The People’s Expert

February 6, 2013 , by Ujjwala Maharjan, Leave your thoughts
The People’s Expert » My Dreams Mag
With his personal approach, Shameer Khanal puts spin to sustainable economic development. Pumped up and ready to pump others up, he also puts people in the core of progress. Get to know more of this young soul with a can-do attitude.

Here’s a situation. You have to talk in an international conference. The hall is filled with hundreds of people- from ministers to senior government officials; every important person is there. They’ve just sat through hours of lectures and presentations, followed by a heavy lunch. The air in the room is drowsy.

How do you then get your audience to wake up and participate into a lively conversation?

If you’re Shameer Khanal, a quick group-yoga is the answer.

The 33-year-old Senior Economic Development Expert currently working as a Senior Advisor at German International Cooperation (GIZ) was presented with an exact situation as above in 2009. He had to chair a session about Public Private Partnership at an international conference in India on Quality of Growth; and he started it – with a Public Private Asana.

Of course, he made that name up. But he did get the entire crowd at the conference – from the senior officials of Nepal’s National Planning Commission and Indian Planning Commission to Labor Committee heads and even deputy ministers— in their Dhoti and Kurta— to follow his lead and happily do Yoga for full five minutes.

“It was an amazing sight,” Khanal says recalling the event with a hearty laughter and adds, “And then the session too went great with very interesting dialogues and discussion.”Shameer Khanal

A combination of the quirky, witty and logical- his ways have always been different. Anyone from his family to his colleagues will tell you that. And he says he has actually enjoyed being different.

Take his name for example. During the 70s when ‘Sameer’ was becoming popular with couples looking for a good name for their babies, his father who at the time was stationed in India thought of adding an “h” to it. The uncommon addition then distinguished him from all the Sameers born around that time and he’s always amused with how people react to it.

Growing up too, their family had to move around a lot owing to his father’s job as the Country Head at the then Royal Nepal Airlines. Having lived his childhood partly in Nepal, partly in Hong Kong, India, Germany and always on the move back and forth, he learnt early on to detach and reattach with people.

He was always the new kid and often language barriers like when they first moved to Germany would be a hurdle to start connecting with the new place and people. However, he was quick to learn languages and though he’d be the odd one for a while, he never was out from a group for too long.

“I figured that people were interested in me. I’d travelled extensively and seen many different things for someone my age. I had stories and I knew how to tell them well,” Khanal says, “So I always opened up with my stories and I earned a lot of friends that way.”Shameer Khanal

An average student but a very active one, he was also involved in different activities- from school theatre to painting, music and debate. He also became the school captain and editor of his school magazine.

It was his experience as the school captain and involvement in different clubs that got him interested in the faculty of management he says.

He went on to pursue his business studies in the US. He also started working there as a Business Analyst Consultant for several businesses and corporate sectors. He was soon being sought after for his combination of strategic skills, rational thinking and user-friendly information technology in developing financial projections and predictability scenarios for his clientele.

Around 2004, he got an opportunity to work as a country level financial analyst for the financial system scenario of Cambodia. Coming from a corporate world, this opportunity to work in the development sector was a unique experience for him as he was working with sociologists and development workers for the first time, and what he brought to the table was completely different from the way they had been working.

“It was then that I realized that there was a gap to be filled in development works. They needed more people like me who could not only look into the issues of development and poverty alleviation but also into numbers and facts to systemise and optimise development and make it sustainable.”

With that realisation he returned to Nepal in 2005 and started to look for a position where he could use his new insight on development sector as a financial analyst.  GIZ at the time was looking for an Advisor for their Private Sector Promotion programme in Nepal and Khanal perfectly fit the bill.Shameer Khanal

There, he worked for sectoral promotion of tea, carpet and bamboo goods and furniture. As he conducted several value chain analysis for the products, tracing back every step of the process of the supply chain of the goods, he says he was always looking at it from the profitability standpoint.

“Development or not, if you don’t teach the business group or the local community the process of making money for sustainability, there’s no point of development at all,” shares Khanal.

Initially, he says, it was difficult clearing his standpoint to people who most often were concerned about things like gender, caste or ethnic representation in any work.

“What people referred to as aid money, I talked about it as investment money. I realized I was always asking the stupid questions as the economist in the group of social and development workers. But it’s because I never stopped asking all those questions that I am where I am now,” Khanal says.

Working in Nepal however was a challenge. Though the Nepalese tea and bamboo goods market flourished quite well with the programme, other sectors including the Nepalese carpet industry was too politicised and it was painstaking to work in such conditions.

Having seen his father work so passionately for Nepal Airlines and resign early disheartened with the drop it took after political interference, he too had developed intolerance for such political meddling.

“What business sector in Nepal could use is advisory service facilities for entrepreneurs,” says Khanal. “The business sector has to be free of politics and bureaucracy. Of course we need good legal framework, but people have to stop relying on the government or the politicians to rule them on how to run business. Rather the business community should be able to show them how it is done.”

Besides, Nepalese business sector often focuses on instant gratification and returns for themselves, he analyses. Rather than thinking of how business can be profitable long term and employing qualified human resources needed, they try to keep the profits within the network of their own people.

“For sustainable economic development, you have to realise that you cannot only think about how to make your share of the pie bigger but how can you make the whole pie bigger.”

As he developed and implemented ways to optimise the financial tools of different private sectors in the programme at GIZ, more people became interested in his ways and he soon became the key resource person at the organisation at the national and international level conducting trainings and developing strategies for different countries Asia-wide. After three years of working for GIZ at Nepal, he was then asked to develop and implement strategies for sustainable economic development in Uzbekistan.

For the past five years, he has been working there overseeing the seven value chain developments of products including fishery, milk production and horticulture at national level acting as the economic head for the country office.

“I try to understand the sector by directly working with the people involved in every step of the value chain – from the distributor to manufacturers, local producers and all the way to the farmers working on the field. When you do that you get a holistic view,’ says Khanal. “Often these people have great ideas. But to have them to sit together, talk and trace out what improvements can be made is all it takes to bring out these ideas and that’s what I try to do- encourage dialogue to maximise productivity.”

After analysing the entire process, he usually draws out the value chain map of the entire process- one picture that everyone can refer to and use unlike bulky manuals and reports that according to him no one has time to read anyways.

So when they have a problem or an idea to better the process, they know what stage of the value chain they need to work on and come to a solution without going through unnecessary steps and optimise the development process.

With his academic degrees, work experience in different countries and a decade into private and economic development sector, there’s a lot he has learnt in the way. However he notes that he is now reengaging himself to learn – unlearning and relearning the basics of management.

“I realised that all you learn is not always correct,” says Khanal. “Moreover, all the technical skills I learnt, I probably use only 10 percent of that. The rest 90 percent or more is all about people skills.”

Influenced by Daniel Kahneman’s work, the young visionary says he’s been experimenting with management from a psychological stand.

“It’s important to learn about yourself and the colleagues you’re working with; how their brain works, how do they react to bad news, what their communication skill is and what kind of the leader they are,” he says and adds with a chuckle, “I’m always compiling and conducting verified psychological tests with my colleagues for which they call me Dr Evil experimenting on them. But the brain mapping and comparing thinking process is always great to learn more about the state your colleagues are in.”

With his doors mostly open for his subordinates who come to him not just for mentoring but also counseling, he also is jokingly referred to as “the psychologist” at his workplace. At some points, he says he has had so many people coming to him with their problems, limiting yourself and pulling yourself away from the job becomes necessary.

No matter how much you love your work, the key to and keep loving it he says is to let yourself have time for other important things- like friends and family.

 “I never bring work home or the work pressure. At home I switch my brain off and I become a Homer Simpson,” he says with another of his jovial laugh, “That’s the way to remain healthy. I usually goof around with my daughter and wife; to a point they don’t believe I can actually be serious at work.”

Often travelling back home in Nepal to his parents for vacation, when asked about returning to work in Nepal he says, “Right now I have my obligations, to my family and their future, but because I’ve left does not mean I won’t come back. I will.”

Till then, he remains the tall enigmatic leader, career mentor, inspirer and an inspiration to many. With an infectious enthusiasm towards his work, he says he is almost always the first person to arrive at his office, pumped up and ready to pump others up.

Besides being the impactful leader at his own organisation, he is also sought after for his leadership training and “experimental ways” by many other organizations. And despite all the high ranking posts and the responsibility of all the subordinates and the team he oversees, he says he feels he does the easiest and most fun job in the world.

On stage in a conference instructing 500 people to do yoga, or in a hall giving trainings or managing and leading an entire team in an organisation, the key he says is the same.

“You have to see them as who they are. It’s not ministers, senior officials, professionals, engineers and technicians you have to co-ordinate or manage,” Khanal shares. “It’s people– who are emotional, creative, logical, irrational and abrasive at time and who always work better with a push, encouragement and constructive criticism.”

Photo: Niyukta Shrestha, Shameer Khanal

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