Organization: Samriddhi – The Prosperity Foundation
Name of the Practice/Program: Arthalaya: A School of Economics and Entrepreneurship.
Start date: January 2009
1. What is the problem addressed by this practice?
Owing to predominant socialist thoughts in the political-economic discourses of Nepal and educational curriculum, concepts of entrepreneurship, profit-making, private enterprises, 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.
2. Describe the practice.
Arthalaya – a six day residential school of economics and entrepreneurship is regularly organized inviting applications from university level students and young professionals. The school trains the students on two levels. First, they go through various interactive sessions (mix of lecture, group work, presentations, simulations, etc.) on economic freedom, rule of law, role of incentives, market distortions, voluntary exchange and morality of markets and role of governments in economic growth and entrepreneurship. This equips them with a theoretical understanding of the policies, institutions and environment needed for economic development. On another level, participants run their own enterprise for the six days which gives them firsthand experience being an entrepreneur. Various policies affecting their businesses (emulated from the real policies of Nepal) are enacted helping them practically understand how policies affect economy in reality. One of the sessions is a small research activity where participants interact with entrepreneurs, civil society organizations and local agencies finding case studies of their understanding.
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 this framework in the long run.
3. Explain why and how your organization developed this practice. Describe the connection to democracy.
In the past six decades, Nepal went through three uprisings for democracy. Though these efforts sustained civic and political freedom, they did not really 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 in Nepal. This is where Samriddhi saw a gap and hence, Arthalaya was conceived to create a critical mass of young people, who while learning about the values of entrepreneurship, also learn about the democratic framework and values that will help uphold democracy in the long run.
4. Describe the steps or tips for implementing the practice.
Firstly, a curriculum that incorporates both the theoretical sessions as well as the practical sessions needs to be developed. Since, the program is youth focused, it is imperative to make sessions very interactive and youth friendly. It is necessary to distinguish the learning model used in the program from the college lectures and learning modules or else it will be difficult to 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, we make them go through a rigorous process of focused group discussions, individual interviews, assigned readings etc 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.
5. Describe actual results of the practice and useful applications. Include evidence of effectiveness.
Arthalaya 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. More than 40 participants have become entrepreneurs by starting their own ventures following Arthalaya. The ventures range from a ginger cultivation farm to a short film studio. Others have started entrepreneurs’ clubs in their colleges/universities to enhance their 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 outside that are engaged in promoting ideas and values among other youth that help democracy deliver. 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.
6. Describe lessons from your experience, such as circumstances in which the practice can work, challenges faced and success factors.
14 batches of Arthalaya over the period of three years have taught us 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.