The first world war ended on this day (11th November 2021), exactly a hundred & three years ago.
More than one hundred thousand British Gurkhas fought in the first world war and I have vivid memories as a middle school student, celebrating Remembrance Day. At the time, I may not have understood it’s significance, but reflecting on this today, I realize our then small Himalayan kingdom, which opened up to the world in the 1950s, already had a role to play in world affairs.
As we sit here today, hosted by the Nepal Economic Forum, mulling over our young Secular Republic of Nepal and its role in an increasingly globalized world, I feel like our land-linked country is at a critical juncture–
The actions we take forward today, for issues around–
inclusion and equity,
climate change, and
digital citizenship, will redefine the development trajectory for Nepal.
Nepalis around the world have been leaving their mark in multiple sectors, holding very senior positions in global institutions, or in creating their own global brands. At the same time, Nepalis who have come back to the country after completing their education abroad, or working abroad, have made significant contributions to the betterment of our country.
We are fortunate to see and interact with many living examples of the same, in the audience here today.
As NEF completes 11 years, it has played an important role in creating a platform for youthful voices. NEF has encouraged timely reflection on the development of Nepal from a youth perspective and played a vital role in linking academic research to policy recommendations. NEF in many ways is similar to the World Economic Forum, playing a key role as a catalyst for multi-stakeholder engagement.
In 2011, Prof. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF, envisioned the Global Shapers Community, to ensure that young people under the age of 30, had a seat at the decision-making table. The whole idea for this community, stemmed from encouraging young people with energy and innovative ideas, to come together for projects of impact across varied sectors. Just this year, over a 1,000 projects were completed by shapers globally, in an attempt to improve the state of the world, one community at a time.
I was fortunate enough to become a shaper, in 2014, as a result of the work that I was doing to create stable community centres in the heart of instability, in internal migrant slums. In 2015, when the Gorkha earthquake struck, the hub really became a force for good. We raised over 500,000 dollars, and delivered ambitious projects of not just disaster relief and rehabilitation but reconstruction.
The strength of the shapers network is linked to a sense of belonging, identifying with a higher purpose of doing good for our local community, no matter where we are in the world. But Covid-19 has shaken all of us to the core, disrupted life as we knew it, forcing us to adapt to a new normal. Globally, we are the most affected demographic when it comes to the world’s rising socio-economic, political and environmental crises, and the scenario is no different in Nepal.
A recent survey report by the ILO and Niti Foundation on “Youth Anxiety, Aspiration and Activism” paints a relatively bleak picture as we come out of the pandemic: only 34% of the 2,000 youth surveyed believe that the country is headed in the right direction. This is a significant decline from the 2018 national governance survey that found 80 percent of youth believed the same.
I think this point resonates with some of the comments made by Kul ji earlier, and touches on the pandemic mindset– Eighty-four percent of the youth surveyed reported having experienced anxiety due to COVID-19. In order to address the issues that young people today are facing, the Kathmandu hub has been shaping the discourse in prioritizing open conversations about mental health through “Mess Up nights”, organizing wellness weekends, and taking forward a #youmatter campaign.
If you look at the current discourse around climate change and the environment, we are at a higher risk than our counterparts. The World Bank estimates that Nepal will experience twice as much flooding due to rising temperatures by 2030. We are inheriting the policy outcomes of decisions that were made without consulting us, yet, we are the ones who will in the long run bear the brunt of it. In this context, it is critical we take the issue of intergenerational parity very seriously, and encourage institutions in all sectors to include young people, as the most important stakeholder, when talking about the future.
The silver lining to the youth mindset today is the fact that more than 70% of the 2,000 youth surveyed, expressed a preference to work in Nepal in some form, and only 9% youth wanted to go overseas for foreign employment.
I urge all the public, private and development institutions here, to think about the possibilities, if we are able to constructively tap into this sentiment, and design pathways for leadership for deserving young candidates. We have long spoken about the demographic dividend, but the time to act is now, as in another 25 years we will transition out of this demographic window of opportunity.
If we zoom out and place Nepal in the context of South Asia, the megatrends of the region provide a more optimistic outlook in spite of many historical constraints. South Asia, overall has a growing young and educated working population, a growing middle class, and there are many new emerging opportunities for agile organizations, who have been able to adapt their business models to changing times.
India’s e-commerce industry is expected to grow by a staggering 84 percent to $111 billion by 2024. In contrast, Nepal, which has very high internet penetration, and a formidable youth population, has not been able to leverage the potential of an internet-based economy. We need to invest in digital infrastructure and training, and address the potential digital divide and inequities that could arise, as digital literacy and digital citizenship will be key to competing in the region.
The WEF Regional Stewardship Board, brings together senior government officials, business leaders, experts, and media leaders, to transform the potential of South Asia through public-private partnerships. As the only member from Nepal on this board, I’ve had a chance to showcase some perspectives from Nepal as a shaper, and as someone who has worked in both the development and private sector. As a part of the working group focused on accelerating digital transformation for the betterment of education and employment, we have started some important discussions between India, Nepal and Bangladesh. I am keen to engage further with the Nepal Economic Forum and partners to see what action we can take forward constructively, perhaps by drawing linkages with the Centre for Digital Transformation.
I welcome all of you in the audience to reach out to me anytime, if you would like to connect me to impactful projects on the ground that would benefit from regional synergies. I urge everyone here today to think about the power of intergenerational parity, and ensure that the voice of the new generation is heard, and our ideas are translated into constructive and impactful action.
To all of my contemporaries in the audience today, you know you are best placed to lead the transition to a more equitable future – it is your next big idea that has the power to shape the economic, social and political discourse of Nepal and the world.
Thank you Sujeev, for giving me this opportunity to engage with the Nepal Economic Forum. I hope to be able to bring additional value to the incredible work that has been going on for over a decade.
Listen to the speech on our YouTube page –
Sneh Rajbhandari is a Member of the World Economic Forum Regional Stewardship Board for South Asia and an Advisory Board Member at Nepal Economic Forum.