Let’s be honest. As a youth growing up in Nepal, it is sometimes very hard to get people – and by people I mean seniors in decision-making positions - to take you seriously. It is even more difficult to get them to listen to your ideas or acknowledge you as an important demographic, capable of more than burning tires and picketing politicians.
In the one week I spent in Washington DC, at the World Bank and IMF annual meetings, rushing madly between meetings, presentations, discussion forums and Indian restaurants, I learnt that this deep-rooted attitude is changing. And fast.
Maybe it is the Arab Spring. Maybe it is the realization that without embracing youth into the South Asian market economy, we will have made zero progress in terms of development even ten years down the line. Or maybe, it just makes sense – maybe we are finally realizing the inherent interconnectedness in our world. Realizing that one project from a little village in Nepal is directly linked to the socio-economic structure of our communities, countries and regions.
It was a pleasant surprise to us six South Asian delegates when we met senior officials from the World Bank Group and various other institutions, and they not only gave us an opportunity to share and express our opinions on youth and development issues, but they were keenly interested to work with us for the long haul. They were not only listening but also seeking ideas for collaboration and action! Every meeting we had, every discussion we were a part of, there echoed the same sense of urgency – to encompass youth in decision-making processes and working with them to accelerate development in South Asia.
I had always thought of the World Bank as unapproachable. Well, my experience was certainly different from my preconceived notions. My experience in DC was an affirmation of my faith in the power of collaboration and development. The people whom I met at the Bank were not only extremely knowledgeable and experienced, but they cared deeply and honestly about the development issues of the region. They were passionately interested in integrating and working with the youth in South Asia. And this gave me hope. Hope that, despite the politics, the conflict, the corruption, the seemingly-insurmountable challenges, we can still work together to create better lives for ourselves.
Making sense of everything
In the end, I think, it is all about connecting the dots. A school for slum children in New Delhi might be able to collaborate with a peace school in Nepal. An entrepreneur from Sri Lanka can learn from a business in Bhutan and that is exactly what we need to do. Embrace differences, celebrate similarities and above all, respect each other.
And maybe, just maybe, a South Asia free of poverty might not seem as distant a dream anymore.
For more information on the Sarswati Peace School.