Nepali Times
Silicon Valley to Kathmandu Valley


When I first arrived in Nepal I met an expatriate drifting about Kathmandu. While I was raised in America, he grew up here. I told him of the ambitious cutting-edge wireless engineering program that I was helping develop at the Institute of Engineering at Tribhuban University, and how I quit my job in the Silicon Valley to begin this program, and that this was the first time I had been in Nepal in 25 years. He greeted me with a strange look. Apart from being skeptical about my chances of promoting wireless here, he seemed to doubt my sanity.

Eight months later, I am still here. It hasn't always been easy, running around frantically through government offices for two-and-a-half months just to get a visa, enduring the periodic bandhs, being stuck in traffic because of protests organised by both politicians and students, and facing the bureaucracy to pass the telecommunication instruments for my laboratory through customs.

But I still feel the same way about Nepal's information communication technology (ICT) future ("cautiously optimistic") as I did eight months ago. ICT in Nepal is a broad area ranging from transfer of knowledge of the latest technologies, rural development, e-governance, development of private industry and much more.
Of all these, the one that shows the greatest promise is the development of private industry. Two of the largest markets in the world, China and India, lie on either side. The cost of labour in Nepal is one of the lowest in the world and it has sufficient numbers of educated English-speaking people who can serve as agents in remote call centres. But this is not new.

What most of my friends in America want to know is: "Is it realistic, under present circumstances, to expect Nepal's ICT industry to grow?" They ask with an eye towards investing here.

Rediscovering this place after being away for so long, I realise that it's impossible to say any one thing about Nepal without finding something equally true that completely contradicts it. However, it is possible to make substantial and meaningful gains, as well as make a profit, with the right approach. Moreover, the Nepali diaspora can play a vital role.

Nepal has exceptionally bright technical people. What is generally missing is the ability to consistently deliver products and services to meet total quality standards as swiftly as demanded by the global economy. This is not so much due to a lack of technical capability, but a lack of management vision and commitment.

Though the ICT industry here is small and inexperienced compared to more developed countries, there are clusters of bright spots in the Valley. There are ICT companies managed by visionary leaders who are successfully providing products and services consistent with international norms. I was stunned one day to find an electronics manufacturing plant in Nepal producing products used in wireless applications.

As a designer of wireless electronics I have routinely visited plants all over the world on behalf of Silicon Valley-based manufacturers. But walking through the assembly line of Nepal Bayren Electric in Patan, I felt a sense of pride. This plant uses quality control processes identical to and superior to plants even in Silicon Valley.

Thamel dot com is a web portal that provides numerous services both to NRN's and Nepalis. It is headed by visionary CEO Bal Krishna Joshi who was recently awarded the prestigious Tony Zeiton ('The Cyber Oscars') award for its innovative and successful business model as well as its commitment to socially conscious business development.

There are other young Nepali ICT experts, especially in software, that have the same commitment to quality and timely service. Many of these are young people who have been educated abroad and have for various reasons decided to return to Nepal. In addition, there are many ICT schools in Kathmandu that graduate a large number of skilled software engineers.

However, the components missing presently are skilled program management and quality control processes. But both can be done from remote locations anywhere in the world. This vast talent pool presents a money-making opportunity for enterprising people who can connect Nepal's relatively large software manpower with outsourcing opportunities. The East-West optical highway scheduled to be complete in July 2004 should greatly enhance accessing these resources.

There is a small but growing ICT industry with the "Made in Nepal" brand name. But the CEOs of many of these emerging companies say they need to spend a lot of time convincing their international clients to take Nepal seriously as an outsourcing destination. This is where non-resident Nepalis can help the ICT industry here and make a profit at the same time.

Non-resident Indians helped ICT development in India not so much through personal financing, but by providing visibility in international companies of the emerging capabilities in India as an outsourcing destination. This cheerleading was critical in the growth of ICT in India. Nepalis are not yet present in the middle-rungs of large companies, which means we have to network much more effectively to replicate India's success.

With focused lobbying, NRNs can inform movers and shakers in large companies of the good work that is being done in Nepal and the cost-saving advantages of outsourcing here and even make a tidy profit.

For longterm ICT development, it is critical that Nepalis all over the world have a responsible forum from which they can have the latest trends, and information about the ICT industry here. The Everest Information and Communication Technology Journal ( can serve as that forum. This web-based technical journal published by the Kathmandu School of Management is free of politics and provides a focused forum where ICT professionals can exchange ideas.

Obviously, Nepal is in turmoil. Soldiers with guns are always eyeing my laptop bag. While student protestors burn tyres outside the university, undergraduates inside organised the Locus 2003 international technical conference with papers on robotics and distributed computing. To see Nepalis routinely performing professionally at the highest levels under such difficult circumstances is a humbling experience for pampered engineers with the resources and back-up in Silicon Valley.

We have reason for hope, for pride, and for cautious optimism. We are the only ones who can help ourselves, and we can only do it together.

Suresh Ojha is working at the Institute of Engineering in Pulchok to develop a wireless program.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)