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Razeena Shrestha '09 Studies Social Entrepreneurship in Nepal

By Laura Bramley
Posted August 20, 2008
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"If you give a man a fish, you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime." The proverb is familiar to many, but for social entrepreneurs, fishing lessons are still inadequate. According to Bill Drayton, founder of the Ashoka organization, "Social entrepreneurs are not content with providing a fish or teaching how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry." Social entrepreneurs use commercial principles to organize and run ventures that work for social change.

Razeena Shrestha '09 (Kathmandu, Nepal) participated last summer in an internship with the Nepal branch of Ashoka, a global association of leading social entrepreneurs, and was able to meet many different kinds of innovators. This year, she returned to research social philanthropy and sustainable community development, in collaboration with Associate Professor of Sociology Stephen Ellingson. Her research, which was funded by the Arthur Levitt Center's Research Fellows program, used a case study of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Tewa to study how Nepali social entrepreneurship has changed sustainable development.

"Until recently, sustainable development in Nepal was an unrealized dream," says Shrestha. In spite of endeavors by the government and development agencies to improve life for the Nepali people, there was no significant change, and over time the efforts lost force. Problems with development included inadequate funding and expertise from abroad, underutilized resources, illiteracy and lack of public awareness, but Shrestha says the most crucial issue was that the developers' approach focused on relief, rather than providing the tools and skills necessary for people to sustain themselves.

This is where revolutionizing the fishing industry comes in, as social entrepreneurs in Nepal have worked to organize local action and support for local issues. By focusing on straightforward, ethical, and user-friendly ideas, organizations can generate widespread interest and encourage local people to work on solutions. Tewa is a good example. The organization, whose name means "support" in Nepali, promotes civic participation, trying to encourage self-reliant development to empower groups of rural women in Nepal, helping them to organize and raise their visibility without depending on donors. Shrestha compared this new approach with previous development efforts, studying why social entrepreneurship has been relatively successful in recent years. Since hers is the first project to study this topic in Nepal, she hopes that her work will encourage further research into the subject.

To conduct her case study, Shrestha studied Tewa's publications and annual reports and used open-ended questionnaires to interview the organization's founding members, board of directors, staff, and volunteers, as well as involved community members. She visited groups who received grants from Tewa, and learned about the context of sustainable development in Nepal by reading publications from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Nepal's National Planning Commission, the Ministry of Population and Environment, and the Nepali World Bank.

In her study of Tewa, Shrestha found that the organization took a different approach from previous efforts in "overly aid-dependent" Nepal. Tewa raises local funds to show that sustainable development does not have to be donor-dependent, and encourages collaboration and to work for justice and peace by improving the position of Nepali women in society. For Shrestha, this emphasizes the power that a single person can have to make a difference. "In Nepal, today, organizations such as Tewa have proven themselves as catalytic to social change," she says. "That frequently begins with one obsessive individual."

A sociology major with a minor in mathematics, Shrestha spent last semester studying abroad in Prague. On campus, she has served as the President of the International Students' Association at Hamilton and was an officer for Asian Cultural Society. She has also been involved with Student Activities, HAVOC, and Tae-Kwon-Do. After graduation, she says she is "still contemplating" whether to head directly for graduate school or to first spend time gaining work experience. 

-- by Laura Bramley

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