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Jul 2, 2019

Entrepreneurship and Emotional Resilience in Nepal

By Surath Giri & Saurabh Shah

Entrepreneurship and innovation have become the agenda of the world. The rapid development in information and communication technology has not only reduced the traditional barriers to starting a business and therefore, enabling even people with lack of huge capital and resources to venture out, but also helped create hubs and communities around the idea of entrepreneurship. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an estimated 582 million people, around eight percent of the global population, are engaged in entrepreneurship. Nepal has not remained an exception. Entrepreneurship which until a decade ago was seen as a vocation of a selected few is now becoming a popular career choice and noble aspiration among youth and young graduates. Entrepreneurship is being seen as a solution to our economic underdevelopment and high rates of unemployment.

Untold stories

Entrepreneurship, however, is not just glitter and gold. When people hear the word ‘entrepreneur’, they usually think about confident risk takers who innovate their way out of problems to success. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and our very own Binod Chaudhary are some whose stories may inspire us. What the current narrative leaves out is the mental health cost that entrepreneurs pay.  Like every other overhyped issue, the gap between the popular image and the stark reality in entrepreneurship is huge. Contrary to the popular portrayal of the entrepreneurial journey as a journey full of wealth, resources, fame, and extravagance, it has its fair share of struggles, sleepless nights, anxieties, ruins, and devastations.  But these aspects are rarely highlighted in discussions of entrepreneurship. There is no shortage of setbacks an aspiring entrepreneur can run into. This is more so in case of Nepal where the entrepreneurial ecosystem is at its nascent stage, the negative perception toward entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship is yet to change, the political situation and the regulatory environment is precluding. Combination of this presents a unique set of challenges that could baffle and discourage even the most seasoned entrepreneurs. Most entrepreneurs in Nepal are struggling to survive and scaling up and building a world-class business is a far cry for many of them.

This had led to a surge in a mental health crisis in the entrepreneurial community. According to a study by the University of San Francisco researcher Michael A Freeman, approximately one half (49 percent) of entrepreneurs suffer from at least one form of mental health condition during their lifetimes. As per the study, entrepreneurs are twice as likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from attention-deficit /hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), ten times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder, and twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts. Although concrete studies are yet to be carried out, one could argue that the condition is as bad, if not worse, in the context of Nepal where challenges to success are far more than in the developed economies.

What we found

A few weeks back, when Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, in partnership with Nepal Leadership Academy, a signature component of the Daayitwa Abhiyaan that aims to inculcate mindset and behavior change through the understanding and exercise of adaptive leadership, facilitated a meeting of early-stage entrepreneurs to discuss the wellbeing of entrepreneurs and the importance of emotional resilience, young Nepali entrepreneurs expressed a plethora of challenges affecting not only their businesses but also their mental wellbeing.

From making their parents understand the rationale behind their choosing entrepreneurship as a career to navigating the regulatory hurdles, most entrepreneurs seemed to have faced it all. Almost all of them expressed their challenges of keeping their business afloat and having their bills and employees’ salaries paid in an uncertain environment like that of Nepal. Many of the entrepreneurs also expressed that their entrepreneurial endeavor has consumed them and the status of their enterprises played a vital role in determining their state of mental wellbeing.

Many women entrepreneurs also faced additional challenges like having to take care of the family as well as their enterprises. Several of them said that their leadership and ability to succeed were doubted by the older generation, especially the men. The predicament of many entrepreneurs has been made more precarious by the fact that failure is highly stigmatized in our society. Nepali society abhors failure as much as it deifies success. Many Nepali entrepreneurs, therefore, feel compelled to succeed at any cost or risk being ostracized for being a failure. The legal and regulatory environment of Nepal also exacerbates this predicament as the entrepreneur who has failed is required to go their myriads of hoops to restart her entrepreneurial endeavors. Additionally, poor intellectual property protection, lack of enforcement of contracts, ineffective protection of domestic industries and unavailability of adequate human resources were the other issues that added to stress for the Nepali entrepreneurs.

The internal struggles faced by entrepreneurs and the mental crisis they go through has neither been acknowledged nor addressed in Nepal. There is a dire need for the entrepreneurs to be more open about the challenges they face and the internal struggles they go through. There is a need for Nepali entrepreneurs to think of their identities and roles beyond their enterprises. Most of all, there is a need to create a platform where entrepreneurs can help each other become emotionally resilient in their entrepreneurial journey. Only with a resilient state of mind can entrepreneurs succeed, especially in a challenging environment like that of Nepal.

The authors are associated with the Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub, an initiative of the World Economic Forum

(Originally published as "Scaling up entrepreneurship" in Republica national daily on 26 June 2019.)