Arthalaya - Samriddhi, Nepal


1st Place Winner, 2012 CIPE Leading Practices Contest


The problem:

Owing to predominant socialist thought in the political-economic discourses of Nepal and educational curriculum, concepts of entrepreneurship, profit-making, private enterprise, and liberal economy are vilified in Nepalese society. Though entrepreneurship is slowly gaining popularity, students and young people lack the understanding and virtue of private enterprise and open economy.

The practice:

Arthalaya is a regularly organized six day residential school of economics and entrepreneurship that invites applicants from university students and young professionals and trains them in private enterprise on two levels. First, students attend various interactive sessions on economic freedom. These include a combination of lectures, group work activities, peer presentations, and simulations. The topics covered during these classes include the rule of law, market distortions, the role of incentives, voluntary exchange, morality of markets, and the role of government in economic growth and entrepreneurship. Through these activities, Arthalaya equips the students with a theoretical understanding of the policies, institutions and environment needed for economic development.

On the second level, over the six days they are in residence, participants run their own enterprise giving them firsthand experience being an entrepreneur. The program enacts various policies emulated from real policies of Nepal to help promote an understanding of how such policies affect businesses and the economy in reality. In addition to running their own initiatives, participants attend a session where they are able to interact with entrepreneurs, civil society, and local organizations, which provides them with useful case studies of the topics they learn throughout the program.

In Arthalaya, participants do not just learn about the values and process of becoming an entrepreneur, but also learn the democratic framework that promotes entrepreneurship and democratic values that will help uphold free enterprise in the long run.

Why and How:

Over the past six decades, Nepal has experienced three popular uprisings in support of democracy. Though these efforts sustained civic and political freedom, they did not affect the lives of those who struggle every day to make a living. While Right Based Approach is prominent in Nepal, the discussion on the economic framework is missing. This is where Samriddhi saw a gap and created Arthalaya with the vision of developing a critical mass of young people, who while learning about the vlues of entrepreneurship, also learn about the democratic framework that uphold sustainable economic growth.

Steps and Tips for Implementing the Practice:

A curriculum that incorporates both theoretical as well as practical sessions needs to be developed. Since, the program is youth focused, it is imperative to make sessions very interactive and youth friendly. Distinguishing the learning model used in the program from college lectures and learning modules helps keep them interested. Team assignments, group work, and debates can help to increase the bonding between participants and let them learn from each other as well.

The participant selection should be very competitive and thoroughly analyzed. Getting an inactive or disinterested participant can really ruin the learning environment. After short listing the applicants based on their application form and essay on the given topic, Samriddhi makes them go through a rigorous process of focused group discussions, individual interviews, and assigned readings before finally selecting them for the program.

During the program, it is necessary to balance informality and seriousness during the sessions. An informal learning environment really keeps participants interested and open minded about different ideas but too much informality can undermine the seriousness of the program. A friendly but firm approach is required on the part of the program coordinator to achieve best results

Results:

Graduates take the values of rule of law, property rights, civil, political and economic freedom with them and they have continuously promoted it through the different avenues they have chosen. Following Arthalaya, More than 40 participants have become entrepreneurs by starting their own ventures. These range from a ginger cultivation farm to short film studio. Others have started entrepreneurs' clubs in their colleges/universities to spread understanding of the ideas and concepts discussed in the program. Some graduates have been appointed student representatives in the student councils. More than 25 Entrepreneurs’ Clubs are currently operative in colleges within the Kathmandu valley and are engaged in promoting ideas that help democracy deliver among other youth. Through this, we hope to contribute in the building of an independent civil society which can act as a check and balance in the political discourse. Participants more inclined towards the ideas have started writing blogs, articles and op-eds in newspapers about issues discussed in Arthalaya.

Arthalaya was started with a grant from CIPE in 2009 but it now runs without the grant and is entirely funded by local enterprises and participation fee. The growing popularity and demand of Arthalaya has allowed us to raise the fee from NRs. 500 to NRs. 5000 without any decline in number of applications. Samriddhi has been approached by Kathmandu University, a leading institution of Nepal, to design a course on entrepreneurship. Similarly, several other colleges have started offering courses on entrepreneurship.

Lessons from the experience:

A period of three years has taught Samriddhi that a program like Arthalaya can be a very effective tool to promote democratic values and market principles in any developing and transitional economy by empowering the youth to become a critical mass in the political-economic discourse. Similarly, having entrepreneurship as a theme is very relevant in societies like Nepal that face high levels of youth unemployment.

The high cost of the program and limited funds prevent us from engaging many more youth. Equal gender participation, frequently changing university exam schedules, follow up programs after Arthalaya and finding resource persons adept at interacting in a youth friendly manner are a few other challenges.
Regarding success factors, diversity of the participants, innovating mixture of modes of learning where theory is mixed with the practical experience of running one’s own enterprise for five days and promotion of an open debate culture are key attributes of Arthalaya.