The Himalayan range rises five millimeters a year. Geological forces from deep within the earth are slowly pushing the mountains into the Tibetan plateau. The view of the Himalayas outside my window in Nagarkot is breathtaking. I find it hard to comprehend the strength it takes to move mountains. However, if I intend to do business in Nepal, I must find similar strength.
The United States Embassy in Nepal invited me to spend time with social entrepreneurs, business leaders, and students to understand the challenges they face starting and managing a business in Nepal. These hardworking entrepreneurs, both foreign and domestic, were passionate about their contribution to building a better Nepal. I was privileged to share how the United States’ Nepal Trade Preferences Program (NTPP) could help them grow their businesses, especially when coupled with transparent supply chains. However, all of my conversations pointed to a disconnect between business and government. For Nepal to unlock its economic potential, the country needs committed entrepreneurs and a government that enables them.
My organization, Ten by Three™ sustainably ends poverty through finding impoverished artisan producers and paying them a Prosperity Wage®, which is a model we invented, for handcrafted goods. Prosperity Wages guarantee producers at least 2.5 times a fair trade wage. In some of the seven countries we serve, like Bangladesh, we pay six times fair trade. Through the transparent supply chain technology platform we invented, called Artisan&You®, the artisan’s name and their photograph are attached to every item they craft. When we import their goods to the United States, they become unlikely representatives for their countries through letter exchanges with U.S. customers who buy their products. It is exciting to think how these models and transparency technologies could help prosper the impoverished artisan producers of Nepal exit poverty and how the Nepal Trade Preferences Program could complement this work. Each year, my organization imports tens of thousands of handcrafted items from various countries around the world into the United States, so I asked about the Nepali export process.
Many Nepali entrepreneurs described to me the 37 frustrating steps it takes to export goods out of Nepal. Entrepreneurs are asked to see government worker A, who stamps their export paperwork, then sends them to worker B for a stamp who sends them back to A and so on. Still, others described the methods they were forced to use just to get those stamps and move their goods in time to satisfy foreign buyers. Some entrepreneurs reported they maintain additional staff members just to navigate Nepal’s complicated import/export process. I had the opportunity to share these concerns with government officials along with my growing concerns about the current Nepali systems and processes which would hamper foreign investment in Nepal. They shared the steps they have taken to make the export process digital. This is indeed a step in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure you no longer need to see the people with the stamps. Developing digital platforms which reduce duplicity, create supply chain transparency, and empower entrepreneurs is vital to the success of a Nepali economy of the future.
Making the export process more transparent and convenient for businesses in Nepal will make it easier for entrepreneurs to implement transparent and ethical supply chains. During my visit, I shared with members of the Nepali government and entrepreneurs the facts which show transparent and ethical supply chains are good for business. According to the 2017 Cone CSR Report, 92 percent of US consumers say they have a more positive image of and be more likely to trust, a company which supports social and environmental issues.
This type of support becomes known to consumers when a company engages in transparent supply chains. The same study shows that 88 percent of those surveyed said they if they learned a company was irresponsible or had deceptive business practices, they would stop buying that company’s products. Successful companies understand an ethical and transparent supply chain leads to enhanced brand reputation, increased sales, and overall competitive advantage. I met many entrepreneurs and companies in Nepal who are already conducting business ethically.
Interestingly, most didn’t realize transparency and ethics were a viewed by consumers as a business advantage.
If the Nepali Government is to build an economy of the future, it must address the many issues standing in the way of a robust and successful entrepreneurship ecosystem in Nepal. Entrepreneurs shared with me they are being held back by the lack of an international electronic payment gateway. Female entrepreneurs described in detail how they can be held back by the requirement of a male signature, a lack of funding, and leadership recognition. Still, other entrepreneurs shared their failed efforts to get funding for their businesses due to the senseless requirement of a 100 percent loan guarantee.
Imagine what could happen if Nepali entrepreneurs, both foreign and domestic, were surrounded by an ecosystem to fuel their success? How many additional local jobs could they create helping to curb the alarming exit rate of bright young Nepali’s? These same young people could stay in Nepal, contribute to the tax base, and slowly wean Nepal off the unsustainable remittance system, which contributes the equivalent of 30 percent of Nepal’s GDP. How many more products could inspire entrepreneurs manufacture in Nepal to help stabilize the country concerning trade deficit? How much stronger could the ‘Made in Nepal’ brand become?
Entrepreneurship builds resilient economies. The Nepali Government must make changes to foster entrepreneurship. They must embrace transparency and reduce duplicity with effective digital platforms. They must abolish the cultural and financial barriers which prohibit the empowerment of women and foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem led by returnees and women. If foreign entrepreneurs like me are to feel welcome in Nepal, the government must drop its $50,000 startup investment requirement, easily approve five-year visas, and welcome international payment platforms.
The Himalayas remind us seismic change begins with the smallest movement. So, let’s start small. I dare foreigners, the Nepali government and citizens alike to enter each day asking a straightforward question: Will the actions I take today be in the best interest of Nepal and its people?
As my gaze returns to the Himalayas, I reflect on the challenges I will face expanding my organization to Nepal. However, I feel encouraged based on the success of other passionate entrepreneurs I met. Like the work of these creative entrepreneurs, my work to prosper Nepali artisan producers and it is in the best interest of the Nepali people. Therefore, I must find the strength to forge ahead and contribute to the key to Nepal’s future prosperity – entrepreneurs.
(Theresa Carrington, Founder & CEO Ten By Three, recently visited Nepal and took part in the U.S. Embassy’s programmes.)