Second-year international relations students gain new perspectives through IE University’s Transformational Leadership Journey in Nepal. Immersed in the Himalayas, participants face physical, mental and professional challenges as they embrace group work and reflection exercises.
While trekking at an elevation of 4,100 meters, the IE Transformational Leadership Journey fosters teamwork, leadership, and ultimately, personal growth. What’s more, Bachelor in International Relations students delve into a practice-based curriculum where they learn about ancient Nepalese culture, foreign affairs, public policies and external factors shaping its internal development.
One of the leaders behind this life-changing program is Anil Chitrakar, an Ashoka Fellow and WEF Global Leader specializing in conservationism, environmentalism and geopolitics. In 1993, the World Economic Forum named this social entrepreneur one of the 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow. He is also the founder of the Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness and cofounder of the Himalayan Climate Initiative.
Recently, Anil spoke with IE University about the past, present and future of Nepal’s international development, particularly projects from China, India and the United States. Anil provides firsthand insights on the country’s potential to competitively leverage hydropower, as well as discusses the exodus of Nepalese youth working abroad.
Today’s Nepal According to Anil
Here in Nepal surrounded by the Himalayas, there is major potential for green power. In many ways, this mountain range is like a water tower for hydropower. Between 19,000 feet where the snow line begins, and 29,000 feet reaching the top of Everest, we have water stored year-round. Since it melts slowly, there are downstream benefits to our neighbors like India, Tibet and China.
Although we have potential, nothing can be done until we organize a competitive business plan. Not only is this needed to generate energy but also to regulate the downstream flow to countries. Today, Nepal has a surplus of energy, but now we’re hoping to design more projects to benefit our neighbors.
Take India, for example, which suffers three months of floods and nine months of drought every year. Besides designing hydropower projects for renewable energy, we could also regulate flow. Nepal’s future will partly depend on how we manage this very essential resource.
The point is that in the next 10 to 12 years, if we continue on this path, we will create an opportunity for all of our young professionals to come back.Anil Chitrakar
When looking at Nepal’s international development, we must go back to the Second World War. The US became the strongest power, meaning there was this notion that we needed a three-legged stool for stability: China, India and the US. So, while we developed our relationship with India and China, the US was the balancing force.
Over the years, there have been investments from each superpower. For example, China came up with the Belt and Road Initiative, plus infrastructure projects from India. Although the US felt somewhat marginalized and temporarily backed away, they’ve recently returned with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to invest in hydropower.
If Nepal were to produce renewable energy on a competitive basis, and you subtracted the cost of building roads paired with the cost of building transmission lines, the per unit cost of energy would be high. That’s to say, if we deduct road and transmission costs, we’d be competitive–this is why so much money has been invested in hydropower.
At the same time, Nepali society tends to be skeptical and suspicious in terms of money because people think there’s always a catch. Historically, Nepal has always played the role of a soft piece of yam between two boulders. No matter what happens, we get squashed, so I think we’re playing it right. Reciprocity is really the principle that we should treat them equally, and we could benefit from such foreign policy.
A Past Full of Struggles Searching for a Future of Potential
In recent history, Nepal has gone through quite a difficult time. First, we had centuries of feudalism, which drove us into poverty. Secondly, we had a long armed conflict that resulted in a difficult political transition. Then we were struck by an earthquake, followed by an Indian economic blockade, then the global pandemic, and now the war in Ukraine. When you look at an economy like Nepal’s that is globally linked, it has suffered a lot.
The potential for developing Nepal as a strong economy is there. However, in the short run, our young people don’t have the same opportunities that you’d expect in a more stabilized country. Due to 20 years of instability, we haven’t created too many jobs. Many end up opting for the Gulf countries, Malaysia, Japan or South Korea where the aging population presents economic challenges.
With a median age of 23, over 1,800 Nepali youth migrate each day searching for work out of the country. The point is that in the next 10 to 12 years, if we continue on this path, we will create an opportunity for all of them to come back. Yet in the short term, our youth will continue to look for jobs abroad.