We tried moving past the translation bias and ambiguity of the words entrepreneurship and ecosystem. Though, it took us a few weeks to realize that people did not understand the latter. It wasn’t until one of our last interviewees in 2018, who was bold enough to ask what we meant by ecosystem, ‘
So you are seeking to understand how entrepreneurs can help the environment?’.Mayor of a capital city in the Far West of Nepal
In a country as rich as Nepal in natural beauty and resources, not a stupid thing to ask. Not to mention that the term ecosystem is short for ecological system and an environmental term; at least according to various dictionaries.
It should be noted that the gentleman studied in the US and, hence, we couldn’t blamed the misunderstanding on his language abilities. In fact, I might not have comprehended it entirely either, but shied away from saying as much. Fortunately, when we launched our second trip, in early 2019, we put much more effort in defining what we meant. And, we did it in Nepali, with concrete examples; avoiding translating everything back and forth.
We started to be clear with regards to the dimensions we intended to understand and we had believed during our preparation to be the most important ones. Further, focus went more towards current and aspiring entrepreneurs rather than policy makers or politicians (and, indeed, there is a difference).
Although, in our first trial and error attempts, we had a plethora of questions for each actor, we figured that we were not specific enough and far too abstract (or academic for that matter). We needed to speak the interviewees’ language! So, we began asking, ‘How did you become an entrepreneur?’, or, ‘Why did you decide to start your business in this sector?’. What excites you about it?.
“Do proper research before starting any business. The whole province is virgin for all ideas”Hotel owner in Dhangadhi
If we were truly to understand what was driving them, we needed to be on the same page. Given the shortage of time and limited availability of reliable data about Nepal’s entrepreneurs, we needed to have them telling us THEIR stories; not us, pushing them to make one up.
‘entrepreneurship is about converting the products as per the demand of your market’.Ginger producer in Surkhet
Initially we wrongfully assumed that we knew what THAT market is. Perhaps, we felt in the aid worker’s trap, believing the Global North holds the answers. Or, perhaps, that Nepal’s neighboring and emerging superpowers provide enough examples which just should be copied? Indeed, one can see many market opportunities, but, Nepal’s geopolitical and socioeconomic situation is far too complex to simple copy and paste!
A uniqueness which became particularly obvious when we were asking other actors that should be part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem (so we thought). The answers to the question, ‘What they actually understood under the term entrepreneurship?’ were largely linked to their operations, not so much to what entrepreneurs said it is what they actually DO. For instance,
‘any production or trading activity channeled to the market’a banker
Makes sense, does is not? From an investors’ perspective at least… Trading is much kinder on one’s investment, in terms of ROI and time. Trusting someone that her/his innovation will be successful in and foreseeable future, is an entirely different ball game. Or what about this statement that entrepreneurship is the,
‘consolidation of products and services by low-income, small-level producers.’?.an agriculture-based cooperative member
While this sounds nicely paraphrased, in a developmental context, we might want to take into account that with neither a healthy local market nor qualitative and price-wise competitive products, consolidation will barely help.
Which brings us back to the question where entrepreneurship can create value? It is far beyond trading or product consolidation. In the section about Becoming an Entrepreneur (>>here), I talk about the social component of entrepreneurship. As a student puts it, ‘being your own boss AND employing others.’ and having a multiplier effect on society. Similarly, besides a psychological push to not think about ‘how do I get a job’ to ‘how do I create ten jobs’, a subculture of innovators may develop. So, one student said that being an entrepreneur is, ‘investing for innovation’. While, innovation does not mean one has to reinvent the wheel: In fact, it can be much simpler than that and is largely founded on local (sometimes scarce) resources. Leading to our second dimension – the investment climate – which will be discussed in the next chapter >>here.