Economic Development Project For Refugee Community Progresses

The following article is from the Summer, 1991 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

$1 Million Loan Fund Ready to Lend; Handicraft Company Set for Imports

by Richard Weingarten

The Tibetan Economic Development Project began in 1987. The purposes of the Project were to analyze the resources available to the Tibetan refugee communities in India and Nepal, and to help these communities develop a long-term plan to improve their standard of living while in exile. In addition, the Project sought to teach skills and methods that would be of use upon the return of the community to Tibet, whenever that might be.

The Project began at the request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), in Dharamsala, India. It was initiated because of disturbing trends that were emerging in the Tibetan Settlements after nearly 30 years of exile. The most troublesome of these trends was the persistent flight of young Tibetans to Indian and Nepalese cities after receiving their education. Because the Setdements are largely based on handicraft production and agriculture, they provide limited opportunities for employment. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to keep better educated young people living and working on the Settlement lands. Further, as the refugee population has continued to grow due to a high birth rate and an ongoing influx of new people fleeing from Tibet, scarce land resources have been strained beyond their productive capacity.

Within this context, the Economic Development Project began with visits to about 25 Settlement communities in India and Nepal. The Tibet Fund in New York City provided the initial financial support, along with the CTA. Based on these visits and a lengthy report making a variety of recommendations for the 10-15 year period, the CTA embarked on a new course and began a comprehensive program of economic and community development planning.

The first step that the CTA took was to organize a Planning Council to focus on community-wide planning. This Coffncil was formed in May of 1988 and was essentially composed of representatives of the various Offices and Departments (such as Health, Education, Home Affairs, and Economic Affairs) of the CTA. Its primary mission was to establish a framework for planning within the Setdements and within the CTA. It also quickly identified several large projects that needed to be undertaken quickly and a broad range of trainings that would be required for the refugee community to be able to plan effectively in the economic arena.

Since the Planning Council began its work three years ago, it has made substantial progress. Its most important accomplishment has been to establish a Revolving Loan Fund in the community. This Fund will make its first loan at the end of May. It has commitments for initial capital of $1 million and will be seeking additional funds. It will focus its lending in two areas: strengthening the Cooperative Societies in the Settlements, and supporting and encouraging new business enterprises in the refugee community. The Fund has a seven year life and interest earned on the Fund's capital will be mostly reinvested in other businesses and development projects in the Community.

In addition, the Planning Council played a key role in the establishment of the Tibetan Handicraft Development Board. This new body was organized at the end of 1989 to help create an export market for newly designed Tibetan handicraft products. In 1990, Dzi, Inc. was organized in the United States as a private enterprise to import and market handicraft products produced under the auspices of the Development Board. Dzi expects to begin importing a new line of Tibetan handicrafts in the Fall of 1991 and to show this line in a variety of trade shows around the US and by direct mail.

The Planning Council has also assisted the community in designing and carrying out various agricultural demonstration projects, feasibility studies looking into the prospects for various small scale industries, and activities relating to the overall administration of the CTA (like the creation of a Central Publishing Center that all the Offices and Departments can use). It has also helped various CTA staff members to receive much needed training in such areas as cooperative management, credit schemes, organization development and agricultural planning and analysis. These trainings have been held in many countries and under many sponsorships. Trainings have been held in Israel, Bangladesh, India, and the US, while sponsors have included American Jewish World Service, Katalysis Foundation, OEF International, and the Tibet Fund.

But the most important task of the Planning Council still lies ahead. This task is to create an Integrated Economic and Community Development Plan for the refugee community. This Plan will be the community's first effort toward serious economic planning at a national level. It is expected to include plans for each of the community's most important sectors (such as Health, Human Resources, Education, Agriculture, and Small Scale Industry) as well as for each of the nearly 50 Setdements. The Planning Council intends to complete this Plan within the next 12 months, although it is a difficult and complex undertaking.

The Economic Development Project is far from completed. In fact, it is a project that will never be complete; it will continuously evolve and change. But looking back at the last four years, much progress has already been made. With the persistent effort and dedication of so many people with the CTA, it seems clear that more progress will be made in the years to come.

Much help and expertise will be required from many people to make the Economic Development Project successful. If you believe that you have skills or resources that might be of assistance and you would like to help, please contact any of the people listed below:

Revolving Loan Fund:

Lama Wangchuk Gyaltsen

Deputy Secretary

Planning Council

Ganchen Kyishong

Dharmasala 1769215

Kangra District, HP INDIA

Planning Council:

Chairman Lobsang Dhaigyal

Planning Council

Ganchen Kyishong

Dharamsala 176215

Kangra District, HP INDIA

Handicraft Project:

Mac McCoy

President

Dzi, Inc.

625 Willow St NW

Washington, DC 20012 (202) 332-4555

Economic Development Project (General):

Richard Weingarten

Richard Weingarten & Company, Inc.

1447 Peachtree St NE Suite 715

Adanta, GA 30309

(404) 607 8500


Richard Weingarten is an investment banker. He is currently the President of Richard Weingarten & Company, Inc., a private firm providing financial advisory and investment banking services to selected clients. He is a Director and Secretary of the Tibet Fund in New York City and a Trustee of American Jewish World Service, a Jewish economic development organization working in the Third World.

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