Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, spoke to Nepali Times about English language, the organisation's evolving role, its work with young leaders, and future projects.
Nepali Times: What are some of the projects of the British Council in Nepal at present?
Martin Davidson: In the past we used to work on a country-by-country basis.
That has changed with regionalisation because we recognise that right across the region people are concerned about similar issues, and the solutions they are trying to find are often similar as well.
One of the advantages we have as a global organisation is that we can create links between communities that have similar problems, and find similar solutions. English language is always going to be an area we want to work on because we recognise the demand. Social change and the development of young leaders are also areas the British Council is involved in.
We particularly want to work on developing links between young people of this region and the young people of the UK. We call it cultural dialogue but what we really mean is how do we get young people talking across cultures. We believe dialogues between cultures are very powerful in dispelling some of the misconceptions within the region, between regions, and in the UK.
Areas like active citizenship and leadership programs for young people are areas which provide an opportunity to develop cultural links between the UK and Nepal, and also provide really important new skills to young Nepalis.
Tell us a bit more about the British Council's work on climate change.
I don't think we should involve ourselves very much in the science of climate change. What I think we can do is provide opportunities to people to learn more about the subject so they are able to engage in a way which enables them to become leaders in encouraging people to take climate change seriously. I see climate change from the aspect of leadership. It isn't simply 'let's tell everybody that climate change is going to be damaging', but actually thinking about solutions. For now we are focussing on water, and we think that this program will be a great opportunity for the young people to become spokespeople for water-related issues.
Why is English language important today?
Right across the world English is seen as a skill which is important to provide for young people because it is needed in international business and communication. We don't see English as somehow substituting for people's own language, and one of the greatest problems is when societies allow their own indigenous language to become secondary to English.
That is not our purpose. We recognise international personal and business communication is more and more in English. You need English to engage in the world, and part of our role is to help provide that service. Our job is to help people meet their personal social aspirations, and English is a key component in helping build their aspirations. It is not enough for us to teach English to a small number of people in classrooms in Kathmandu. The next stage really is to start thinking about how to provide more support to teachers of English in the public sector here in Nepal and also in other countries.
What achievements is the British Council proud of in Nepal?
We are really proud of the relationships we create. I have met people who have had long-term relationships with the UK started by their contact with the British Council. Also, the British Council is working with people who have ambitions for the country, who are keen on providing opportunities to Nepalis to drive their own future. As an organisation we are constantly changing and adapting ourselves and we are proud of that. For many people the library has been very important, but the library wasn't the same 10 years ago and it will not be the same 10 years from now.
What are some of the future projects of the British Council?
The global student exchange project is small but very important because for the first time volunteering is not about people from the rich countries coming to poor countries. It actually recognises that volunteering is about people going back and forth between each other's countries, that there are people in Nepal who are able to provide support and assistance to the people in the UK. Shared volunteering is a program that we would like to see grow. Our work with young leaders on active citizenship is also very important. We are beginning to have discussions on vocational education, and that is important because ultimately the development and success of Nepal will be based upon its ability to provide employment to young people.