Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Volunteering growth


Last week, I spoke about career management at a Kathmandu business school. My audience, final-semester MBA students in their 20s, said that in addition to teaching them the art of resumé-crafting and interview-giving, their school regularly invites professionals to talk about the types of jobs and career paths available in Nepal's private and non-profit sectors.

The students I spoke to are relatively fortunate—they represent the decimal-thin upper-end slice of this country's five million citizens between the age of 16 and 24. They will find jobs but hundreds of thousands of their peers will end up going to India, Malaysia, and the Gulf countries for jobs, while still more will look for employment in urban Nepal.

Given this reality affecting one-fifth of our population, how are we to create thousands of jobs in the near future? We need not revisit one of those telescopic
20-year development plans that become meaningless by being all things to all people. But how about giving space to conceive and implement multiple, diverse and experimentally-oriented small plans that address the pieces of our employment problem from different angles? One plan could be to allow competent and willing foreign volunteers—on a one-year visa with an option to renew for a year more—into the country to serve as advisors to Nepal's small and large for-profit businesses.

There are three reasons why our private-sector firms can derive value by making use of temporary, inexpensive, voluntary foreign expertise. First, our growth-oriented firms do well up to a point, after which they appear unable to grow further. If some of these firms have access to additional networks, markets, product ideas and designs, and even sources of capital, they are likely to expand further and hire more people. Without taking away jobs, well-placed volunteers can bring in the appropriate business knowledge and technological know-how to help such firms develop further.

Second, our firms learn to do business by copying the practices of other Nepali firms, which are badly run to start with. They do not even know what they lack to develop well-functioning personnel management, accounting, marketing, product development systems and the like. They're reluctant to purchase business services, but volunteers can help spread business methods that cut costs, boost revenues, and improve the quality of the workforce.

Third, seeing how visitors remain Nepal's informal ambassadors abroad long after their treks are over, it's conceivable that many business volunteers too will remain in touch long after their assignments are finished. They'll deepen relationships, informally market Nepal as a destination for small-size investments, source products and services, help link our businesses to global customers, and send more visitors our way.

Some agencies, such as GTZ, do assign foreign experts as short-term volunteers in Nepali firms. In 2002, for example, a German carpenter spent some months at a woodworking facility in Patan, teaching new methods to craftsmen while learning from them. That exchange led to higher product quality for the Nepali firm.

For our businesses to grow to create jobs, we will need many such interactions, in an institutionalised form, between expert volunteers and firms willing to provide basic amenities in exchange for services that add value.

Yes, some bad apples may find their way in. But if the easing of visa restrictions comes with appropriate safeguards, the positive consequences of hosting business-focused foreign volunteers for a couple of years far outweigh the risks.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)