Before the second wave of COVID-19, the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) had unveiled a bold vision document. Now we need a new sense of purpose and a new type of leadership to make it a reality.
Just before the outbreak of the second wave of the pandemic, there were undoubtedly some positive signs of a national economic rebound.
A youth-led startup which dreams to become Nepal’s first billion-dollar IT company, a symbolic example of a thriving and dynamic sector full of recent graduates with innovative ideas and an expanding group of local investors behind them; the CEO of a major commercial bank forecasting with a certain confidence that the country is on track to become a cashless society; the huge export capacity of the country that according to a recent report of World Bank still remains untapped.
These are just some of the encouraging indicators that show the terrific potential the national economy can have in this new decade.
At the same time, there are also worrying trends like an informal sector that is just set to expand and become bigger and bigger because of the ongoing pandemic; a persistent pattern of extractive attitudes and behaviors resulting not only in savaged river beds but also in a ton of missed opportunities to think long-term rather than fixated on easily to be made rent seeking “ventures”.
In addition, despite important changes to the Consumer Protection Act, citizens of this nation still cannot enjoy a national regime of rules that protect them as there is still uncertainty about the timing for the establishment of a consumer court.
Amid this mixed scenario, the new leadership of the FNCCI has unveiled an ambitious blueprint, the National Economic Transformation 2030 or NET 2030 that, if properly implemented, could lift the nation not only toward a real graduation from being a least developing country but would also enable Nepal to join with firm footing and full confidence the family of middle-income economies and perhaps more than that.
Potentially, the compelling transformation envisioned in the NET 2030 could really touch on the common people’s lives, especially the most vulnerable segments of the citizenry that have been so far left behind.
Yet, for this to happen, we need two things to happen.
On the one hand, we need that bold and progressive policy making is followed up by tangible actions while, on the other hand, we need to recognize that ambitious goals won’t happen unless change is owned and metabolized by the key stakeholders.
First, industrialists must be as bold as visionary in imagining an economy that can embrace green technology and sustainability together with inclusion, following a global trend aimed at “building back better”.
Some were surprised by the fact that Nepal was not invited to the Leaders’ Summit on Climate organized by President Biden but after all most of us might agree that this nation did not do enough in terms of climate action beyond formal statements.
In addition, the ongoing political situation, certainly not inspiring in the eyes of the international community, can be another reason rather than claiming that the country was not invited because of its small dimensions (after all the Marshall Islands and Bhutan, both were invited to the Summit, are definitely smaller and more vulnerable than Nepal).
The lack of consistency and lack of clarity and commitment on climate policy cannot be downplayed.
For example, the NET 2030 does not even mention the second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), published late last year by the government and itself a blueprint for economic development based on transforming the national economy by untangling and winning the climate change challenge.
Of the $ 108 billion that the national private sector is ready to mobilize - a portion of the total investment needed to bring the national GDP to $100 billion by 2030 as envisioned by the document prepared by the FNCCI - how much of that is really going to be “green” investment?
How such mind-blowing numbers (after all, it is really hard to really comprehend them but if it can help, consider that the GDP in 2019-2020 was $ 39 billion) could really transform the country also from an inclusive point of view, giving a better shot at those left behind so far?
What is the commitment of the national industrialists toward transforming the job market into a more inclusive and diverse one?
Will more women, Dalits and persons with disabilities along other marginalized groups receive some special attention when the estimated 2.2 million jobs will be created by 2030 as per the paper envisions?
What about also those who are being hit these days by the pandemic?
Can the “Adopt-Adapt-Leapfrog” model developed by Frost & Sullivan also work for them?
Encouragingly, the SDGs are part of the equation in the NET 2030 and sustainability is recognized as one of the pillars upon which the economy will grow and the concept of “integrating” the SDGs is correct but for more details, we will still have to wait for an Execution Roadmap for SDG Integration Strategy to be published by end of this year after research and public consultations.
For such consultations are going to be key: involving people is going to be a very hard exercise but it is going to be essential if we really want to have an ambitious but, at the same time, realistic blueprint on how to embed the SDGs in the national economy.
Overall the NET 2030 does not certainly lack ambition.
“Nepal’s Green Recovery from COVID includes climate mitigation measures like decreased dependency on fossil fuels and rapid transition to energy efficient renewable technologies. The focus is the creation of a climate-resilient society and to do so various cross-cutting measures like adoption of local and indigenous knowledge, and skills and technologies; creation of climate smart cities and villages, and good governance would be put into effect”.
This is a quite solid statement but it is important to be clear on what the so-called “Nepal’s Green Recovery” is going to be.
Are we talking about a new official plan that would complement and reinforce and update the Fifteenth Plan 2023-2024 prepared by the National Planning Commission before the pandemic?
The NET 2030 also mentions 70 major initiatives including an FNCCI Business Excellence Award and FNCCI Code of Ethics & Corporate Governance Development.
Can we make sure these two ideas are going to really incentivize and kick-start sustainability, inclusion and diversity? Coming to the second and last point: any planned transformation can be successful only if it is internalized.
Rebecca M Henderson, an acclaimed author and Harvard Business School Professor, wrote in Re-imagining Capitalism in a World on Fire:
“I learned that having the right strategy was important, and that redesigning the organization was also critical. But mostly I learned that these were necessary but not sufficient conditions. The firms that mastered change were those that had a reason to do so: the ones that had a purpose greater than simply maximizing profits. People who believe that their work has a meaning beyond themselves can accomplish amazing things, and we have the opportunity to mobilize shared purpose at a global scale”
With the NET 2030, the industrialists came up with a bold intent of action that can strengthen the existing policy framework of the government.
No matter how visionary the document, the journey of national economic transformation that will help Nepal to achieve a greater GDP starts only at a personal level. A commitment to embrace values-based leadership, the SDGs, the UN Global Compact and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights while giving a sense of purpose and ownership to the employees is going to be essential.
Everybody from PwC to BCG, EY to McKinsey shares this belief and surely the consultants at Frost & Sullivan who wrote the plan, as well. Tangible changes start with the intangible commitments, small steps that will help achieve a better and more inclusive tomorrow and such a process can only begin with honest conversations in each factory and office of the country.
Let’s not forget that building back better at the foundation of the NET 2030 is going to be first and foremost a matter of a different type of leadership, individually and collectively. We should not just wait for the end of this second wave to just go back to normal thinking. The FNCCI has been bold in releasing this document, now let’s shift from words to real deeds.
(Simon Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Views are personal.)