Nepal should take a leap in scientific pursuit through mobilization of its large contingent of diaspora talent and scholarship
The world today is constantly facing serious social, environmental and ethical challenges, which have the potential to derail our planet’s sustainable future. Globally, every nation is engaged in intense debate on big agenda items such as immigration, food, education, environment, health, food security and gender equality. Addressing these global challenges is not so easy to do by any country alone. New frontiers of knowledge in science and technology are needed to mitigate these challenges and create a knowledge-based economy, which will also be imperative for Nepal.
Countries which have invested and are investing in education, science and technology have been the ones to harvest the benefits of socio-economic prosperity. The World Bank study based in array of measurable key performance indicators of 92 countries has shown that knowledge base is a significant determinant of long-term economic growth. Diaspora has a significant role to play in this.
A recent UN report says that India now has the largest diaspora with more than 16 million persons, providing an estimated $69 billion (3.4 percent of India’s GDP) in 2015. Notwithstanding the size of its population, Nepal has a very large diaspora, already having demonstrable impact on Nepal’s economy, while much of its technical, scientific and academic potential has yet to be harnessed.
Advanced knowledge producing and consuming work force is the biggest resources of any country and is fundamentally important in producing and applying knowledge in information, communication, governance, health, livelihood, trade, commerce, entrepreneurship, innovation, research and development to improve efficiency and productivity in its economy. As it matters, the population segment and diaspora in particular do play a major role.
Like in other Asian nations, Nepali diaspora population has also increased and they are living in the advanced nations. This diaspora mass, which has the access to wealth of knowledge due to their global linkage and experience, is the one that nation should be keen on mobilizing for germinating development with meaning and spirit for long-term sustainability.
The size and expanse of Nepali diaspora can be understood from the fact that Non-resident Nepali Association (NRNA) is a global diaspora organisation with 76 national chapters and some 70,000 members representing an estimated 4.5 million strong diaspora population (2018 estimates).
Nepal has a sizable diaspora population engaged in scientific and academic sector. The potential of that population could be speedily harnessed to address the local challenges that concern Nepal and global challenges that cannot be solved if Nepal is not a meaningful participant.
It is not that Nepal is unaware of the potential of its diaspora but without effective- institutional systems and approaches, diaspora cannot utilize itself for the motherland just on its own due to its geographic dispersion globally. Therefore, diaspora Nepali under the banner of NRNA Academy along with Nepali thinkers are trying to push forward the idea of establishing a Knowledge City as a Special Knowledge Economic Zone where diaspora and international scholarship-friendly policies could be brought in action and where significant concentration of scientific, technological and academic talent and investment could be concentrated.
At the centre of this city would be a national university of which NRNA Academy would be an integral collaborator. Nepal could make speedy inroads in the adoption, adaption and development of science and technology and in turn be a competent participant in the global race for knowledge if we convert these initiatives into a reality.
Diaspora in the past spearheaded the effort to help establish Open University of Nepal but it could not mobilize diaspora’s scholarly wealth due to discriminative policies of the government towards diaspora. That is the reason we are advocating for a Special Knowledge Economic Zone where such discriminative practices would be abolished.
Realising the enormous potential of diaspora skills, knowledge and innovation, NRNA in 2009 formed the first Skill Knowledge and Innovation (SKI) Taskforce (subsequently SKI Committee) geared to utilize diaspora skills, knowledge, innovation and experiences for Nepal.
SKI gave rise to a number of highly to modestly successful initiatives within NRNA, including the Open University of Nepal Initiative (OUNI), Nepal Science Foundation Trust (NSFT), Road Safety Project, Diaspora SKI inventory, and SKI Brain Drain seminar series. Recently concluded NRN Global Knowledge Convention was another milestone achievement to bring all diaspora to a single platform to share ideas on knowledge initiatives and solicit their feedback in developing a road map plan for going forward.
Nepal’s current policy and commitment of 3.7 percent of GDP on education is appreciable but our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education seems to be faltering still. Further R&D budget of 0.3 percent of GDP is very low. Due to late start and low priorities, Nepal has missed out and was not able to harness the benefits of knowledge revolution in agriculture, information, health and other sectors. But it is never late to do the right thing. Nepal should correct its course swiftly.
If done alone and in isolation, it will be excessively difficult for Nepal to develop much-needed infrastructures and human talent for the development of its innovation system. Attracting global knowledge and investment as part of a global collaborative framework must supplement Nepal’s own efforts to develop its noticeable scientific and innovative capacity.
Nepal’s ongoing mass exodus of work-force (with 30 percent annual increase) for foreign employment, with poor investment in the infrastructure at home, is alarmingly warranting a top policy priority and investment on establishing research-intensive universities as integral element of building knowledge cities, revamping its education system, revitalizing its research centers, and promoting research in private enterprises to retain its workforce and attract diaspora to invest back in Nepal in start-up entrepreneurship.
Nepal could fast-track this process through strategic co-investment and partnership model with Diaspora (brain drain to brain gain) and global scientific institutions. Nepal is well placed between global knowledge powerhouses like India and China, and is in proximity of Korea and Israel. Those countries account for 40 percent of global innovation and patents in all fields of science and technology. Such approach will enable Nepal to utilize its current resources and boost Nepal’s capacity on science, technology, research, inventions and patenting. A high-quality science education will open doors for Nepal to kick start its scientific pursuit and, in turn, its sustainable development.
NRNA is currently engaged in the development of University of Nepal project based on this model which we originally intended to apply through Nepal Open University in partnership with Nepal’s Ministry of Education, Athabasca University, Canada, International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE), Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) and other global institutions. This initiative sets an example of the willingness and commitment of Nepali diaspora to Nepal’s academic, scientific and technological development. But unless we have a strong leadership to run institutions without political interferences, it will fail to fulfill its objectives.
Nepal Science Foundation (NSF) was established to work as a conduit between professional diaspora and Nepal’s institutionally advanced scientific, academic, technological and entrepreneurial initiatives.
After NRNA Global Convention in 2017, NRNA made a decision to establish NRNA Academy to streamline many strands of SKI initiatives started by diaspora members under the auspices of NRNA. It is believed that a coordinated approach to institutional development and strong integration with Nepal’s national institutions would help fulfill diaspora aspirations and Nepal government’s development policies and country’s 2030 vision.
The primary premise of this Academy is to be a permanent facilitator of two-way flow of skills, knowledge and experiences between resident and diaspora population of Nepal. This is an ambitious initiative and NRNA is developing NRNA Academy White Paper to streamline its institutional framework. There are hundreds of diaspora professional associations and private entrepreneurs and initiatives such as National Innovation Centre and biotechnology start-ups that are not directly involved with NRNA and it is hoped that Academy structure will facilitate the coordinated networking efforts.
In partnership with the Government of Nepal, NRNA organized the first Global Knowledge Convention from October 12 to 14 last year and invited Nepal’s knowledge sector stakeholders and diaspora counterparts as its participants. This covered a wide range of areas from health, infrastructure, education, energy, environment, technology transfer, innovation, agriculture, food security, and disaster preparedness. Conference will provide a guideline in developing science and technology policies, attracting global knowledge investment, understanding the global state-of-the-art, identifying knowledge gap, locating diaspora expertise pool, identifying modalities of exchanging expertise, and strengthening Nepal’s national priority initiatives.
Together for a cause
We are entering into an age of global knowledge economy, which is characterized by knowledge generation, patenting, machine learning, and data driven enterprise activities. Reliance on technology import and failure to develop own unique signature and space in this economy will cost nations dearly and keep them in dependency. Considering the future dynamics of global economy, Nepal should take a leap forward in scientific pursuit through mobilization of its large contingent of diaspora talent and scholarship.
NRNA’s SKI that began in 2009 is culminating into NRNA Academy. It could help integrate the aspirations and commitment of NRNs and NRNA with the aspiration of Nepal and Nepalis in general, and pave a way for a long-term knowledge investment in Nepal.
A strong collaboration between the home and diaspora academics and professionals is the need of time to utilize our meagre human and capital resources to establish a strong foundation of academic, scientific, innovative and creative growth in Nepal. With this, Nepal is poised to become a country of entrepreneurs and innovators.
While China and India are emerging as global economic powers on the foundation of knowledge investment by their governments and diaspora communities, NRNA and Nepal government can also collaborate to help Nepal become a global player in knowledge economy.
If Nepal has its sizable diaspora population engaged in scientific and academic sector, it could help Nepal become a competent participant in global knowledge economy.
The authors are members of Skill Knowledge and Innovation (SKI) of NRNA Academy