a firefighter's outlook

With his first book ‘Take the Lead: Nepal’s Future Has Begun’, Anil Chitrakar shows a glipse of the bigger Nepali picture. Connecting the dots with anecdotes, the book underlines the most basic yet most important variable for progress – our attitude.

Robert F Kennedy once said about GDP, “It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” We have been caught in numbers for sometime: 40,000 MW of hydro potential, 39 out of 1000 infants dying in their first year, population growing one per cent a year and numbers like 23% of women think wife beating is justified. Despite the numbers, some of which are positive, we haven’t been able to measure one key variable of our society – our attitude; our attitude towards our potential, our responsibilities and our goals. These numbers that surround us, especially the bad ones, have convinced us that we need experts from abroad to build our hydro projects, that our art and heritage are only for tourists to enjoy, and our qualifications are as good as our English.

In his new book ‘Take the Lead’, Anil Chitrakar talks largely about the different aspects of attitude needed for progress. Mr. Chitrakar, who jokingly -but quite accurately- calls himself a firefighter, is an engineer and energy planner awarded with the Ashoka Fellowhip, Rolex Award and Silicon Valley Tech Award. His involvement in the sectors of renewable energy and heritage conservation extend from the grass-root level to policy making. On one occasion, he did not hesitate to bring down an illegally built building near the Boudhanath Heritage Site that threatened the site’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. His recent solar tukki (lamp) idea, something that’s lighting numerous rural parts of the country, is similar to his other works, including this book – simple, but profound at the same time. He is currently assisting bank mergers, and is also involved in hydro projects that are going to add 1400 MW to the national grid. The book is the sum of all these experiences and a wealth of knowledge. It connects the dots to create a picture that highlights an underlying variable of progress – attitude. Mr. Chitrakar elaborates:

Attitude seems like a mundane factor, mostly assumed as an effect rather than a cause, taken for granted by most people. How does one go about understanding it?

It is easy to talk about attitude in isolation, but to understand attitude we have to understand the context that breeds that attitude. To give an example, in a work place a person’s attitude can be a product of stress, values, peer pressure and even unsuitable job assignments. To be effective as managers, it’s important to understand all these underlying factors. Here, not-for-profit sector is viewed as a source of lucrative employment by many. In the corporate sector, the cut throat competition has lead to malpractices; look at the corruption cases in companies like Seimens, Mitsubishi and Samsung. However, at the same time, if you look at China, the man responsible for upgrading China’s modern train system might be executed for corruption. Here, the issue would be dismissed, as maha khanele haat chatcha. These small things nurture a value sytem, that turns into attitude.

What do you think is needed to change ideas into reality?

According to Malcom Gladwell, three things are needed for a successful business -idea, person and context. Besides the idea and and our own capacity, one must recognise the real context, and not be carried away by perceived context. Have you seen people selling watches in buckets filled with water in Kathmandu’s footpaths? That’s entrepreneurship. Just by showing that the watches are truly water proof these vendors are making an extra premium. What we have to understand is that nothing is by chance, not even the shops selling beer with the fishes in Malekhu.

How important is giving?

The average life of a company is around 13 to 16 years, but companies like Tata and General Moters lasted 100 years. Because these companies understand the Triple bottom line –People, Planet and Profit. Take the diamond industry in Botswana, they are investing in HIV. Why? Because their workers were dying of the disease at the age of 48. To make a business successful, one needs to be aware of the society. This is not charity or CSR, but seeing the bigger picture. Giving is a part of sustainability.

What kind of capacity do you see in Nepali people?

If you go to the tallest building in Dubai, there is a plaque honouring the Nepali workers who helped build it. What we are facing right now is brain drain, but eventually as the situation here starts to get better, I believe people will start to come back and bring back the skills they have learned abroad. Look at the farm in Sankhu built by HariBansha and Madan Krishna with the help of farmers who have returned from Isreal. Look at the façade of buildings in Lazimpat, I’m sure the skills learned abroad is part of the reason. The thing to realize is we are as good as anyone, the question right now is – how do we create a conducive environment to bring these people back.

You have described a vision of Nepal at the end of the book. What factors do you think are most important to achieve that vision?

Firstly, education; 93% of children are enrolled in grade one today. After 10 years imagine a Nepal with 93% of children graduating school. Half of our problems will be gone. Secondly, a political setup based on transparency and a level playing field, and not just ambiguous democracy. And free market system under a just rule of law. In the long run subsidies and aid has not helped us, because our businesses cannot compete with ‘free’. Instead of aid, if these countries would just buy our goods we as a nation would be better off in the long run.

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