“Two Week Internship on Nepal's Social Business”

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This blog is reflective piece written 3 years back while I did internship on social business sector.

         The debate of Darwin’s “survival for fitness” theory has critically been a contrasting topic in the socio-economic sector while observing the chemistry among diverse demographics in our society. The Darwinian evolution theory has been generally misunderstood basically because the definition of “fitness” and “survival” are contextualized on individuals subjective understanding of society and its overall environment. Darwin referred “fitness with “reproductive success” and “survival with continuation of a generation” but however the definition has been manipulated based on stronger and weaker liveable groups of society due to globalization and clear factors which limits overall human capabilities. 

          The advocacy of social business in the global sphere has pushed me to rethink about Darwin's evolution theory because these two fundamentally are connected with the agenda of issue of sustainability. Muhammad Yunus was clear on the risk of capitalism while he was urging young people to contribute in the world through social entrepreneurship because he knew “money making” mentality would bring a economic and accessibility gap among different class of people which would bring sustainable collaboration of society at risk. I have always been fascinated by the ideology of Muhammad Yunus who modelled the way of social business to eliminate the poverty of world through his initiation of Gramen Bank for which he won Nobel Prize in 2006. 

            Inspired by the idea of “social business to resolve the societal problems”, in 11th December, I joined a group of 7 Taiwanese students who were on “Two Week Internship on Nepal’s Social Business” collaboratively organized by Yunus Social Business Center’s of King’s College and National Central University, Taiwan (YSBC). The aim of the program was to give a wide range of exposure, knowledge and understanding about Nepal’s Social Businesses/Social Entrepreneurship and design a short term project to add value to their business. An interest based team was formed immediately after the presentation of three companies that we were supposed to work closely with to fulfill the program objective. Judy Hsu and Hans Li were in my team to work with “Bihani Social Venture” which is a need based leading social enterprise working to empower the elderly people through its innovative ways to address the issues of ageing. Some of my personal learning through the internship experience are:- 

1. Be passionate about the purpose: Santoshi Rana, who founded Bihani always had a deep fear about the fact that she will be old someday and will have to pass through the issue of aging herself. This fear later transformed into a motivation factor to start a new social venture whose purpose has roots with fear factor. The way she talks passionately about the issue made me feel that it’s not an easy job to come out of the comfort zone and put your whole heart in a “one” cause. This zeal works in the times when you have to adapt with changes and uncertainties in life. 

2. Balance personal and professional life: When people try to seek that one unique purpose in their life then it makes you so passionate that you forget about your social life. To identify human and financial resources one ability of persistence become so intense that you almost forget to live for your family and yourself. This may “sound” in connection to the “pace” of reachings one’s vision but sustainability of energy becomes a huge question in difficult times. Therefore founders need to get out their “vision trap” and balance all their various life with diverse character role considering the consistency of human chemistry and energy. Santoshi has been one successful human character who knows the value of society and her various lifes and therefore she has been able to set similar culture in her workplace where employees are strictly discouraged to “working from home” culture. Nobody in the office entertains late night business conversations and therefore everyone are obliged to finish their office work at office only.          

3. Delegate the responsibility:-  Many people metaphorically refer entreneurship with “mothers child” ideology. This ideology itself is a reflection of our social barriers where women are refer as a “sex machine” who needs to be limited in their home and can’t explore opportunities like other male character. When international market became accessible to local markets, the media sector flourished around different global and local spaces, which communicated about various political agendas and empowered the suppressed voices in global discourse. And, slowly women's started leading in various leadership roles and one of many is Santoshi who set an example in this gender monopoly society and walking against the stereotypes that mothers are for only childrens. One thing mother's do it valuably wrong and that is she fears to expose her child into competitive market. She fears of her child loss if other take care of her child and therefore always keep close in their heart. This ideology doesn’t nurture the culture of delegating responsibility in the workplace  because founders deeply loves their innovative work and treat equally as their child and scale with motherly love. Therefore innovators spent long night to make their vision into reality. If powering sharing is practiced in the workplace then employers feel included in the founders vision and start believing on their own abilities. This delegation dilemma will not prepare founders for upcoming market uncertainties and ultimately can lead to “shut down” point of business. Santoshi knows this very well and therefore delegates responsibility through “logical framework approach” which I think is a strategic decision making tool. The success of Prashant in leading the coordination of this internship can be taken as a proven example that she is practicing the art of delegation.   

Ways ahead...

1. Surface is not enough: My engagement with 3 social enterprise gave me an hint that they have “hit the right area” but haven’t focused too deeply as it needs to be in this competitive and challenging market place.Social enterprise will not sustain on the basis of intuition and hence need a depth understanding about the social problem which will determine them to develop customized products and services. Santoshi and team has analyzed the problem from ground and therefore have succeeded in reaching to 3000 elders people through 150 theme based various events like music concert, zumba classes and physiotherapy and networking with local entrepreneurs. 84 elder members are benefited with discount schemes in more than 100 outlets such as pharmacies, hospital, retail, restaurant etc. as a membership association package.   

2. Aggressively explore market: In a country where youths of Nepal are leaving for better life quality, their parents are mostly alone in their respective homes. The kind of issue that Bihani is trying to address seems relevant for these elderly people and therefore has a huge market opportunity to scale and reach in different geography of Nepal. Bihani can shift their marketing approach to increase their customer base and come to market more aggressively than they are doing. They can do that by partnering with major business houses who could invest in their initiation through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) financial resources.    

3. Collective solution approach: Any good idea can’t have a great opportunity. To make great idea work an external environment need to be feasible enough to support the innovation process in an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The concept of social entrepreneurship is a new concept in Nepali market place and therefore all the social entrepreneurship should work collaboratively to make their individual initiation. The collaboration shouldn’t be limited to policy paper, conferences, and short term partnership. A focused group of social entrepreneurship should come together to discuss about larger social problem in much deeper level and generate collaborative solutions because sustainability of an idea matters at the end.           

          After closely interacting with some of the inspiring social entrepreneurs of Nepal, I have to the conclusion that understanding of social entrepreneurship is too immature among those inspiration. Those who have started their work under “social entrepreneurship” have not understand the essence terminology itself. A desire to make money and as well have a social impact are not true social entrepreneurs rather they have just adopted an advance model of development agencies. Social entrepreneurs should focus on developing products which specifically should address the specific social problems. Many practitioners that I have come along with are reluctant to expect funds from other bodies and therefore are focused on their own revenue stream. They need to go beyond this ideology and focus on addressing social problem such that everyone are “fit to survive” in this globalized competitive market and limitation of human capabilities are supplemented by diverse individuals to make the society sustainable enough to experiment human creativity, regardless of their orientation.