Nepali Times Asian Paints
Strictly Business
Research ideas


The last few years have seen a rise in the number of privately-financed management colleges in Kathmandu. On the mile-long road that starts from Baneswor Chowk and ends at the BICC, four such institutions have sprung up since 2000, offering courses to thousands of full and part-time students on everything from finance to entrepreneurship to microeconomics.

As administrators at any one of these colleges can tell you, demand is up because there is a severe shortage of competent full-time management teachers and Nepal-specific business case studies for them to teach. All colleges dutifully say that they would like to make their name through research, but they admit that they just do not have the money to pay for research activities.

When talking to both full-time and part-time faculty members, one gets the sense that more than the money (which can be raised with a little bit of imagination and hustle) it is the shortage of questions-based on events around us in Nepal-that seems to be stalling the research agenda. None of these research questions need to be grand in scope or even application-oriented in aim. They can be intellectually playful, trying to explain one or two intriguing aspects of our business life with evidence, rigour and clarity. In other words, instead of explaining everything, each question just attempts to shed some light on what our businesses do and why, and, the resulting work invites others to build up on the findings, and so it goes.

Here are some research ideas that have been playing in the back of my mind for some time. I do not have the answers, but business academics may be able to find them:

. Despite there being 15 broadsheet national dailies and four tv stations in the private sector, why is Nepali media limited to primarily reporting as opposed to breaking news about, say, the Maoists?
. In Thamel, some restaurants appear to be around for a long time, while others fold not long after they set up shop. With the location holds constant, what explains the difference?
. Why is it that Nepali private banks appear to have more women in lower-level clerical posts and hardly any in senior management?
. Why did Ratna Pustak Bhandar not think of opening up branches in urban towns to cash in on its long-respected brand value, while latecomers such as Pilgrims have opened up branches and diversified their product lines to cater to a wider range of customers?
. Why does a plate of plain dosa cost anywhere from Rs 40 to Rs 60 in most vegetarian eateries in Kathmandu while it costs far less at similar establishments in India?
. In recent times, the state-run Dairy Development Corporation has come up with a range of milk-based products. What is driving DDC's product innovation strategy?
. Most top businessmen's visiting cards list their various businesses, and their inevitable responsibilities at FNCCI or CNI. How do they manage time and delegate authority?
. With two billion people and growing markets next doors, should Nepal just concentrate on making money off the tourism, hydropower, herb and education industries and buy everything else from India and China?

These questions obviously need further refinement. But the point is that if management colleges start encouraging their teachers to come up with questions for research, they may find that funding problems are not as great as they imagine them to be

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)