Youth-focussed panel discusses social media, entrepreneurship and freedom of speech

- Timothy Aryal, Kathmandu

Feb 18, 2019-

At the first edition of the ongoing Kantipur Conclave at the Hyatt Regency in Kathmandu on Sunday, a youth-focussed panel discussion saw conversation on a wide range of issues and ideas, including homecoming, entrepreneurship, social media and freedom of speech.

The ‘Youth for Nepal’ panel discussion, moderated by the Post’s opinion editor Leena Dahal, featured four noted young Nepalis active across various  segments of society—Sumnima Udas, a former CNN journalist and founder and director of the Museum of Buddhism and Sacred Spaces in Lumbini; Lex Limbu, blogger and founder of Tracing Nepal; Sixit Bhatta, co-founder and CEO of ride-sharing platform Tootle; and Miss Nepal World 2018 Shrinkhala Khatiwada.

After a short introduction of themselves, where the panelists shared the work they’ve been doing in Nepal, the conversation touched upon a number of different areas relevant to the portfolios of the conversationalists.

In her introduction, Udas spoke about how Nepali attitudes were changing, even if we might not have progressed in terms of GDP and material wealth, “we have progressed so much in terms of how inclusive we have become—how open a society we’ve become and how compassionate,” said Udas, who covered the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal for CNN and is now back in the country, working on her museum.

“It was great to see youths here using their imaginative power to help out in terms of crisis. That was really inspiring,” she said. “Having said that, there are many things we need to do. There are opportunities here, you just need to find them.”

Bhatta, co-founder of Tootle, described just how he had found one of those opportunities that Udas seemed to be speaking of even as he characterised his entrepreneurship in terms of personal expression. “While entrepreneurship is basically about finding a solution to a problem, it also contributes to the development of a country,” said Bhatta. “Entrepreneurship, I’d say, is like any kind of art, like poetry and music.”

Khatiwada, too, expressed delight that the forum had given people hope. “I also live by the same motto this forum has: If we can dream it, we can do it,” she said. However, Khatiwada expressed concern about keeping that optimism going. “We just need more positive energy,” said the architecture graduate who recently won hearts for her participation at the Miss World pageant.

Khatiwada argued for caution in the face of blindly pursuing progress and modernity. “That we love modern architecture should not mean that we should compete with modernist cities like Dubai,” she said. “We need to look at our ancient architecture, preserve them and cash in on them.”

Guided along by an assertive Dahal who asked insightful questions and kept the pace of the discussion brisk, the panelists also spoke about social participation and how young Nepalis are taking up a variety of innovative ideas and creative professions.

Lex Limbu, a prolific blogger who lives in the UK, said that engaging with the country has dispelled any romantic notions he might have previously held about Nepal. “I started blogging to get closer to Nepali arts, culture and cinema,” he said. “Now I realise that it’s where I feel the most alive.”

Freedom of expression was one area that Limbu, along with the other panelists, stressed as critical for a truly progressive society. Bhatta pointed to the growing number of young people doing stand-up comedy, blogging and vlogging as emblematic of a growing creative spirit.

While Limbu spoke about the role of social media in fostering a more open and tolerant Nepali society that recognises all of its citizens as equals, the panelists were circumspect about social media as a whole. Khatiwada especially spoke about the need to “govern” social media so as to combat cyber-bullying, hate-mongering and the proliferation of fake news.

Bhatta said that he’s optimistic about the role of youths in leading the country in a positive direction. “We need to share what Sumnima, Lex and Shrinkhala have done. What they’ve done is a mark of progress,” he said. He cautioned against nationalism and asked that Nepalis concern themselves more with things that actually matter, like pollution. “We should contrast the number of people who wear masks with those who wear dhaka topi. Are we aware about the air we breathe? Rather than taking an ultra-nationalist line, we should be concerned about pertinent issues of the world today, like air pollution and climate change,” he said.

As a number of the panelists reside abroad or have returned from foreign lands, one topic of discussion was naturally homecoming and the diaspora’s relations with the home country. Limbu especially was adamant on a realist approach to returning to Nepal. Those who return should not think of just finding a job, because they’d be taking a job away from someone else who could potentially do it, said Limbu. “Anyone who returns to Nepal should think about being a creator,” he said.

Although there wasn’t much discussion among the panelists themselves, each spoke with candour and enthusiasm about the issues that they believed in.

The discussion ended with questions from the audience and via social media as the panel was live-streamed. One of the questions was about how Nepal could better engage with labourers who go to the Middle East and then return with skills.

Khatiwada answered that Nepal needs that kind of skilled manpower and that we should learn to make use of their talent. “All the hard work that our labourers do abroad can be done in Nepal too,” she said, suggesting that perhaps these workers could be welcomed to train others and produce more skilled manpower within the country itself.

Published: 18-02-2019 10:33

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