Bower Group Asia (BGA)
Despite the prolonged political instability, Nepal so far has remained in the investment radar of many prospective investors across the globe as they have been eying lucrative opportunities available in the Nepali market. This has led to some of the world’s top consulting firms coming to Nepal in recent years. Among such organisations is Bower Group Asia (BGA) which is a leading government affairs and public policy advisory firm. Some of the world’s top companies of various sectors are its clients. The firm helps its clients understand how systems and governments work in particular markets, identify prospective areas for investment and develop plans and strategies accordingly. BGA operates across ASEAN, APEC and South Asia regions covering 24 countries altogether. The firm has been present in Nepal since 2014 represented by Sujeev Shakya who is the Senior Advisor of BGA. John Hellman is the Vice-president of BGA who was recently in Nepal in a visit and talked with Sanjeev Sharma of New Business Age about the firm’s operations in Nepal, its areas of focus, investment opportunities for big foreign companies in the country, among other issues. Excerpts:
What brings you to Nepal?
The potentials in the Nepali market are still pretty much untapped. We have not seen big investments come to Nepal quite yet. So, I have come here to try to understand what is happening on the ground. BGA has been looking at various areas at present so that we can have a couple of interlocutors in areas such as banking, insurance and public sectors. We will see where the key opportunities are and find ways to further connect Nepal to the greater Himalayan region and to some other surrounding markets.
What are the key areas of focus for Bower Group Asia?
Bower Group Asia (BGA) is a government affairs and public policy advisory firm. We build stakeholder maps for our client companies. We look at who are going to be the key interlocutors that oversee the regulatory environment of the sectors of our clients.
We formulate engagement strategies for the companies to go and speak to the interlocutors in an effort to combine goals and figure out ways to achieve the goals in the markets they operate.
How does BGA provide its services to its clients? How does it connect corporate institutions to the governments, civil society members and other major stakeholders?
We provide our services through a variety of methods. The special thing about BGA is that we have people on the ground in 19 markets covering 24 different countries. The markets we serve include Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and countries of South-East Asia. We are a multi-market firm but unlike other consultancies that operate throughout the world, we basically focus on the Asia-Pacific region. We view that this is the “Asian Century” as the continent is poised to become the engine of global economy and innovation.
We have great leaders such as Sujeev Shakya in Nepal. We also have former ambassadors, former business leaders, heads of Chamber of Commerce and Industries working with us in various markets. These are the individuals who know the key interlocutors in the governments, NGOs, civil society, media and academia. We understand about the problems and opportunities in particular markets from our clients. We match the needs of each client companies to the stakeholders in the markets that matter to key thought leaders and opinion makers. We do this through very hands-on efforts. Our clients go to the countries to hold key meetings with the stakeholders laid out by us to get their narratives out.
How is BGA working in Nepal?
Our company in Nepal is represented by Sujeev Shakya who is a great thought leader. We have been working with him for the last three years. What we are trying to do here is to work on a number of initiatives that link the Himalayan countries. Shakya also represents us in Bhutan in this regard. He has got a number of cross sector initiatives that engage individuals from Nepal government, private sector, NGOs, academia and the civil society.
We want to get engaged in the key potential areas and help Nepal and our clients to explore the available opportunities. We are also looking to work in outbound investment across the South Asia region. With the lack of interest of major MNCs in Nepal, we have been thinking on how to assist some home-grown Nepali companies to go to other regions and help them to invest in markets such as India and Bangladesh. BGA has also been looking to support Nepal to attract more investment from those countries as well. We can also offer our services to small and medium enterprises to help them to get into new areas and markets of comparative advantage.
How do you view the current political and economic landscape of Nepal for investment opportunities?
Nepal is at a critical juncture. The prolonged political instability has been the major obstructing factor for investments in the country. This has stopped foreign companies to come here with large investments. The situation is quite unpredictable as people do not know who will be in the leadership positions in the government to deal with. To be quite honest, this has created a murky environment in establishing business here for the investors.
What do you think are the public policy issues to be addressed in Nepal for economic prosperity?
The changes in constitutional and governance structures which Nepal has been going through will be the key to attract investments. The local elections are very important in this regard. It will be very important and interesting to watch how Nepal’s transformation from a unitary to a federal structure of governance will actually develop and the new system is implemented in real time. Many foreign companies are closely watching the ongoing political developments in Nepal.
Similarly, the policy reform is another area to watch. Some laws have already been amended and some are in the process of amendment. Likewise, some new policies are in the pipeline. Many of our client companies, for instance, are interested in the FMCG and ICT sectors in Nepal. They are willing to invest here but are concerned about the current taxation system and issues related to IPR. They first want to make sure that their products and services will get full protection. All these factors will determine the economic path Nepal will take in the coming years.
What specific areas for investment are lucrative in Nepal? How can the country exploit the potential in this regard?
I think it is time for Nepal to change its image which is being viewed by the outside world as a peripheral market of India. For this, the country can focus on certain areas like infrastructure, education, ICT and BFI. Infrastructure is the most attractive sector for investment in Nepal as the country is in need of big projects in connectivity and energy. Energy can be a viable exportable item of Nepal as electricity demand has been growing sharply in India and China. Education is another sector with big potential as Nepal is home to a sizeable young people. Education can take out immense amounts of creativity and energy from the Nepali youths.
You have worked with various Fortune 500 companies over the years. What do you think as Nepal and real offers to attract such companies to invest here?
Nepal is a market which is yet to attract USD 100 million in investment. The country has received investments in single to low-level double digit millions in US dollars till date given the fact that Nepal has a smaller sized population of about 30 million and a good portion of Nepalis are out of the country at present. Nevertheless, it is has become an attractive market for FMCG companies. But Nepal is still out of the investment consideration of many big MNCs. I think education is a key factor which will promote Nepal in major global economies helping to introduce the country in sectors such as technology. Similarly, Nepal has to brand and market itself in particular ways as well.
What are the experiences of BGA in other countries in terms of making public policy workable for business and investment?
This is a good parallel to look at. We have seen a real sense of openness in political classes in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia over the years to take in the comments of best global practices of the companies that are coming in. For example, we are working in Myanmar after the nation adopted open political and economic policies in 2012. Of course, Myanmar has a far way to go. But the openness in policy levels has made the country an economy with an attractive investment environment aside from its population of 55 million with massive spending capacity that has been left untouched for some time. There is openness in the policy level in terms of lessons learnt from the MNCs to rely on them for certain expertise such as gaining knowledge on how things work in other markets.
Nepal has to look at things like these in order to create an environment conducive for investment. Establishing an effective IPR regime, ensuring free movement of capital, formulating rules for good governance and transparency are some of the important steps Nepal needs to take in this regard.
What are your observations on the recent policy reform initiatives in Nepal?
It is good to see Nepal moving forward with the policy reforms and making adjustments where needed. However, the country has to achieve political stability to foster an attractive investment environment. There are concerns among our clients over the frequent changes in the government here. This has led to a situation where investors do not know about the people in the cabinet, who will be the key interlocutors they will be interacting with and what their thoughts are about the particular sectors companies are willing to invest in.
What are the plans of BGA in Nepal for the coming days?
BGA will be further engaging in thought leadership programmes and conducting a series of roundtables. We are looking to do some new events in Nepal with Sujeev leading the way. Likewise, we will hold discussions with ambassadors of different countries in Nepal to talk about investment related issues and opportunities. We want to bring some of our clients here and link with key interlocutors who can drive their narratives in order to introduce them to the potential areas of investment.