The notion of social innovation and social entrepreneurship are increasingly gaining momentum within South Asia and Southeast Asia. Nepal being no exception due to the continued, stressing increase in the need of initiatives on social, education, employment, health etc. to ensure socially and environmentally sustainable growth while creating new job opportunities and improving quality of life.
Nepal’s population, being distributed thinly due to the complex natural geography and the topography, creates the gap in the last mile service delivery of the state welfare as well as open market initiatives.
The last mile local communities face the problems of interacting with government, development agencies, civil society members, private sector organisations, and banking and non-financial institutions. Moreover, due to sparse distribution of the people and markets that span multiple policy areas, executions find it difficult to access smooth and long term commitments from the state as well as from non-state actors and from the local communities themselves.
As visible in the present context and flipping through the developments of most South Asian countries, contemporary and future challenges are far too complex to be solved single handedly, and it seems interacting with each other quite closely makes it more complex, including in Nepal.
The agility of social enterprises lies in the intersection of economic development, ecology and local community. The up-gradation of farmers from subsistence to commercial farming, collective production, growing market of reuse in use and redefining the last mile delivery of the state and non-state actors’ services augment the impetus of social entrepreneurship.
Therefore, social entrepreneurship has exponentially come into picture as a stronger catalyst for societal value creation while also boosting local socio-economic development, which was always strongly rooted as thought in me and got a validated recently. My engagement with related activities in countries like the Russian Federation, Taiwan, India, Bangladesh and Finland in different capacities was eye opening and reinforced my belief that complex issues and old structures could be an asset and of great value for social entrepreneurs to ride on to build something innovative.
Erina Sabrina from Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Omsk, Russian Federation mentions: “Social economy actors, be it state or non-state actors and social enterprises, are important drivers as they play an important role in the search of new solutions to existing societal problems for social innovation”. We as country have a strong focus on aligning the socio economic challenges with the agendas of the state and overall development indicators in priority of the nation. We strongly believe in marrying socio economic challenges at the bottom with initiatives in education, health services, employment, public utilities, agriculture and so on. We take a special pride and route in doing so by leveraging existing old structures and systems in place through different nodes through bottom up initiatives and making the government more accessible and accepting.
The whole notion of prosperity and forward thinking looks challenged in the old structures and stands against planning and controlling everything top-down as a principle. Forced developments and agendas to drive socio-economic change at the community level be it in agriculture or education or health services or other state welfare programs, have large scars in our collective memory and failed development process and is strongly echoed by all stakeholders in the countries of my engagement.
To put it as it is, social entrepreneurs in this case consist of relatively engaging and purpose driven groups or individuals with entrepreneurial abilities and mindset willing to walk the less walked path and challenge the status quo.
The real value lies in creating a win win situation for all stakeholders either at the community level or at the national level. With the knowledge, skills and mindset to identify their own sources of funds and resources, whether through tenders or applications or active fundraising programs, the needs and problems are carefully picked up by social entrepreneurs at the community level to stay relevant at the core.
The whole notion is to build an entire ecosystem that would feed into the national mission and make the projects more effective in solving social issues in a more integrated, coordinated and impactful way by riding the existing old structures rather than competing with it.
Access to and acceptance from the government
With little or no means of strengthening the institutional capacity to overcome complex issues and old structures, state led initiatives get designed and financed as projects. This does not allow forming a stable base and operating with result based methods with very less visible ownership. Thus the open market is left with a difficult problem where issues that might matter the most for the future of our societies are left unattended.
This calls for re-organising parts of ministries and teams to handle old structures and complex challenges together with a new set of value chain actors, opening up avenues for both the old generation and new breed social entrepreneurs to challenge existing practice and knowledge in a quest for optimisation.
The governments may wish to potentially play an instrumental and appreciative role in embracing that aspiring social entrepreneurs run in a structured way when it comes to approaching problems, staying more relevant and leveraging more on the old structures while dealing with complex problems.
In spite of how important entrepreneurship is in policy documents and conferences, it still is very difficult to implement in real life scenarios keeping innovation and business scale up plans at the core.
Developing countries’ socio-economic development depends on their ability to innovate, remain agile and constantly re-structure their lands, labour, capital, technologies, nature of organisations while also keeping the societal fabric at the core. An entrepreneurial and innovative approach is what matters in the ever changing current complex times. It is therefore crucial to reach our goals of a more just and sustainable society. This really calls for collective pondering on the purpose and integrated action to leverage old systems’ and structures and rather creating parallel program and initiatives.
Especially in a country like ours which has a long history of frequent political transitions and now is moving into federalism, the best way to look into the current and future prosperity, job creation and equity is to implement and foster a new way of action thinking and forward thinking through engaging all stakeholders with existing structures of the government and making it appealing for potential social entrepreneurs. If leveraged throughout the nation through the same existing and functioning structure in place, it will be a strong catalyst in shaping the next generation of future leaders for just and sustainable societies.
Nanda Kishor Mandal is Head of Yunus Social Business Center at King’s College, and the Founder/Director of Women Development Advocacy Center. He can be reached at email@example.com