One Man's Tireless Effort to Provide ICT Education to Nepalese Students

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With few exceptions, Nepalese business and political leaders often dismiss young people when they come up with ambitious ideas. Over the summer of 2009, I was in Nepal with a mission to run a summer camp for war-affected children and to establish a library at a public school at my remote village in western Nepal. With limited resources, I was under heavy pressure to find people and organization willing to endorse and support my idea. One of my close friends introduced me to Allen Bailochan Tuladhar, the Nepal country manager of Microsoft Inc. I was hesitant and little nervous to meet Allen by the thought of him dismissing me as naïve and too ambitious. Only did I realize later that he not only liked my idea but also sent three of his computer experts to help run my summer camp. I also had an opportunity to attend a training camp with him in Panauti town. Moreover, he walked for hours to visit the summer camp site to encourage our team and assess the situation of the place. Allen's humbleness and kind reception speaks volumes about his work ethic and successes.

The creator of the biggest database for Microsoft to this date, Allen Bailochan Tuladhar is a leading IT professional in the beautiful republic of Nepal. He developed Nepali spell checker with 59 thousand root words from which two to six million words can be created. He also supported the development of Maithili and Kirati fonts; Nepal's two among many ethnic languages. During the heyday of Microsoft, he gambled to return and start the arduous process of localizing Microsoft software to the Nepalese consumers. Employing more than 45 IT professionals in his Nepal office, Tuladhar proudly announces to add more than 110 over the next six months.

Tuladhar has been working in developing local language computing for more than 18 years. His focus is on localizing the Microsoft tools and enabling Nepalese people to be able to use the resources and compete in the international market. His ambitious mission of establishing 1,500 tele-centers as per Nepal's current five-year development plan is bringing together the government agencies, INGOs, NGOs, educational institutions and civil society and aid in reducing poverty and also meeting the Millennium Development Goals. He hopes to have an ICT development center in Nepal within next five years. Other plans include building MSN in Nepali and localizing contents that are relevant and interesting.

He stresses the need for making people understand the value of having computer with genuine software to expand market and outreach just as mobile phone and TV did. Working in a country with 99% piracy and the problem of product imitation, Tuladhar has his own way of measuring Microsoft's success in Nepal. He has been able to successfully invest resources in expanding information technology outreach in remote areas of Nepal. His Nepal based organization is called FIT. Nepal has established 89 tele-centers and hopes to add five and 15 more school based tele-centers this year alone.

Allen initiated one laptop per child project in one of the government schools in Panauti, a small town few hours of drive from Kathmandu. He recounts bitter experiences of working with the government officials in implementing such programs in other public schools. The then minister asked for a laptop before she could approve the project in 2008. Frustrated and angry, Allen went ahead and started the project on his own.

His team in Kathmandu is feverishly working on developing contents that accelerates the process of e-learning in Nepali schools. Allen passionately explains me how with one computer, a USB hub and tons of mouses, one can involve many students at a time in class works. From donating books from Nepali, US and Indian publishing houses to school libraries across the nation to running a weekly radio program, Yak Sansar Yak Awaj (One World One Voice) in six FM stations, Allen epitomizes ideal entrepreneurs that this war torn nation is looking for. The radio program brings about the indigenous knowledge but there is a problem on how to validate such information. Reducing digital divide and knowledge gap through local language computing and rural tele-centers is the most effective way to combat poverty in more than 15,00 Nepalese villages.

In 2008, Allen went to the Constituent Assembly and discussed the idea of using OCR (Optical Character Recognition)-the electronic translation of handwritten, typed or printed images into a machine-editable text. As more than 30% of Nepal's Constituent Assembly (CA) members are illiterate, Allen's idea was to provide a MP3 with Wi-Fi and once CA members get inside the hall, all the documents could be listened to or read. His idea was put aside by the speaker of the house citing his enormous work-load and technological complexities of the process.

Despite constant the political glitches, Allen is working with Intel, Sysco and IBM to identify their interest for ICT development in Nepal and work together. His sole purpose to bring Microsoft to Nepal was to increase Nepal's capability to customized software, invest in higher education and pushing government for IT friendly policies. Hoping to encourage and gear Nepalese politicians towards more IT friendly environment, Allen even took a team of 150 people, including 27 prominent politicians, to show rural tele-centers in India in 2007. The visit did not help gather momentum to gearing towards including ICT component in Nepal's development initiatives.

Allen does not look very hopeful about Nepal's coming days. He says that there is no delivery to the people and unless the leaders change their attitude, Nepal's future remains gloomy. In the meantime, he continues to push the government and other parties to expand computer outreach to remote Nepali villages.