August 15, 2011

Nepal and Why I Support BMKF

Dan Mazur
BMKF Advisor

I loved Mahilaa Night as it was an inspiring way to be together with a group of like-minded, fun and nice people who wanted to do something about educating women in Nepal. I love these kind of events as they are a wonderful way to hang out with old friends, make new friends, have good laughs, smile, share stories, get inspired, and watch moving presentations, dancing, look at amazing art and lush carpets and tapestries, hear gifted speakers, eat yummy food, and do something for a good cause.

I love Nepal and the Himalaya and her people and environment, and I can’t think of any better way to socialize and break bread together than at such a worthwhile and motivating event as the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation’s Mahilaa Night!

After 25 years of visiting Tibet and Nepal, I just see so many things that need to be done, and I feel it is time to act. No one is an island, so let’s get together with like-minded people and do something.

I strongly support Bo M. Karlsson Foundation (BMKF) and Sonnia Karlsson in her quest to educate women. I am trying not to get too categorical or pigeonhole people here, but everyone knows women are the bedrock of family and society. Just go to a busy Nepalese temple and look around at who is praying, making offerings, who is coordinating the ceremonies and religious practices. Its women who have been well educated and are very motivated in their religious customs and practices. Educate a man, and maybe he runs away to dig ditches in the desert in Dubai or open a carwash in LA or a restaurant in London. Maybe he sends some money home. Maybe he spends time drinking alcohol and playing cards with his mates. Of course you may think I am being sexist, but, educate a woman and you could educate a whole family, a whole village, a whole nation. Men sometimes think mainly for themselves, for their own ego, chasing some kind of imagined future reward or a quick thrill, but women think of the bigger picture, and feel responsible to look after others and maintain what is important and good about their lives already, and work to pass it on.

Do you think it is unrealistic that Nepalese women could become highly educated and do extremely responsible and professional jobs? I don’t. They already are! Go visit any hospital in Nepal. Walk into any bank. Check out any school in Nepal. Did you know the Prime Minister of Nepal is a woman? In all of these places you will see intelligent women working at stressful jobs requiring a high level of precision, quick thinking, intelligence and responsibility.

Nepalese women can and will become educated and take on the crucial tasks needed to organize, govern and sustainably develop Nepal, and Bo M. Karlsson Foundation (BMKF) can help grow the next generation of women to become the leaders that Nepal needs to progress and develop and become a fully engaged country where Nepalese citizen’s potential can be actualized within her borders, while preserving the high quality of the Nepalese culture and environment.

In order to understand more, a bit of background on Nepal, seen through my eyes. Nepal is a tiny nation about 1/3 the size of California, but Nepal has the same population as the Golden State. Nepal has very few roads, and very little infrastructure or even developed land. Nepal is squished between two huge countries, India, and Tibet (and Tibet’s ‘mistress’ China). Nepal is a landlocked country with no seaports and no natural resources, except forests, agricultural crops, livestock, water, and a few textiles. If Nepal would even try to export any of her resources, India, Tibet/China would drive a very hard bargain and fix their own price. Nepal is economically caught between a rock and a hard place. She is one of the poorest countries in the world. Some say the 17th poorest in the world, the poorest country in Asia, and all of the countries poorer than Nepal are in Africa, and of course there is Haiti, but even Haiti has a seaport. As Nepal has no seaport, it can’t even get free access to goods, it has to bargain for transport of imports with India and Tibet/China. So prices in the markets of Nepal are astronomical, and the cost of basic fuel and simple food is very high. The average Nepali family of four earns around $500 a year per family. That means half of all families earn less. Tourism accounts for only around 12-15% of Nepal’s economy. Foreign aid is 60-70% and money sent home from Nepalis working overseas is about 10-15%. Textile and carpet exports account for 1-2% of the economy.

Oh I neglected to mention one of Nepal’s largest exports: men. Nepalese men can’t find much gainful employment in Nepal and they have to leave to work in the Gulf States and other countries in the world. Nepalese men who work in these gulf countries such as the UAE often have a two year contract:

They are flown out from Kathmandu to their host country and put straight to work. Their passport is confiscated upon arrival by their gulf country ‘host’. they get a little daily food to eat at the job, and they get a spot to sleep. Sometimes it’s just a spot of floor. Quite often, they work 7 days a week. The typical employment contract is two years. For the first year they are often unpaid. Their “wages” go to pay for their plane ticket ($200 round trip Kathmandu-Dubai) and immigration/visa services. For the second year, they earn around $300/month (ten dollars a day), which is considered to be a good wage for a poor uneducated farmer from Nepal. After their second year they go back to Nepal and have to reapply if they want to attempt to return to the Gulf States.

About 60-75% of all Nepalese families are at this low level of the economy, they exist by subsistence agriculture and other menial jobs that might enable them to scrape together enough food to feed their families. Around 25-30% of all Nepalis are below the world poverty level; they don’t even get
one wholesome meal a day.

Sounds depressing? What hope is there for Nepal? How could Nepalese families ever rise above their predicament?

Well. there are countries in Europe which are equally challenged. For example, Switzerland is completely landlocked and surrounded by large powerful countries. It has no natural resources, no seaport, and was a nation of farmers, scrabbling out a living from snowy and rocky mountains.

How did the Swiss become so successful? They developed economic sectors to provide goods and services needed by their powerful neighbors, sectors which did not require lots of resources and no heavy industry. The Swiss used their brains and figured out how to provide processed food (Nestle), watches (Swatch, Rolex), drugs (Novartis, Roche), and finance (UBS). All of these industries are education and organisation intensive. Switzerland’s successful economy doesn’t need a lot of raw materials, electricity, coal, iron, etc etera, the Swiss just need some very intelligent, educated, and well organized people.

Intelligence, education and, organization. And therein lies, in my opinion, the route to success for Nepal. Her people have to use their brains, get educated and organize themselves so they can figure out their niche and find their competitive advantage. Maybe Nepal is going to provide financial service for India and Tibet/China. Maybe Nepal is going to be a trade corridor between India and Tibet/China. It might not be heavy manufacturing, perhaps it will be light manufacturing or high tech? Perhaps Nepalese industry could develop around assembling inputs from one giant country into finished goods for resale into another giant neighbor’s economy. Maybe Nepalese farmers will organize themselves into strong co-ops, as Swiss farmers did, and produce and export cheese (Nepalese farmers already make lots of very yummy cheese, available only at the local level). Maybe Nepal will link into the software revolution going on in India. Computer programming and IT is now a very popular field in Kathmandu Universities.