profit is not anti-social

Profit has a bad name in Nepali society. Even donations and charity have higher social standing than hard earned profit. However, Hamro Prabidhi Ramro Nepal, an NGO, is now for profit, and knows that there is no other way for sustainable development.

Twelve students from Pulchowk campus set out to transform Nepal with engineering in 2009. They had just won the Mondialogo Engineering Award 2008/09 from UNESCO and Daimler in Germany, worth 21 lakhs. Of all the possibilities, the young men decided to open and run an organization with an aspiration of introducing technology to rural parts of the country. They set up an ICT network in Dolakha and Gulmi districts, using which they introduced e-learning and e-medicine services. Remarkable as it may sound, within two years the project was almost on the verge of abandonment. The technology and services did not gel with the community, and by the time they realized they needed to change their strategy, the money was finished.

Now running in their fourth year, the organization – Hamro Prabidhi Ramro Nepal, an NGO, sees profit and entrepreneurship as the answer to sustain their technology-based services and also the organization. Sagar Gyanwali, one of the co-founders of HPR Nepal talks about a new-found way to attain the old objective.

What was the company’s basic idea when HPR Nepal started?

The idea was to transfer technology to a particular village. We would connect a rural community with information and communication network, and use that to introduce applications like e-library, e-farming, tele medicine and the Internet. We assumed it was a simple task – technology would be accepted, lives would be uplifted and the model would be replicated in other villages, and eventually all over Nepal.

What went wrong? At what point while spending the 21 lakhs did you realize that your strategy needed to change?

When we were almost out of money, we realized we hadn’t achieved anything concrete; two years after we started! The problem was that we were not generating income for the locals, so there was no incentive for them to sustain the technology. To create tangible income, we shifted our focus to adding value to the already existing produce of the region – ginger. At that time, one of our founding members Bipul Shrestha, was working on an industrial drier. We took the concept to Gulmi and started drying ginger which could then be packed and sold. The reason for drying ginger is that it extends the shelf-life of the produce, reducing wastage. There is a huge demand for that abroad. We recently introduced a second drier, in Panchthar, and plan to introduce more in different parts of the country.

HPR Nepal is an NGO; I am curious to know how the revenue and the ownership of the system is distributed.

We partner with local bodies. We work with existing agro co-operatives and also help establish new cooperatives that will take collective responsibility of the system. In Gulmi’s case, we have partnered with a local co-operative, and in the case of Panchthar we have a local private partner. Our share of the profit (which we are yet to make) will be reinvested in the community itself.

You ran out of your initial funds two years ago, how do you fund your projects now?

Our team members have also established three other private companies: Aastha, Upveda and Design Point. Aastha is directly linked with the business aspect of HPR Nepal’s ventures, including ginger powder production. These companies provide funds and also human resources to HPR Nepal. HPR itself also provides consulting services, which also generate revenue. We try to be as self-sustaining as possible, but we do bid for funds from donor organizations as well, for huge projects that are beyond our financial capacity.

You plan to replicate this system all over Nepal. A drying system is one, but to be able to replicate such a model in other places, you will need other technology as well; is HPR working on these other products?

Yes we are. We are working on an ICT Based Real Time Monitoring System (Remote monitoring of status of Solar PV System and MHP System) and Application of rain water harvesting in hilly regions. We have also developed Air Compressor Based Water Pumping System and Cold Storage System for rural areas. Besides that, we are currently working on collecting 75 different income generating technologies which can be transferred to rural parts of the country.

How do you sum up the organization’s new found direction?

Now the primary objective of the organization is to take these technologies to different rural parts of the country, supported by an ICT network. The income generated by these systems will sustain the network. Based on this network, various social development works will be carried out.

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