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Sri Lanka And Nepal, It’s Evident That We Have Yet To Fully Explore Their Potential.



By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

The first woman President of the Nepal-India Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Executive Director of Annapurna Group of Hotels and Immediate Past President of the Hotel Association of Nepal, Shreejana Rana, was in Colombo last week as a distinguished guest to participate in Zonta International, where she serves as the Governor of District 25. 

In one of the Nepalese journals, Shreejana Rana was quoted thus: ‘She was raised by a single mother to break the glass ceiling. She precisely did that.  Rana’s journey in the hospitality industry started with a five-year hotel management course with ITC Welcome Group, a famous hotel chain, in the 1980s, where she learned the ropes of the hospitality industry. Soon after, she got married and became the Executive Director at Annapurna Hotel which her family owned and ran. The rest, as they say, is history.’

Renowned for her extensive expertise in the tourism sector and her advocacy for women’s empowerment, Rana poignantly shared her insights with Ceylon Today; what she thinks of the Nepal-Sri Lanka relationship that has much in common but yet not tapped the potential in the trade and tourism etc.

Nepal-Sri Lanka trade and tourism ties Regarding trade ties between 

Sri Lanka and Nepal, it’s evident that we have yet to fully explore their potential. “I believe there is much work to be done in this regard. We need to revive SAARC and focus on improving connectivity,” she emphasised. “There is immense potential waiting to be tapped into. Simple initiatives like the Ramayana Circuit could significantly boost connectivity and tourism between our countries.”

When asked about strategies to enhance connectivity between Nepal and Sri Lanka, particularly in the tourism sector, the top hotelier expressed her commitment to conducting thorough research. “My passion lies in promoting tourism, and I will explore all avenues to facilitate connectivity,” she affirmed. “Starting with our neighbouring countries, then expanding to the SAARC region, and eventually connecting internationally with other regions, could be the new  focus for us.” 

In the tourism sector, she pointed out that Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka share a common heritage, and illustrated that the Rama-Sita trail also originates from Nepal. She said, Janakpur, Nepal, renowned as Sita’s birth and marriage place, lies just 90 km from Kathmandu, the Capital city, and hosts a significant Lord Ram Temple. This historical connection presents a promising opportunity for a new tourism venture that could link these three nations, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India, propelling tourism to unprecedented heights.

Regarding Nepali investors’ presence in Sri Lanka, she acknowledged the potential but highlighted the need for reforms in Nepal’s foreign investment policy. “While there are opportunities for Nepali businesses in Sri Lanka, our current policy structure requires reform,” she noted. “The Nepalese government is working on plans to facilitate investments outside Nepal, but further reforms are needed to empower Nepalis economically and encourage more investments abroad.”

In this context, we are mainly focusing on local and foreign investors, coming to Nepal to do business. In this aspect, there is a handful of foreign investors in Nepal and Nepalese hotels too but not many.

Reflecting on the political landscape in Nepal, Rana noted that while there are some voices, advocating for a return to monarchy, the country has long aspired for a democratic system. Despite having achieved political democracy through elections, the pace of progress has been slow, leading to widespread frustration among the populace. While the rest of the world moves swiftly, Nepal seems to lag, with the economy failing to meet people’s expectations and political stability remaining elusive.

In terms of Nepal’s position in the South Asian region, Rana acknowledged that the country has yet to fully realise its potential. However, she expressed optimism about Nepal’s gradual growth trajectory, albeit at a modest pace. While Nepal’s tourism brand revolves around the majestic Himalayas, she highlighted the need for concerted efforts to catch up with neighbouring countries like India in terms of tourism promotion.

Drawing parallels between 

Sri Lanka and Nepal, Rana noted similar economic challenges despite both countries having abundant resources. She emphasised the importance of addressing these shortcomings and maximising the countries’ potential through strategic policies, robust infrastructure, and enhanced connectivity. 

Rana also stressed the significance of retaining skilled manpower within Nepal by providing competitive wages and fostering an environment conducive to professional growth. She observed a trend of highly  -skilled individuals leaving both Nepal and Sri Lanka, which is alarming and both countries need to incentivise them to stay and contribute to the country’s development, both domestically and internationally.  

But before making the country great the women’s lives should be improved, and as a woman, she sees that being very important. In her discussion, she highlighted the missed opportunities between Sri Lanka and Nepal and emphasised the potential for enhancing ties to boost tourism and promote women’s leadership which has added advantage. Rana delved into the nuances of these strategically important sectors and should ensure women’s active participation rather than relegating them to secondary roles.

“Women in Nepal are making notable strides towards empowerment, yet the journey to full equality remains ongoing. Advocacy efforts for women’s leadership are underway, complementing Nepal’s increasing emphasis on tourism and trade. Despite being a landlocked country, Nepal is beginning to reap the benefits of this focus. Rana, a figure of considerable influence in Nepalese society,   believes there is a shared interest between the two countries. She emphasised the urgency of addressing political instability through a tailored policy framework aimed at bolstering tourism and trade in Nepal is the need of the hour. “I see Nepal and Sri Lanka going through the same phase,” she noted.

Lack of women’s education in Nepal, a struggle

As an influential figure in Nepal’s tourism sector and a prominent entrepreneur in the hospitality industry, Rana prioritised addressing the challenges faced by Nepalese women. Holding leadership positions in Nepal, as a mother and at the same time taking up a prominent role in society, she stresses the importance of empowering Nepalese women through education to propel the nation towards achieving its development goals. “Without adequate education, especially for women, realising a country’s development objectives remains unattainable.” She also highlighted the existing gender balance in Nepal, where women outnumber men, indicating the potential for further leveraging women’s talents and contributions to drive Nepal’s progress.

“We’re still grappling with entrenched societal norms that confine women to household roles rather than empowering them to pursue leadership positions and careers outside the home. However, progress is undeniably underway, with the Nepalese government prioritising girls’ education as a fundamental necessity. There’s ongoing advocacy to hold parents accountable for ensuring their daughters attend school, although we acknowledge that we haven’t yet achieved universal enrollment due to infrastructural challenges,” Rana added.

Further, “The key obstacles include the distance to schools and inadequate transportation options,” she stressed. As President of the Zonta Club, we’ve taken steps to address this by providing bicycles to girls, but we recognise that access to proper sanitation facilities remains a critical issue. Many girls face challenges attending school due to menstruation-related issues, which alarms the urgency of improving sanitation infrastructure. Despite heightened awareness of women’s and adolescent issues; motherhood often forces women to sacrifice their careers. To mitigate this, we’ve advocated for baby feeding units in government offices and other institutions. We’re actively addressing these multifaceted challenges but it has been taken into consideration to address these.”

Another aspect of women is that childcare has become privy as well which also adds to the decline of careers for women where they have to take care of the newborn and at the same time take care of their jobs, but they opt to be at home caring for the child be a good mother which every mother would want to do rather work and spend her days in office. So Zonta advocates for all these aspects of the Nepalese society.  

She also highlighted the importance of skill development for women. She shared an anecdote from Europe where she met a Sri Lankan hotel worker earning a higher salary compared to a Nepali counterpart. The key difference, she explained, was that Sri Lanka provides recognised certification for skilled workers at an international standard, whereas Nepali women’s skills lack such recognition. She advocated for the training and certification of skilled workers by reputable ministries or organisations, emphasising the importance of certifications that are internationally recognized. 

She cited Sri Lanka’s certification system as a prime example of validity and authenticity. Rana stressed the significance of obtaining proper certification, regardless of the type of skill, as it can significantly increase earning potential when working overseas. While Nepal does have a system for certifying skilled workers, she noted that it does not meet international standards, using Sri Lanka’s high-quality skill training and certification as a benchmark for improvement.

Discussing Sri Lanka’s focus on not sending unskilled workers abroad, Rana noted that Nepal still needs to reach that standard, particularly for women, as skill development can play a crucial role in their economic empowerment. She emphasised the importance of the Ministry of Education regulating institutions that issue such certifications and monitoring their quality, highlighting the significance of women’s empowerment.

However, she also highlighted positive developments, such as women’s leadership in the police force and representation in Parliament. Nepal boasts a remarkable 33% representation of women in Parliament, breaking records in South Asia. When questioned about the need for further improvements in women’s affairs in Nepal, Rana acknowledged that while there has been progress, many women in Parliament lack a strong educational background. This raises questions about their capability to effectively engage in activities such as decision-making. She urged for deeper consideration of these factors in assessing women’s participation in leadership roles. 

“I am proud to see women representing us in Parliament. However, I have to acknowledge that some women may lack formal education but bring different valuable perspectives to the table. Nevertheless, we must strive to ensure that our representatives, regardless of gender, are capable of making informed decisions for the betterment of our country, she added.

Nepal and its geopolitics

In the context of Nepal’s geopolitics, attracting multilateral investors and fostering development can be challenging, particularly for a landlocked country like ours. It’s crucial for Nepal to navigate its relations with neighbouring countries skillfully. Effective diplomacy is essential, and Nepali politicians must prioritise learning these diplomatic skills. With India, we share numerous similarities; we have a shared language and cultural ties, which make it feel like a home away from home. However, we must also acknowledge our relationship with China and maintain a delicate balance between our neighbours to derive maximum benefits.

Nepal has been successful in maintaining this balancing act, which has resulted in positive outcomes for our economy, including increased imports and exports and a thriving tourism industry. “We welcome Indian tourists year-round, while also enjoying significant tourist traffic from China. Moreover, relaxed duty regulations from China have facilitated smoother import processes for us. Additionally, both India and China are investing in hydropower projects in Nepal, which presents opportunities for us to leverage their support for the development of our agriculture sector.”