Hope for Nepal

May 15, 2015

in Nepal, Transformation

In a time where my sadness seems to grow deeper by the day, what gives me the greatest hope in Nepal are its savvy youth, coming of age, coming together. After I reached Kathmandu, after I saw every last client safely on a flight home, my attention turned to a broader field. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure where to even begin. I had been hearing about small groups who self-organized to provide relief, so I started visiting them. It was far and away the best thing I have witnessed in years.

Where the government fell short, where international relief workers showed up without the first crumb of knowledge about Nepal, where INGO meetings dragged on interminably, Nepalis self-organized to help their communities, to deliver relief from the first day onwards. It was a handful of people in Kathmandu from the same village who got together, bought supplies and drove them out to families and friends far away. It was businessmen who organized their supply lines and created a public distribution space where other groups could come and request supplies. It was social organizations who diverted all their staff to personally distributing relief supplies day-by-day throughout the Valley and beyond. It was people with connections who made sure their families were okay and then shifted all their attention to leveraging connections to get relief to remote areas. It was the informal news network via cell phone and word of mouth that somehow spread information about where items were available and where they were needed. It was local journalists reporting on remote areas that had yet to receive aid, focusing national and international attention on getting supplies to these unseen people. It was, most especially, Nepal’s achievement-oriented youth, who came together and organized a massive informal relief effort.

The “youth” I’m thinking of are closer to my peers than to teenagers. They are roughly 25-35. Nepal isn’t a country like the U.S., where 20-somethings run multi-million dollar companies. Nepal’s politics and business cartels are entrenched and have been run by the same handful of people for decades. The newer generation of skilled and successful Nepalis tend to be quietly running their own small business, entering a family business, or getting ahead in some competitive arena like mountain climbing. They are friends with each other, they might be socially-minded and have formed a small NGO, but this is probably the first time in their lives that they have left their own enterprises and endeavors behind and have banded together broadly in a common goal for community and country.

I watched a few groups like this–Nepalis organizing in the chaos, bringing their skills together, and accomplishing what needed to be done, with minimal resources, minimal hierarchy, and absolutely none of the 3-hour meetings and bureaucracy pervasive elsewhere. This was their geography, their culture, their communities. They had the on-the-ground knowledge and connections to make all this work. The groups were infused with energy, purpose, commitment, and a focus on results. And they were effectively doing the job, consolidating information from a huge informal web of contacts, matching needs and supplies, mapping out their logistical plan, and getting relief supplies to villages one-by-one. (One of the most effective ad-hoc groups was at Yellow House. In an article this week, WIRED magazine captured the energy and commitment there.) Some groups in villages organized to insist that stockpiled relief supplies be distributed. Some bureaucrats in district offices mobilized without prodding, and began to organize proper relief distribution village by village, house by house, instead of the haphazard efforts elsewhere. Some people in Kathmandu banded together with friends to go out and help for the day. No stash of supplies was too small to be worth handing out. It seemed there were groups all over town, on both sides of the river, some well-organized and some just doing what little they could in the moment.

Watching all this activity, in the middle of a disaster where people lost everything, what I felt suddenly was…an overwhelming sense of relief. Here was the future of Nepal. Here were the people who wanted to help, not consolidate their own wealth and power. Here were the people who had competencies and skills beyond giving speeches or writing reports. In a country where whole books have been written about cultural fatalism, here were the doers, the ones who care, the ones who believe in themselves, the ones taking action. I should have known, I have always known, that the people who might be able to reclaim Nepal, to recover some of what has been lost (not only this month, but in the recent decades), the people who are going to rebuild this country are the Nepalese people.

Co-directing a non-profit, I have focused on investing in social entrepreneurs, in local people who were motivated to improve their own communities. My job, as I see it, is to catalyze and support their efforts. I have always believed that change has to come from the inside — it can’t be prescribed by outsiders. I have believed in that as a guiding principle, but I have never before been able to see how it could happen on a really large scale. Witnessing these groups of Nepalis coming together in crisis, organized and self-reliant, with their best qualities at the fore, I finally saw the future, one possible future of Nepal. Possible is enough right now.

The teams that have come together, worked together, made a difference, and continue to make a difference in this crisis — these people have experienced their own power in a way that has never happened before, on a scale that has never happened before. Where they all used to work on their own businesses, their own successes, they are now connected in a massive unifying purpose…and they are having a profound impact. For the most part, these are not uneducated, disaffected rural youth — these are the best and the brightest of Nepal, coming of age and coming into their power. It is not only youth who have engaged to help in this crisis. To be sure, people of all ages have rallied together. However, it is discovering this zeal and purpose among the younger generation that gives me real hope. It is an experience that will never be undone, an experience that might inspire them to greater impact, an experience that might be the beginning of greater change. Nepal has been leveled and has the opportunity to build something new. I would never say that these earthquakes have been a good thing. They have been the root of immense suffering, suffering that I fear will only grow in the coming months, and my heart aches with the pain of the short-term future. I am willing to hope, however, that some good can come out of this disaster, that some light shines through the dark, and that the future of Nepal, a better future, is rooting in this experience and will grow to fruition in the coming years.

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