Friday, 6 May 2016

The case of sense of entitlement

This writing offers my personal experience gained from involvement in various organisations having membership base of people of Nepali origin within Nepal and overseas. I intend to share some learnings gained from observation of a few interesting common patterns of individual and organisational behaviour. My hope is that this greatly generalised personal opinion would be of resemblance with and interest to the readers.

Human behaviour is an expression of a combination of sets of belief and values. Within the Nepali psyche the “sense of entitlement” seem to run deep. That attribute is the focus of this writing.

Oxford Dictionary defines entitlement as “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment”.

Pay a close attention and you will notice the sense of entitlement in action almost at a daily level. The reason for such behaviour seem to mostly reside at a subconscious level. Its expression could be on a spectrum from one end of being a benign harmless action to the other end of being an extremely pathological and recurring behavioral pattern.  

One example of sense of entitlement in an organisational context is the unrealistic expectation and passive aggressiveness towards the leaders of an organisation from its members. The leaders of any organisation are people the members of that organisation have agreed to represent themselves. In the case of community organisations, these are people brave enough to come forward and contribute without any material return.

I want my rights but can’t be bothered about responsibilities. How bizarre?
A leader of any organisation has a set of duty and obligations that s/he must fulfill. There is no dispute about this. However, members of an organisation have an important role to hold their leaders accountable. When members behave as if the leaders have to do almost everything by themselves for the organisation and for the members, this is an unrealistic expectation and a sad case of sense of entitlement.

We see this behaviour so often expressed from the general public of Nepal towards the political leaders. The general public’s role does not end after voting in an election. As a matter of fact, it is only a beginning. The leaders need to be time and again reminded about their promise to the voters. Of course in a civilised manner. Holding our leaders accountable is a fundamental responsibility of a voter. This applies to community organisations too or as a matter of fact it is applicable to any organisation.

If we are not willing to assume our fundamental role such as holding our leaders accountable (I repeat here, in a civilised manner) and take responsibility, then how fair is it for us to keep seeking our rights? After a while, lack of willingness to take responsibility but to keep seeking rights ends up becoming a mere complaining, whinging and moaning exercise without any outcome. We so often see frustration out of this, don’t we?

Let us take an example of a project or event being organised by a community organisation. As far as I am concerned, a project is delivered better when it is a collaboration of the leaders and members of an organisation. It is fair for us to expect the leaders of the organisation to lead, however, each of us have a role in successful delivery of any project. If one is unable to contribute meaningfully, refraining from unreasonable criticism and rather providing encouragement, inspiration and motivation will go a long way. Any criticism is good criticism only if is constructive. No one needs those discouragements and negative vibe that bring everybody down. Especially in a volunteer organisation, this kind of passive aggressive behaviour should not have any space or make any sense at all.

Next time when you are about to complain, think of this - if you are not willing to do a job better than the person you are about to criticize, you have got no right to speak. They say, “action speaks louder than words”. Talking is easy; working is hard. Anyone can speak; only a few deliver.

Only talking, not doing anything by yourself yet expecting others to do it for you is an extreme form of sense of entitlement. It is astounding how often this occurs.

I am busy. Really?
“I’m busy” must be the reason number one whenever there is a proposal to do something. This reason comes in play almost always when we set ourselves to do something outside our own personal life.  Well, really? How busy are we? As they say, it is all matter of priority, isn’t it?

How do we justify ourselves making excuse of being busy yet expect others to take time out of their personal life to do things? This is simply bizzare. Take a note and you’ll realise how often this happens.

Closely associated with being busy is the practice of being inconsiderate. This is the behaviour that implies, “I am busy but you do it. I am not going to compromise my comfort zone; no matter how difficult is it for you, you do it”.

It seems in this day and age of instant message and fast food, we have gotten used to choosing easy in everything. Why can’t we endure a slight discomfort in our daily life for the sake of greater good? I’m not implying here for people to give up anything. It is only a matter of adjusting and managing time. For example, you might have to delay your party by an hour or you might have to travel an extra few distance to attend a function. Are those too hard to do?

So, where to from here?
I myself might be exhibiting this trait of sense of entitlement and do not wish to claim immunity. My thinking is also after all part of the wider Nepali psyche. I am a product and contributor to that collective thinking. However, correcting it has been an ongoing effort and self correction exercise.

Next time you are about to exhibit sense of entitlement how about taking a micro puase and asking yourself the following questions -

  1. What solution can I offer apart from pointing out to problems? Am I part of the solution or problem?
  2. What have I done other than simply criticising?
  3. Am I merely whinging and moaning? Is that how I want to be seen and taken as?
  4. Could there be other ways of analysing matters other than a simplistic worldview of the dichotomy of easy and difficult?
  5. Last but not least, as yourself, "if someone said to me what I am about to say, how would I react to it"?

May the force be with you to find the remedy for the sense of entitlement. Good luck.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The tale of two communities of the Nepali diaspora in New Zealand

[Published in the Namaste newsletter of the Nepal New Zealand Friendship Society Canterbury Inc, Christchurch, April 2016]

When I moved to New Zealand ten years ago, the initial days were very much similar and to that of everyone else’s who move to a new country from Nepal in search of a better life.

After seeing no sign of improvements in the then conflicting and sad state of affairs, I left Nepal in September 2010 when the atrocities from both, state and rebel, in the name of People’s War were at one of its peaks.

On arrival at Auckland, it was a humble beginning. I found myself doing those odd minimum pay jobs in call centre, marketing and fast food chains. It continued for almost one year since I arrived in New Zealand. Without going into graphic details, I can testify that during those times I went through hell of being undermined, undervalued and degraded. Those were one of such times which I wish I could forget.

Annoyed that my existing Master’s degree from Europe was not given a toss by the prospective Kiwi employers, I refused to give up my quest to find a footing into a respectable (from my own standard) professional industry. After about a year of arrival to New Zealand, I decided to enrol in another Master's degree at the University of Auckland. The gruelling two and half years of University study was no fun at all. Student life was tough. As a student one’s status is that of a bottom feeder in the economic ecosystem. That is tough stuff but it is what it is. That is how the student life is.

Things started to get better towards the end of my student life in Auckland when I found a part time role in my area of expertise while I was still at the University. A successive role at the local government followed where I continue to  practice policy planning. The role allows me to satisfy my intellectual quest. It also makes it possible to survive and raise a family in this expensive place. I have no regrets; no complains. I could not ask for more.

The salient features of the dream chasers
Recently, since a few years, a significant number of students have started to come to New Zealand from Nepal in the quest of getting settled in New Zealand. Student status is only a means for the majority of those students to obtain a PR.

With this influx of new members of the community, Nepali diaspora population in New Zealand is going through a rapid change that in the scale of the number of existing previous total Nepali population until about 3 years ago is unprecedented. It seems, official statistics is ever so illusive. A good guess is that Nepali population has at least doubled to 5,000 members within the last two to three years period.

The thinking and behaviour of the newly arrived students are astoundingly contrasting in terms of their ability and expectations. Most new-comer students are either in their late teens or early twenties pursuing studies in polytechnics and short-term courses, frankly speaking in faculties that doesn’t sound like having much scope of employment. Those coming for a University degree are rare in number.  Most have no work experience. Nepali work experience is bluntly disregarded by Kiwi employers any way. Majority of the students have arrived here soon after their +2 or a Bachelors degree.

Nepali education institutions and society teaches our young ones almost none of the life skills that are so vital for survival at situation of crisis. Ours is more a culture of dependency and attachment. Dependency on parents until one reaches old age is the usual norm. For example, most of our teenagers would continue to look towards their parents even for small amounts of pocket money and almost none would have basic skills such as cooking food.

Attachment in the name of family bond and culture, unfortunately, most of the times hinders one’s otherwise opportunity of independence and quest for freedom to lead life by oneself. The challenge to face what it means to be like taking self-responsibility is never offered. The opportunity for learnings in life that could have been installed and developed by leading a young life by oneself is seldom presented.

These are highly judgemental statements and they are my personal thoughts grossly generalised without any even distant resemblance to a true case.

They may not have even basic skills and tools to survive but our students come with big dreams. For our students, these big dreams without any leg to stand on soon turn into unrealistic expectations buried under huge financial burden and psychological trauma involved with paying exorbitant school fees, high living cost and survival in a foreign land. For majority, coming to a foreign country has been possible only via a loan at very high interest rate obtained either through putting collateral of one’s parents’ savings or only by risking losing one’s generational inheritance. There is a huge financial gamble there and a strong element of potential conflict.

The unfortunate case of  passive aggressiveness
It seems a few (let’s be absolutely clear here, not many but only a few) of our students seem to turn towards people like me who have lived here for a while as a target for release of this stress. I am not sure if this is deliberate or naivety but the expression of passive aggressiveness is hard to ignore.

I have all the respect to their courage and readiness to do hard work but attitude of some of the students are hardly acceptable by any standard. The sense of entitlement is astoundingly bizarre. For example, the expectation (almost coercion to a certain degree)  that community organisations and residents (who have well settled here) must look after them. “nagari huncha?; naheri huncha?” We need to be very clear here that it is a personal decision that everyone makes when one leaves home country. The reality is that almost all the students who arrive in New Zealand for further studies are all adults of 18+ years, the age that is considered fit to live by oneself according to the international norms.

My observation tells me that it is the lack of self-responsibility that is the root cause of such passive aggressiveness. We make decision for ourselves and we take responsibility for the outcome - better as well as worse. Turning into someone who has nothing to do with our decision is literally, for me, madness.

Where to from here?
Having said all these, one thing is clear as sunshine. The dynamics of Nepali population in New Zealand has changed and is evolving faster. The scale and shift in dynamics is unpredictable. There is a huge gap between the newly arrived members and those previously arrived and settled well. Continuation of this divide cannot be healthy.

Something has to be done to address this new and unusual situation.

I have personally been involved in a few albeit very small initiatives over a year or so to address the above-mentioned gap. I have no shame to admit that, unfortunately, most of those initiatives I have been engaged were limited to talking more with very limited substance or real relief to the needy new-comers.

In whatever time I manage to find after my own full time job, family affairs and other community work, I do think of the newly arrived students. I am actually very worried about them and the trouble they are having to go through. Up to the extent that I find it annoying and I have spent sleepless nights thinking of what could be done to provide some respite.

Those who know me might recall that in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, despite repeated request to be involved in generating fund for organisations based in Nepal, I refrained from doing so. I rather decided to focus on providing respite to the affected students based in New Zealand with a focus on those based in Auckland. I could not do everything for everybody but I am aware that I did something under the given circumstances.

Purely based on my personal observation I consider the points below as some initiatives that may be helpful to bridge the gap between the new and the old as well as to provide some respite to the newly arrived members of our community.

  1. A mechanism of conversation between the new and the old is imperative. We need to start to talk to each other. Dialogue is the only available means to find a solution to a dispute or misunderstanding between two sides. The old members of the community have to be accommodative of the newer ones. The newer ones would have to be less aggressive in their approach and start conversation in a more constructive tone. Aggressiveness breeds resistance; ignorance widens division. At the end of the day united, we as a Nepali community stand here in New Zealand. Divided, we fall at our own peril.

  1. The existing community organisations in the various geographical locations were established for a purpose that was fit when they came into effect about 10 or so years ago. Their purpose mainly revolved around keeping Nepali culture alive in foreign land and a means to gather to celebrate cultural festivals and to organise social events. Time has moved on. We are in a new demographic dynamics now as described above. The time has arrived for the leaders to rethink the purpose of their community organisations. For me, the new developments are indicating that the organisations have to now gradually  transform themselves to accommodate and address issues faced by our new members of the community. Or else we will face complex problems down the line of either having multiple organisations with competitive (and maybe conflicting too)  interests. Worst case, young people having energy and creativity will drive newer organisations with passion and vigour. While the old ones might risk disappearing into oblivion. Adaptation and survival of the fittest are proven old lessons from the nature. It applies to organisational behaviour too.

  1. We have to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. Rather, we as a Nepali diaspora, need to acknowledge that there are issues at both ends (with the new as well as the old) related to the newly arrived students. Once we acknowledge, it will be easier for us to start seeking solutions rather than getting bogged down with replaying the problems again and again in our head.

All of us who have arrived in New Zealand from Nepal have taken a big risk and gambled with our lives. Not all of us are going to be equally lucky. That is the reality of life. However, my own experience of a decade  and observation tells me that if you stick to the right side of life and keep working hard, the system here will rewards you with a satisfactory outcome. Try to be oversmart and take the path of short-cut, you risk being deported back to where you came from.

Progress in a migrant’s life is a function of many complex factors and events. That is true anywhere for anyone. Let us have no doubt that we have to build our own lives. No one is going to do it for us. It does not work that way. Someone may be your guide or mentor but he or she cannot and should not do your work for you. It is your own responsibility to construct your life, one piece at a time. Slowly and gradually, if you persevere and remain positive, you will get there.

Think of this. The first week you arrived in New Zealand and now. How is the difference? Things are improving, aren’t they? They will. They have to. As long as you want so. Now, if you don’t want it, that is a completely different matter.   

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Want to see Kathmandu transformed? Land-use zoning for the win!

Raj Maharjan and Ujwal Thapa

[Link to a version of this published in My Republica on 7 March 2016 -]

It is the year 2030 AD in the future. As me and my partner arrive at the Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport after a decade abroad, we can’t help but be amazed when we peeked through the airplane window as we landed. Kathmandu which only a decade ago was a sore in the eye from the air seems to have transformed into a well-planned, organised and beautiful city. We soon exit the airport terminal through a breathtaking mural gateway depicting the cultural diversity of Nepal. The plethora of random shops from the 1990s in the vicinity of the airport had long been replaced with recreational parks, children’s playground, airport accommodation and other medium and small commercial outlets catering for the needs of national and international passengers as well as local residents.

The land use zoning laws of the "Vision Kathmandu 2016 Act", promulgated by the local government of the Greater Kathmandu Region has finally prevailed over the haphazard chaos and anarchy of the decades before. The international airport area was now designated as a strategic zone whereas the outlining Baneshwor area had been turned into a principal residential zone. As we move towards the Pashupatinath temple, we enter the cultural zone. Because of its World Heritage designation by the UN, the haphazard houses built to cater its devotees in the early 2000s have long since been replaced with systemized accommodation. There are now commercial outlet buildings that not only match but also enhance the unique architecture of the holy Pashupatinath temple and its spiritual essence. Building owners around this Pashupati Heritage zone received financial and technical incentives from the local government to rebuild and maintain the heritage outlook of their properties creating a win-win situation for the city and its residents.

As our electric taxi cruises alongside the holy Bagmati river, designated the nature zone, we couldn’t help notice that the banks of the river is now filled with recreational parks to cater to the young and old alike. Children parks with swings and other play equipments alternate with sport parks where we see  multitudes of teenagers with cricket bats, footballs and skate boards. Flower gardens with varieties from all over Nepal are favourite hang-outs for the senior citizens and young lovers passing time carefree. I couldn’t help notice that the street signs are written in 4 languages - Nepali, Newari, English and Mandarin. There are caf├ęs dotted along the river where people are enjoying the sound of flowing water and the scenery of the holy shrines in the background in the Pashupati area of Bagmati river.

Soon we enter in another area designated the strategic zone - the Singhadurbar complex where the country’s parliament and government building as well as judiciary complexes are located. The whole of Singhadurbar complex, adjoining buildings occupied by ministries and lands have been restored to look like the cultural mosaic the country represents. As we passed through them, we saw how rich the diversity of this country truly is!

Soon we arrived at the commercial zone, the business hub of Kathmandu, where the booming financial institutions are based. The buildings in the business district are compact and tall for efficiency of space. An architectural wonder-monument inspired by Dharahara now aptly called Dharahara 2.0, aka D2 among the youths, stands tall and proud. This tallest built structure in Nepal pays homage to the victims and survivors of the terrible 2015 AD earthquake. D2 is the main landmark and point of reference for the new-comers to the city. High rise buildings and towers like this as well as every other structures are now earthquake resilient. Older buildings have been retrofitted to strengthen them and make them earthquake resistant. Earthquake resilience is now a non-negotiable part of any new construction or old buildings, not only in Kathmandu but also in the rest of the country. The Universities in Kathmandu have vibrant research going on to develop cutting-edge technologies in earthquake resilience and architecture that blend in well with our heritage.

As we came to the posh Basantapur area heritage zone we could not help but step out to take a break. We were amazed that all the new buildings with centuries old heritage architecture have long replaced the obnoxious commercialisation and haphazard concrete boxes built in the early 21st century. The roads were completely vehicle free during the days. The private buildings are strictly required to synergize with the heritage monuments of the Basantapur Durbar Square that have the UNESCO World Heritage Sites status. This was made possible through declaring the area a heritage zone achieved after a series of delicate negotiations between the local government leaders and the property owners. The essence of a deeply spiritual, harmonious and entrepreneurial lives of craftsmen and traders of centuries old, now relives in greater Basantapur area where it has become a center of “Wanderlust” where anyone who wants to get lost in time travel can do so for days. An entire kilometer radius of surrounding area has been transformed into a open heritage museum. This whole restoration has ensured it as one of the most expensive real estate in South Asia.

As we near the organic farm, we had invested in while living overseas, in Chandragiri we pass through Kalanki area which a decade ago was infamous for its obnoxious dusty and cranky environment. We were elated to find it transformed into a mixed purpose zone, a hybrid for residential and commercial activities. Here, buildings on the road frontage have commercial use on the ground and first floor. Floors above are used for residential purpose. People in this area are happy that they get to live, work and play within a close distance. The area has higher density of buildings that are either attached or close to each other. To compensate for this high density, large parks dotted across the area to serve as "lungs of the city”.

In 2030, much of the Megacity Kathmandu’s 5 million-plus residents live in the residential zones on the outskirts of the old Ring Road around the valley. The residents are proud that their smart domestic alternate energy grids contribute their surplus energy to the national grid. Thanks to the citizens themselves, Kathmandu had transformed into an energy-plus city. I still recall the dark ages of Kathmandu when it was without 14 hours electricity a decade and half ago. A new Ring Road connects the newly developed residential areas at the foothills of the mountains with the older residential areas and business hubs located within the old Ring Road. I inquired with my taxi driver and found out that the new areas and the city hub as well as older parts of the city are well-connected with reliable public transports that runs on clean energy and is run under collaboration between the city and local social entrepreneurs through public-private partnership (PPP), which has greatly reduced resident’s reliance on private vehicles. The driver also informed me that all of the roads outside the new Ring Road and most within now have bicycle tracks. He highly recommended me to bike along the green paved cycle tracks.

The Greater Kathmandu Metro System (GKMS), the pride and joy of public transport of Kathmandu, is in its final stage of completion. Part of it is already under operation. GKMS is an exemplary PPP project funded partly by locals and expatriate Nepalis. It is a symbol of the contemporary progress this city has achieved in the recent times and the potential of its future. The high-speed metro is a hybrid of sub-ground and over the ground tracks owing to the geological complexity of the valley. GKMS not only connects major business hubs and the residential areas within the valley but also spreads across the regions outside Greater Kathmandu Region. A plan to extend to Hetauda and beyond the borders of Chitwan National Park connecting GKMS and national railway grid with the international railway lines in China and India connecting further to the Far-East and West Asia.

We arrive in the outskirts of Chandragiri. All of Kathmandu’s surrounding 2,000+ meters mountains (residents call them hills here) are off limits to development as they have long been a beautiful national park encircling all of Kathmandu valley from where you can see the panorama of the breathtaking himalayas. Hence any buildings located at the foothills of the surrounding mountains have to ensure that they are canvassed with greenery.

As our taxi finally stops at our farm lush with greenery, I eagerly step out to find the fresh breeze of Kathmandu greeting me. I must say I look forward to staying for a long time in my wonder-land, my beloved Kathmandu. Hmm… Maybe we should seriously consider migrating back to Kathmandu.

Raj Maharjan is a Planner practising policy planning in New Zealand and Ujwal Thapa is the President of BibekSheel Nepali Party in Nepal. Both of them dream of building Kathmandu as the most beautiful city of the world, within their lifetime. Contact them at