February 10, 2017 Print

There is good reason for optimism in Nepal these days. It has been more than a decade since the civil war between the Nepalese government and the Maoist Communist Party, and nearly two years since the catastrophic earthquake that claimed the lives of thousands. The country is still healing, but relative stability has given rise to positive developments, including the flourishing of Atlas Network partner Bikalpa, an Alternative, a liberty-minded think tank based in Biratnagar that has trained more than 570 college students as part of its “Students for Ideas” educational program.

“Students for Ideas,” funded in part with a grant from Atlas Network, is a student-led collegiate group that spreads Bikalpa’s open-market philosophy on campus. Students from 14 colleges have participated in Bikalpa’s “Opening Market & Promoting Entrepreneurship” events, and the ongoing “Speaker’s Corner” workshop focuses on both discussion of ideas and providing a place to practice English language skills and public speaking. Around 30 students show up every weekend.

According to Bikalpa founder Basanta Adhikari, students are eager not only to participate in the organization’s free programs, but also to volunteer their time in promoting the organization through social media and helping to create promotional material, such as videos.

One student, Nishant Luitel, glowingly recounted how Bikalpa’s “Friday Discussion” program helped him more clearly understand “why it is important to have free markets, individual and economic freedom, rule of law, privatization, and industrialization for any country’s economic prosperity.” Luitel described Bikalpa’s discussions in general as “mentally robust.” This rigorous focus on the ideas of liberty and practical communication skills allows students like Luitel to take what they have learned and spread the ideas to others more effectively.

Adhikari founded Bikalpa in 2014, inspired by the fellow Nepalese group Samriddhi Foundation, and the organization quickly gained traction after it took up the daunting task of relieving regulatory restrictions on mobile businesses, which had made life difficult for the city’s numerous rickshaw drivers. Bikalpa has since become an educational center for the city’s college students, particularly those who are open to the ideas of entrepreneurship, individual liberty, and other guiding principles of a free society.

In a city of nearly a quarter million people who have faced far-reaching political changes in recent years, many students are interested in acquiring the tools necessary to create a more prosperous society. By fostering relationships with the city’s schools, Bikalpa provides students from a wide variety of backgrounds with a space to discuss open-market and classical liberal ideas — a crucial intellectual foundation for young people living in a country that was nearly overthrown by Maoists only a few years earlier.

Adhikari sees this as only the early stage of a long road ahead, but the progress that Bikalpa has already made speaks volumes. Hundreds of Nepalese students have embraced entrepreneurship, open-markets and individual liberty of their own volition, in a country ruled by a centralized government and threatened by communist resistance. This is no small feat.