Elections in Nepal are only 9 days away. I struggle to keep up with all of the major players…120 parties on the ballot is a lot to track. Yesterday, I read this excellent article in the NY Times, which gives a great overview of what Nepal is facing in the upcoming elections.
Considering that we just got our new production unit up and running, the section of the article about how the Maoist party extorts money stood out:
If they refuse to pay — required donations range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the business — they are told they will suffer serious vandalism or violence, they said.“The consequence is as simple as it is dramatic,” said one top Nepali businessman who asked to remain anonymous for fear of spurring further violence. “They will disrupt your business, damage your property and perhaps do violence to you and your employees. They’re fairly open about it when they need to be.”
We’ve heard these reports before, seen the closed down factories, and talked to the businessmen that moved their companies elsewhere. Today was a bandh, which means roving gangs from the 33-party alliance harassed businesses that opened and vehicles that ventured onto the roads…it shut down nearly all commerce around the nation. The rest of the week until elections all public transportation will be similarly shut down, which means that we the PURNAA founders will be personally playing motorcycle taxis for our employees to be able to come to work (many of whom are single moms that live a fair distance from our office.)
This situation is not something that would typically give hope for a new business. So, I was surprised by the comment from the local merchant about needing to have hope:
But Gopal Tamkakar, a 58-year-old merchant, said he was optimistic. “Things will be calmer once they draft a constitution,” he said. “You have to have hope.”
Hope seems to be something rare here these days. I personally don’t know many Nepalis who have bothered to register to vote. Most have seen too much corruption to believe in the system anymore.
We founded PURNAA believing that business can transform society, that we can both create hope for people who come from exploited backgrounds and benefit a struggling nation. Good jobs can break many of the detrimental effects of poverty. I was encouraged recently reading “Poor Economics” about how a factory can change the whole future of a community. Steady income for one family member eases the enormous risk carried by most small business owners and farmers, results in productive savings, children in school, and better nutrition.
So, in many ways, we agree with Gopal Tamkahar. We hope not only for things to be calmer, but for these elections to lead to a better Nepal, and for PURNAA to create hope for many many people who have lived without it for far too long.