KATHMANDU, Aug 21: Ashoka Fellow, teacher and rural internet activist Mahabir Pun has slammed Nepal´s reliance on NGOs, saying the country should instead focus on development through self-reliance.
“In Nepal there are so many development agencies, INGOs and NGOs. There are some that work very well and help rural people,” he told Republica on Monday.
“But there are only a very few of them that are dedicated to really helping the people. For most of them it is just a business.”
Pun, who runs numerous not-for-profit companies in Nepal, is to open his latest self-funded project, Nepal Connection, in Kathmandu´s busy tourist district of Thamel next week.
The café and “think tank” is the entrepreneur´s first venture into hospitality and will help to fund various projects in rural education, health care and
communications across the country.
“I want to show people at foreign agencies and government agencies that there is another way to make money and help people,” he said.
Nepal Connection is funded by Pun´s friends and associates across the globe, who together pitched in with Rs 2 million for opening the café without any government grant.
“We want to operate this as a hub for people interested in rural development in Nepal. We don´t want to focus on one specific area. It´s about sharing ideas,” he said.
Pun shared various other projects he is currently working on at a Talk Talk event at Nepal Tourism Board on Monday, including ideas in hydropower, tourism and tracking devices for trekkers.
“I don´t want donations. I want a loan and will pay it back with interest,” added Pun.
He is showing interest in a US$2.5 million hydro project of 5 to 10 MW, to funnel the profits into various rural health, education and communication projects.
Pun is known for his work in bringing wireless internet to the remote village of Nangi in Myagdi district, where he was born and raised as a child.
Pun worked as a teacher after finishing highschool and was accepted into a partial scholarship at the University of Nebraska in the US, where he focused on Science Education.
He then returned to Nepal to eventually establish the internet in his home village using TV dish antennae mounted in trees, as well as other later projects such as rural medical services facilitated over the internet.
He was selected as an Ashoka Fellow in 2002 and this was followed by successive awards from the Global Ideas Bank and the highly acclaimed Magsaysay Award.
But Pun has not forgotten his teaching roots, telling Republica that education in Nepal still has a long way to go and, in some cases, is facing stalled progress.
“The number of people going to school and the number of colleges and schools have increased but the quality of education has not really
changed in 20 years,” he said.
“The problem is the government,” he said and referred to problems like privatization of schools, a sole focus on literacy above knowledge, and overseas education.
“The number of private colleges is so huge but their purpose is to produce people interested to go overseas. They are not producing talent for Nepal.”
But he is optimistic about the country´s future and said if “the government and the people put their mind to working hard” the system can change.
“In 20 years´ time I want Nepal to be a developed country, not a developing country. It is possible.”
Pun evoked the Nepalese proverb, "It is better to be crazy than to die", as his driving motivation, and said money is nothing without ideas behind it to drive change.