The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted one of Nepal’s crucial aspects of development- international migration. We saw an influx of returnee migrants forced to find their way back home as a result of job losses in destination countries, and those able to remain abroad continue to face enormous socio- economic challenges. As these returnees wait in anticipation to get back to work, there are millions more hoping to escape the state of unemployment in Nepal. The struggle to obtain vaccine has been a major barrier for people wanting to migrate overseas and as popular destinations such as Australia continue to shut its border, young Nepalese are forced to reconsider their academic and professional plans.
While remittances make up for a big chunk of our national economy, it is an unstable source of income to be dependent on as a country. It is perhaps time for Nepal to consider a more sustainable alternative to development and realise that large scale outmigration does not solve our long-term economic problems. here is a need to explore avenues of opportunities across sectors that can create employment for young people, address the issue of brain drain and most importantly provide them with a choice to remain in Nepal and pursue their dreams.
My recent conversation with Karvika Thapa, CEO of Kimbu Tech; highlighted that Nepal’s Information Technology (IT)sector presents ample prospects of growth in terms of driving the economy, creating jobs and possibly reversing the current state of large scale out- migration. A seasoned IT professional with over fourteen years of experience in the American technology industry, Karvika has worked in capacity of a Sr. Technical Project Lead, Sr. Business Systems Analyst and System Support Specialist across education, healthcare and retail sectors with prominent companies such as Boston Scientific and Merkle. “Even with a promising career and decent lifestyle in the US, it consistently felt like something was missing. I wanted to give back to the community and, the vision to do well in my own country remained unfulfilled,” says Karvika reflecting on her decision to return back to Nepal.
With her expertise in and understanding of the global market, Karvika was quick to recognize opportunities that exist for a Nepali IT company to provide high quality services to international clients. Her company, Kimbu Tech is an international software company based in Nepal providing IT solutions and outsourcing services. Some of their top clients are currently based in the US and Israel. The decision to get back into the workforce and head the company was largely driven by her vision to create more spaces for Nepali women in the IT industry. She acknowledges that issues of skills shortage, lack of expertise and absence of women in tech stem from deep- rooted structural problems that need to be thoroughly addressed. Leading by example, Karvika works directly with educational institutions, developing curriculums to ensure that young graduates are better equipped to enter the job market. Determined to manifest her goal of engaging more women in tech and leadership positions, she successfully established an all- women support team at Kimbu Tech and continues to collaborate with companies to create opportunities for women to bridge the gap in a male- dominated industry.
An optimistic technology expert, Karvika sees huge potential in Nepal being the next technology hub in South Asia. The fact that companies like Kimbu Tech are prospering and gaining international clients is reflective of our capacity to deliver quality services. She says, “Nepal is undergoing a massive technology wave at the moment, and we must be able to harness it to our benefit. The next five years will be a tech boom for Nepal, and we must not miss the train.” There is also an expanding local market for Nepali tech companies to work across multiple sectors that require technological integration and innovation. Our delay with digital adaptation in comparison to other countries could be an opportunity for us to move to newer and better, locally made technology solutions. However, the path to great business and growth for Nepal’s technology companies is not without its obstacles.
One of the greatest challenges impeding the growth of Nepal’s tech industry is the lack of investment. Karvika notes, “Everyone wants a technology solution but due to Nepal’s unstable market, no one is ready to invest. Local clients are hesitant to provide adequate finance, or they demand an immediate return of investment which is not always possible.” In addition, the absence of a defined margin in the market has caused IT companies to provide services at a very low cost, thus preventing them from competing with other companies in the region. She also mentions, “There is currently a great demand for IT services and outsourcing from Nepal, but not enough people to provide professional services. High rates of youth out- migration has kept us from forming a skilled workforce. “
In terms of Nepal’s population, we are currently experiencing a ‘youth bulge’. Also known as a ‘demographic dividend’, it occurs when there is a shift in the nations age structure reflecting a growing working age population and low dependent population. This demographic trend is largely identified as a ‘window of opportunity’ to accelerate a country’s economic growth before transitioning into an ageing society. Making the most out of this requires adequate investment to upskill and educate our young population, formulate policies that boost employment and encourage entrepreneurship while creating an environment that is socially and economically conducive for people to stay, rather than migrate overseas. Reflecting on her own experience as a former migrant able to return to a promising career in Nepal, Karvika says “Nepal is an untapped land of opportunities. Given the implementation of good policies, I believe we can engage in world class jobs, earn good money and take our brands to the global market by being right here with our families. With a rapidly growing tech industry, we must capitalize on the skills, experience and knowledge that a lot of our migrants return with.” She believes there are enormous opportunities for those who specifically bring transferrable skills in problem solving, communication, administration and project management while also highlighting that non-IT qualifications such as in social sciences, highly complement the delivery of technical services.
Migration should be a choice, not a necessity as it is for many Nepali people today. Harnessing our potential to be the next IT destination and capitalizing on the current ‘population bonus’ could possibly steer Nepal on a more sustainable path of economic and social development. We need more success stories like Kimbu Tech, giving us the hope that Nepal is moving towards an incredibly prosperous future.
To all the young Nepali aspirants out there Karvika says, “Nepal is far from perfect in many ways, but imperfections provide spaces for new opportunities. It is the attitude to learn and commitment to work hard that makes each one of us successful, no matter where we are. “