Talking About Our Generation
Bringing together two people from two organizations sharing the responsibility of advancing entrepreneurship in Nepal –Biruwa Ventures and Pasa Yard - without a doubt would result in talk about entrepreneurship.
Abhinab Basnyat is the Co-founder of Biruwa Ventures. Established in July 2011, in a short time Biruwa Ventures has been able to establish itself as one of the front runners in spreading the message of entrepreneurship by supporting numerous startups.
Pradip Pariyar is the founder of Pasa Yard. A venture in itself, Pasa Yard provides a multipurpose venue, which includes office space, dormitory, meeting rooms, coffee shop, library and language classes, all in the spirit of promoting entrepreneurship and empowering youth.
Abhinab: Part of the solution to our existing problemis how do we build a strong positive narrative, wherein our society, the narrative has been destroyed. Countries evolve and narratives do change, but what we need is an abrupt change. There is a huge disconnect between our past and what we see as challenges of the future. In the absence of a narrative in which people want to participate, you cannot have a healthy society with values and visions. Going abroad is the narrative that we have right now, which will take a long time to change. Despite the risks, people see tangible benefits in going abroad. If you go to the airport and ask people going abroad what it would take to make them stay, the answer would most likely be a saving of a certain amount. What do they want to do with the money? Most likely they want to build a house. The tragedy of this is, if you account for inflation, land appreciation, possiblity of having savings; for the majority owning a home is not a possibility. And it’s hard to convince them otherwise. There is a big gap between expectations and the ground reality. Having few examples of people who are going abroad and doing this, people see going abroad as a more attractive option, despite the risks. Can there be other examples besides going abroad? I think that is where our work has to contribute.
Pradip: When I was in Sarlahi, a person asked me what I was doing there. I explained I have a fish farm. The man’s other question to me was, “kahin ko pani visa lagena?” People do not have hope, and like you said, we don’t have role models. Everyone is going abroad. Drenched in remmitance, what we do not see is the social connections that are breaking down. The pain of family separation has not been accounted for in our records. Our youth’s efforts are being used in building a foreign country. People are ashamed to work here but are willing to go abroad to do the same work. Our culture lacks respect for work. People are hesitant to be entrepreneurs because it is risky, and the supporting framework is missing. It is hard for new startups to get loans from banks without a collateral. Loans are available, but only for them who already have capital. Ideas are there, but are not saleable.
Abhinab: In the early stages you need funding, and it does not have to be much. You can do a lot with less. In the start, it’s more their labour. What the governement and the donor organizations are doing is they want to come in step three and four. They want to know what works, andput money in it and multiply it; but that is not how it works. They should rather take a fraction of the amount and distribute it to new startups. Its alright if they fail; that’s how you learn. If you provide small amounts to ten different fish farms, even if all of them fail, as we learn from the failures we are guaranteed success in the eleventh try. In the process, you develop a culture of how you learn from mistakes and fail forward.
Pradip: In Sri Lanka I saw banks investing in startups themselves, holding ten to twenty per cent of the equity. This has helped startups there accumulate funding in the early stages, and the risk is shared between the startup and the banks. I believe, we can also work on a similar model here that would easily layout a foundation.
Abhinab: There can even be other entities, like the government, which can contribute the fraction of the funds to decrease the interest payment. Here is the tragedy of the vision of the existing efforts as I see it: Projects to promote entrepreneurship demand certain amount, they build offices and they hire someone from the local area. Does this actually help entrepreneurship? The answer is -no. Having an office is not a system that was historically there. You take someone who is actively going around helping local entrepreneurs already and put him in an office. Why would the people give up the pre-existing framework and come to the office? We need to work on the pre-existing concept and help it evolve. Without contextualizing the entity that you have set up, people are not going to come. All the money that was used up in setting up the office would have been better used if it was distributed amongst other entrepreneurs to do something small, and later work on scaling those small businesses. Fifty years of working in private sector development and yet they have not been able to create a value chain. If there is an existing entreprise, create linkages, make the existing winners bigger winners. Then they create more jobs, security and opportunity.
Pradip: What we also haven’t been able to do is to instiutionalize indegineous knowledge. Not having the existing knowledge institutionalized is preventing us from starting a multiplier effect. Another issue is, there are various organizations providing skills but a suitable environment to use those skills is missing, and therefore most people go abroad.
Abhinab: Maybe due to politics, in our society everything is based in a win-lose environment. Everyone is reinventing the wheel and that dilutes the effort. I believe the more an industry grows, the more everyone benefits. Different players in the industry should develop there own expertise, and share that expertise. That way you create a win-win environment. In terms of creating that environment, which is to create a value chain, the government needs to step in. There is only so much individual institutions can do. The government can pool the localized efforts and make sense of the costs. It needs to identify the problems in the system and provide solutions, the kind of solutions that are beyond individual capacity.
Pradip: That is where the question of intention comes in. The government intitiated a huge project –Youth Employment Fund, with six billion rupeees in funding, something with huge potential but which has not been able to achieve much. It is not just the question of money, but there needs to be positive intentions followed by proper execution. They also need to make the processes streamlined. There needs to be a welcoming, supportive envrionment with less hassles. As entrepreneurs are taking more risks, they need more support. Even in the context of taking entrepreneurship to rural areas of Nepal, the government needs to create facilities to provide that support, for example counseling and training facilities that would help create entrepreneurs inevery village.
Abhinab: Another thing that I am more and more convinced with is-what is wrong in our education system? What is the economy that we want to create and what is it that we need to do?These are hard questions. The education system is trying to create a work force for an industrial society, which we do not have; we have an agriculture-based society. So the question is, what is the type of education we need and how does the entrepreneurship component tie up with it, especially outside the valley?What we need is a holistic appraoch to education and vocational training, that includes the business side of using those skills.For example, how does the supply chain work, what are the possible risks, how do you mitigate those risks? All the efforts right now that provide trainings are small and fragmented. To have a collaboration between the entities that provide training, to cover these necessary areas, and to avoid duplicating efforts, their needs to be a culture of sharing information. Organizations involved must be able to say, “We will work on this part of the problem and you work on that part.” What we also need to create is a system of accountability. When we started Biruwa, we started with five thousand dollars, as a private company. Before that, we talked to several people including people connected to donor space. We were told if you guys fail it’s going to give incubation a bad name. We said, “That’s fine, if we fail, we want to fail forward, somebody else can pick up where we failed.” But I kept wondering why that person would say that, and it took me a year to piece it together. The truth actually is that if we are successful to start off with 5000 dollars, we raise a serious question of how can someone else propose a million dollar sum to do the same work. And I think that way we are beginning to raise the question of accountability. We show an alternative, and the burden falls on them to accept it or ignore it. If they ignore it, it raises a big question on what their ultimate goals are. If they accept it, it hopefully starts a positive pattern of accountability.