Nepali Times
"How does private investment impact on social development?"

Siddhartha Rana recently took over as Chairman of the Soaltee Group from his father. He received the Global Leader For Tomorrow 2001 Award at the World Economic Forum last year in Davos. He attended the WEF meeting in New York last month, and spoke to Nepali Times about the Forum, and its message for countries like Nepal.

Nepali Times: Why New York?
Siddhartha Rana:
One of the unique features of this year's annual meeting is that it was held in New York instead of Davos for the first time in over 30 years. This was largely a show of support and resilience post-11 September. Although it was planned for Davos, the forum chose to move the venue along with making changes to the agenda.

Aren't these meetings getting a bit elitist, and unabashedly pro-globalisation?
Partly true. But the original reason for the annual WEF meeting is still valid. The rapid growth of the global communications, information technology and international business in the second half of the 20th century increased the need for a common platform where various sections of society are brought together to consider and advance the key issues on the global agenda. The WEF is that platform.

And in the course of three decades, the Forum has grown from a small European economic conference into a unique, member-based institution comprised of the foremost 1,000 corporations in the world. The Annual Meeting in Davos has become the premier meeting of world leaders in business, government and civil society to address the issues and challenges confronting humanity.

But how does a meeting like this address the genuine concerns of those disenfranchised by economic globalisation?
I think there is now a realisation that the events shaping the world and influences on society today require a paradigm shift in the way that we address the issue of globalisation. There needs to be a radical formula that affects change for equity and a more even improvement of living standards around the world.

And how is the WEF going to do that?
Among the things discussed were ways of attracting capital inflows in a risk-averse environment: basically dealing with restoring investor confidence and avoiding the herd mentality. This is something that has some practicality in Nepal's present investment climate. An economic and development crisis is a factor in conflict, but the conflict and instability in turn prevents new investment. It is a catch-22 situation. We were trying to re-think the role of the IMF and the World Bank, even a radical redesign in their way of functioning. After Argentina, there are questions about their role.

And there is also the question about why developing countries must borrow and service their debt when past borrowings have either been returned to the donor through intermediaries, or corruption and bad governance meant that the money was never spent on development. And when states fail, where can the international community step in to rebuild them and restore domestic order?

How about issues like migration?
There is a recognition of the need to define citizenship in an era of migration, dealing with international demographic issues. There is recognition that these things are all interlinked. People are migrating because of failed development, instability and lack of investment. So how do you link the global social investment market so that private investment makes an impact on social development projects around the world?

How much has the 11 September attack been instrumental in changing thinking in these areas?
The very fact that the WEF meeting took place in New York was proof that the roots of the global crisis are recognised. CEOs need to become statesmen and leaders beyond just business. We need to bridge religious divides internationally, within regions and in countries. We have to create a deeper dialogue among faiths and the search for common values. Then there is the more immediate need to address the problem of terrorism and international laws to tackle them.

Was the need to bridge the gap between and within nations also discussed?
Yes, we looked at the digital divide, how technology can be used to support development, and especially a look at the education and health gap. A more immediate issue was the need to break patents so the sick in poor countries can afford cheaper generic versions of drugs. Then there was the issue of philanthropy and how it can be made more effective globally: the need to bridge the gap of inequalities where everyone has a role and a responsibility.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)