April Jubilee Post: 25 years of SEC in Nepal

Senior Expert Corps (SEC) Nepal is also celebrating an anniversary this year: For 25 years, SEC experts have been conducting consultancy assignments in Nepal. During this time, 717 assignments provided professional support to SMEs and institutions. An impact study from 2018 shows how SEC clients in Nepal were able to benefit from the consultancy assignments between 2013 and 2017.

Nepal – a diverse country

Nepal is known as a tourist destination with an immense diversity, rich heritage and impressive mountain scenery. Nepal’s strategic location is also very important: it lies between the two Asian economies of India and China. Nepal has been a democracy since 2007 and has since been governed by a new constitution. With elections at all levels, the long-awaited political stability in Nepal has been achieved in recent years. Economic activities have also been expanded: higher growth expectations in key sectors such as hydropower, agriculture, tourism, education, health and infrastructure. SMEs run as family businesses continue to be the backbone of Nepal’s private sector.

Review of the first SEC assignments

In 1994, Mr and Mrs Huber were the first experts to travel to Nepal on behalf of the SEC to consult a shoe factory. A foundry and a hotel were supported by two other SEC experts in 1995. In 1996 SEC already had five clients. Over the years, the number of consultancy assignments in Nepal grew continuously: 18 assignments in 1998, 21 in 1999, 37 in 2000, 47 in 2012.

Manish Pandey was SEC Coordinator in Nepal from January 2001 to March 2003 and is now Swisscontact Regional Director for South Asia. He describes the coordination of his first SEC assignment, his efforts to acquire SEC clients in Nepal and the importance SEC still has in the region today as follows:

“The first experts I was able to welcome during my time as SEC coordinator in Nepal were a baker couple who supported the pumpernickel bakery in Thamel. It was a bit difficult at that time to find suitable SEC clients, as the SMEs and the economy of Nepal as a whole were not doing well due to the Maoist uprising. Nevertheless, the Swiss expertise and its value were highly appreciated, so that some companies were able to pay for board and lodging and thus requested SEC experts.

Today, many years later, SEC assignments in the region are still very important: the SEC experts bring high-quality, first-class and precise specialist knowledge combined with impressive professional experience. The work ethic, commitment and values that the experts bring with them inspire SMEs – the experts become role models. The consultancy assignments have a direct impact on the performance of the companies, e.g. through an improvement in quality, improved processes and thus better results.”

Historic earthquake of magnitude 7.9

On 25 April 2015 a severe earthquake abruptly stopped the SEC operations in Nepal. Fortunately, the SEC expert on assignment at the time, SEC coordinator and the SEC employee from Switzerland on field mission remained unharmed. However, the scale of the earthquake was frightening: destruction of entire villages, Kathmandu partly collapsed and more than 8,600 people died throughout Nepal. Neeraj Singhal, SEC coordinator in Nepal since 2003, has very clear memories of this fateful day:

“It happened on a Saturday, around noon. I was in a car near the historic site of Boudhanath Stupa, together with a SEC expert and a SEC colleague, when suddenly the earth began to shake. I thought the city of Kathmandu would collapse and the buildings would fall apart, we would all die. The earth trembled for about one minute like a pendulum with repeating continuous aftershocks.

The SEC expert urged me to remain calm and sit in the car as this would be safer for all of us. He was my mentor in this dangerous situation, which I experienced for the first time in my life.

Then I tried to call my family. I managed to contact my wife. She could reassure me that she and my father were safe. However, our son was still alone in our apartment in a house with 9 floors. But my wife also found him safe.

In order to know the SEC expert and the SEC colleague in a safe place, I drove them to an earthquake-proof hotel and asked for admission. The rooms were overbooked, but the hotel provided beds in the garden, as the guests were safest there considering also the aftershocks, which occurred every 10 to 15 minutes. Then I immediately drove home to my family.”

Depending on how close the SEC customers were living to the epicentre, the losses were more severe or less severe. Approximately 100 of SEC’s 700 customers were affected, but they were all back in business after six to nine months. The majority of customers were not affected as the earthquake epicentre was located in an outer region of Sindhupalchowk County.

Numerous other aftershocks, some severe, followed over several weeks. In order to guarantee the safety of the experts, the SEC was forced to refrain from carrying out SEC assignments in Nepal. It was not until August 2015 that two more experts were sent to Sindhuli and Pataleban districts. Despite the difficult circumstances, a total of 43 consultancy assignments were carried out that year.

Back to normality

It was not a matter of course for the customers and the SEC that the SEC activities could be resumed within the normal framework in the following years. In 2016 SEC created a movie (see short version here), which portrays four SEC assignments in Nepal and provides insight on the customer and expert side.

The number of assignments carried out in Nepal has levelled off to between 35 and 45 assignments per year. In 2018, around 1,800 employees benefited from 36 consulting assignments carried out by 31 experts.

Four years later Nepal has recovered with a stable government and growth of SMEs and is picking up speed again. The country and the majority of SEC clients have regenerated from the abrupt economic slowdown and have overcome the material damage of the devastating earthquake.