By Tsewang Namgyal
Central Tibetan Administration serves as the backbone of the Tibet movement. Tibet’s freedom is dependent on the financial viability of the institution. CTA is currently heavily dependent on foreign aid. If we assume that since 1959 CTA received financial assistance from foreign governments, NGOs and individuals to the amount of US$10 million annually that would be approximately US$530 million for the last 53 years. The numbers are huge even in Western standards. Considering that we are heavily dependent on outside financial support, it is natural that both our leadership and community are very concerned about CTA’s future financial viability. Personally, I believe the solution lies in the development of our private sector while also incorporating operational and strategic considerations. In addition, CTA should work to find ways to allow Tibetans to grow to their full potential and empower semi-government agencies like the Federation of Tibetan Co-operative in India Ltd (“FTCI”).
The decision taken during Samdhong Rinpoche’s administration to privatise CTA businesses was a step in the right direction. Instead of CTA getting into businesses, I believe CTA should continue to focus on their efforts to provide support to the Tibetan private sector or encourage the effort of NGOs who have the required expertise. Practical efforts that should be made include encouraging our foreign supporters to form joint ventures with Tibetan entrepreneurs in order to transfer expertise, provide access to capital and arrange training programs. Considering that there is no guarantee that financially successful Tibetans or enterprises will be engaged within the community, CTA should negotiate with Tibetan enterprises, on the outset, a requirement to distribute a certain percentage of their revenue or profit to CTA depending on the support provided.
Even in the most optimistic scenario, if Tibetans become financially very successful it will be still critical to align our interests with our foreign government supporters like India and the United States. If there is a misalignment of interests, no matter how much assets we accumulate, this can be easily frozen and our infrastructure dismantled. If our interests are aligned, even if we are in the current situation, heavily dependent on foreign aid, I believe we will continue to receive their generosity to pay for CTA’s expenses.
The real hope for CTA’s economic security lies in Tibetans becoming more financially independent – when the structure changes where Tibetans are the ones supporting CTA rather than looking to CTA for financial support. This will greatly relieve CTA’s financial pressure. One of the easiest ways for Tibetans to grow to their full potential materially and economically is when Tibetans are not living on the fringes of their host country as refugees but efforts are made to help them get citizenship. Only then will Tibetans be able to leverage the full resource of their host country.
In early December 2012, I had an opportunity to visit the Tibetan settlements of Bylakuppe and Mundgod in south India. I had a day-long meeting with Mr. Pema Delek (Chairman of FTCI), Mr. Tashi Wangdu (CEO of FTCI) and few of their colleagues in Byllakuppe. I was impressed by their dedication. However, it appears that their structure did not encourage accountability, irrespective of how well and poorly the management performed. One of FTCI’s Senior management staff mentioned that he wanted to try and provide incentives to retain key management talent but it was challenging to get the required support. In addition, I felt it would be helpful to provide key FTCI management staff business training and more networking opportunities with Tibet’s successful business friends. Since my meeting with FTCI staff I have tried to make some effort based on my own limited resources and ability.
From a pure financial standpoint, I believe with all our efforts, it is likely that CTA will still be dependent on foreign aid and support. Our exile population is relatively small with a large segment made up by monks and nuns. In addition, many of the current efforts of CTA, like publicising the gross human rights violation in Tibet, providing home to refugees fleeing Tibet and other administrative works are all non-income generating. CTA by itself will find it extremely challenging to generate enough income to support itself. Nor should it try, as then CTA would lose focus from its core mission. While remaining grateful to outside support for their generosity, I believe we Tibetans should also feel confident that our contribution to the world, especially in the promotion of peace is priceless. In other words, the US$500 million + investment in CTA has paid off many, many times.
Finally, for CTA to achieve her strategic goal to bring freedom to Tibet, it is critical that our interests are aligned with the Chinese people as much as possible. Here, I give much credit to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and the current leadership for their efforts. Unless we are able to garner greater understanding and support from the Chinese people, it will be extremely difficult to achieve our goal whether genuine autonomy within China or independence. We should always remember that finally our goal is not for CTA to become financially sustainable or increase the number of supporters but to bring freedom to Tibet at the earliest.
The author is an MBA graduate from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and holds a BA from Dickinson College. He currently serves on the Board of The Tibet Fund.