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Student’s Passion Encourages Economic Change in Nepal

February 2, 2012

By Rashad Mulla

Mason graduate student Arpita Nepal. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Forget Nepali politics. It’s all about economics for Mason graduate student Arpita Nepal as she fights to strengthen her native country’s fledgling democracy.

The Fulbright scholar who shares the same name as her native country is earning a master’s degree in economics at Mason while staying involved in a Nepal-based nonprofit organization, Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, which she explains is dedicated to individual freedom, economic prosperity and entrepreneurship.

Nepal cofounded the organization in 2008 to strengthen Nepali citizens’ independence following the 2006 democracy movement, which saw the country abolish its monarchy in favor of an elected, constitution-abiding governing body.

Arpita Nepal was concerned about the rejuvenated citizenry’s ability to create and maintain a rich economic climate.

“Everyone was discussing politics, not economics, so we wanted to bring economics to the forefront of discussion,” she said. “Those are the issues that affect poor countries like ours.”

With a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Kathmandu University and a master’s degree in economics from Tribhuvan University (both in Nepal), Nepal had the background to lead an organization like Samriddhi, which has adopted a three-tiered approach to advance its mission through research and publications, education and training, and public outreach and advocacy.

In October 2011, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation honored Samriddhi with the Templeton Freedom Award for a special achievement by a young institute. Samriddhi was singled out for its campaign called “Gari Khana Deu,” which Nepal translates to “Livable Nepal.” She says the campaign calls for ending impunity and establishing the rule of law, the security of life and property from threats such as extortion and party-based crime, and the freedom to pursue any profession.

Nepal is sandwiched between China and India. Image from CIA World Factbook

Nepal says: “By promoting individual freedom, we hope to achieve more in Nepal. Generally, we believe in the rule of law, individual freedom with responsibility, limited government and a free market. Individuals should be able to make decisions without fear and should be able to pursue professions without any negative consequences.”

The campaign has reached some 200,000 individuals and organizations that have signed on in support. Furthermore, the campaign itself is making a difference in everyday Nepali life, according to the Atlas Foundation, with media and politicians in Nepal discussing the campaign on a regular basis.

“This campaign is bigger than just the one organization,” Nepal says. “This is the people’s campaign. It has gained a lot of popular support in Nepal, and it is actually creating a conversation on how we can make sure our demands are met.”

While Livable Nepal is a huge undertaking, it is not Samriddhi’s only project. The organization is host to a school of entrepreneurship and economics and a school of public policy. Combined, these two schools have graduated more than 400 students in two years, at least 30 of whom have since started their own businesses.

Working with the Federation of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Nepal, Samriddhi will focus on economic growth at least until 2013, after which it may decide to shift its attention to other projects, Nepal says.

Nepal’s work is not done. Despite growing the organization from a handful of unpaid volunteers to a full-time staff of 18 with its own office, Nepal insists that her best work lies ahead of her.

“I’m a very passion-driven person, and I believe in the idea that the institute stands for,” she said. “I believe in freedom that comes with responsibility. As an institute, we believe that prosperity is possible, and all it takes is sound ideas. That is the message we want to translate into economic policy in Nepal.”

She adds, “My interest is in helping Nepal grow.”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences News.