Our task—or opportunity—is to mentor and support members of this new parliament as they build the first democratic national government in the history of Nepal. When we began our work in Nepal in 1995, the country was a 240 year-old Hindu monarchy headed by King Gyanendra. Following a 10-year civil war between Maoist rebels and the government, the Nepalese people convened a Constitutional Assembly (CA) in 2008 tasked with the formidable challenges of drafting a new constitution, their first as a fledgling democracy.
This new CA is a broadly representative mosaic of ethnic, religious, and regional diversity represented through 25 different political parties and perhaps 50 ethnic groups. Our trainings have high-level Nepali leaders with graduate degrees mixed in with marginalized populations who are barely literate but were appointed to this Constitutional Assembly. The opportunities for true peacebuilding are unique, but the CA is haunted by a historically authoritarian political culture. Members of parliament often feel powerless, defer to their party bosses, and are reluctant to take risks.
Our training focused intensively on a small group of 35 CA members from most of the major parties. We worked in collaboration with the Institute for Conflict, Peace and Development (ICPD) in Nepal. We taught in a congenial team of 5 faculty members from our June 2010 Boston training: Poorna Adhikary and Bishnu Bushal from ICPD, Ted Morse from 40+ years at USAID, Tom Schaub from CMPartners and previously Harvard Program on Negotiation, and Hugh O’Doherty, a North Irish colleague from Kennedy School of Government. They brought significant expertise in leadership, negotiation, and DDR (demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of the Maoist armies). My tasks, in addition to managing the faculty team, the staff, and the overall program, included leading the peacebuilding and communication practices of the teaching.
Until now, for complicated political reasons, we have not had a Maoist CA presence in our training, but we hope to include members of the Maoist party in future CA programs—perhaps as soon as December. The Maoists are one of the leading parties in Nepal, along with the Congress Party, the Marxists-Leninists, and the Madhesi Party. Where else in the world are two major parties any longer Maoist or Marxist-Leninist?
We focused intently on leadership development, and the difference between leadership and authority. During Day 7 of our training together, Hugh O’Doherty shared this reflection with the group:
“Leadership is meaningless without a connection to purpose. The only reason to take risks with your career is because you care about something deeply. People will partner with you if they are connecting to a purpose. People will put themselves through discomfort to attain something meaningful.”
- Leadership is not a post or status, but measured by action, rather than the person.
- Listening is the best way to start negotiation.
- Without trust, peacebuilding is not possible.
As one participant wrote at the end of the training, Keep the ball rolling. This is just the beginning.