Nepali Diaspora has a high potential to effectively become a development partner of Nepal to help her graduate from LDC status to middle-income country as targeted. Registered with the government of Nepal, the Diaspora has a well networked national chapter (National Coordination Councils, known as NCCs) in over eighty countries under the leadership of the Non-Resident Nepali Association-International Coordination Council (NRNA-ICC).
Although the NRNA is continuously evolving in its institutionalization process in efforts to remain relevant, a vast majority of the NRNs feel that they are not a part of this movement, and that the NRNA has instead become a cause of conflict and polarization in the Nepali communities abroad. Many in the Diaspora are frustrated that the NRNA has increasingly become election-centered, and much of its activities have little to do to help them settle in the adopted countries or to drive the motherland toward prosperity.
Those involved in the current ICC leadership race at various levels presumably understand the challenges far too well. There are election promises around widening participation and enhancing transparency and accountability. There are also small but critical voices from within the Diaspora demanding transparency, pointing out interference from the Nepal-based political parties and their sister organizations abroad, and some unforeseen but unfortunate ill-effects of largely the election- related activities. This article offers some strategies to help NRNA mitigate some of the key challenges to move forward with vigor.
Simplify membership process
NRNA claims to be a representative organization of the entire Nepali Diaspora outside of the SAARC countries. However, a vast majority of the Nepali Diaspora are outside its registered membership. NCCs and the ICC do not have separate memberships, and the registration cycle runs for every two years that is aligned with the election cycle, which also takes place every two years. With some exceptions, membership drive is largely motivated by NCC elections. In other words, membership registration in most cases is done by potential candidates or their supporters. This is because the voters’ list is derived from the list of registered members. A lot of time is invested (read wasted) for phone calls, emails, registration, accounting, verification, etc for the membership process, and the same cycle repeats every two years.
The current practice of the two-year cycle is unproductive because too much time is wasted in the process. This should be changed for a one time registration for a lifetime membership: a) When an NRN registers to become NRNA member, this should be a life time membership until the person’s status changes or s/he willingly relinquishes the membership in writing; b) Membership drive and registration should be a priority of the organization and should continue throughout the year; c) A permanent Standing Committee should be responsible for an ongoing membership drive, database maintenance, and regular updates and d) A separate verification Committee might help instilling trust and accountability.
To allow this change to happen, it is important that we move away from the mindset that the organization’s finances should run with its membership fees. This idea of one lifetime membership resembles with the practice of life membership introduced my some NCCs. However, there are two shortcomings that need to be addressed. First, ICC by-laws do not have a provision of life membership. This should be changed, and life membership should be the modality of choice clearly explained in the constitution. Second, the current life membership fee is too high. Any eligible NRN should be able and encouraged to register for a lifetime membership with a very nominal one-off contribution.
To reiterate, a fee should not be a condition to become a registered member of the organization. The ICC’s current practice of taking USD $5 per registered member from the NCCs (previously USD 3 per member) should be discontinued. The NRNA should rather find other ways to raise funds to fund its Secretariat office expenses. This way, NRNA will be able to increase its membership by several folds.
Allow direct voting
NRNA should consider holding the election of all NCCs and the ICC in one go through online voting system. The availability of global membership database will allow a global level election (of all NCCs and the ICC combined) within a system, thereby saving time and money.
There are positive indicators that suggest that NRNA is actually capable of implementing the global online voting system. The recently introduced MIS system for membership can be adapted to adopt the strategies and steps suggested in this article. We already have online voting system practiced by some NCCs. For example, while serving as the Regional Coordinator for the Americas, I had the honor of working closely with many colleagues in the US where a direct individual voting system (instead of the delegates system) was implemented through an online voting system in 2014.
The NCC in the US has since been implementing the online voting system. Although not a perfect system, the pros I believe vastly outweigh the cons. Some other NCCs too have gradually started moving toward an online voting system. And for the ICC elections, the use of machine voting system which started in 2015 has proved to be highly effective. NRNA should thus make efforts to learn from these experiences, and move swiftly toward a global online voting system for its entire election system.
In the current system, NRNA leaders (at the NCCs and ICC) spend about a year (that is almost half of their two-year tenure) thinking and working on the election process, including global tours. I won’t go at length describing the current practice, but if one takes into account all the steps from the beginning of membership drives before NCC elections to the nomination of the ICC level Committee and task force members in the aftermath of the Global Conference, the amount of time spent in the process and its duration is clearly evident. We need a system that allows the entire election related process completed in less than a couple of months.
The most striking benefit of this system will be that it will allow all registered members globally to cast their ballots from the comfort of their homes through electronic devices such as their mobile phones. Registered members will thus have the rights to not only elect the NCC leaderships but also the ICC leaderships, which is lacking in the current system. This brings the ownership of the organization to the grassroots. This will eliminate the current practice of a few selected delegates travelling to Kathmandu every two years with primary motivation of participating in the election process.
In fact, global conferences in the recent years have been awfully distracted by the election agenda. No need of delegates would also mean an end to disputes between the NCC and ICC leaders over the delegate selection process, and other recent election related anomalies at the global conference.
Election every five years
The NRNA should seriously look into ways to cut down on the time the Diaspora engages in the election process. In addition to and in tandem with the aforementioned strategies, this strategy suggests that the NRNA holds the NCC and ICC elections only every five years.
I am mindful of the past discussions and debates within NRNA surrounding the length of a tenure of office (three years vs two years). We settled for the latter, and consequently, the current by-laws allow a two-year term in the office. This should be revised to a term of two and a half years. However, election should be held only every five years at all levels (for the NCCs and ICC).
The election process should include elections of alternate positions (for example, senior Vice President, Assistant General Secretary, Assistance Treasurer, etc) who will serve as observers for the first time and then will automatically take over the executive roles after two and half years (senior VP becomes the President, Assistant General Secretary becomes General Secretary, Assistant Treasurer becomes Treasurer, and so on).
The Executive Committee will be empowered to nominate members to fill vacant positions. In this way, the ICC and NCCs will work for two and a half years, while the elections will be held only every five years. This will save NRNA from being spent in the election process, while still allowing a manageable length of term in the office. The five-year cycle may also help NRNA to develop goals and agenda that are aligned with Nepal’s five-year plans and vice versa.
These suggested strategies will by no means serve as drug pills to help cure NRNA’s current ailments. They will, however, help the organization to evolve and transform toward a better path by becoming much more participatory and efficient in using our limited time and resources. Much will depend on how the leaders win confidence and trust from the general members in the Diaspora, and more importantly, to the extent our behaviors are shaped by the principles of compassion, and our actions guided by the values of ethics.
The author is a founding President of NRN-Canada and former Advisor to NRNA