Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Diaspora dreams


The Beed's just been take a trip to Washington DC. There's something about it; a palpable sense of authority sends a little frisson up even the most jaded back.

Of course, DC is interesting to Nepalis for another reason too-more than 10,000 Nepalis live in and around the city. Meeting with them is both frustrating and exciting. Frustrating, for many subscribe almost fanatically to the belief that Nepal is at the end of the road, a failed state. Exciting, because it is certainly a wonderful new outlet for Nepali music and arts, and potentially a strong investor base for projects in Nepal.

There are far more Nepalis in the US today than there were a decade ago, as is evident in the increased workload of Nepal's embassy in Washington. The embassy was not outfitted to handle so many people, and it still does not have the resources to do as good a job as it would no doubt like to. The upside is that it can still pursue economic diplomacy, to give the US access to the Nepali economy, and create avenues for Nepalis to enter the American economy.

One of the most interesting features of the Nepal diaspora in the US is how easy it is to keep at bay divisions of geography and community that would most likely have sprung up between the same group of people back in Nepal. A community Mha Puja or celebration of Nepal Sambat is as important as Dasain or an exhibition of a Nepali artist's work. People flock to watch Nepali concerts and films. The diaspora is emerging as a remarkable market for the arts. For instance, while in Nepal it would be impossible for a band to see over 1,000 copies of its album move after a concert, that's par for the course if they play in the US. The emergence of quality bands such as 1974 AD and their US tour, or the success of Haribansha's Je Bhayo Ramrai Bhayo a film about Nepalis pursuing their dreams in 'Amrika', are the start of something big. As other South Asians countries started realising in the past decade, the biggest market for the arts is often the diaspora.

Now for the frustrating bit. Almost no Nepali the Beed has spoken with in the US-and one seems to have spent a lot of time yakking-sees going back as entailing any benefits at all. Of course, they're wrong. This is the best time for professionals to return for a short stint. Look at it this way: there's an economic slowdown in the US and almost everywhere else in the world. Taking a 'break' won't affect your career too significantly, and coming to Nepal where IT startegists, for instance, could try their hands at all kind of projects, with levels of responsibility that might take years to come to in the US, will only increase their market value when they return to the US. Everyone wins-returnees get valuable experience, and Nepal gets professional expertise from its own.

There's another side to this traffic. Nepal needs to reach out to its people living abroad and find ways to help them invest here. When interest rates are shrinking in the US, the Nepali government, and even private banks should think of dollar-denominated financial instruments to bring cash to Nepal. Swapping multilateral agency loans for a Non-resident Nepali Bond issue would be a good way of re-engineering finances, and would also provide the large Nepali community in the US or in other countries like Australia to contribute to Nepal's development. If our economy here revolves around remittances, there's no reason we can't institutionalise the repatriation mechanism.

That's the Beed for you this week, with a positive outlook as always, but wishing optimism were an infectious disease.

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(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)