Celebrating the Memorial Day Holiday. Enjoy the photographs taken on the trek from Nangi to Mohare Danda. Click on a photograph to scroll through.
I think understanding how Mahabir Pun developed and set up the Nepal Connection gives further insight into his character and how he manages and interacts with people. In October 2012 I sat down with Kishor Rimal, the Nepal Connection (NC) manager, at the restaurant and over tea we talked for hours about his career and his relationship with Mahabir. His experience with Mahabir is typical for many of us who work with him so here is his story.
Kishor was hired by Mahabir Pun to manage NC even before it opened. Kishor was involved from the early stages of planning, development and construction. He was fresh out of the restaurant opening the month before I met him so he was eager to talk about the challenges. After consulting with Mahabir, he made the final decisions on location, design, staff and the menu. He admits to being “nervous” regarding his responsibilities due to his lack of experience in the restaurant business. He holds a BA in Media Studies and a Masters in Landscape Management…along with a long resume of multiple jobs. Everything from event planning to publishing house writer to bank communications. He admits he only held some jobs for a few weeks to a few months. After meeting Mahabir he realized he wanted to work for the rural villagers and “help the people”.
He first met Mahabir Pun in February 2010 and the meeting didn’t go well. He wanted to work for Nepal Wireless but Mahabir was not impressed by his resume. Kishor said Mahabir was brutally blunt in saying he was not the type of person to work with him because he had no IT experience. Kishor kept hounding Mahabir and finally convinced him he could design and implement a much needed media and public relations campaign. Mahabir allowed him to work as a volunteer. Kishor worked for two years without pay for Nepal Wireless. He was able to do this because he lived in Kathmandu with his parents. He managed projects by negotiating with the villagers; set up training for technicians; and was the front man for all politically correct interfaces with villagers, technicians, donors and Mahabir. You can see why Mahabir would choose Kishor, although he lacked experience in the restaurant business, he possessed priceless skills in negotiating and management of resources and people.
Join me next week and read about Kishor’s goals for the new business, his relationship with Mahabir and the challenges he faced as the new manager buffering Mahabir’s entrepreneurial style with one financial backer’s business goals.
Sometimes you need a big project to act as a catalyst for everything that follows. Come with me for a short walk down an unusually quiet, traffic-free street in the tourist district of Kathmandu. Here sits a stately brick building called Sagamartha Bazaar. Shops line the street and people walk without having to dodge motorcycles careening up the sidewalk or shout to be heard above the cacophony of horns…it’s blissfully peaceful.
On the first floor, looking down at the pedestrians, is the site of Mahabir Pun’s Nepal Connection…part restaurant, office and store. It functions more as a meeting hall for all things that circle Mahabir Pun. Here people, both the invited, the in-the-know, the curious and the accidental tourist come together like a stew of cultural diversity to discuss current events, politics and projects…all under the watchful eye of Mahabir Pun. If you want to meet him…this is the one place that he frequently inhabits.
In March 2012 Mahabir placed a message on his Facebook page asking his supporters to help him raise 1 million Nepali rupees ($10,400 USD). Within six months he had funded and opened the restaurant. The project was covered in detail by the Nepali Times in the article titled: Mahabir’s Center for Nepal Connection. The interior is surprisingly modern which reflects the occupants attention to solving real problems surrounding education, healthcare and resource allocation. The restaurant has earned a good reputation serving trendy food which still reflects Nepal’s culture. The proceeds from the restaurant are used to support education and health projects for the rural poor. You can also find handmade paper, books and beaded jewerly which earn income for village women.
Join me next week for an interview with the Nepal Connection manager, Kishor.
It’s important at this point in the discussion to outline Mahabir Pun’s philosophy with regards to his work principles. Over the years Mahabir Pun has worked with dozens of private, governmental, non-governmental (NGO), international profit and non-profit organizations (INGO) on various projects. This is what he has to say about choosing to work with an organization: “I am open to any individuals or organizations to do anything and I can work with them without any formal condition. I don’t chose projects but I just do things that I think is good to do. I don’t even look for their background of the people who come to work with me. Everybody can come and work with me. It is okay even of they don’t put any inputs. I just want them an opportunity and want to learn something from the villagers. I don’t want to be picky. My only condition is that whatever I do, it should benefit the communities. I want others to behave the same way.”
In fact Mahabir Pun does follow his principles and examine the entity before teaming with any one person or organization. For example, before working with the Institute for Himalaya Conservation (IHC), he set conditions. He requested a place on the board of directors in order to steer policy and decisions. He required all projects use local villagers to implement, construct and run a project. This was in the late 1990s and I think he was beginning to understand his role as a leader and not just an entrepreneur. His success can be seen in the locally run cheese, yak, trekking, paper making, reforestation and dozens of small local enterprises successfully run by local rural villagers. He will not participate in projects that are just for profit, even for Nepal based companies. Everything he does benefits the poor rural population either directly or indirectly. Some of his critics believe he misses financial opportunities because he fails to understand that profit making is not necessarily an evil goal. There are companies directed to helping the world’s poor but still make a profit for investors. An excellent book on this topic is: “The Business Solution to Poverty: Designing Products and Services for Three Billion New Customers” by Paul Polak and Mal Warwick.
He is a staunch proponent of grassroots involvement and ownership of a project to assure success. He alleges most Nepali NGOs are corrupt. He stated; “The money raised is just a trickle to the rural areas. The money that goes to the real people is just a trickle.” He believes most of the money raised by these local NGOs is used for administrative costs such as fancy offices, expensive vehicles and “fat” salaries. The NGOs are run by city bureaucrats who have little understanding of the rural poor. He believes the NGOs exist to support themselves and actually make very little impact in rural areas. The same philosophy is argued in the disturbing book about the dark side of international aid written by Michael Maren in 2002 and called: The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity. If you haven’t read this book I recommend borrowing it from your local library.
Mahabir’s solution: NGOs should be started by rural villagers; NGOs should be started by service motivated people such as expatriates from the villages. His solutions are challenged by the rural isolation and diversity of Nepal. The Nepal culture can differ from one village to another so what works in one place may not work in another. One way Mahabir has devised to bring entrepeunurial villagers together to discuss their projects, share challenges and solutions is to open the Nepal Connection in Kathmandu, which he described as a not-for-profit sharing company.
Join me next week for more about the Nepal Connection and how Mahabir Pun brought together diverse contributors from around the world to realize this dream.