Print Edition - 2018-02-19  |  SILVER LININGS

The innovator

- CHANDAN KUMAR MANDAL, Kathmandu

Feb 19, 2018-

While the country was witnessing death and destruction due to the armed conflict, a man returned to his roots with the aim of starting new things.

Mahabir Pun was educated at the University of Nebraska in the US. He came back to his birthplace Nangi, a scenic Himalayan village in Myagdi district, with a dream to connect rural Nepal through the internet. A man who never had a pencil or paper during his school days was working on a dream to train students and locals in rural areas in communication technology. 

He was working to fill the wide digital divide in rural Nepal and introduce a new model of education and economic development. Pun could have remained in the US and lived a comfortable life, or at least he could have moved to Kathmandu; but he decided to connect the dots to provide internet access using wireless technology.  

Pun’s work to bring transformation to rural Nepal started with four computers which he received as donations from Australia in 1997. With limited resources, he erected a wireless antenna on top of a tree which would receive and send signals to a server in Pokhara. 

Till then, no one had ever imagined that a school in his ancestral village could be connected to the internet through wireless technology, which was an advanced innovation at the time. Using electricity generated by a nearby hydropower station, which had also been established at Pun’s initiative, computer classes began in the local school. An ardent advocate of technology for transforming rural life, Pun established the Nepal Wireless Networking Project in 1997 to connect villages with wireless facility. The results of the effort started showing up with a surge in the literacy rate, teachers from different schools sharing lessons, locals using email to communicate with relatives working abroad and health workers connecting with doctors in Pokhara. Pun’s work in remote Nepal has earned him global recognition. For his tireless efforts to bring transformation in Himalayan villages, he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2007 under the community leadership category. He was also chosen as an Ashoka Fellow in 2002 by the Ashoka Foundation, US and recognized with the Overall Social Innovations Award in 2004 by Global Ideas Bank based in the UK. Pun, who believes that digital connectivity is more a right than a luxury, once wrote, “We need to start building innovation centres in Nepal in order to develop a better environment for retaining our talented people and nurturing their talents for the economic development of Nepal.” The soft-spoken man with tough determination has already proven his commitment to transforming rural Nepal with his own unique, simple, cheap and highly effective model of development, making him the undeniable ambassador of rural development in the country. 

— By Chandan Kumar Mandal

Published: 19-02-2018 12:31

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