracle if the Secretary finds a single donor to contribute a soft loan for the innovation,” Pun told Nepali Times, “Let’s wait and see.” As a boy, Mahabir Pun used to graze sheep in the high meadows near the village of Nangi below the Annapurnas. Going to school, he had no pencil, no textbooks. Most of his neighbours became British Gurkhas, but Pun got an education and a scholarship in the University of Nebraska.

Unlike most other Nepalis, however, Pun returned to Nepal. He didn’t just come back to Kathmandu but went back to Nangi to see how Information Technology could help his community leapfrog into the Internet age.

With the Nepal Innovation Centre, Mahabir Pun is trying to scale up what he has done in Nangi to a national level. His plan may have a better chance of being funded under a technocratic government than under one led by political parties. Or better still, Pun should be a part of the technocratic government?

(Updated February 21, 2013)

See also:
Mahabir’s centre for Nepal Connection

www.nepalwireless.net

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7 Responses to “Innovating a new Nepal”

  1. armugam on Says:

    I have a Indian friend from my college days running an Engineering design firm on development of Hydro Power. He has been, as I gather, quite successful and has handle projects in the range up to 50 MW.

    I accidently met him in a Hotel lobby some time back and talked over for quite a while. He said he had been here, at least 20 times, in the past to make some headway in getting something done in the related field here. “Nothing moves in this b****y country of yours” he said in my ears softly. While every one talks sweet, but no one does a thing, as like you just described about Pun experience.


  2. Vidhan Rana on Says:

    Really glad to read this story. Even if nothing happens here, it is good to hear that the Prime Minister is at least taking initiative. Mahabir ji, you have been true inspiration to me and many other young Nepalis. Keep up the good work.

    In a similar note, Biruwa Ventures, a company I started back in 2011 has been helping young Nepali entrepreneurs start their business. In the last 18 months, we have helped over 15 companies start and mentored over 100 young entrepreneurs. We started with an investment of just Rs. 3 lakh. On the other hand, donor agencies have spent thousand of dollars on similar work without much to show for their effort.

    Private citizens like us have to take control of our country away from some politicians and bureaucrats who seem determined to ruin our beautiful country


  3. Raju Adhikari on Says:

    Dear Kundaji

    Thanks for your great write up. Please refer to my article on Nepal Prosperity- Missing link published by Nepalnews.com. http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2013/others/guestcolumn/feb/guest_columns_10.php.
    Through NRN Skill Knowqledge and Innovation Task Force, NRNA has also taken some falgship initiatives like Open University and NRN Science Foundation. Mahabirji is also in the committee of the OU and we work together as a team.
    Through, NRN Science foundationm we also promoting Science Journalism and wondering whether you will have time to contribute.
    The frustration is obvious and it is at both individual as well as at Institutional level. NRN forum is great and lets hope one day like NRI, we all can also play a meaningful role.
    I wonder whether you recall our meeting in Melbourne long time back.

    Dr Raju Adhikari
    Principal Scientist, CSIRO, Australia


  4. Raju Adhikari on Says:

    Dear Kundaji

    Thanks for your write up. Please refer to my article on “Nepal Prosperity- Missing link” published by Nepalnews.com, still on. http://www.nepalnews.com/archive/2013/others/guestcolumn/feb/guest_columns_10.php
    Through Skill Knowledge and Innovation Task Force, NRNA has taken some initiatives like Open University Initiative and NRN science Foundation. Mahabirji is also in the committee of the OU and we work together as a team. Through Science Foundation, we are also promoting Science Journalism and wondering whether you will have time to contribute.

    The frustration is obvious at individual as well as at Institutional level. NRN forum is a great hope one day like NRI, NRN can also play a meaningful role.

    I will like to remind you that we had met in Melbourne long time back.

    Dr Raju Adhikari
    Principal Scientist, CSIRO, Australia


  5. Anuj on Says:

    “in a remote Kaski village”

    Correction: in a remote Myagdi village


  6. Yatra Nepal on Says:

    Nepal is one of the best destination in the world for adventurer.


  7. Bonnie Ruyle on Says:

    Mahabir,

    It is good to see how well your smart ideas have progressed. I was there with Padam and a group from CCODER USA and you showed us your ingenious ideas – bringing the internet to Nangi – back in ’07. Keep working, in spite of all the frustration! I am hoping to return to Nangi in the spring with a group to see your progress. Vimal is our trek leader and it will be amazing, I know. Keep up the good work.


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