The neighbourhood surrounding PN Campus and Pokhara Institute of Engineering is dotted with internet cafes where locals and tourists of all ages can be found using Facebook, skyping with friends or making calls to India, US, or the UK. The IEC Cafe (pic, below) is no different, except that some of its most regular customers are visually-impaired.
Khom Raj Sharma, founder of the Inclusive Empowerment Centre (IEC), started the cafe in April to promote computer literacy among the visually-impaired. The centre has been providing computer, Internet and English language training to the blind for the past four years. With the new cafe, students can now use computers with assistive technology and surf the net for less than Rs 20 per hour. The earnings from the cafe help support the centre, which means Sharma and team don't have to depend on donors and can use the profit to cover training fees for those who can't afford.
With more and more organisations like IEC learning how to balance their bills while also being self-sufficient and socially responsible, social entrepreneurship is catching up quickly in Nepal.
At the forefront of this revolution is Change Fusion Nepal (CFN), which provides mentoring, financial assistance, and tools for networking to social entrepreneurs like Sharma. Established in 2008 by Luna Shrestha Thakur, CFN enables young entrepreneurs to start ventures that are financially independent, sustainable, and focus on social and environmental issues.
"Some people think business only means earning profits. What they forget is that they can reach out to the community, or look after the environment and still make money," says Luna.
Change Fusion supports entrepreneurs between 18 and 35 years who want to solve problems through market-driven models and are willing to give back to disadvantaged communities or reinvest in development. Once an idea is approved, CFN helps the entrepreneur develop a business plan and find funding through individuals or other organisations.
Besides the IEC in Pokhara, Change Fusion is also supporting 29-year-old Pushpa Basnet who takes care of 35 children whose parents are incarcerated. She trained the mothers in jails to make handicrafts and textiles and sells these items to pay for the children's education and upbringing.
Says Luna, "Pushpa is educating the children, and making sure they don't end up in poverty, while also imparting skills to the mothers so that when they come out of jail, they can earn a living."
Santoshi Rana, media, communication and programme coordinator says CFN focuses on quality rather than numbers. "We are happy to groom just one person if she has the potential to make a positive and long-lasting impact on a large community rather than grooming five people who can only help one other individual," explains Santoshi.
Although Luna and her team mentor entrepreneurs for a year and equip them with basic skills, individuals have to make use of their networks and resources to sustain their businesses in the long-run. "We give them the platform, but how far they progress, depends on them," Luna says.
CFN is organising a three day night-bazaar at Babermahal Revisited in September where young social entrepreneurs from all over Nepal will get to showcase their products and network with buyers and designers. It will also host the annual Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award to honour businessman and women who have made exceptional contributions to their communities and bring their good work into the limelight.
Despite CFN's best efforts, neither the government nor the private sector has really warmed up to social entrepreneurs. A quick search on google reveals legions of organisations willing to fund, support and launch ingenious businessmen and women in countries like India, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea. But Nepali entrepreneurs have to manage with minimal capital, and miss out on international exposure and vigorous promotion.
Luna hopes the success stories of budding entrepreneurs like Basnet and Sharma will convince more Nepalis to take up social entrepreneurship as a career and encourage universities and colleges to include entrepreneurship courses in their curriculum. She also wants to see the private sector step up and take the lead in nurturing future social activists-cum-CEOs.
"Every country needs young social entrepreneurs, because they bring wealth, generate employment and solve problems. But we need to make sure they are well-prepared," she says.
Blind faith, CANDICE NEO in POKHARA
A unique cyber cafe in Pokhara empowers the visually- impaired by making the Internet accessible
Not non-profit, PAAVAN MATHEMA
Social entrepreneurs are businessmen with motives beyond money
Empowering young entrepreneurs
Change Fusion Nepal helps transform job seekers into job providers