Because humans are such diverse creatures, Ekta Lamichhane understands that conflict is part of everyday life, “as essential as the air we breathe in order for us to evolve,” she says. If not handled with care, though, conflicts often turn violent, especially in today’s global world where even people in Nepal know that what happens in Vegas, doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore, as Ekta says with a smile. “It very well spills over every other place.” For a small country “often lost amidst the two giant economies of India and China,” lack of effective conflict resolution can prove devastating. Ekta wants to be part of the solutions.
Young people from Nepal face the aftermath of the ten-year conflict between the government of Nepal and the Maoists where people’s basic needs went unmet and poverty spread. Additionally, all hardships are aggravated by the caste system, still deep-rooted in Nepalese society, and the looming question of federalism on the basis of ethnicity can spark raging conflict among the otherwise tolerant ethnic groups in Nepal.
The Nepalese are still fighting to realize their potential in terms of development, however, conflict resolution is essential at all levels. For example, communities are granted stewardship over local forests, which offer industry and income, but the allocation of responsibilities and benefits is subject to manipulation by the powerful in their favor, thus, likely to create disputes.
Ekta sees conflicts over water as eventually being resolved in win-win agreements through conflict resolution. In the Kathmandu valley, people queue up for hours for a jar of water. During the dry season, families last for a week without water—or electricity. Even though Nepal’s water resources are second only to Brazil, lack of hydro-electricity causes “load shedding” (rolling blackouts) in Nepal, often exceeding 48 hours a week in the dry season. Water rights, distribution, and diversion are compounded by ethnic and caste considerations.
It is the rainy season, however, that brings problems of most immediate concern to Ekta. The management of trash and garbage is often disastrously inefficient, but in the rainy season, garbage, mounting in heaps, spreads diseases. HSI honored Ekta with an Outstanding Social Innovation Award, which included funding for her plan to work with a municipality and an NGO to separate the biodegradable waste for compost to grow mushrooms. The remaining non-biodegradable waste would be used to make inexpensive reusable trash bags and furniture, generating employment and income to turn the project into a sustainable industry.
Currently, Ekta is working toward her master’s degree in Conflict, Peace, and Development studies and has become especially interested in applications of negotiation, mediation, and facilitation strategies. In 2009, she was the president of her university’s social club, involving the collection of relief items for flood victims and donations for the treatment of a year-old baby severely burned while crawling onto an earthen stove. Ekta learned that she had to show relevance and validity to members, the university, and potential donors. She visited the hospital, talked with doctors and nurses, and then relayed the information. Members formed groups and talked to other students to generate support for the cause. Their campaign brought 50,000 Nepalese Rupees, a contribution Ekta believes helped bring hope to the child and her family.
From these efforts, Ekta understands that leadership requires a high level of commitment that cannot be compromised. A leader is responsible and accountable. Leadership is not granted but earned through trust and allowing others to contribute. Her goal is to lead people through conflict resolutions that turn problems into constructive opportunities. “I aspire to become the Nepalese ambassador to the United States,” Ekta says. “I m still optimistic about making a difference in whichever way possible.”