The National Ocean & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) observation station in a pacific atoll off Guam detected a large formation of hot air over Kathmandu Valley in mid-October 2003. The scientist's fears were allayed when they found out that it was only the first Non Resident Nepali (NRN) conference.
Hot air, hype or a true attempt at resuscitating Nepal's moribund economy? The jury is still out. The UK Nepali chapter was well represented in the first NRN conference held at the Birendra International Convention Centre, but where are the leaders of UK Nepalis now? Were they representing the UK Nepali diaspora or themselves? There has been no feedback or information dissemination to share the output and conclusions of the conference. They had their 15 minutes of fame.
Where is the blueprint for the UK Nepali to start contributing towards the 'economic transformation' of Nepal? We don't see any meetings or strategy discussions. There is a fundamental flaw with the NRN objective in the UK. Apathy is deeply entrenched within an unsophisticated community that has scant knowledge or professional base.
Scanning the discerning London eye over the Nepali landscape here, it is very hard to comprehend who in the community will take up this challenge and lead the charge. Although UK hosts the oldest Nepali community and consequently the oldest Nepali community association in the West, they are not endowed or affluent.
There are a few SME business owners, some large businesses run by entrepreneurial Nepalis, though of course, there are plenty in the catering trade who call themselves restaurateurs.
Who in their sane mind would invest in Nepal under the current political and economic climate? Not the community or the various British companies who have taken a flight from the British Nepal Chamber of Commerce's (BNCC) register. The country's status in the global investment rating is poor and everybody today is in a risk aversive mode. So will the restauranteurs invest in Nepal? At least this segment of the community has liquidity and the resources. On average their weekly profit and income probably ranges between ?5000 - ?10,000. As one sau put it: "Tandoori Nepali curry houses are minting money."
Surely they could lead the way, but the question arises: what will they invest in beside the obvious land and property market in the Valley? ICT, hydropower or infrastructure development as per the grand vision of the NRN committee is beyond their skillset and capability. By nature these Nepali are not risk takers but followers. On the whole, Nepali businesses in the UK have a 'herd mentality'.
If one opens a restaurant, everyone follows. If one opens a Thamel style market stall in Camden, everyone sets up shop. A Nepali beer business? Others will tap in. They've brought Nepal with them: open a travel agency in Durbar Marg, a carpet factory in Boudha, a pashmina factory in Balaju and you will have five imitators by day end.
Karan Bilimoria of Cobra beer, the London entrepreneur of the year, said, "It's not about invention but creativity. It's all about repackaging the idea in a better way." But Nepali saus in London do not push their creativity and entrepreneurial boundaries.
The NRN are not like the NRI. When leaders of India come to London, the resources available are limitless: captains of industry, a vast MBA alumni network, academics, SME entrepreneurs, businessmen and professionals are all on standby. Nepal does not possess such a resource base. It is a fallacy and a joke to compare the Nepali diaspora to the Indian one.
While it's true that the guns must fall silent and the political situation stabilise in Nepal, the Nepali diaspora too must evolve. Get more business savvy before asking what we can do for the country. Till then, NOAA's observation describes it very well-a large bank of rising hot air.