Tim Gocher, Founder of the Dolma Impact Fund, speaks to Nepali Times Studio.
Nepali Times: It looks like you have quite a soft spot for Nepal.
Tim Gocher: I first came here in 2003 and just like for a lot of westerners, there was something magical here for me. And, over the years, I have begun to put my finger on what that magic is. I almost found what I was looking for in a remote Himalayan village. But I have to say the real magic was my wife Pooja Gurung who I met in Dhunche during a trek 15 years ago. I have never looked back.
And how did the Dolma Impact Fund come about?
It was not a business to begin with, it was the love for the country. I had met a girl named Dolma, she was nine, but not going to school. I sponsored her education, and that grew into the Dolma Foundation which still educates hundreds of children. I lived a double life. I had this voluntary charity while also working for investment banks in Singapore, London, and New York. I wanted to bring the two together – to bring the power of markets and capital to stimulate sustainable growth. It took us three years to persuade anybody to invest in the first private equity fund for Nepal. I got laughed at in quite a few offices.
Which sector do you think is most critical for Nepal’s economic development?
I don’t think we at Dolma Impact Fund are focused in any one sector. The underlying fundamentals for infrastructure are holding companies back. So we have invested in two hydro power projects and I was going say how great the political stability is till … (Laughter, as a political demonstration passes the street outside).
How did the transition to peak demand generation from solar happen?
We saw companies across the board operating at this cost disadvantage, and wanted to use new energy technology to help with domestic energy production. Solar and battery costs are going down. We can provide through Dolma Himalayan Climate Fund a solution which is very similar to seasonal hydro storage where they would deliver power on as needed basis in the dry season by storing water in summer. The beauty of it is speed. Big hydro storage plants take a long time to build, but solar can be built in two years. It is not going to replace hydro, but it does give Nepal another energy option to offset some of the imports from India.
How do you see the political and economic future of Nepal?
I certainly won’t tell you how I see the political future of Nepal, none of my business. But I will tell you a bit about business future. Do you want the bad news first, or the good news?
I have invested and done business in many countries, and there is obviously need for reform. We tend to see some restrictive things. Things that are meant well actually might stop the initial investment growth, job creation, prosperity. But it doesn’t stop us, we were certainly well aware before we came in. We now provide employment in our portfolio companies to 3,000 people. If that’s the bad news the good news must be really good.
This is not a small country, it has the population of Malaysia. There is rarely a place where the regulations are perfect. Where else do you get to meet the ministers and governors, and they will hear you out. They are not always going to act, but sometimes they do. It is not all not mapped out for us business people and as investors it is risky. But you also feel like you are a part of something bigger. It’s not just about the money. If was just about the money I would still will be in London or New York.
Read also: Nepal turns to solar and batteries to meet peak demand, Kunda Dixit