People often ask me how the United States compares with Nepal. Here are five things that are uniquely funny about my country. If you don’t take these with a sense of humour, it may be hard to rationalise the way things are here.
1 Not-for-profit organisations pay more than the for-profit sector. And the pay is lower in the US, compared to Nepal. As long as not-for-profit crowds out the employment sector by paying more, for-profit can never compete or really develop. After all, who can compete with what looks like a never-ending supply of free money? Besides, if the majority of people are focusing on ‘development’ which most of the time is supposed to centre on the bottom of the pyramid, who is going to focus on the middle class? (A strong middle class would probably have a much more positive effect on the BoP and quality of living.)
2 Like in Silicon Valley, everybody wants to be an entrepreneur in Kathmandu Valley. Everybody wants to make it big. The only unfortunate part is, most of the kids in urban areas don’t really get a job until they are well out of their college or university years (excluding some amazing kids who are working and paying their own bills while studying). If most people want to be entrepreneurs without ever having worked for someone and are mostly still dependent on their parents’ allowances, who will they hire to work on their idea? It must be quite an expensive on the job learning method. I’ve worked with few tech companies – some quite large, some small: the turnover rate is quite astounding. I still have very little clue as to what is driving the turnover rate to be so high. And large tech companies pay more than the not-for-profit sectors even at the entry level.
3 Certificates: All students seem to be driven by the need to get a certificate. Most people who have worked in my social initiatives have probably found to their dismay that I don’t give out certificates. I just tell them that the work they will do is worth their time and if I have funding, they get some allowance. Are the certificates so important when one applies for a job or higher education? What is driving this funny need for certificates?
4 Internships need a new name or do they? I am not sure if it is because this term has been over abused in Nepal as an excuse for free labour, or if students have been properly introduced to the concept of apprenticeship. A senior mechanical engineer friend with ten years of work experience at Mitsubishi, went to hire interns from a notable Kathmandu college for his project. It turns out the students wanted Rs 2 lakh per month salary to intern with him. I am glad he eventually shared his first internship experience with the students.
But in Europe when he went to intern with another car company, he had to pay for the program because he would be gaining more than he would be giving.
Apprenticeships / internships mean you value what the person has to teach and you really ask for that person’s time.
I used to run lunch orders for my desk in my first job. That is basically going to each person and saying can I order lunch for you? Pick it up and deliver it to you, and collect cash from you and pay the restaurant, while you work. And in exchange, maybe after about a month of doing that for you, you will stay for 10 more minutes and show me that cool excel function that would save me four hours. Running lunch orders was the easiest thing I could do to get people to give me their 10 minutes. And this was the way all the first years got by to learn the ropes of the job.
This was a productive way of learning, because in those 10 minutes, I would be most attentive as I had already put in 30 minutes each day for a month or more to earn those 10 minutes.
5 The number of conferences on entrepreneurship, women empowerment and development, WOW! What is even more amazing is finding the same set of speakers, CEOs and social leaders, or same set of aspiring entrepreneurs attending most of the events. How do these people work on their startups which they are so passionate about and still manage to attend the endless events? Is it for networking, for business sales, another opportune moment to catch a potential subscriber or a buyer?
Whatever the reason may be, hats off to the amazing time management skills folks have here.
Sumana Shrestha is an aspiring Kathmandu-based entrepreneur and used to be with Boston Consulting Group and a financial trader at Citigroup. She writes this column, To The Point in Nepali Times every fortnight.