Private sector professionals in Nepal view the development sector with suspicion. They accept the easy media-fed diet of international non-governmental organisations as being 'dollar farmers'. Their self-image is that they in the private sector are doing 'real work' as opposed to doing mere 'development', which they have a hard time seeing as work.
As someone who's worked in and with both the private and the development sectors, I think it's time the Nepali private sector, the way it is currently structured, looks at the development sector with an open mind to better understand the latter's approaches to governance, accountability and providing career paths to employees.
Governance: It's an open secret that most Nepali companies, including banks and finance companies, have lousy systems for deciding how they are directed and controlled for results. Most are family businesses, and some have only recently started hiring professional managers that too, with mixed success. Most boards are stuffed with the in-laws and friends of the chairmen, and they think of the company as a trough from which to feed. Except for some that are accountable to shareholders abroad, it's safe to say that most Nepali companies do not see the value of having a robust governance system in place.
In contrast, organisational governance is taken much more seriously in the INGO world. The global revenue figures of some of these INGOs dwarf that of many top-line Nepali companies. Since most Nepal-based INGOs have headquarters abroad, they are more likely to have fairly well-developed and globally validated policies, procedures and processes for how staff members deliver work. That strength in governance also affects their field-based NGOs and community groups, which are held to a much higher standard of accountability than they would be locally.
Sure, instances of governance failure happen in the INGO world too. But when they do, the system tends to correct those failures much faster than they would in equivalent situations in the Nepali private sector, where much is dependent on the whims of the chairman or the CEO.
Accountability: Most INGOs raise funds from institutional and individual donors who are usually based abroad. These donors routinely demand rigorous accountability with regards to how much, where, why, and how funds have been spent for results that have been promised. Reporting requirements are stringent.
Most Nepali journalists who report that "INGOs are not transparent" are not serving their readers well when they do not even bother to read the annual reports of INGOs, who have to satisfy the demands of various countries' equivalents of Nepal's Social Welfare Council.
Career path: Reading the Nepali press, one gets the impression that the local retail bank CEOs who earn the most are necessarily among the best managers. What the Nepali press forgets to mention is that, in the last 10 years in the INGO world, many home-grown Nepali professionals have risen much higher regionally and globally, and therefore command a much greater influence among their global peers. This has been possible because INGOs, unlike most Nepali companies, offer a better career path for their talented employees. And a Nepali who has run a global non-profit with offices in 65 countries has a range of mental models that few high-flying local CEOs can match.
Next time you hear a private sector professional launching into yet another attack against INGOs, why not turn the tables? "True, INGOs are far from perfect. But how does your company do governance; how are you accountable to customers; and what career path do you offer to your 'best assets', your employees?" A stimulating conversation is likely to ensue.