By Dr Bharat Raj Poudel, Brisbane
9 August 2017
For weeks now, Nepalese communities across Australia have been organising a series of fundraising events for Mahabir Pun’s philanthropic endeavours. The Magsaysay-winning activist, a resolute social entrepreneur, is well-known not only in the Himalayan nation but across South Asia for his relentless crusade to introduce wireless technologies in remotest parts of Nepal.
Mr Pun, who received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Nebraska for his tireless work, has won many national and international awards and recognitions, most notably the Magsaysay Award which is considered to be the Asian equivalent of Nobel Prize.
His current mission is to raise NRs 500 million to sustainably run the already established National Innovation Centre (NIC) – a project many until recently did not quite believe in. The maverick crusader has a simple and straightforward dream: promotion of science and innovative technologies tailored and suitable to Nepal.
To this end, he has proposed a mini hydro power plant (10-15 mega watts) which is expected to support NIC (nicnepal.org) in the long run. In his recently-delivered keynote speech at NRNA Australia’s General Assembly in Brisbane, Mr Pun repeatedly asserted that to be a fast-moving nation, Nepal needed to bring down its trade deficit by enhancing its capacity to trade with the world. At first, this author was surprised as to why Mr Pun was talking about that massive subject of trade and production on a platform where he was expected to deliver speech on his vision on NIC? Would NIC have the capacity to support government in bringing down billions of dollars of trade deficit? What did he think about the teeming millions who were starving as we discussed the subject in an Australian capital city with takeaway coffee in hand? Most importantly, what actually his idea of “innovation” was and how would Nepal benefit from it?
The word “innovation” is the current buzz word, both among Australian Nepalese and people back in Nepal, thanks to Mr Innovator. NRNA itself has its Skill, Knowledge and Innovation (SKI) taskforce which aims to push Nepal towards prosperity.
One of many factors behind Nepal’s poverty is its grossly inadequate investment in Science and Technology (S&T), says Dr Raju Adhikari, the chair of NRNA Global SKI taskforce. Pointing out that the debate (triggered by Mr Pun) on the Innovation Centre was timely, Dr Adhikari recalled extending his solidarity to Mr Pun’s campaign in the past. The CSIRO scientist further added that we need to appreciate the importance of the 21st century world of knowledge-driven economies and therefore, embrace innovation. An NRNA SKI team had shared its knowledge investment concept and its initiative to support scientific excellence and innovation in Nepal at the NRNA Europe Regional Conference held in 2016. (http://www.myrepublica.com/news/4685/)
During the last NRNA Australia elections, SKI agendas were on a low pitch to the utter disappointment of many academics. It might have been due to the perception that NRN community is largely interested in capital rather than knowledge investment. Let us sincerely hope that the new National and Oceania team will continue to build on the legacy of SKI.
The global SKI forum along with NRNA Australia SKI taskforce advocates strong partnership between diaspora’s professional associations and institutions back in Nepal. With this strategic vision as a guiding principle, in a span of eight years, SKI has gained some foothold to be able to comfortably work with various Nepalese agencies working in the sphere of science, innovation and technology such as Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), National Innovation Centre (NIC), universities and research institutions.
Looking at the passionate campaign to raise great donations (Mahadan) from Australia, it appears Mr Pun’s target of collecting at least $100,000 will be comfortably achieved. NIC will be seeking three categories of contributions from Nepalese people living across the globe – Knowledge (Mind), Capital (Money) and Commitment (Time). Mr Pun claims he is providing full financial support to talented Nepalese youths to engage them in innovation and research practices as planned by NIC. These talents will be connected to investors; new innovations will be promoted with proper patent policies and practices which in turn will benefit Nepal as a country.
A Sydney-based psychiatrist and prominent member of the Nepalese community, Dr Ghanashyam Chapagain argues that skill and knowledge transfer is all about the transfer of tangible and intellectual property, expertise, learning and skills between two groups of intellectuals and also the community. In the perspective of NRNA, Nepalese people residing abroad who have gained unique knowledge and experiences can use their skill and knowledge to create driving forces for enhancing economic growth and societal wellbeing in their home country, which is, Nepal.
Skill and knowledge transfer can be delivered firstly through direct involvement of “people” where a skilled person (an NRN) can be based in Nepal temporarily driving a particular service. A concrete example in this regard would a month-long cleaning campaign at the Tribhuvan International Airport led by Sydney’s Khem Sharma. During the campaign, participants picked up skills on modern ways of cleaning and maintaining hygiene. Secondly, it can be a collaborative research projects which ultimately leads to new business and innovation as suggested by social entrepreneur Mahabir Pun. SKI project working to materialize the vision set by Mr Pun falls in to the third model of delivery. The skill and knowledge transfer has to have a two-way exchange element at its heart for a successful and sustainable collaboration. NRNA has been running SKI program for number of years.
Knowledge and skill transfer works best when people exchange ideas and spot new model of project-delivery or identify new opportunities with a two-way learning process. Such processes definitely support new innovation and prosperity in Nepal, Dr Chapagain said.
A good example of NRNA’s SKI program was the cleaning campaign at the TIA, says Dr. Partha Parajuli, an expert in road safety sector in Australia. His admiration for the campaign is borne out of his first-hand experience as he used the toilets cleaned with Australian “skill and knowledge” transferred by Mr Sharma, “I was puzzled by the cleanliness when I landed there recently!”
Dr Parajuli is also working on road safety in Nepal, a country full of dangerous roads. He hopes that someday a SKI Road Safety programme can similarly be implemented in Nepal. Road safety measures can be implemented on a selected road and then its effectiveness can be studied. Changes on road and better use of roads can be visible outputs of such a programme and reduced death and disabilities before and after can be its indicators.
Mr Pun’s visit, initially, did not appear to be well-planned as no discussions, beside a short keynote session at the Brisbane conference, were organised. However, NRNA Australia led by its president Tonnou Ghothane has now picked up the matter and the fundraising campaign gained momentum.
NRNA invited Mr Pun to major cities and organised fundraising event with motivational speech where he talked about his passion, work and the future he is planning for Nepal. The events were an opportunity for Nepalese Australians to personally welcome, meet and greet the celebrated activist. Mr Pun has already visited cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Toowoomba and Perth. He is due to visit Brisbane on August 10 where he would share information about NIC and look for other opportunities of cooperation. As the fundraising campaign continues, well-wishers of Mr Pun have been sharing articles, case studies and video links about Mr Pun’s inspirational messages. For example, below rare video has been shared widely to tell people what actually Mahabir Pun has done in the past.
Mr Pun was born in Nangi, a remote village in the mountainous Myagdi District of western Nepal. He spent his childhood herding cattle and sheep and attended a poorly-resourced school without paper, pencils, textbooks and qualified teachers. His life changed following High School graduation when his father supported him to be educated in the southern plains. As a graduate of University of Nebraska at Kearney Mr. Pun founded the Himanchal High School with a special focus on computer education and other programmes with income-generating capacity. He would later be honoured by the same American university with ‘Internet Hall of Fame’ for his contribution to rural Nepal. On his award acceptance speech, he outlined his innovation perspectives and how he worked in remote Nepal to facilitate and establish wireless technology and improve education.
The establishment of Innovation Centre and Centres of Excellence in specific areas is expected to create a strong S&T base and help Nepal’s second-generation talents become future inventors. The Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) along their innovative research motives to help develop indigenous technologies in Nepal have not been successful due to lack of funding from the government and donors. Mr Mahabir Pun (and NIC led by him) would be able to address the gap between these agencies with the full support of diasporic communities from around the globe.
NIC emphasises on education and S&T in order to generate skilled manpower in Nepal. One day, it can hopefully put pressure on the government and motivate donors to invest greater funds which now is only 0.45 percent of the total GDP of Nepal. As such, contribution from Nepalese living overseas will be crucial. This is where Nepalese embassies and missions in countries like Australia can play crucial roles to link up Nepalese experts with Australian scientists and technologists.
Nepalese ambassador to Australia, Lucky Sherpa, on her part, has promised to effectively work with skill and knowledge experts in order to find ways of cooperation between Nepal and Australia. She expressed this during her recent tours to various states including to CSIRO office in Melbourne.
NRNA initiated its flagship projects, the Open University of Nepal (OUN) and the Nepal Science Foundation (NSF), for transfer of skills, knowledge and innovation through its SKI committee. They constitute examples of how NRNA has been able to unite the diaspora for innovation and S&T sectors in Nepal.
Mr Pun can be contacted at [email protected] or on +977 9841 592 361.