Currently the head of the BBC Nepali Sewa, Rabindra Mishra has degrees in English, Journalism and International Relations from Tribhuwan University, Punjab University and University College of London, respectively. The Founder of Help Nepal Network, which is the largest charitable network of Nepalis, he has been spearheading philanthropic journalism in Nepal. He has published two books, Bhumadhya-Rekha: Arthaheenata bhitra Artha Khojda, and Khana Pugos Dina Pugos. He has donated the royalties from these books to charities.
Let’s start by asking you about your interest in journalism. How did you come to it?
After I did my SLC, my father suggested that I study journalism and English literature. My sister was also studying journalism in Moscow at that time. I had interest in writing. My family environment was artistic and literary. All put together, I thought it was not a bad idea.
I started studying journalism in college. I started writing during my college days, but my first full-time job as a journalist was with the Nepal Television (NTV), where I worked while doing my Masters in English literature at the Tribhuvan University.
I was not too happy with the kind of work I had to do at the NTV. I resigned from my job in less than a year. But after completing my Masters, I was fortunate to get a scholarship to do a Masters in Journalism at the Punjab University in Pakistan.
I went to the university in the morning and from 2 to 10pm, worked with Pakistan’s leading English language daily, The News International. I worked there for just over two years before I completed my Masters in Journalism, and got an offer from the BBC to work in London.
When and how did you join the BBC?
As I was about to complete my course in Pakistan, I had written letters to a few organizations explaining my background, skills and my interest to work with them. One of the letters was written to Khagendra Nepali of the BBC Nepali Service in London. He sent me a polite response, obviously without any commitment.
Just before the 1993 elections in Pakistan, Khagendra Dai contacted me from London and asked me to do some voice reports for the BBC Nepali Service. But he said, the reports had to be read out in less than two minutes. He also warned me that I shouldn’t feel bad if the report turned out to be unusable.
I was nervous, but at the same time, excited as well. I did my best and once the report was recorded over the phone, I received an extremely positive response. I was asked to do more reports over the election period, which I did and he liked them all.
We had no communication after that for over 6 months. One fine day towards the end of February 1994, I got a call from Khagendra Dai, who said he would like to take a short written test and if that went fine, would like to invite me to work in the BBC Nepali Service in London for six months.
The test went well and I was asked to come to London. After two months of joining the BBC, I was offered two years’ contract and my association with the BBC still continues.
You are now the Head of the BBC Nepali Service. What kind of challenges did you face on the way?
I presume we all face similar challenges to grow. Once people are settled in a reasonably comfortable job, complacency creeps in and kills further growth. The challenge is to break that barrier by continuing with the hard work, creativity, honesty and commitment to do better and better.
You have said that you have had some of your best times in the UK, and still you chose to return to Nepal, why so?
My stay in the UK has taught me and given me a lot in life, which I will cherish forever. However, I strongly feel that Nepalis like us with a little bit of education and exposure should try to return to Nepal before it’s too late and use the knowledge and experience gained abroad in Nepal.
It was this feeling that brought me back to Nepal. It was one of the best decisions I have made in life. Having said that, we must respect those who don’t want to or can’t return for various reasons. However, Nepalis are always looking to do something for their motherland, wherever they live.
Can you please tell us about some of the most memorable radio programs that you have done?
I have mostly worked on the desk and done interviews, therefore, I don’t have as many exciting stories to tell as correspondents. I did an interview series, Down Memory Lane, as soon as I joined the BBC. The series, with late Ganesh Man Singh, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Manmohan Adhikari, Girija Prasad Koirala and many others of their generation was quite fascinating. I also did the first ever audio interview of Prachanda while he was still in hiding in Delhi. Recently, it was interesting to interview former American President Jimmy Carter both for television and radio. While working with the BBC, Nepal witnessed some unimaginable historical moments. Presenting them to millions of listeners in an accurate, balanced and credible manner will always be memorable.
What is the future of radio? Can it survive the onslaught of new media?
I think that among all kinds of media, the future of radio is the most secure. Radio has the least limitations in terms of distribution, it is something that you can listen to in any corner of the world, and also use when you are doing something else. All other media, whether it is print, online or television, have bigger limitations and require one’s full attention.
Philanthropy is very dear to your heart. How did you come to philanthropy?
Finally, you have come to a question which, indeed, is very close to my heart. Journalism is my profession, but promotion of philanthropy is my passion. That, however, does not mean that I don’t have the passion for journalism.
Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that without making philanthropy the foundation of social and political progress, the world is not going to change for the better. Many believe that the world is moving in a positive direction. However, if you go through reliable surveys, it is pretty obvious that the sense of insecurity and violence, the gap between the rich and poor, environmental degradation–everything is increasing. It will only be logical to ask why this is happening despite the world witnessing financial, intellectual, scientific and technological progress that it had never seen before.
We have become so selfish that we hardly think about others and of future generations. In the quest of personal development and achievement, we have lost the fundamental human values. We express sorrow when we hear about several members of the same family dying of cold or a mother killing herself and her small kids because she couldn’t feed them anything for several days. We blame the politicians and the bureaucrats for their plight. However, we never question ourselves if we, as conscious and able citizens, have done anything to rectify the wrongs that we so passionately criticise.
Until and unless, every individual feels responsible towards the society, the world, especially the countries like Nepal, are never going to change for the better. When states become weak, citizens have to bear greater responsibility.
My involvement in charity and promotion of philanthropy is the result of such feelings. Many people tend to think that philanthropy makes people dependent and should be discouraged. However, philanthropy is not just about handing out money and material; it is about feeling the pain of those who are leading extremely miserable lives. Philanthropy is about making humans more compassionate. It’s about creating a compassionate society and compassionate state, which in turn will bring happiness and prosperity to all.
You are an advocate of philanthropic journalism, can philanthropy and journalism go together?
Absolutely. The core value of journalism is ‘public service’. After studying and practising journalism for around two decades, I have come to the conclusion that the journalism practised around the world is fundamentally flawed, and we must redefine the idea of public service vis-a-vis journalism altogether.
By primarily focusing on deaths, disasters, killings, political wranglings and everything that’s negative, the power of journalism has been hugely under-utilised. It may have helped restore peace and democracy in certain places, made authorities accountable on occasions and helped disaster relief efforts. However, the strength of journalism is immense and has not been explored. The way we practice journalism inadvertently seems to have contributed towards the rise in the level of conflict than in the level of consciousness among the masses.
‘Philanthropic Journalism’ attempts to explore the positive power of journalism. It aims at creating positive vibes and transform lives in a visible manner. It refers to journalistic practices that do not only act as a fodder for conversation but as a catalyst of change. It not only talks about the problems but also explores ways to resolve them in practice. Reporting and publishing a picture about students forced to take classes under a tree, for instance, is a form of ‘traditional journalism’. Mentioning how much it costs to re-build the collapsed classrooms and providing the phone number(s) of the school if anyone wants to support re-construction is ‘philanthropic journalism’. That will immediately inspire compassionate readers to support the school.
Apart from playing a catalytic role towards visible change, Philanthropic Journalism challenges the long-standing notion that ‘bad news is good news’ and argues that ‘good news can be great news’. It does not negate the importance of traditional journalism (focused on politics, economy, deaths and disasters, etc) but rather aims to complement it through the promotion of good news and by inspiring readers to take concrete action for positive change.
Tell us something about HELP NEPAL Network, how it began, what was your motivation behind it?
HELP NEPAL Network is the largest charitable network of Nepalis. It has chapters in 14 countries and is run on a fully voluntary basis. The administrative cost of its Kathmandu-based four-member office is borne by a separate Endowment Fund of Rs 1 crore and 85 lakhs, received from generous Nepali donors living in various parts of the world. A young industrialist, Siddhartha Rana, alone donated 1 crore as he was highly impressed by our work. This fund allows the Network to spend every single penny donated directly on the projects it undertakes. All executive committee members and coordinators working in the many different chapters are volunteers.
The aim of the Network is to encourage Nepalis and those who love Nepal around the world to provide assistance in the fields of health and education in rural Nepal. The Network also provides occasional support to disaster relief efforts. We believe that first, Nepalis should do for Nepal and only if they can’t they should seek others’ help.
We envision a society where every relatively able individual contributes a small portion of their earnings for the benefit of those who genuinely need support. We have called this ‘Practical Philanthropy’, an approach which will not hamper an individual’s normal life but which will benefit disadvantaged communities.
The launch of HELP NEPAL Network (HeNN) was an attempt to demonstrate how the collective efforts of Nepalis and others interested in the country’s wellbeing could make a difference in the lives of many in a country like Nepal. It was also a reaction to the fact that, whilst being in a much more privileged position compared to that of most fellow citizens in Nepal, only a few Nepalis living abroad were doing something to help the country of their birth. In contrast, many non-Nepalese were engaged in philanthropic activities in Nepal and virtually all Non-Governmental Organisations in the country were being financed by foreign donors. In such a situation we thought that it would be appropriate to encourage the large and resourceful pool of expatriate Nepalis, as well as those living in Nepal, to contribute to Nepal as much as they could. Hence, Nepalis are at the centre of the Network’s activities, though we warmly welcome any help and donations from other communities (from the Introduction section of the www.helpnepal.net)
How can NRNs give back to Nepal?
Usually, feelings of patriotism rise when you are away from your country. I felt the same when I was abroad and I am sure many Non-Resident Nepalis (NRNs) feel the same. Such feelings will have a huge impact back in the poor hills and plains of Nepal if they were expressed through action rather than in words. Increasing number of NRNs are speaking through action in recent years. They are supporting scores of charitable causes. Those who are rich are also investing in business ventures. Some are working in the fields of ‘knowledge and skill development’. All of those are very encouraging signs.
The more NRNs start to give back, the more NRNs will be encouraged to do so. The only point to keep in mind is, if you consider yourself a Nepali, do something for Nepal. As soon as you think that way, you will be inspired to do something. Nepal is such a country that anything positive you do will be hugely valued.
You gave the royalties from the sale of your books, Bhumadhya-Rekha and Khana Pugos Dina Pugos, to organizations working for the welfare of indigenous communities. Why the focus on these communities?
It was just a coincidence. I had decided to donate the royalty to HELP NEPAL Network itself. However, as my first book, Bhumadhya-Rekha, was about to be published I came to know about the excellent work journalist Ekal Silwal and theatre artiste Rabindra Singh Baniya were doing for the Chepangs in Kanda village of Chitwan district. I always thought that it was a good idea to support each-other’s good work, rather than always focusing on one’s own initiatives. Therefore, I decided to support them.
What steps have you taken to ensure the money that you have donated to the organizations are properly utilized?
It’s better not to donate if you have even a shred of doubt in your mind. Do you doubt, when you donate money to Pushpa Basnet? Similarly, I didn’t have any doubts when I decided to support Ekal Jee and Rabindra Jee, who, after my initial support, have set up a charity called Miteri Foundation, to institutionalize the assistance to the Chepangs in Kanda. Since then they have been doing wonderful work.
Interviewed By: Ajit Baral
Originally Published on Mydreamsmag.com