BANGKOK - It is always a welcome break to hear good things about Nepal outside the country. NGOs in the region talk about the success Nepal had in areas like community forestry and FM radio. A few who have spent some time in Nepal see the country as a perfect place for designing and testing new ideas.
Development gurus worldwide are challenged to find the right way ahead. NGOs are generally made up of people who do not want to work for the private sector under free-market rules. However, they are now finding it important to understand the private sector, especially in developing countries where business has to also look at the huge social service market. Therefore, the obvious answer is finding a way to make private business work for development.
The region is witnessing an unprecedented wave of free trade agreements and creation of economic blocs. Like Nepal, many countries have acceded these agreements without really understanding the possible socio-economic impact. Socialist fora have always been against global integration of business and economy, fearing loss of jobs and opportunities in already poor countries. It is therefore time for NGOs to really accept the path-breaking idea of partnerships. With multilateral and bilateral aid being substituted by trade, the private sector has become a good source of funding for NGOs.
Similarly, the private sector has also felt the need to work closely with communities, both to improve their image as well as boost productivity. Companies with philanthropic track records that take corporate social responsibility seriously are better placed than their competitors and surely NGOs and community-based organisations form the best vehicle for the implementation of their social goals. It is not only the larger multinationals or large NGOs that can get into partnerships but perhaps organisations of all sizes and scales can join hands.
There are also interesting models of NGOs themselves getting into business to plough profits into activities they were set up for.
Cabbages and Condoms resorts chain in Thailand started by Mechai Viravaidya is an example of businesses run by NGOs. Khun Mechai's profits from the company go to fund The Asian Centre for Population and Community Development.
In Nepal, there are lots of examples of the fusion of community service and business: Dhulikhel Hospital, women's co-operatives and handicraft manufacturers. It is time to look for replication and furthering partnerships. That is where the larger Asia-Pacific experience has a lot of relevance for us in Nepal.
However, the danger in Nepal always remains that we get more engrossed in buzzwords like 'public-private partnership' without clearly understanding why we are doing it. Let's get working partnerships going instead of more workshops and seminars to just talk about it.