Collaborating Across Industries to Raise Nepal Out of the Ashes
Every year, YPO recognizes members who foster positive social change at both local and global levels through its Social Enterprise Network (SEN) Sustainability Award. Nirvana Chaudhary, a 2018 award recipient, has established himself both as a successful global entrepreneur and an avid philanthropist.
At 37, Chaudhary heads Chaudhary Group, a global conglomerate worth more than USD2.5 billion with a workforce of over 15,000. Through The Chaudhary Foundation, he has actively invested in community projects in the fields of health care, equality, education, employment, poverty eradication and sustainable energy. These projects have directly benefited thousands of Nepalese and touched the hearts and minds of many more.
In 1870, Bhuramull Chaudhary, his great grandfather, started a textile-importing business in Nepal. Today, the Chaudhary Group, headed by Nirvana as the Managing Director, is Nepal’s first multinational and remains 100 percent family owned. Operating in 28 countries, the group is comprised of 16 different verticals or companies that fall into multiple interconnected industries. From biotech, to electronics, to financial services and hospitality, the one aspect that is common to all is the alignment around philanthropy through The Chaudhary Foundation.
A fourth-generation member of the family business, Chaudhary oversees 11 out of the group’s 15 verticals to ensure each business and social commitments mutually reinforce the objectives of the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. He has thus been influential in paving the path for Nepal’s economic growth and global outreach.
“Each vertical follows a strong corporate social responsibility format,” says Chaudhary. “We focus on education, health and youth development as well as social impact or investment. We are also in the process of consolidating our verticals under food, energy and the telecom sector in order to prepare for the next generation of businesses and transform our country into a digital economy.”
For Chaudhary, this focus is part of a big picture to pull Nepal out of its status of least-developed country to a developing country by 2022. As designated by the U.N., least developed countries are low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. They are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets. There are currently 47 countries on the list of LDCs, which is reviewed every three years.
The foundation of the foundation
In the beginning, whenever The Chaudhary Foundation was approached by a group or an individual seeking support for a philanthropic endeavor, the family would oblige by writing a check.
“As long as it was for some good cause, if someone came to us and asked for help, we would support them,” Chaudhary recalls. “Our entire philosophy changed about two decades ago when we realized we needed to focus and channel our energy into a something systematic and sustainable that would benefit the wider society.”
Chaudhary began looking into the concept of “social business,” a term coined by Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus, who proposes that while investors and owners could recoup their investment, the profit should remain within the company to expand its outreach and increase social impact for the purpose of achieving a social objective.
Yunus, who sits on The Chaudhary Foundation’s board and works closely with them, helped the family create a structure for a sustainable ecosystem. It is designed to incubate and fund myriad social businesses created in collaboration with local social entrepreneurs.
“We really believe in the power of collaboration,” says Chaudhary. “In 2012, we started four projects with the help of local social entrepreneurs who had submitted their ideas for the projects. We paired each social entrepreneur with a CEO from our company, made a sustainable business plan and were able to leverage all of our verticals to support their endeavors.”
Some of these endeavors include developing Nepalese women’s skills and creating market linkages, providing scholarships and opening schools, and building a spiritual destination for developing peace and spirituality. The latter has attracted 1.5 million people in 15 months.
Finding the silver lining
While all of these collaborations have proved successful, it was the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015 that made Chaudhary realize the true extent to which the ecosystem they’d created could help.
“Within hours after the earthquake our facilities were used as shelters, complete with food, water and medical supplies,” recalls Chaudhary. “Within 15 days, thanks to our building supplies, infrastructure and knowledge, we started building homes; within the first year after the devastation, we had built more than 3,000 homes, 58 schools and trained 6,000 people to continue building.”
Frustrated over the government’s inadequate relief efforts due to fractious in-country politics and the struggles foreign aid agencies encountered reaching rural areas, The Chaudhary Foundation decided to make a substantial contribution to The Nepali prime minister’s Disaster Relief Fund with a caveat that The Chaudhary Foundation would oversee the funds themselves, and decide when, where and to whom they would allocate the funds.
Their success in building “smart” or “model” villages that included homes, schools and water treatment plants, helped raise the Nepalese people and country from the ashes, proving how conscientious collaboration can positively impact Nepal. And it wasn’t just Chaudhary who noticed this; the government took note and requested the foundation to build more villages for earthquake-affected areas. Today, the foundation has built 3,000 semi-permanent homes, 40 schools and 10 clean water treatment plants with renewable energy.
“Our goal is to now replicate these villages all over Nepal in areas of need,” says Chaudhary. “Our vision is of a model village that can enhance sustainable development and the resiliency of marginalized communities.”
For Chaudhary, who studied abroad most of his life, it would have been easy to stay overseas, to become an entrepreneur somewhere that didn’t require as much work. But when he returned home in 2001 at the peak of the insurgence in the [Maoist] war, he inherently knew where his heart lay.
“I was 19 years old when I came home and I saw the beauty as well as the poverty,” Chaudhary recalls. “I chose to stay and help my country. My goal is to give away at least 50 percent of my wealth to philanthropic and social causes by the time I am 50 years old.”
Asked what winning SEN’s Sustainability Award for Philanthropy means to him, Chaudhary says, “I hope that I can inspire YPOers to see the pathways they have at their disposal to do good. I feel YPO consists of outstanding entrepreneurs; people who are engaged in and are the driving forces behind the economy. If they can recognize what they have and what good they can do to benefit the society, I think we can change the world significantly.”