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Interview with HOPE magazine

Originally Published on Hope Magazine | A veteran of journalism, editor of the BBC Nepali Service, a best selling author and an occasional actor, Rabindra Mishra is a jack of all trades, and yet one whom still has been able to master a craft that far surpasses any of his other accomplishments. Founder of the Help Nepal Network established in 1999, the charity inspired by Mishra’s personal application of practical philanthropy, has been successful in encouraging other Nepali living locally and abroad to take up the same practice by contributing a small portion of their earnings to benefit those whom genuinely need support. 

You are a multidimensional personality- Journalist, writer, social worker and actor. How do you synchronize them?

Basically, I have a full time job as a journalist. I have to spend a lot of time at my work. I usually do not go to parties. My social life is very limited. Whatever spare time I get out of my work, I usually devote that time for promoting charitable activities and involving myself into different works such as writing and other things.

Do you think your fame in a sector (like your fame in journalism) has helped to come up with other ones?

Absolutely, but another fact is that I started with my professional career as a journalist and the charitable activities almost simultaneously. That is why one is complimenting the other. However, my name is broadcast on air almost every day. Through my column, it comes on the print media too. In our society, there are many successful professionals whose names are not heard every day. The nature of my profession as a journalist gives me a mileage of public identity and recognition that certainly has given me an advantage to promote charitable activities.

What do you like to be called by others?

(Long Laugher…) Basically I have two identities- as a journalist and as a social worker. Journalism is my profession and promotion of philanthropy that comes out my heart, is my passion.

Today you are advocating for philanthropic journalism. How should common people understand it?

(I am pleased with the question you asked me.) I studied journalism throughout my college life, and worked as a journalist in Nepal, Pakistan, and the UK. After practicing journalism as a student and a professional, I have come to the conclusion that the way journalism is defined, the purpose of it, and the belief that journalism serves the public has been hugely misinterpreted. I have come to the idea that the core value of journalism needs to be redefined. The traditional value of journalism primarily believes that bad news is good news. The evidence, is that media news is dominated with news of violence, war, disaster, crimes, political conflicts, and so on. It is believed that by bringing out the negative aspects of society, we have served the public. Are we actually serving the public by talking about the negative aspects of the society?  Aren’t we raising the level of conflict and violence? This is the major question to journalism today.  And my point is not bad news is good news, but good news can be great news.

Every society undergoes with a set of good news and bad news, as well. Traditionally, the bad news dominates and the good news gets a little space. When bad news prevails, it creates an image that our society is full of only negative things. It is high time we change this prospective. We should give a due space to the good news. My point is that when you start talking about positive news, it will create a positive vibrancy for the transformation of the society. So we cannot just be the folder of communication, but we need to be the capitalist of change. To do such a thing is not to negate traditional journalism, but to find a space to talk about positive messages. Journalists should be trained in such a way that their eyes should catch the news that shares positive message to the society. This is one aspect of philanthropic journalism.

Similarly, the other aspect is development journalism, which started in the 1970’s when it was felt that the traditional journalism could not address the need of the society. The development journalists said that they needed to talk about the development issues, so that the concerned authority would be alert to address the problem. It was a step forward in traditional journalism.

Further in 1990s, some American academics thought that the way journalism was practiced was not good enough, so they came up with the idea of public journalism, where they wanted to engage the public themselves in the issues that they wanted to address. That was another step forward in journalism. And here my point is journalists are not only the catalyst of conversation for change, but they should take a step forward and give ideas on how to tackle the problem. You can take a traditional subject matter of bad news and suggest the way out. Say for example, a newspaper publishes the news of a roofless building- this is traditional journalism. But in philanthropic journalism, you can put a caption and give a way out for the solution of the problem. Here you are not just talking about the problem, but also helping to solve it.

There are many media houses that are highly commercialized. Can they apply the idea of philanthropic journalism in their creations?

In fact, it is not possible to apply the concept in full extent in the organizational level when they are supported by commercial agencies. But what I can suggest is that the media personnel who make the news, must learn to think that good news can be great news. For example, I used to write a political column, and published it in the form of book that sold very well. Later on when I switched my writing to social, philanthropic issues and wrote a book called Khana Pugosh Dina Pugosh, it sold three times more than my political writing. It proves people want to read about good things.

Has the idea of philanthropic journalism always been rooted as one of your goals, or is it that you got in the process through your professional career?

It has been a goal now. Previously I was also doing a professional type of journalism. Still I do the same, but in my personal level I try to practice philanthropic journalism. When I do not practice, it is difficult to promote it. It has become a goal now. However it took me many years to realize that the kind of journalism I had been practicing was fundamentally fraud.

As a writer, you first wrote Bhumadhaya Rekha, and then Khana Pugosh Dina Pugosh. Thematically, the first book is from an objective standpoint, and the latter is from a philanthropic standpoint. Is this the shifting terrain of Rabindra Mishra or maturity of his life?

Yes, the first is about observing and analyzing politics in a detached and objective way, and Khana Pugosh Dina Pugosh is about practical philanthropy. It is both the maturity and shifting terrain of my life, because as we mature, we become exposed. Because of the maturity. the transformation is slowly happening.

You returned to Nepal and involved in social service. Does it mean to say that being in another country we cannot serve our country while the concept of global citizen is coming into fore? Or is it – charity begins from home?

I have never said that we cannot serve our nation being abroad. Wherever you live, if you have philanthropic attitude, you can serve the country. We have a lot of people who are serving the Help Nepal Network. If you get opportunity to go abroad- learn and earn there, get some exposure, get some experience and raise your confidence- but before it is too late, come back. That would be the thing I would like to see happen.

Since 1999, you have been involved in social work through Help Nepal organization. What type of organization is this, and how is this functioning?

During its inception, I was in London. There we used to talk about the deteriorating condition of Nepali politics. As a responsible citizen, I thought that when we talk about such things as bad, we have our responsibility to rectify it as well. Instead of criticizing the situation, it is high time to think how you can contribute by your small ways to change the situation. If you do not do that, you have no right to talk about it. This was the first idea how Help Nepal organization was established.

The reality in Nepal is that foreign donation and government investment are misused, and then they tend to criticize the government and politicians. This trend need not be done. Those people who cannot donate- it is all right, but others who can, it is not  acceptable for us to have our glass of whisky and continue to critize what is wrong with the country.

So the point is we don’t write proposals for foreign donation, but encourage every citizen who earns, to separate a small amount of their earning to do good things in Nepal. We created the slogan Help Nepal Network: One Dollar a Month Fund for Nepal. For this, if you drink beer, just sacrifice a can of beer in a month. Separate the saved money for good purpose. We call it a practical philanthropy. It does not make any negative impact to your life in any way. In doing so you can live a sophisticated life, but at the same time you are helping the poor and destitute. Approximately 90% of Nepalis who can earn their living, can also separate a little bit of their earning for others. About 3 million Nepali are living abroad. Half of them have to strive for their family, but the remaining half of them would take responsibility to look after a child in their respective region. 15 lakhs children would get good facility of health and education. This is Practical Philanthropy. This is the idea that we are trying to promote. Help Nepal Network is distinct because it came out with the idea that we Nepalis have to do it. Virtually all the donors who have supported us are Nepalis. Help Nepal is distinct from other organizations, as we do not spend a single penny of our donation on administrative tasks.

We have divided our organization into two parts:  administration and charitable activities. For running administration, we have a trust fund of 1crore 85 lakhs in the trust fund and with the interest generated from it, we run our office. Similarly, whatever we receive in the charitable fund, that directly goes to the targeted project. In that sense, we are unique. Today our credibility is increasing and inspiring lots of Nepalis to support us. Till now we have made more than 50 schools, 40 libraries, a huge orphanage in Dhulkhel and health posts in Mugu and Achham. We have supported the flood victims, fire victims, and cold victims. We also have an endowment fund of NRS10 crore and with the interest generated from the fund, we have plans to support the schools in the needy areas.

How do you manage the financial aspects of Help Nepal organization and maintain credibility?

We would like to assure that Help Nepal uses the funds properly. We do not use a single penny for administrative purpose. In our project, community has to do something from their side too- so it is not  that we just give the money and they don’t have to contribute to the project. It takes time to build the credibility. If we misuse the money, people would stop donating. People trust the organization because they have seen results – We have put an audit report on our website.

You came up with the idea of Practical Philanthropy. What is it? And what is its correlation to spiritualism?

In my view there is a huge relationship between spiritualism and philanthropy. Spirituality simply means sacrificing for others. It is not just meditating and making oneself happy but it is also making society happy. So you cannot be happy if people around are in miserable condition. Spiritualism is making the society happy and philanthropy is also about making the same thing.

In your view what should be the role of youth in the days to come?

I have interacted with a lot of students. I usually tell them to be honest and dedicated to their work. Don’t go after bandas and burnings, what you have burnt today will heat you after ten years. Now you think you change the society, but first change yourselves. Unless you change, you are sure to be the burden for the family and society as well. Further, if you become self reliant, honest and have a good economic status, I suggest you to join the politics.

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