Director, Bikalpa – an Alternative
Poverty, populism, illiberal policies and bad governance are the biggest problems of this country, which has hindered the growth of the nation and forced people to leave the country to seek opportunities elsewhere. Poverty is the biggest problem here and no single country on the planet has achieved prosperity without creating a conducive environment for trade and entrepreneurship. With the objective to solve these existing problems and create a discourse for a free and prosperous Nepal, Basanta Ahikari founded Bikalpa – an Alternative.
The story dates back to 2011 when Nepal was on the verge of making a new constitution. The individual and economic liberties of Nepali citizens were restricted by frequent political shutdowns. Students were deprived from going to schools and colleges, factories and workplaces were forcefully closed, private properties were vandalised and damaged, livelihood was badly affected, and the country was facing a state of anarchy.
When Adhikari returned from South Korea in 2011 after completing his Master’s degree from Sungkonghoe University, he was frustrated by the situation and decided to speak out against it. He started promoting ‘Gari Khana Deu’, a campaign initiated by Samriddhi Foundation in eastern Nepal that promotes three fundamental values of ‘Security of Life and Property’, ‘Rule of Law’, and ‘Freedom to Enterprises’. He came to the realisation that these values were crucial for human survival and economic growth of the country and felt someone like him needed to work for the livelihood and ease of doing business issues which ensure prosperity.
In July 2013, he left Biratnagar for Kathmandu to do an internship with Samriddhi Foundation and to learn about how think tanks work. There he met Robin Sitoula, Executive Director of Samriddhi Foundation, who inspired and encouraged him. “He also helped me to network with like-minded people and organisations which has been greatly helpful to me till date,” says Adhikari. In January 2014, he started Bikalpa from a one-room office in Biratnagar to work for the values of Freedom, Entrepreneurship and Public Policy that encompasses common people. There were many organisations who were working on many different issues in eastern Nepal, but hardly any of them were working to reduce poverty through entrepreneurship.
Bikalpa is doing policy research, advocacy and educational programmes to amplify its mission and bring change at the local level. As a grassroots organisation, it is engaging local and provincial government stakeholders, including business agencies and civil society members on the reform agendas in eastern Nepal. Throughout the year, Bikalpa organises different activities like entrepreneur talk programmes, training, workshops, camps, discussions and campaign activities to educate and engage young people on the values of freedom and entrepreneurship.
Bootcamp is one of the activities of Bikalpa’s educational strategy. Every year it directly reaches over 2,000 youths and works through them to amplify its mission. It creates compelling messages on public policy issues and reaches a large Nepali audience with their regular visual and media contents. Many of its videos have been very successful and have helped to create the needed discourse in the region. This also has helped to enhance Bikalpa’s visibility and reputation both inside the country and outside of it.
As per the Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom 2023, Nepal ranks 142 out of 184 countries, which suggests the country is not a good destination for doing business. “If Nepal wants to prosper economically, we need more economic freedom that ensures individual and economic growth of the country,” says Adhikari. Through the Campaign for Economic Freedom, Bikalpa identifies poverty as Nepal’s primary problem and envisions a prosperous Nepal through the policies of economic freedom. The campaign aims to change the conversation from politics to political economy and start discussions about the need to create a business-friendly environment within the country. To ensure economic freedom, the campaign advocates for four key areas – Freedom to Enterprise; Rule of Law and Security of Life and Property; Freedom of Choice, and Competition; and Accountable and Limited Government.
Starting or running a think tank in Nepal is not easy, says Adhikari. Being a local organisation and working with limited resources is always a challenge. Getting qualified human resources and retaining them is another big issue. Being an economically backward society, local fundraising and organisation sustainability always remain a challenge.