Martin Chautari (henceforth Chautari or MC) began as an informal discussion group in Kathmandu in 1991, allowing development professionals, social activists and academics to meet every two weeks to share insights and experiences related to Nepali development and society. The founders of this discussion group included the Nepali power engineer Bikas Pandey, the Norwegian engineer Odd Hoftun and the Norwegian academic Martin Hoftun. In 1995, the name ‘Martin Chautari’ was adopted in memory of Martin Hoftun, who was tragically killed in an airplane accident in 1992. After being managed by the Centre for Social Research and Development for six years, in 2002 Chautari became registered as a separate non-government organization (NGO) in Kathmandu, Nepal. Its offices are currently located in Thapathali, Kathmandu.
Since its inception, Chautari’s core objective has been to enhance the quality of public dialogue in Nepal, particularly in matters pertaining to development, democracy, civil liberties and social justice. Even as other activities – research, research training, publications and a library open to the public – have been taken up, Chautari’s discussion series continue to be its most-known work. Premised on the democratic potential and practice of having face-to-face interactions, MC currently organizes two scheduled discussions and seminars a week with speakers and topics drawn from a wide social spectrum. Chautari's discussion and seminar series is the oldest, continuously running such series related to Nepal organized by any institution anywhere in the world.
In addition to the discussion series, Chautari also conducts and supports research, with its main concentration being on media, gender, environmental justice, education, health, social inclusion and democracy. Since 2009, Chautari has also extended its research to policy issues. By the end of that year, two policy briefs on the ongoing constituent assembly process were published. In executing its research project, MC has trained a new generation of researchers through a rigorous mentoring program that allows the young researchers to immerse themselves in all aspects of the research enterprise.
MC also publishes policy briefs (two until end of 2009) and books (57 books in its Chautari Book Series until the end of 2009 and three other books as a co-publisher) and an annual journal Media Adhyayan [Media Studies, established 2006]. It is also the editorial home of the bi-lingual (English and Nepali) semi-annual journal Studies in Nepali History and Society (published by Mandala Book Point since 1996).
Since 2006, Chautari has opened its reference library and media centre to the public. This has allowed MC to provide access to all of its holdings of reference items to students, journalists, activists and researchers. The library’s holdings total about 15,000 books, theses, and reports, a quarter of which is a special-collection related to the media. The library also holds a small collection of journals, magazines, newspapers and unpublished seminar papers. A new reading room was opened in 2009 for the benefit of public users.
All five components – the discussions, research, mentoring, publications and library – feed into each other and form an intrinsic part of what MC sees as its three chief strategic interests: promoting open dialogue amongst public intellectuals, journalists, academics, social activists, development practitioners, policy makers, and politicians; promoting collaborations amongst academics in Nepal’s various colleges, universities and academic NGOs regarding knowledge production; and promoting a new generation of researchers through mentoring and other means.