What should Nepal prioritize during the upcoming investment summit?

Will the upcoming Investment Summit also be centered on how foreign investments can help achieve the SDGs? What should Nepal do?

Simone Galimberti

  • Read Time 5 min.

There is no doubt that foreign investments are essential for a country like Nepal. That’s why it is a very good thing that the top echelons of the policy making are gearing up for the organizing the third Nepal Investment Summit in April this year.

Positively like for the second edition held in 2019, the Federal Government is also trying to fix some holes on how the country can do a much better job at attracting foreign investors, proposing new amendments to a series of policies and legislations that are in place but are not fit for an investors friendly climate.

Yet if the economy remains the top priority and the country is in dare need of portraying itself as a top destination for global businesses, then I am wondering if an equal amount of energy should be also put into organizing an international conclave focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable development.

After all, this week the capital of the nation has the privilege of hosting the World Social Forum, a great showcase to demonstrate both the advances undertaken by Nepal in the last 15 years of national development.

It is also an important opportunity to discuss the remaining challenges that are still an obstacle to create an inclusive society where no one is by default of her gender, caste or social economy conditions, bound to be left behind and ultimately fail.

So while the government deserves a big endorsement for putting a big effort in preparing the 3rd Investment Summit, this column should be seen as a gentle nudging for the Feds to also bring the SDGs back at the center of policy making.

As we will see, there are many ways of doing so.

As I write preparations are going on at United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UN-ESCAP) for the upcoming 11th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development that will be held in Bangkok between the 20-23 of February.

This is annual premier event regarding the implementation of the SDGs that as we know, are part of the Agenda 2030.

This big event normally is preceded by the launch of the annual Asia and the Pacific SDGs Progress Report 2024 that is schedule for this week, on February 15.

While these events are traditionally held in the Thai capital where UN-ESCAP is headquartered, why could not we imagine the 13th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development happening in Kathmandu?

It would be something very intriguing for the UN officials to discuss, the possibility to move away from their regional hub and organize the forum in the capital of an emerging nation like Nepal.

With the right preparation, I do not really think that this idea is logistically nor financially impossible to implement.

It can be a win-win for both the Federal Government and the UN System to showcase that what, and we can say it now, a nation that used to be a least developing country, is now instead ambition and confident enough to host a big event focused on the Agenda 2030.

Moreover, let’s not forget that Agenda 2030 with all interlinkages that cover the whole spectrum of the policy making, includes, by the way, also investments and industrialization and responsible consumption.

These dimensions are often neglected and this is a problem.

Due to a silos approach that still prevails with rigid segmentations it is as if the investments that the country needs so desperately are not supposed to be green, sustainable and respectful of human rights.

Indeed, there is no much discussion on the potential of SDG 8 focused on promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

Nor the ongoing drive to develop the hydropower sector in the country is seen through the prisms of SDG 7 that is centered on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable (italics is mine) modern energy for all.

Even though policy makers and their international financial backers pretend to ignore the problems associated with top-down approaches used to develop new dams and power stations that do not respect the rights of local indigenous inhabitants, we all know that respecting human rights in the business sector is paramount.

The fact that the Government very recently approved its first ever National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights is very important but, as we know, not many are confident on its implementation.

In addition, last August the UN Country System in Nepal and the Government organized what was supposed to be a very important workshop, the SDG Acceleration Visioning workshop, that, unfortunately, went almost completely unnoticed.

As per an article in The Kathmandu Post reporting “the National Vision for SDG Acceleration will be prepared through a consultative process based on the outline coming from this workshop will be presented to the global leaders as Nepal’s commitment at the 2023 SDG Summit being held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 18”.

Personally, I am not aware of any follow up but if there was one, it probably might not have generated the attention it deserved nor was, frankly speaking, very inclusive in terms of enabling a variety of stakeholders to attend.

Moreover, who really knows which are the commitments taken by Nepal during the 2023 SDG Summit?

I am afraid that shortsightedness rather than long term planning was the goal of that August workshop.

The lack of a serious, consistent conversation on the Agenda 2030 is another reason why the Federal Government, together with the provincial governments and local municipalities, should talk and act big on the Agenda 2030.

The whole 16th Periodic Plan that Nepal is still drafting, should be centered around leveraging the SDGs.

The drafting process itself should be really inclusive and participatory and few interactions, here and there, would not make it so.

If the idea of bringing to Kathmandu the UN-ESCAP summit is too complex, then the Nepal could organize its own international event on the SDGs, perhaps focused on localizing the SDGs.

Localizing means enabling local stakeholders, not only to be part of the discussion, but also have a role, a voice in the decision making.

And with local stakeholders, to be crystal clear, I am not referring only to mayors and provincial officials but also to the people that must be have a powerful role to play.

Such international conference could be preceded by an inclusive national conversation on the implementation of the SDGs, basically a follow up to the not so inclusive workshop held last August.

There is another reason why the Federal Government should be interested in forging ahead a sustainable social and economic agenda.

In 2021 the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, FNCCI, had come up with a very ambitious National Economic Transformation Plan 2030, a bold attempt at mainstreaming and harnessing the Agenda 2030 into national economic planning process.

Does anyone know what happened to the implementation of this document?

Is there anyone ready to bet if a discussion about it would be included in the upcoming Investment Summit?

Talking, discussing the SDGs is not just a developmental gimmick, rather the contrary.

A prosperous and inclusive nation can only happen if investments are not just “coldly” seen as big dollars and big assets coming into the country but rather as opportunity to truly transform, equitably, Nepal.

That’s why we should never be tired to discuss the SDGs.

Simone Galimberti writes about development, human rights and youths. Opinions are personal.