Ramesh Singh Malla worked for many years in Nepal before joining ActionAid International as CEO. He was visiting fellow to the Hauser Centre for Nonprofit Organisations at Harvard University and will soon be joining the Open Society Institute in New York.
Ramesh Singh Malla: My impression is that the international donor and development community generally likes Nepal for a positive and welcoming attitude of Nepali government and institutions for anything donors bring to or do in Nepal, the ability to do more for less money and for hard work frontline communities and institutions put in. However, I doubt that we command respect of donors and international communities. Our institutions are weak, even corrupt, and we lack the vision, determination and strength to negotiate international assistance on our own terms. If we are able to do that not only would we command their respect but also would have made much better out of all international assistance that comes to the country.
What have been Nepal's greatest achievements so far?
A lot of progress has been made in physical infrastructure like roads and telecommunications. All physical quality of life indices such as life expectancy, child mortality, maternal mortality, school enrolment etc show great progress. The UN HDR 2010 congratulated Nepal for making the third fastest progress in HDI over the period between 1970-2010. And of course, the restoration of democracy is worth being proud of, even though the present political chaos and utter failure to bring out our new constitution makes us a bit of a laughing stock.
What else have we failed in?
Nepal continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world and all international reports and rankings put Nepal near the bottom. The basic feudal and patriarchal structure of the society and our institutions continues to remain violent, exploitative, discriminatory and corrupt with impunity. Our institutions and politics are still dominated by leaders who have failed us over and over again and continue to divide society.
Are you going to return to Nepal to try to set things right?
During my two decades of work in Nepal, it has never failed to amaze me how our community-led efforts have done wonders even in the bleakest times. These are the things Nepal can be proud of and teach other countries too. There is a lot of hope for this country, especially with the younger generation taking charge. I wish to work with them.