LUNA SHRESTHA THAKUR is the founding director of Change Fusion Nepal.
Having worked abroad for several years, mainly in the USA and New Zealand,
she has summarised her experiences in her book A Journey to the Self. Change Fusion Nepal promotes
social entrepreneurship within the country and supports social
enterprises that impact
the daily lives of the
underprivileged youth in Nepal. One of their
programmes is the Surya Nepal Asha Social
Entrepreneurship Award, which seeks to recognise and reward hidden heroes who create value for
people, planet and profit. She spoke with Terence Lee of THT Perspectives about the challenges to social
entrepreneurship in Nepal. Excerpts:
What is the significance of the Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award?
There are already many social entrepreneurs in Nepal but they themselves don’t know that they are social
entrepreneurs. Many young people can become social entrepreneurs but since information is lacking, they don’t get to enjoy the funding, support and facilities that can be offered. Also, we see people who have business connections or come from a business family and enjoy the limelight. Yet, there are others in Nepal who have made huge sacrifices, taken risks and given their time to improve the quality of life of people in their communities but are still in the shadows. When Nepal Business Initiative
approached me last year to start this award, I was excited because it wasn’t just about the award for individuals but an opportunity to talk about the whole process. Also, it’ll bring forward new faces and those making solid contributions. That’s how it all started. Luckily, last year was a success and people started to recognise the efforts. Now we have many investors who are excited to come to Nepal and support such young people. Many young people want to start such ventures and we’re happy with the progress that has been made.
What are the challenges in developing and promoting social entrepreneurship in Nepal?
The first is innovation. Where do you find the idea that is unique? Our education system does not promote it and young people are trained to think inside the box. Secondly, we don’t have the widespread use of technology as in other places, where people use the internet and research and talk about such possibilities. Thirdly, our geographical terrain is very challenging, which creates hurdles in terms of access to the market, et cetera. However, the beauty of our country offers many possibilities and opportunities — in agriculture or tourism. So, we need to find ways to do things that can be a success. In fact, many people are trying new ventures, but what is the success rate?
What is the role of Change Fusion?
We’re the base and act as the connectors. There are two worlds — people who want to do something for the community and be self-dependent or independent, and those who’d like to help with money, investment, design or know-ledge and expertise or
market. We help to connect these two worlds. For example, there is this person in Pokhara who wants to start an IT business and so we connected him with our IT expert who can help him. There are also many social entrepreneurs who have beautiful products but aren’t fortunate enough to have their own shops, so we connect them with buyers and contacts.
Is social entrepreneurship growing in Nepal? How hard is it for new entrepreneurs to get funding or investment?
It’s definitely growing. Back in 2008, things were really tough and nobody knew about such things and there were no investors as well. But now, we have many new
social entrepreneurs and more investors. Right now, the challenge for young people is to find the right idea. There’s still a lack of funding in Nepal as local institutions or banks are unwilling to give funds to these young people without collateral. Actually we still don’t have any local investor. The investors are usually from abroad and right now we have investors from Singapore and Europe. However, even these investors want to invest in
established proven ventures. They hesitate to invest in new ventures and new ideas that haven’t been tested.
Last month I met Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and he said, “Money brings money. If you don’t put the first coin in someone’s hand, he can never attract another coin. So trusting that person and giving that first coin is the most important and difficult thing to do, but until and unless we do it, we can’t think of real success and development.” This is the challenge today as we also need young people who have an idea and are willing to work 24 X 7 X 365 to research and work hard and build confidence for investors and make a big difference in Nepal. People are writing to us and now Kathmandu University has also started an Entrepreneurs’ Lab. Also, those who received the awards last year have been able to scale up their enterprises.
You have called for
nominations and proposals again. What do you plan to achieve this year?
Our aim is to educate and award the hidden heroes. Through this award, people have started to think, read and participate in the
concept of social entrepreneurship. This year, we’ve also added the business awards because a social
entrepreneur by definition has to have an impact and generate income. As we’re in a post-conflict scenario, we need a balance of economic and social development, which we are trying to strike through this award and our work. Sometimes it’s easier to make an entrepreneur a
social worker but much harder to make a social worker
an entrepreneur. They’re so used to just giving and we’ve to help them see the need for profit and making it sustainable. When we look at it
from an overall development
perspective for Nepal, we
see the requirement for all the sectors coming together. One of the biggest achievements is Surya Nepal itself, which is a corporate organ-isation that is leading the way and holding an award like this. The problem in Nepal is that everyone works in isolation. We want to
bring cooperation and work
together and this award reflects and celebrates the spirit of social entrepreneurship.