Gearing for the Future

The wheels are turning. In the driver's seat are people who not only have new ideas, but also the zeal to carry them through.

After years of stopping and stalling, the Nepali economy is finally stabilizing. With the chaos of wars and revolutions and chakka jams receding into memory, entrepreneurs can dare to dream beyond just making ends meet. This is evident in the plethora of exciting new ventures starting up across the various sectors of the economy and the growing consumer culture. It feels the economy is finally clicking into gear.

It is indeed exciting times, where a new breed of zealous and creative entrepreneurs are dreaming of a brave new world. A new world that incorporates the pushes and pulls of a fast evolving society. In the past decades, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of Nepal being centuries behind the Western world. A primitive Shangri-la frozen in the Stone Age.

But not anymore. The landscape is fast evolving, and these firebrands at the frontlines are making sure that economy switches gears and catches up to pack.

These are their stories.

 

cs2Injecting innovation into Healthcare

Text By Vishal Rai

Nepal’s health industry is vibrant. Making important contributions to it are entrepreneurs who are proud to be known as innovators.

When Subash Pyakurel, a practicing doctor, lost his voice and had no idea where to go for treatment, he knew something had to be done. “Despite being in the medical profession, I was confused and it made me wonder about what the general public went through,” he says. Pyakurel was on the verge of receiving a residency at a hospital in the United States when his voice gave out.

Returning to Nepal, he joined the ophthalmology department at Teaching Hospital but the stint did not last long; he couldn’t speak to his patients. “What I was suffering from couldn’t be diagnosed,” he says. “The doctors told me my voice would never come back.

But I never gave up.”
During that period, he planned a concept that would present patients with a medical directory and a wide range of options. “There were websites where you could compare and contrast flight prices and insurance policies, but when it came to something as sensitive as health, where there is a lot of confusion, nothing of that sort existed,” he says.

cs3Pyakurel’s concept came to fruition in 2011 when Health Concern was established. The company offers guidance to clients, providing them with information and options related to medicine for free. Pyakurel’s venture, since its establishment, has saved the time and money of thousands of clients by dispensing them the information they need at their fingertips.

Subash Pyakurel is an innovator, and so is Bishal Dhakal. Dhakal completed a Doctor of Medicine from Saint Petersburg Medical Academy (Russia) in 2003 after which he joined King Edward Medical University in Lahore, Pakistan for a Master in Surgery. In a strange twist of fate, like Pyakurel, Dhakal too did not complete his residency, although in his case it was voluntary.

“I was a cardiac surgeon in my second year of residency then when I noticed that there was a big chunk of patients who were unattended outside hospitals,” he says. “I started researching and came up with the unique proposition of taking medical services into their homes. How to go about it was my quest and I’m still learning.”

cs4In 2009, Dhakal realized that home care was slated to be the next big thing. “A large chunk of the population is going to be older and they will be needing a lot of care. In any case, most of them are unattended when they leave hospitals,” he says.
What Dhakal came up with was Health At Home (HAH), a service that delivers healthcare to people’s homes. “Patients require lots of communication, services, and support once they are out of the hospital. Nobody was doing it, which is why I took that risk,” he explains. He cites the example of a barely mobile, fevered octogenarian as a sample of the effectiveness of his organization.

When a person is in such a situation and has to get to the hospital, he or she has to call for assistance, leave for the hospital, wait in line, and then be serviced. With Health At Home, the doctors come to their place and tend to their needs without them having to move an inch.”

cs5When HAH started operations in 2009, they were the only one of their kind in South Asia. As usually happens with innovators and new startups, there was a lot of struggle involved. “By the end of the month, I didn’t have the funds to pay my staff. I used to travel 100km around the city on my motorbike every day, and I did it alone for two to three years,” recalls Dhakal. In the beginning, HAH started with a subscription model, but it failed.

They then began on-demand services (nurse care management, nurse placement), doctor visits, physiotherapy, and a spectrum of facilities that have proven to be successful. Since then, they have catered to 2000 clients so far, within the Valley and in Pokhara and the Biratnagar-Itahari-Dharan corridor, apart from a few assignments in Delhi. Today, HAH, employs more than 100 people. “Some nurses have even quit their jobs to work with us,” says Dhakal.

The team at Health Concern, on the other hand, is still small but that has more to do with the type of services they offer. Of the nine members of Health Concern, besides the ten volunteers outside the Valley, six are engineers/developers, four of whom work constantly on their website.

Their primary services include information and guidance for treatment through phone calls, Facebook, Skype, their website, and mobile app. This, as stated earlier, is all free of cost. “To sustain ourselves, we have multiple branches such as healthcare management and consulting, innovation, and insurance consulting,” says the CEO, Pyakurel. Since 2011, Health Concern has catered to 35,000 people from 72 districts. Their website receives 300 to 500 hits daily, while their app, Hospitals Nepal, has had 11,000 downloads.

Nepal’s health industry is vibrant. There are a large number of new medical colleges coming up, and a massive amount of medical products being introduced every year. The Nepal Safer Motherhood Project too has been widely appreciated. Also in the offing are hospitals with multi-billion portfolios.

“The public has been trying to update their lifestyle and with that has come an increase in health consciousness,” says Dhakal. Home care, which has the potential of becoming huge, is still in its nascent stage but the services that HAH offer are actually three to four times cheaper than a hospital visit, according to Dhakal.

The innovations of both entrepreneurs have been met with appreciation. “We have started a trend where the information on health is easily accessible, which is a patient’s right,” says Pyakurel. Since advertising is not allowed in the health sector, what Health Concern does has also been to the advantage of health providers; their credentials can now be made public.

There are 332 registered hospitals, and 150 (and growing) ambulances in their network, apart from the 2800 doctors who regularly update them if there are changes to their schedules. “These days, if there are new hospitals, or if doctors have completed their MD, they register with us first,” says the CEO of Health Concern, with pride.

Although the future of the health industry in Nepal appears to be shining, there are still challenges aplenty and areas that are still underutilized. For Dhakal, it is garnering the support of the medical fraternity that has been the biggest test. “Change is very difficult to accept, and that’s what we represent,” he says.

“The reaction to what we have been doing has been good so far, but when it comes to actually supporting us, the fraternity hasn’t been very proactive.” In the case of Health Concern, the challenges are service oriented. “Nepal has the potential to be a medical tourism destination, but there are no online payment options for foreigners who want to get treated here,” says Pyakurel. Ultimately, it’s the open support of the government that he feels is missing.

“Honestly speaking, what we do is actually the duty of the government,” he adds, candidly. “We might have started this concept here but we are willing to hand it to the government provided it is carried out in a service-centric form.”Pyakurel is confident about what his team can come up with if they receive a little help from the authorities. “The government has a lot of programs in the health sector. If they launched a few of them through us, gave us subsidies, or allocated us a certain budget each year, we would be able to come up with various concepts that would be of use to the public.”

Pyakurel is now hoping for centralized electronic medical records to be introduced. He has also been clamoring for a national health care system for foreign holiday makers for which Health Concern launched two national workshops, called Healthcare for Tourists, with the help of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) in 2013.

In partnership with NTB, Health Concern also has plans (although on hold right now) to create a health-related mobile app for tourists that can be incorporated into their local SIM cards. Needless to say, theoretically, the time for entrepreneurs with new ideas to step into the health industry appears to be ripe.

“Health care needs more radical thinkers and change makers,” states Bishal Dhakal while Subash Pyakurel believes that it’s not just coming up with a concept that matters, but also going ahead with it. “There are so many opportunities and a lot of concepts,” he says. “They just need to be implemented.”

An Alternate Route

Text By Vishal Rai and Sanjit Bhakta Pradhananga

In March this year, the Nepal government put forward a plan to lease out a number of Himalayan peaks to private parties. This followed a decision to slash mountaineering fees for many other peaks, along with a requirement for each Everest climber to return with 8 kgs of garbage.

cs6According to industry insiders, this move has largely been met with approval because not only does it have the ability to generate more royalty, the initiative will also lead to more employment. A call for all peaks to be opened, except for those with religious significance, or ones that shouldn’t be tampered with, is the general consensus.

While the government continues to focus on mountain tourism, companies like Social Tours have been trekking through an alternate route. Social Tours, which was established in 2002, takes advantage of the diverse culture, geography and ecology of Nepal into assembling specialized trips and activities for tourists.

These include pottery tours, cycling trips, walk with monks, etc. But these offbeat activities haven’t come without challenges. “Nepal has predominantly been a mountain trekking based product with very limited products that we’ve played around with,” says Raj Gyawali, founder of Social Tours. “But that’s not enough anymore. People want to go to more destinations; they want shorter holidays, and more experiential stuff. They want to touch, feel and eat.”

cs7Gyawali believes Nepal is in a tremendously positive situation where, if the industry is productive enough, things can be developed because the small country is so diverse. “In India, you might need to go from Delhi to Kerala if you want diversity. Here, it’s just a matter of hours. This is an advantage not many countries have. Because Nepal is so virginal, there are many things that can be developed.”

The Maoist movement that started in 1996 was a game changer for the tourism industry. It led to a massive dip in 2002 that took the industry back to the volumes of 1989. “That situation separated the men from the boys,” says Gyawali. “The movement put a big question mark on the future. It made people realize they had to think of new strategies to survive.”

Until then, Nepali tourism had been entirely dependent on agents in Europe and other countries for tourists. But when they started backing out due to travel advisories, Nepal was forced to do something it had never done before: market itself. “I think it made the industry tougher; it made people think. Today we can see products being diversified, and new ones coming in. We have to struggle with the changes but Nepal is finally being a player in world tourism,” says Gyawali.

With the recent stabilization of tourist arrivals, a new breed of entrepreneurs has evolved. The industry is finally diversifying. Nepal became known as a tourist destination after the ascent of Mount Everest, and since then the country has been the premier destination for adventure seekers.

At his office in bustling Thamel, Kishor Shahi, founder of Chhango Adventures, shares his palpable excitement. “The rich cultural heritage of the Valley and beyond is just a bonus for the tourists who come to Nepal,” he says. “It is really the search for adventure that draws them here.” Mountaineering and trekking are staples; now new entrepreneurs like Shahi are helping create a new collage of adventure sports available to tourists. From his base at Shivapuri National Park, Shahi’s company conducts not just canyoning and bouldering outings for tourists, but also novel adventures like bush and river hikes.

“The immense diversity of nature and topography here means that the possibilities are limitless,” he adds. “In a short distance of 300kms we go from the low lying Terai to the highest mountains in the world. Nepal has a slice of everything. We really are just beginning to scratch the surface.”

Just like the Maoist movement made the industry tougher, limitations can be turned into opportunities if worked upon. Raj Gyawali, who participated in the UNW trio team from ICIMOD to write Nepal’s 10-year plan, says that the Ministry has been asked to include tourism-educated officers. Similarly, according to industry insiders, the lack of a satellite account for tourism is because it’s seen as a new concept. Hopefully, it’ll be only a matter of time before the issue is resolved.

Dr. Dandapani Poudel and Surath Giri in their study, Review & Overview of Economic Contribution of Tourism Sector in Nepal, recommend, among other things, the construction of a second international airport and regional airports that can boost tourism in their respective regions. “Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve and Khaptad National Park in the Far West have the potential to generate more income than even the Everest region because of their proximity to India,” says Gyawali, in agreement with the recommendation.

Rajendra Suwal, refers to himself as a “tourism dinosaur,” and knows a thing or two about the lack of infrastructure. A zoologist by training, Suwal began his journey in the hospitality industry as a wildlife guide in Sauraha some 25 odd years ago. “In days of old, tourists trekked to the mountains following the ‘toilet paper trail’” he says with a wink, referring to the then lack of even the most basic sanitation, “so if you put that in perspective, we have certainly come a long way.”

But the slow but steady proliferation of roads and other infrastructure has come with its perils – landscapes, lifestyles, and wildlife have been steadily encroached upon and eroded. And if these are irrevocably gone, then Nepal has very little else to offer to visiting tourists. It is because of this reason that Suwal has been a firebrand of sorts, advocating the need to develop eco-tourism in the country.

“Eco-tourism is the future,” he announces almost prophetically, “the growing awareness and concern about climate change has increased the desire of people to travel ‘green’ and leave behind no footprints. Particularly when they come to a relatively untouched and virginal country like Nepal.” A three way network of the government, international organizations like the WWF and IUCN and tourism entrepreneurs have been forging ahead with plans to systematically proliferate a locally engaging and self-sustaining model of responsible tourism, which uses the diverse nature to generate an income, but also nourishes and maintains it in return. The progress has been slow, and the obstacles many, but Suwal remains optimistic. His prospering venture, Nature Nepal Dot Com Travels, is a testimony that eco-tourism has tremendous scope, and one foot into the future already.

Things certainly appear to be changing for the better, at least on paper. In 2002, the number of visitors fell to 3 lakhs. Since then, the numbers have been gradually increasing every year. The government’s target is to have 2 million visitors in 2020. And with the recent spike in regional tourists from India and China, there is reason for real optimism. After a painful lull that stifled the industry for a decade, Nepali tourism has found new wind in its sails.

Re-envisioning Retail

Text By Mridula Saria

options, Nepal’s retail industry is on the march.

cs8If we compare our retail landscape with the global one and put things into perspective, we are evolving at a fast rate— going from local corner stores to department stores, malls and retail entertainment. Change is even visible in the way information today flows from brands and resellers to the consumers, and also particularly in the way society is starting to appreciate shopping.

In Nepal, since we have an open market economy where any brand can be sold, there exists a big market for retail. However, as many retailers share, poor economic growth is stunting the retail market from growing. The mix of conducive and obstacle-ridden environments has brought about a unique situation in the Nepali retail market.

Despite poor economic growth, the open market still provides retailers with tremendous opportunities to boom. And despite the competition there are chances aplenty to command a healthy margin for profit.

As a result, despite the hikes in rent for stores, there are new faces in retail every day. So much so, for many market entrants getting retail space is a challenge.
“The market space is not growing, and the demand for space far exceeds the supply,” says Rahul Agarwal, Brand Manager for Nike.

cs9In today’s modern market consumer is the king and whoever has the consumer is most in demand; therefore it is still the retailers who are dictating the industry.

Another reason that some of the resellers are still thriving amidst the struggling economy is the nature of the consumers. Consumers are still more comfortable with personal relations and recommendations than store or brand image as compared to the West—a little less mechanical in terms of approach. It doesn’t mean they do not want choices, it just means their comfort level is in personal connections even today. However, the success of Bhat-Bhateni contradicts this statement, it is yet to be seen how modern retail in Nepal shapes out.

An important factor to consider is also the pricing of products. Bhat-Bhateni became popular because of their aggressive pricing. In a country where growth in income is less than growth in expenditure, societal norms and human behavior can also be changed at a price. There is a common joke amongst the retailers—Nepali consumers ask for discounts even in gold.

cs10Technology and Retail
Mobile technology has made information flow easy. It has changed the retail industry tremendously in Nepal over the last five years. Consumers are better equipped now and look for product information before purchase, whether it is for buying everyday groceries or something niche like farming seeds. They are now looking for products that can be bought with the least hassle in terms of payments, delivery and choice.

Whether online retail will take over the traditional retail market is a big question. Companies abroad have already entered headlong into the online world, where people barely go out to even buy groceries anymore—everything is at your doorstep with a click. Private e-commerce ventures are also emerging locally with companies like sastodeal.com and machabhyaguta.com attracting customers towards a hassle- free buying experience.

Nikita Acharya is an example of a young entrepreneur who has been able to capitalize on the changing trend. Her company, Urban Girl, sells accessories for women online through Facebook. According to her, e-commerce is still a long way from taking over brick-n-mortar stores in Nepal, however e-commerce businesses are creating a new market that did not exist a couple of years back.
Nikita further elaborates that the emergence of e-commerce in the market can be broken down into three phases – creating a new market, shifting the market, and dominating the market. “In the context of Nepal, e-commerce is still at the beginning of Phase I. However, I don’t think the change is something that you can prevent. Brick-n-mortar stores should not see e-commerce as a competition but as a tool and think of how to use it,” says Nikita.

Industry experts believe that traditional retailers need to change the buying experience of customers to raise the switching cost to e-commerce. Perhaps it is even possible for traditional retailers to utilize technology to their advantage and enhance their customer experience, rather than seeing it as a competition or a threat.
The days ahead
Providing good customer service at the point of sale is absolutely essential. Customers are looking for a unique sales experience rather than just buying goods. Therefore having a great in-store ambience along with enterprising manpower is absolutely essential in terms of physical stores.
Shoppers today want hassle free shopping. If there are ten variants to a product, it is expected that a retailer should have all of them. Customers want choices, irrespective of the fact that they will buy the highest selling models.
Payments, either in cash, by card or on delivery, have to be easy. Customers expect home delivery for any product now, which can be a logistical nightmare for retailers. Local stores already deliver groceries to the neighboring houses. But for retailers whose customers are not limited to a neighborhood, the cost could be a critical component.

Earlier, a retailer was expected to only sell the product, but now a retailer has to have complete knowledge of the product and the services around it. For instance, a washing machine vendor, has to know how to install the machine, as well as operating it. He should also be selling the detergent, in case the machines only use a certain type. And this extends to everything–from computers to seeds. Rural or urban, consumers are looking for end-to-end solutions, and not only the product. Retail in the future will be about absolute solutions and convenience.

People will look for solutions for all requirements, rather than just buying products and that is where the opportunity for any entrepreneur lies. Whether it is physical or online shopping, people will look for solutions. It will extend from villages, where farmers will go to specialized agriculture-based shops that provide all necessary equipments, seeds, manure and expertise; to cities, where if an engineering student wants to buy a laptop he will need software like AUTOCAD pre-installed and even a suitable printer or a plotter that is compatible with his or her daily assignments.

So, what is the future of retail? Is it Holostores (stores that use product holograms), will drones be used, will intelligent shelves replace shelves with actual goods, or will 3D printing shut down a complete category of retail? But one thing is for sure- the future is the one of personalized shopping; a future Nepali retailers are slowly but surely embracing.

Sowers and Reapers of Nepal

Text By Anubhuti Poudyal

cs11Two out of three Nepalis are involved in agriculture, however it only produces one-third of the GDP. Only a little more than one in eight parts of the total produce is traded, and the rest is used by the farmers for their own consumption. And though many have reiterated that commercializing farming is the way to go, there still are a lot details that need to be looked into.
In the fiscal year 2013-14, Rs.21.4 billion was allocated by the government for agriculture, along with an additional Rs.12.56 billion. Furthermore, subsidies in seeds and fertilizers were especially mentioned in the budget. But despite the efforts, the agriculture sector had a poor performance last year, and the reason was said to be lack of infrastructure, technology and related extension services. Lack of motivation among young people to enter the agriculture sector is also a challenge that has been put forward. And in light of this particular reason, in consultation with some the experts in the field, we have summarized the industry and potential opportunities for potential agro-entrepreneurs:

Challenges
No returns for the first few years.
Little or no certification and regulation processes making sustainable export a distant dream.
Infrastructure availability is a major challenge. Simple movement from farm to market can be challenging.
Mapping of products in the country is a big challenge. Simply put, we don’t really know which crops thrive in which part of the country and at are the places that need our attention.
Agricultural researches are scarce and the market information system is almost negligible.

But why is agriculture still a great field to start business in?
We import most of our food products. This shows we have huge unexplored and untouched scope for agricultural products in Nepal.

Nepal is a virgin market. Almost nothing has been tried here yet. If we are efficient in our business idea and planning, we have a good chance of succeeding.
An agricultural revolution is important in Nepal. We have to find ways to actually compete and gain market in agricultural products for our own good. We are investing way too much on food imports.
Only a few succeed, but those who do, do it in a grand way. We have many businessmen who have made it big working in this field alone.

Opportunities
Agriculture probably has more opportunity than any other field in the country. There are a number of reasons:
Nepal has a favorable climate for agriculture. We have soil that is fertile and climatic condition that are so diverse that our products could include everything from rice, apples to rare herbs and medicinal plants.

Market actor linkage is an important space that is rarely filled in Nepal. Simply acting as a mediator in bringing the produced goods to the current market can be a great business idea.
In processing, there are immense prospects. For instance, we do not have a grading system like most international markets. This alone can be an important responsibility and a great business idea.
Branding is a concept that is mandatory internationally but often neglected in Nepal. An efficient system of branding not just helps in export but manages to create a recognizable label for Nepali materials in international trade grounds.
The herb sector is under explored and has opportunities.

Recent government Policies in Agriculture
Nepal Rastra Bank has ordered development banks and finance companies to increase the level of lending in the productive sector to 15 percent and 10 percent respectively. The productive sector increases agriculture as well.
The government has recently announced a 50 percent premium subsidy in insurance for business in the agricultural field as well. This means the government pays for half your premium if you insure your products.

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