By Emma Livingston, Co-editor
Isha, Drew and Emma spent the last five weeks in Kathmandu, Nepal working with King’s College, a business school of about 800 students offering both MBAs and BBAs. Our overarching goal was to “accelerate and articulate entrepreneurship” in Nepal. That might sound a little vague to you. Well, it did to us too. On the ground, we had to hash out with our client the practical meaning of these lofty words. In the end we agreed on two main tasks: 1) Evaluate the current state of the college’s “business incubation” program and make recommendations to improve the services the college offers their entrepreneurial students. 2) Develop Nepal-based case studies and train the faculty in how to write and use case studies in the classroom.
Here is a brief synopsis of our learnings over the past five weeks, written from the perspective of each team member:
Isha: A Unique Time in Nepal
I am not sure how aware everyone is about the current situation in Nepal, however our TEM Lab team got to experience it first-hand. In short, there is fuel crisis due to a political situation and the availability of gas is a fraction of the demand. This is not just for vehicles, but also cooking gas!
How did this affect us?
As a team, the very basic requirements of our daily lives were difficult to obtain. Being associated with a US-based NGO gave us a slightly upper hand in terms of getting a pick-up and drop off (most of the time) to our client site (King’s College). Other than that, we were pretty much on our own.
Our residence and food:
We lived at Dev Guest House around 2-3 miles from our client site. Breakfast was included in the package. As stated earlier, cooking gas was a major concern and with the on and off electricity, we couldn’t rely on the guest house to supply all our meals. Hence, we ate our dinners outside. We explored various options in the area (luckily our area had numerous restaurants –with limited menus). As for our breakfasts, except for 3-4 days, we had the same food every day of the 5 weeks with some variations in the fruit and egg. Emma and I looked forward to the Nepali “Chia” the most. Tea would also be available at any other time we requested it (Big Blessing). Even though the locals were facing a difficult situation, especially with cooking fuel for the households, the smiling faces of everyone at the guest house were very welcoming and made us feel at home.
A typical day in the life of Team Nepal:
7:00 am – Breakfast
7:30 am – Head over to King’s College
7:45 – Interviews, meetings, assignment work
11:00 am – Lunch at King’s College cafeteria
12:00 pm – Continue with interviews, meetings, assignment work
3:00 pm – Either head over to a coffee shop with the client or guest house
6:00 pm – Go out for dinner
7:30 pm – Finish individual tasks (that we didn’t have time to complete during the day due to the constant meetings and interruptions)
9:00 pm – Sleep
The weekends were not exactly how we anticipated them. Other than the Diwali week in Mumbai (India), we didn’t really get out of Kathmandu. Transportation was becoming expensive and difficult. We either went our separate ways to explore the city (on foot, usually), or visited the famous squares, temples and did extensive shopping. The last week before our assignment came to an end, we visited a nearby hill station called Haatiban. Our lack of touristy experiences surely gives us a reason to return and see the country from a different angle.
Drew: Accelerating Entrepreneurship
We were tasked with working to improve the school’s own entrepreneurial incubator (or its “CINED”: Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development). From our first day on campus, we were excited to meet many students who had businesses of their own they could describe to us. “With all these passionate young go-getters around the school, a successful incubator program would be a great asset for the students,” we mused to ourselves, and this encouraged us about the potential impact of our work. As we began to work more deeply with the incubator program and spoke with more students that had businesses or business ideas of their own, however, some troubling patterns began to emerge.
A lot of students had multiple businesses (using the term “business” rather loosely). The quirkiest example was an impressive individual with a functioning travel agency for ticket and travel booking, a tour guide dispatch service business, a financial consulting practice and some line of business related to dentistry which we could not quite comprehend. Many students had businesses with multiple, potentially incompatible, focuses (most notably for-profit business elements intertwined with non-profit/social impact ones). These similarities become more and more apparent, and frustrating, as our project progressed. The next observation was that despite all the talk of having businesses, there often was much less actual “business” happening than one might expect, like the buying and selling of goods and services. When we described this observation to the CEO of Sherpa Adventure Gear, a Nepali outdoor clothing company, he attributed this to the preponderance of “weekend entrepreneurs” in Nepal, or individuals who think they want to be entrepreneurs, or say they do, but know little about actual business and do little in terms of actual business follow through. The more time we spent navigating the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country, the more evidence we had of this “weekend Entrepreneur” problem. On a popular Facebook page created to support young Nepali entrepreneurs which has 40,000+ members a typical post would be
“which bussiness is best in the less amount bt profitable. and what is the starting point of it…… plzzzz need suggestion..” –Actual post from an aspiring entrepreneur
Basically, many shared this misguided attitude toward the concept of entrepreneurialism, that it may be so easy to become an entrepreneur that someone could provide the keys to a quick, easy, and lucrative business venture through a comment on a Facebook post! Bringing this troublesome misunderstanding of how difficult entrepreneurship, and business in general, actually is to the attention of King’s College students and faculty became an important aspect of our project.
Emma: Articulating Entrepreneurship
When we first applied for this TEM lab, writing case studies seemed to be a very minor part of the work we would actually be doing. It was included in our list of tasks but was the last thing listed and did not seem very well defined. But once we reached Nepal and learned about the lack of cases specific to the unique business environment in the country, and saw that King’s College had very close relationships with some of Nepal’s most successful businessmen, we quickly realized that writing these cases and training faculty in the basics of how to write case studies could provide a new breadth of resources for Nepali educators and students alike.
We interviewed three successful Nepali businessmen with extremely interesting stories to tell. Biswas Dhakal, founder of the Nepali tech company F1Soft, told us of starting his business in 2004 when he was in grad school just as a way to gain more independence from his parents. Now the company has evolved to be the number 1 private employer in Nepal and considered one of the most innovative companies in the country.
Ashutosh Tiwari, CEO of Sherpa Adventure Gear, a high-end outdoor clothing company, told the story of how he was hired to streamline operations in a creativity driven company and how the company’s marketing strategy, which emphasizes the “Nepli-ness” of their products, conflicts with the costly realities of manufacturing most of their products in Nepal.
Gagan Pradhan, founder of Himalayan Java Coffee, told the story of starting a western style coffee house in Kathmandu in 2000, when Nepal was a total tea-drinking society, and of the steps he took to effect a cultural shift in how Nepali people feel about drinking coffee. Now, every corner in Kathmandu has a coffee shop and domestic demand for coffee is so high that Nepal’s coffee farmers cannot supply enough coffee to meet the demand.
Based on these interviews, we were able to write two rough draft cases and guide the King’s College student team, led by the research faculty, in writing the Himalayan Java case study. We were also able to test one of the cases we wrote, Sherpa Adventure Gear, with King’s College students in two class. Both classes led to very interesting discussions and students were unanimously excited to be able to read an interesting case about a business based in Nepal. We hope King’s College continues to develop Nepal-specific case studies to better engage their students.
Our team learned so much during our time in Nepal, not only about the country and the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but also about our own capabilities and our capacity to work well together as a team. This TEM lab experience has been inspiring to all of us and we look forward to sharing more of our experiences with all of you at Team Nepal’s final presentation, December 10th at 1:00pm in Yount. See you there!