Feb 22, 2015

Story of an entrepreneur: Khadananda Shiwakoti of Shiwakoti Bags

Shiwakoti Bags is one of the leading bag brands of Nepal currently. It not only supplies bags to Nepali market but also exports them abroad. The annual turnover of Shiwakoti Bags is in millions but very few people know the humble beginnings of this company. The company was established by Khadananda Shiwakoti and his elder brother in 2000, who were then working as laborers in other bags manufacturers. Shiwakoti brothers who started their careers as street hawkers had managed to save Rs. 50,000 by 2000 when they decided to start their own company. Below is the video of Khadananda Shiwakoti sharing about his entrepreneurial journey from a street hawker to the proud owner of a leading national brand. The video was taken during Uddhyami Junction, one of the regular programs of SAGE (Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship) Nepal.

Feb 20, 2015

How to Improve Electricity Transmission System in Nepal?

Majority of hydropower projects in Nepal have not gone under construction due to the absence of transmission lines and thus it is one of the key constraints that has been keeping the country from realizing its enormous hydro potential and easing the prevailing electricity crisis. Nepal Electricity Authority, the state owned monopoly has a practical monopoly in the construction and ownership of transmission lines in Nepal. Since Nepal Electricity Authority is mired with corruption and inefficiency, it has been acting as a bottleneck for the development of hydro-power development in Nepal. How can we solve this problem? What can be a better policy option for improving the transmission line system in Nepal? I have co-authored a paper titled "Policy Options for Improved Electricity Transmission System in Nepal" with my colleagues at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation. You can read it or download it below:

Please let me know if you have any comments or feedback on this paper.

Jan 3, 2015

Interview with Dr. Swarnim Wagle, Member of National Planning Commission

Just stumbled up on this interview of Dr. Swarnim Wagle who is currently one of the members of the National Planning Commission of Nepal. Dr. Wagle had an impressive career so far. Born in a remote village of Gorkha district, he got educated in the prestigious Budhanilkantha School and then attended London School of Economics, and Harvard University before finally getting his PHD from Australian National University. Having worked for international institutions like World Bank and UNDP in several countries, his decision to return to Nepal and take up a job at National Planning Commission that pays about 1/40 of his previous salary is truly appreciable. I am more impressed by the fact that he seems to be committed to promote the role of private sector in the economy and does not shy away from making his views clear although he is regularly swamped by leftist intellectuals and their centuries old rhetoric whenever he presents his views regarding the economy. I hope he will be able to make the changes he wishes to make before his willpower and motivation in engulfed by the corrupt Nepalese bureaucracy and politics. We need more people like him. My only fear, though, is that he may start patronizing and may end up making the state mechanism more efficient at repressive entrepreneurial aspirations of the citizens. I hope that does not happen.

Dec 31, 2014

10 awesome books I read in 2014

 I managed to read only 27 books as opposed to my lofty goal of reading at least 40 books this year. The solace, however, is in the fact that I managed to read some pretty amazing books. Long after I finished reading these books, the lessons are still etched on my mind. That is becoming a trend by the way. I mean, missing the target but reading some amazing books. Unlike the past years, this year however, I focused on reading Nepali language books.

Anyway, here are the 10 awesome books I read in 2014:

1. Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
While reading this book I was constantly thinking, why the hell didn't I read this book earlier? This book is considered the father of motivational literature. I must say the book lives up to the hype. This book is not a get rich quick book though. It is about how letting yourself consumed by an idea or a passion can ultimately land you riches. It is about how our thoughts eventually manifest themselves in reality through our actions. If you are consumed by the idea of getting rich, you will get rich eventually if you persist enough. I think, this is among the few motivational books that I really liked and found insightful.

2. Delivering Happiness: A path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh
This is the story of Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, one of the most beloved companies in the world. Zappos sells shoes online but it is not what Zappos is famous for. Zappos has taken customer service to a whole new level. According to Hsieh, the main objective of his company is to deliver happiness, not just sell shoes. In the book, Hsieh recounts the journey of his life so far and how he ended up building Zappos. The story of his childhood ventures will surely bring a smile on your face and his ventures after growing up will teach you a handful of insights on what the tumultuous journey of an entrepreneur looks like and how to build a great company.

3.Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't by James C. Collins
The author with his research team analyzed 28 companies over the period of 5 years to determine what made companies leap from good to great. The author has derived common aspects of all those great companies. All of those companies had level 5 leadership, culture of discipline, used technology as accelerators. The concept of Stockdale Paradox (Being brutally honest with your shortcomings but optimist about the future) is extremely useful not only in business but in personal life as well.

4. Losing My Virginity: How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson
It is the autobiography of Richard Branson, probably the most adventurous entrepreneur in the world, who, while not creating a billion dollar company, is busy attempting and setting world records. In this book, he recounts his journey since childhood and how he ended up creating 8 billion dollar companies from scratch. Need I say more?

5. Radha by Krishna Dharabasi
Krishna Dharabasi is one of the more creative Nepali writers out there. In this novel, Dharabasi has woven a tale that breaks the patriarchal storyline created by our religious texts and stories. Unlike in the religious scriptures, in this novel, Radha has been portrayed an independent woman fighting for her identify and respect. Dharabasi is right to portray the Mahabharat war as a war created by the egos of the elites where thousands of commoners died for nothing. Amazing book!

6. Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield
This book is to non-profits what "Good to Great" is to for-profits. The authors conducted a research among the most effective non-profit organizations in the world to find out the common things among them. Like, Good to Great, this book also have several very good lessons, which if applied, can take your non-profit organization and the cause it champions to newer heights. I think every Nepali NGO personnel should read this book as they seem to have understood none of these lessons.

7. An American Life by Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan lived an amazing life. Coming from a humble beginning, he started his career as a sports commentator and later became a very successful Hollywood actor of his time. Then after retiring from the career, he started working as a salesperson for General Electric which ultimately became a platform for him to start a political career. His political career started as the Governor of California and ended up as one of the most popular American presidents in recent history. In this memoir, 'The Great Communicator" tells about all the twists and turns in his life. He has also shared about the rationale behind the decisions he made as a president and how he contributed in ending the cold war.

8.Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
If you want to read only one book out of my list, please read this one. This is the story of three generations of women in China. The author's grandmother lived in the times of feudal lords where women were treated like dirt, her mother lived in the times of communist revolution and Chang grew up under the rule of Mao. The author provides the readers a window to the life of commoners under Mao's China, so called paradise of the peasants and workers. The book should be read by every Nepalese, especially those who dream of establishing a Mao's paradise in Nepal.

9. Kamalari Dekhi Sabhasad Samma by Shanta Chaudhari
Shanta Chaudhari, who rose from the life of a modern slave into the position of a parliamentarian, is truly an inspirational figure. In this book, she recounts her unlikely journey full of struggles and hurdles. Her life if a testament that if a person wants, he or she can overcome any barrier and achieve success, provided that they are passionate enough and persistent enough.


10. The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything by Guy Kawasaki
This is a straight-forward, no nonsense book for any aspiring entrepreneur to help them start their enterprise right away. The author provides practical tips and tricks for starting up along with lessons to keep in mind after that. One of the tips he provides in the book is start your company's name with earlier letters in the alphabet so that you get first listing in any event or publications. Another suggestion that I liked is: forget about the mission statement, have a mantra instead. There are such lessons in every page of the book. A must read for any aspiring entrepreneur.

Well, that is my list. What do you think about it? Have you read any of these books? If yes, do share your thoughts in the comments below.

Nov 26, 2014

Youth and Entrepreneurship in Nepal: My Radio Interview

On November 15, I was invited to Radio Rajdhani 100.6 Mhz's program Leo in Change to talk about the prospects and challenges about youth entrepreneurship in the context of Nepal. Below is the recording of the radio interview. Leo in Change is run by Leo Club of Kathmandu Central Town and is focused towards young audience. Hence, the informal language and the discussion format. Please skip the first one and a half minute as there is a song playing on. If you have any comments or questions, please let me know in the comment section below.

Oct 31, 2014

Out of Country but Out of Poverty

I have recently started writing for The Global Entrepreneur which is Sweden based online magazine that focuses on issues related to globalization and entrepreneurship. As the first write-up for The Global Entrepreneur, I wrote about the migration for foreign employment trend in Nepal. Well, that is not exactly a novel topic in our case, is it? However, in the article, I have tried to explain how foreign employment is helping Nepal and why it is not that bad to be dependent on foreign employment and the remittances it brings. My argument is what else can a rational person do when the rulers and government have created an environment where a person cannot hope to flourish through hard work and enterprise.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

Image Source: http://www.nepalmountainnews.com
Every day more than 1,500 able-bodied Nepalese citizens leave their abodes, seeking better lives and better opportunities in foreign countries. Many of them end up in the Middle East as construction workers, building stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar, and infrastructure in other gulf countries.

If Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022 successfully, Nepal will be among the nations it will have to be thankful to.

Some of the workers have to be content with working menial jobs in different industries. Uddhab Danuwar, 28, is one of them. A native of Panchkhal Village of Kavrepalanchok District, he first migrated to Kathmandu and worked for a pashmina manufacturer for a few years. Uddhab was employed in the coloring and dying process there, and earned Rs. 15,000 a month (USD 154). Last October, he flew to Saudi Arabia for an employment opportunity at a hotel where he currently earns 1,200 Saudi Riyals (USD 320) a month.

“With my meager income back home, I and my family could hardly survive. Here, not only have I been able to cover my expenses, but also save some money to send back to my family,” Danuwar tells The Global Entrepreneur.

“The work is very tough here. I still find it difficult to adjust with the culture and climate, and I miss my family a lot, but I think it’s worth the struggle.”

Paradoxically, their sacrifices didn’t come in the form of sweat and labor alone; in the last year alone, 862 Nepalese lost their lives while being engaged in employment abroad, many of who were building the skyscrapers and stadiums.

As immigrant workers, they are not treated properly as domestic workers would have been. The horrible working environments these migrant workers have had to face in the host countries have made headlines in international media. Some reports have gone to the extent of alleging that foreign workers in Qatar are being treated like cattle.

Yet, the line of emigrant workers waiting for their flights at Nepal’s only international airport keeps getting longer and longer. Care to wonder why?

Read the full article in The Global Entrepreneur by clicking here.

Sep 14, 2014

Promoting Entrepreneurship in Nepal

Click on the image to view full size!
Lately entrepreneurship has become a buzzword in Nepal. Entrepreneurship development seems to have caught the attention of the non-profit sector as well as the private sector, even the government to some extent for better or worse. Non Government Organizations (NGOs) and International Non-government Organizations (INGOs) are trying to incorporate entrepreneurship component in their areas of work, private sector has started experimenting venture capitalism and the government has come up with plans to dole out money in the name of entrepreneurship. Increased interest in entrepreneurship among the various actors in the society is appreciable. Entrepreneurship is the ladder delivering economic growth and development in any society regardless of its current economic status. Hence, recognition of entrepreneurship as an important issue for the society can be considered a step in the right direction. Better late than never.

However, entrepreneurship as a skill set or as a resource of the society is different than any other resources in the society. Treating entrepreneurship development like any other developmental issues is likely to corrupt it and lose its value for the developmental sector, if not for the society. As Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, the world renowned entrepreneurship development consultant pointed out during his visit in Kathmandu last week, thousands of initiations by international donors in developing societies like Africa have done more damage than good despite their noble intentions. The major mistake made by the donors is to assume that they know better than the locals and patronize them. The follies made by international donors in developing societies of which Sirolli was once a part has given him a simple but difficult lesson to make economic development initiations more effective i.e. shut up and listen.

Understanding the real problems

Unlike other issues, entrepreneurial journey is about innovating and taking risks to produce something of value to the society which in turn brings revenue to the enterprise and uplifts the living standard of the people involved. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and even for those who aspire to be entrepreneurs, success is not guaranteed. Hence, entrepreneurship promotion is a job that requires detailed observation and continued support during the various stages of the entrepreneurial journey.  

One time intervention and misguided help may in fact do more harm than good in promoting entrepreneurship. One classic example is the case of doling out money with the intention of promoting entrepreneurship like the Government of Nepal did with Youth Self Employment Fund. Contrary to the popular belief, having easy access to finance may not promote entrepreneurship. In fact, easy money could easily kill the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity making the person dependent on donations. Despite spending huge amount of money, Youth Self Employment Fund barely had any impact in developing entrepreneurship in Nepal as a large volume of low interest loan was lent to speculative business instead of new ventures that create employment opportunities. Similarly, the notion in the development sector that entrepreneurship is equal to sum of accounting, technical skill and a team is also misguided. Entrepreneurship is always more than the sum of these various aspects. Besides uncertainty is always a constant factor in any entrepreneurial venture.

Hence, promoting entrepreneurs requires understanding the various aspects of an entrepreneurial journey and identifying at which an entrepreneur is and providing help accordingly. It is essential to shut up and listen to the entrepreneurs and understand the ground reality that an entrepreneur is operating in. As Sirolli points out in his popular TED speech, small scale entrepreneurs are generally besieged by lack of expertise required to delegate the major aspects of businesses and grow the business into another level. Entrepreneurs find it difficult to get support in these areas regardless of where they live and operate. The civil society organizations as well as the private organizations aspiring to develop entrepreneurship in Nepal should take heed of these lessons if they want to be effective in their efforts. 

Ensure Safety of Life and Property

Similarly, in the context of Nepal, various political and social problems pose a serious threat to the existence and growth of any enterprise. The security of life and property is so weak that people still hesitate to expose their success to the society for the fear of being extorted or attacked. It is a shameful thing that it is usually the political parties themselves who are involved in extortion and disruption of businesses. Frequent bandas and strikes pose another major problems for small scale entrepreneurs who face severe losses if the operation of their enterprises is disrupted even for a few days.

Lack of infrastructure and government’s apathy towards infrastructure development has resulted in increased cost of doing business for any enterprise regardless of its size. The increased cost of doing business usually affects the small and medium scale enterprises more than the large scale enterprises. Lack of infrastructure and rule of law also discourages the aspiring entrepreneurs from embarking into the entrepreneurial journey.

The government bears the ultimate responsibility in making the provision for the infrastructure development as well as maintenance of law and order. If the Government of Nepal wants to help thousands of entrepreneurial individuals across the country rather than just a few large scale enterprises, it should focus on developing infrastructures that ease up the cost of doing business and ensure safety of lives and property of its citizens so that more and more people are encouraged to dream big and make it big in the entrepreneurial journey.

(Published in The Himalayan Times- Perspectives of 14th September, 2014)