Mon, April 22, 2024

“It takes courage to leave the security of a stable job and venture into the unknown’

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Khem Lakai

Founder CEO, Global Academy of Tourism and Hospitality Education

Khem Lakai’s roots trace back to Shailung, Dolakha where he was born. At the age of 12, he came to Kathmandu to pursue his father’s dream and completed his high school education in a government-run school before earning his commerce degree from Nepal Commerce Campus in Min Bhawan. Like many Nepali youths, he had aspirations of furthering his education while simultaneously embarking on a career. Lakai began his professional journey at Soaltee Oberoi in Kathmandu which then was a proud member of the Leading Hotels of the World. Lakai says he embraced each day as an opportunity to learn and grow, and his dedication and hard work paid off as he emerged as the top student among the inaugural batch of 15 apprentices at Soaltee Oberoi earning an immediate job offer. Despite this achievement, he left the job in pursuit of better opportunities abroad only to realise that he still yearned to learn more, therefore he returned. He recalls that he was fortunate that he was able to manage a successful restaurant in Kathmandu while pursuing a diploma in Human Resources Development at the Singapore Hotel Association, SHATEC, which was supported by the UNDP and Hotel Association Nepal. He was then granted a partial scholarship to study hospitality at the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality now known as the part of EHL - Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne which is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading hospitality schools in Switzerland. That marked the true turning point in his career. “I have always believed in lifelong learning therefore I have seized opportunities to learn, be it a professional language course in Canada, or Training and Assessment Certificate IV course in TAFE NSW Australia,” Lakai shares, adding that this also allowed him to travel and build insightful experiences. Lakai has varied interests and never misses the opportunity to learn and grow and an individual and a professional. This saw him aligned with prestigious organisations like International Hotel Schools Association PATA Foundation and the Emerging Nepali Leaders programme of the Leadership Academy in association with University of San Diego, among others. GATES is todays recognized as premier education institution and Lakai stands at its helm with a sense of deep passion and purpose to create professionals who will build meaningful careers prioritizing personal growth over mere achievement. In this issue of Business 360, we spoke to Lakai about the five things that have impacted his life and work.

 Forging the path for GATE to become a trailblazer

After spending nearly seven years abroad, I realised that Nepal had tremendous potential in the service industry and I felt my 15 years of international experience and education made me well-suited for hospitality education and vocational training. I aspired to provide world-class hospitality training and education in Nepal and thus established the Global Academy of Tourism and Hospitality Education (GATE) in Kathmandu, together with my family. GATE was founded with the goal of providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the hospitality industry both domestically and internationally. My experience and expertise allowed GATE to offer an unparalleled educational experience in Nepal’s hospitality industry, and it quickly became one of the leading institutions of its kind in the country. In 2011, GATE received the prestigious World Hospitality Award in Paris for its innovative training programme which was a significant achievement for us. This recognition further solidified my dedication and passion for providing top-notch hospitality education and training in Nepal. The award was a testament to GATE’s commitment to excellence and innovation in the field of hospitality education, and it served as an inspiration for the academy to continue to strive for greatness in the years to come. GATE has continued to expand and excel over the years, and it is now recognised as the first Nepali hospitality academy to educate students from over 19 different nations. In 2015, GATE was once again recognised at the World Hospitality Awards in Paris, where it was named a finalist for Best Professional Success. The academy has become a trailblazer and trendsetter in Nepal, offering world-renowned culinary qualifications such as the Commercial Cookery programme by TAFE NSW Australia and flagship courses in affiliation with the Swiss Hotel Association and EHL Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne, Switzerland. I strongly believe in the value of apprenticeships as a way for students to gain professional experience without incurring the high costs of traditional education. That’s why we have partnered with Kathmandu University to launch the first-ever Bachelor’s in Professional Hospitality programme based on apprenticeships. This innovative initiative allows students to learn and earn at the same time, which has been highly praised, especially by the hospitality industry in Nepal, where there is a shortage of qualified professionals.

Obstacles are not excuses but opportunities to learn and grow

The decision to open GATE could be termed the best decision of my life. Despite some initial worries about low enrollment, the academy quickly grew in popularity, with 14 students in the first intake and 52 in the second and I have never looked back since. Today, over 5,000 students including international students from 19 countries have graduated from GATE who are making a difference in Nepal and abroad. I am proud that my vision and dedication has made such a positive impact on so many lives. It takes courage to leave the security of a stable job and venture into the unknown. However, taking risks can lead to unexpected opportunities and personal growth. Having a mentor can be incredibly valuable, and it’s clear that Alok Narain, one of my mentors in Soaltee Oberoi, played an essential role in shaping my life and career. The confidence and courage he instilled helped me become the person I am today. However, I still quit that job in the pursuit of testing my resilience. It must be the decision that opened a new chapter of my life. I always receive inspiration and advice and it is hard to choose just one but Rumi’s words come to mind, “Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” We often get miserable and hopeless when we lose something close to our heart but I could internalise this perfectly because I lost my parents unexpectedly and rather early but I have been fortunate to meet many motherly figures around the world and the universe has granted me with numerous fatherly figures and I believe they are the same spirit. Their collective strength and wisdom inspire me to strive for greatness in all aspects of my life. An ordinary individual who holds a positive outlook towards life. Growing up, I have faced challenges and learned the importance of cultivating wisdom and forging character goes beyond the accumulation of knowledge, and involves developing a deeper understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us. I encourage students to become empathetic, compassionate, and responsible individuals who prioritise personal growth over mere achievement. As an educator at heart, I recognise that obstacles are not excuses but opportunities to learn and grow. I believe that a peaceful world can only be achieved if we strive to become better human beings and make a positive impact on those around us.

Do what you love, what is necessary, and what is needed

Every kind individual who serves without any expectations of return is a major source of inspiration for me. People who have created a legacy through their spectacular vision for a better future always fascinate me. There are numerous individuals and it would be unfair to mention just a few. However, the vision behind Kathmandu University, Dhulikhel Hospital, Jiri Technical School, Tilganga Eye Hospital, Everest View Hotel, and Yak Cheese production in Nepal are some of the highlights of the possibilities within the country that go beyond creativity. Observing the intricacies and patterns of the natural world can also teach us valuable lessons about resilience, adaptation, balance and interconnectedness. The complexity and diversity of life on Earth is truly a marvel and a source of constant wonder and inspiration. However, the experiences have taught me that life is full of challenges and obstacles but with the support of others, we can overcome them and grow as individuals. My greatest source of inspiration is the collective wisdom and compassion of all those who have supported me throughout my life, as well as the opportunity to pay it forward by supporting others in their own journeys. To me, success means engaging in meaningful activities that are important to you, regardless of how insignificant they may seem to others. It involves doing what you love, what is necessary, and what is needed, all while enjoying your existence to the fullest. In today’s world, many people equate success with traditional indicators such as position, power, and possession. However, I do not believe that this obsession with material success brings happiness or fulfillment. Instead, I believe that true success comes from pursuing your passions and making a positive impact in the world. While my opinion may seem trivial to some, I think it’s essential to focus on what truly matters in life, rather than constantly striving for external validation or recognition. When we engage in activities that are important to us and make a positive impact on others, we can find true happiness and fulfillment, which is the ultimate measure of success. In my view, life philosophy is not a static concept as it tends to change over the course of one’s life and can present itself differently under various circumstances. However, one of the most important discoveries about the self is the ability to reflect and consciously observe the internal dialogue. From my personal experience, I have learned that when I travelled to different parts of the world and met people from diverse backgrounds, including different beliefs, races, religions, colours, economic statuses, and living conditions, I realised that we all share similar aspirations. I firmly believe that every human being has the potential to make a significant contribution if given the opportunity. It is crucial not to judge anything or anyone, but to observe and learn from them. We should approach others with an open mind and heart, recognising that everyone has something to offer, regardless of their circumstances. By embracing diversity and celebrating our shared humanity, we can create a more inclusive and compassionate world.

Leadership transcends gender and boundaries

Leadership transcends gender and boundaries, but women naturally do possess unique and valuable qualities that are not always found in men. Women are often associated with kindness, love and patience, qualities that are essential for effective leadership. Research has shown that women leaders possess certain traits that are distinct from their male counterparts. In today’s leadership landscape, whether it is in politics, social sector or the business world, we can clearly see this phenomenon. Women are natural creators and their nurturing tendencies make them great leaders. Empathy, compassion, and kindness are critical components of effective leadership, and women are well equipped to lead with these qualities. In today’s world where chaos and imbalance seem to be the norm, it is crucial to have more women in leadership roles. Simply having more men in leadership positions does not benefit humanity or the planet. Balance is key, and achieving balance requires not only gender equality but also embracing the force of nature and our existence as a whole. Therefore, I strongly believe that the world needs more women leaders to bring balance and stability to our communities and organisations. By tapping into the unique strengths and qualities of women, we can create a more equitable and just society for all. On the same note, Leadership involves taking action and demonstrating courage, inspiring others to embrace a shared vision, and instilling in them a belief in their untapped potential. Effective leaders possess these qualities and use them to effect change, achieve goals, and inspire pride in others. As the saying goes, ‘Pride is what a child cries for and an adult dies for’. True leaders understand the human experience and are skilled at inspiring others to reach their full potential, recognising their strengths, and creating a sense of empowerment and control. In essence, the essence of leadership lies in the ability to inspire and empower others to achieve greatness. Teamwork is essential for the success of any organisation, nation, or team. The example of Nepali cricket is a perfect illustration of how collective strength can lead to great achievements. When individuals come together and believe in a common goal, they can achieve much more than they could alone. Effective teamwork requires individuals to put aside their personal interests and work towards a shared vision. It involves communication, cooperation, and mutual respect, with each team member contributing their unique strengths and skills to the team. Teamwork promotes a positive work culture where individuals feel valued and supported, leading to increased job satisfaction and motivation. It fosters an environment where individuals can learn from each other, develop new skills, and grow both personally and professionally. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the importance of teamwork in achieving success. No matter how talented or effective an individual may be, without the ability to work collaboratively with others, their true potential may never be reached. Organisations and teams that recognise the value of teamwork and foster a collaborative environment are more likely to achieve their goals and reach their full potential.

Nepal can build a more responsive, inclusive, and dynamic education system

Nepal must transform its education system to better prepare its young population for the 21st century. It is true that education and training are critical drivers of economic growth and development and that Nepal can benefit greatly by investing in its human capital. In order to do so, it is important to re-think traditional approaches to education, which may no longer be effective in today’s rapidly-changing world. Instead, the focus should be on developing soft skills, creativity, and social activities, as well as providing experiential learning opportunities that allow students to apply their knowledge in real-world situations. Additionally, technical and vocational education can play a crucial role in preparing students for the demands of the modern workforce. This includes investing in IT and other emerging fields, as well as providing training and development opportunities for teachers to ensure they have the necessary skills and competencies to effectively teach these subjects. At the same time, it is important to recognise and leverage Nepal’s unique demographic dividend which is its young population. By investing in education and training, Nepal can equip its youth with the skills and competencies they need to succeed, both within the country and abroad. This includes providing opportunities for young people to gain international experience and exposure, while also ensuring that they have the necessary skills and qualifications to compete in the global marketplace. Overall, transforming Nepal’s education system is a complex and multi-faceted task requiring commitment, investment and collaboration from a range of stakeholders. However, with a clear vision and a commitment to innovation and excellence, Nepal can create a world-class education system that meets the needs of its people and contributes to the country’s long-term growth and development. Especially after the pandemic, the field of education has faced numerous challenges and with the advent of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements, the challenges have become even more complex. Educational institutions now need to adapt to new technologies and changing skill requirements, and ensure that their curriculum and teaching methods remain relevant and effective. In order to stay ahead of the curve, educational institutions need to constantly innovate and reinvent themselves. This could involve incorporating new technologies into the classroom, providing training and development opportunities for teachers, or partnering with industry leaders to develop cutting-edge curriculum. Additionally, educators need to be equipped with the necessary skills and competencies to effectively utilise AI and other technologies to enhance the learning experience for their students. This is a testament to the dedication and hard work of our educators, and their willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn. Moving forward, it will be important to continue to stay abreast of emerging trends and technologies, and to adapt and evolve as needed to ensure that our students are well-prepared for the future. Of course, I am still leading the academy. I wish to highlight some important points about the need to empower institutions, promote trust and embrace flexibility and adaptability in the education system in Nepal. It is true that centralised examinations, as well as an over-reliance on memory-based tests, can create disparities and limit opportunities for students in certain regions or from certain backgrounds. To address these issues, there needs to be a greater emphasis on empowering institutions at the local level, and providing more flexibility and autonomy in curriculum development, assessment and delivery. This can help ensure that education is more responsive to the needs of students and communities, and that it reflects the diversity of the country. At the same time, there needs to be a greater emphasis on promoting trust in major regulating institutions, and ensuring that they are transparent and accountable in their operations. This can help build confidence in the education system, and encourage more students and families to participate in it. In addition, Nepal can explore opportunities to attract students from the region and beyond, by promoting the quality and diversity of its education offerings, as well as by leveraging its unique cultural and natural resources. This can help create new opportunities for the country, while also enhancing its reputation and profile on the global stage. Overall, there is a need to shift the focus from a centralised, one-size-fits-all approach to education, to a more decentralised, locally-driven model that promotes flexibility, trust, and innovation. By doing so, Nepal can build a more responsive, inclusive, and dynamic education system that prepares its young people for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
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MARCH 2024

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