How Sagarmatha Sambaad can help reshape Nepal’s global image

Sagarmatha Sambaad will be the event to promote the brand ‘Nepal’ and its economic potential into a forum of dialogue and discussions at national, regional and global levels.

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 5 min.

We often discuss what a country like Nepal can do to promote itself in the world. It is a conversation often driven more by a perspective of what the country cannot do than what it can instead achieve. As many commentators have already highlighted, we need to come up with a new narrative, shifting from the one focused on the smallness of the country to one instead geared towards the unique features and dynamics that the nation offers.

As I wrote earlier in this column, it is really about being innovative with the means at disposal, starting from a new dynamic public diplomacy.

Nepal can just simply learn from the Americans, whose nation masters the art of public diplomacy, promoting people-to-people exchanges and fresh initiatives like the Creators Mela that was recently organized by the American Embassy. We know that boosting and promoting the image of a country is inevitably linked to the way the country works and its achievements in terms of national development and good governance.

On this front it is easy to find a common consensus that so far the conditions leave much to be desired but still there are some unique points that Nepal must leverage.

You know what I am talking about: natural resources, hydropower, and a multicultural society in peace, democracy and human rights. Add to the mix, an increasingly dynamic youth force which is more and more comfortable to speak in English—the global language (clarification here: while it is true that there is an increasingly high number of youths leaving the country, those remaining are showing resilience, determination and creativity).

In short, even if there is a huge inequality gap among them, there is a crop of talented and dynamic young citizens who are proving their worth. Let’s recognize them.

Why Sagarmatha Sambaad?

All these factors just mentioned should prod the federal government, in a truly collaborative spirit, to work with provincial governments and local municipalities for hosting the first Sagarmatha Sambaad or dialogue. The first edition was supposed to be held in the first week of April 2020 but it got postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now we have a chance to think about the event anew, something that encompasses both challenges and achievements at national but also at global levels.

Such an event should be something truly distinctive and innovative, something able to involve and engage the people rather than the usual conference where potential investors and foreign dignitaries just fly in and then leave immediately after. It should be something intriguing that captures the imagination of the people of the country.

Certainly a mega event will have to be organized but before (importantly after that) local level discussions could be held in order to enable the citizens to share their ideas and opinions. In short, the proposition I am making here is not just to focus on promotional events that showcase the might of natural hydropower or the beauties of the country and its unique heritage.

Do not get me wrong. These elements will undoubtedly be part of the jamboree but the case I am trying to make is to really catch the opportunity to use the Sagarmatha Sambaad to be a real national dialogue with and by the people.

In this concept there would be local dialogues facilitated in partnership by civil society and municipalities where local stakeholders can share opinions, achievements and plans. Most importantly they would also delve into analyzing local problems and issues faced by local communities.

Such local dialogues would later culminate into the national mega event where some participants from these debates at grassroots levels could also be eligible to attend. The national dimension would strengthen and reinforce the international or global one.

In simple terms, the idea I am pitching is to turn an event to promote the brand “Nepal” and its economic potential into a national forum of dialogue and discussions at national but also regional and global levels.

The mega event should certainly attract foreign direct investments but should stand to be what it means to be, a national and international dialogue, a bridge between the South and the North of the planet.

That’s why the UN should be involved in order to truly make this event part of the global conversation, perhaps even as a forum to discuss the ambitious “Our Common Agenda” being promoted by the Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

While on the one hand, the Sagarmatha Sambaad should become an opportunity to involve people at grassroots levels, on the other hands, it would be a platform to sell Nepal’s potential, bringing not only more investments but also luring back the diaspora scattered around the world. Ultimately it should be a forum to talk about global development, including global financing to meet the increasingly more interrelated challenges of inequalities and climate change.  It would also bring forward a transformative agenda for gender empowerment and a better multilateral system, all issues that are at the core of the reform agenda being pushed by SG Guterres.

Why not daring something different, proving that Nepal can truly do something uniquely distinguished? A holistic event where people feel involved and where global leaders will think for a while before brushing aside their invitations.

This week global leaders are gathering in Paris to talk about a new global financing deal, an attempt at generating more resources for the global South, enabling them to deal with the daunting challenges they face. Why not having Sagarmatha Sambaad as an umbrella event not to unfold in one or two days but instead throughout six months or a whole year before culminating in a mega event?  Starting with the local discussions and debate, the Sambaad could become the sponsor and vehicle to support and promote an agglomeration of tons of micro initiatives.

The focus at regional and global is indispensable especially because the challenges Nepal is facing are not only simply national. They are shared by the whole world and require collective leadership. Among the unique features that Nepal offers, there are also “intangibles” that people easily discount and shrug off.

I am talking about democracy, human rights and rule of law based on rights rather than fear.

By simply assessing the rise of authoritarianism around the world, it is important that Sagarmatha Sambaad also discusses them, locally and nationally.

Local to global concerns

Local dialogues and local debates should offer people a chance to find ways to improve what is not working especially in the realm of governance, including discussions on climate resilience and adaptation. These dialogues could also become discussion fora to focus on localizing the SDGs.

Indeed, the Agenda 2030 should be a cornerstone of the two complementary dimensions of the Sagarmatha Sambaad—national and global. Less than seven years are left to reach the goals and the whole world is still trailing well behind the agreed targets and indicators. Policy experts could focus on analyzing what is needed in order to bring Nepal and the region and the world back on track.

Organizing a traditional Sambaad is something daunting but fully manageable. There will be some win-wins, some pledges for investments but then nothing more. Why not daring something different, proving that Nepal can truly do something uniquely distinguished? A holistic event where people feel involved and where global leaders will think for a while before brushing aside their invitations. Organizing something of such magnitude, ambition and scale will cost money, a lot of them.

Yet global institutions like the World Bank, bilateral and multilateral donors would happily chip in because the successful story that is called Nepal is, at least in part, their own success. Perhaps 2025 could be the ideal year to organize the Sagarmatha Sambaad, innovatively and creatively.

Sagarmatha Sambaad would attract the world’s attention. It would be much better than Davos.

The reason is simple: you can hardly find an inclusive platform that links people, attracts investors, policy makers and intellectuals, from the nation and from outside, creating at the same time a ground for stakeholders to showcase their achievements, their ideas and discussions. Nepal offers that platform.