What rising Nepali leaders teach us about changing the world


What rising Nepali leaders teach us about changing the world

What rising Nepali leaders teach us about changing the world

With about 27 million people – more than half living on less than $2 per day – Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet, socially-innovative leaders have transformed conflict-ravaged and earthquake-damaged communities into examples of social progress.

During March 2018, I traveled to Nepal to experience one of its most innovative development initiatives, READ Nepal, and learn from its rising leaders.

READ (Rural Education and Development) has catalyzed the growth of 66 community-owned and sustainably-funded learning centers across the Himalayan hills and rural plains of the country. READ’s headquarters doesn’t hire and fire for the community centers. They don’t make programming decisions for the centers. Instead, each community thrives because members are shown from day one what self leadership and social initiative looks like.

For 26 years, these libraries have raised Nepal’s “baby-boomer” generation and their “millennial” children as progressive, innovative, and hopeful humans. With the assistance of READ Nepal’s Operations Director, Pushpa Bhadel, I had the privilege of interviewing 40 of the women already serving as (and growing into) community leadership.

While reflections could write a novel, listening to the innovations of these rising leaders revealed three primary insights for personal, organizational, and leadership development everywhere.

1. We need more role models of socially-conscious leadership. 

In Chitwan, near the India border, we interviewed 18-year-old Neeru (name changed). Neeru shared that she’s been leading the center’s youth group and how excited she is to take Glow Effect’s leadership program.

Pushpa and I then asked if she could name any female leaders. She shook her head.

At 18 years old, even as a U.S. citizen from a upper-middle-class upbringing, I likely would have drawn a blank at that question too. Women aren’t generally called, “leaders,” unless a job gives them that title and we surely don’t call ourselves that.

MIT economist Esther Duflo surveyed 495 villages in the West Bengal region of India, where for over 20 years village council positions were reserved for women as part of an ongoing effort to increase the presence of females in local government. Duflo proved what she called “The Role-Model Effect”: seeing women in charge persuaded parents and teens that women can run things, and consequently increased their leadership ambitions.

Neeru, unknowingly, is reflecting a larger cultural issue: the under-representation of female leadership is not only hurting young women, it’s hurting our communities’ growth.

2. Problems aren’t always our fault, but it is our responsibility to create a solution.

Everyday, I hear U.S. executives recount their organizational burnout, overwhelm, and disconnection. I hear them taking on the company’s challenges, as if it’s their fault we can’t fix a broken system.

My interview with 23-year-old, rising Nepali leader, Khyana (name changed), can give us hope for change. During the health portion of interviews, we heard about menstruation rituals, where females are normally kept out of the kitchen and made to live in separate quarters.

While her husband works abroad, Khyana’s mother-in-law tried to keep her out of the kitchen. She emphasized, “But I told her that I’m not unclean and now we no longer have the ritual.”

Across the world, we’re all feeling the effects of leaders who’ve made questionable decisions. #MarchforOurLives reflects that rising leaders everywhere are sick of outdated rituals kept in place simply because they’re rituals. Khyana shows humans’ inherent potential to transform cultural barriers. It’s time to create new solutions.

3. We’re all struggling to figure out how to help.

The most common thing I hear from rising leaders, rich and poor, from the US to Uganda to Nepal: “I just want to help people.”

Social worker, Sumitra (name changed), shows that despite her eagerness to find community solutions, there’s a blind spot. At the end of the interviews, most of the women requested details about our leadership program. Sumitra responded differently:

“How can we get poorer communities involved in this leadership development? Too many of these programs go to the youth and the educated. How can I bring this to the poor and elderly?”

Pushpa and I explained Glow Effect’s “training-the-trainer” model where Sumitra and her teammates will choose 10 people from each of their communities and recreate the program for them, totaling 140 women impacted.

Sumitra seemed somewhat satisfied with that response, but in true leader fashion, we know her real satisfaction comes when she’s sees the change. Ultimately, it’s up to local communities to envision a new solution. Sumitra, like the other Nepali leaders, provide hope that there is still infinite potential to be investigated.


It’s easy to feel our work isn’t moving the needle.  Five years ago, I was a Chicago family law attorney burnt out and in search of how to make an impact on the world.

Business professionals, life coaches and therapists told me to love myself more, find work that feels good, ask for more money, and so on. Nothing supported my impact-making goals.

I began studying how humans across the globe are most significantly progressing their communities through social entrepreneurship, culture anthropology, international development, and personal growth.

I’ve had the privilege of working with socially-innovative leaders from the rural lands of Uganda to the boardrooms of Wells Fargo, only to discover that humans everywhere are craving deeper change in their organizations, communities and beyond.

Indeed, this is never-ending, multi-layered process, but there are some foundational steps to discovering how to make an impact with your current resources.

Join me, Saren Stiegel, international leadership development mentor, for “3 Foundational Steps to Discovering How You’re Meant to Help People,” a one-of-a-kind training where you will learn:

How to identify your unique genius and turn it into value for others;

Build an action plan for bringing that to life through a community project or social business initiative,

And everything you need to make a tangible impact on the lives of others!

Plus, learn how to become eligible for our 2019 EXCHANGE team to work with rising leaders in Nepal!

Looking forward to meeting you on the training!

Love + glow,

  • Saren Stiegel
  • Founder/CEO of Glow Effect


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