MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
On the way to the airport, when you drive by the International Conference Centre at Baneshwor, you can see a well-manicured garden right in front of the building. Orbit International Education maintains it. Asked about the incentive for an educational consultancy to get involved in urban beautification work, Uddhab KC, CEO of Orbit International Education, says: "Now that we are doing well as a business, we'd like to give a little something back to society."
The former handicrafts salesman who studied fine arts at Kathmandu's Lalitkala Campus has indeed come a long way in his business career.
In the late '90s, whenever he returned from his periodic European visits, he was amazed to see many young Nepalis asking him about ways to study abroad. Sensing that there was a demand for honest advice, he opened up Orbit International Education in 2000 in a one-room office in Putali Sadak. "At the time, there was little information. I was able to turn my handicraft-selling trips into finding out how Nepali students could apply for scholarships at European colleges," he explains.
Students appreciated KC's getting first-hand information from abroad on their behalf. Fueled by this market trust, the educational advising business grew and grew. KC started a well-equipped TOEFL exam centre, and his standardised test-preparation classes filled to capacity as more and more young Nepalis made plans to study abroad.
In 2004, KC, ever the maverick, decided to branch out to offer educational services to others too. His tie-ups with the British Embassy and the American Embassy to teach conversational English to security guards became successful templates for his subsequent work on teaching English to female MPs, the police and even housewives in Kathmandu.
"We are in the process of teaching English to taxi drivers who frequent the airport road," KC says. "If taxi drivers put their guests at ease, it will have many indirect effects on boosting tourism." His training program for photojournalists on the basics of first aid was appreciated by participants who cover riots and bandas.
KC is happy to note the progress the educational consultancy business has made in the last five years. "Many of my former employees have gone on to start similar businesses, and it makes me proud to see them doing well," he told Nepali Times after being chosen as the paper's September Company of the Month. But he readily admits that there are quite a few fly-by-nights in his profession.
"Buyers beware," he cautions. "Students and parents must do their homework to make sure that they get their money's worth when they buy the services of an educational consultancy."
In the last few years, KC has been busy expanding his business overseas, and in medical education. Together with Nepali professionals living abroad, he has started offices in Japan, the Philippines, China and Australia. "As more and more Nepali students head to those countries, it would be good to have a presence to assist them, and to look into new educational services that we can offer to our customers," he explains.
Early this year, KC ventured into offering medical school test prep courses. The courses are already oversubscribed. "The best medical applicants want to study in Nepal, where the quality of medical education is high," KC says. In any year, there are about 8,000 to 10,000 medical applicants for far fewer seats, and they all have to take the entrance tests.
To accommodate applicants who come from villages to Kathmandu, KC has built a dorm which offers subsidised room and board. He says, "My observation is that those who come from villages tend to take their education much more seriously than those who grew up in cities."
"I have been able to help thousands of Nepali students achieve their educational dreams," KC admits, even though he got into the educational advising business by accident. These days, he spends his time more on social service activities. He's founded an organisation that aims to stop cruelty to animals, and works on another plants trees, the growth of which is tracked with Google Earth software.
Says KC: "Others have helped me become what I am today. Now is the time for me to help others."