Luna Shrestha Thakur is the Founding Director of ChangeFusion Nepal, a non-governmental organization that seeks to nurture aspiring change makers in diverse fields within social entrepreneurship. She is also the Nepal Country Manager of SPRING Accelerator. SPRING is an accelerator for business seeking to innovate and make a significant positive impact on the lives of adolescent girls across East Africa and South Asia. As an author of travelogue A Journey to Self, her book is an inspiration for young women who seek to pursue their dreams. She was also leading the Youth Action Fund Nepal for three consecutive years from 2011-2013, and has been working closely with the youth and social change makers of Nepal.
What inspired you to found ChangeFusion Nepal (CFN) and what were some of your biggest challenges when founding CFN?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: As a young girl, I always dreamed of a perfect, utopian world where no problems would exist. I traveled a lot looking for perfection but later I realized that “perfection” is nothing but an illusion. There is good and bad in everything. There are problems everywhere and instead of running away from the problems, we need to try to solve them.
So, this is how ChangeFusion Nepal started. The director of ChangeFusion Thailand, Sunit Shrestha was looking for a leader in Nepal who could make ChangeFusion as their own. When I learnt about the vision and impact of ChangeFusion and its approach to social entrepreneurship, I felt that it had everything I was looking for. It was about finding an entrepreneurial sustainable solution to the problems instead of complaining about them. Hence, we established ChangeFusion Nepal on September 25, 2008.
The main challenge was to bring the concept of “social enterprise” in the limelight in our country. There was no policy or proper definition of it, or the people who were social entrepreneurs did not know they were entrepreneurs, or others lacked the interest to become entrepreneurs as there wasn’t much appreciation for or benefits to being one. So the challenge was to connect everyone and talk, support and act together on it.
Can you talk about some of CFN’s key programs and initiatives?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: We support social entrepreneurs with 4 components – Knowledge, Mentoring, Funding and Networking. We have a shop called A Shop with a Story which features the products of our social entrepreneurs (who also run the shop collectively). We have a special tour called Hidden Journeys Nepal where we take guests, locals and tourists to see how social entrepreneurs work in their fields. We also had an award called Surya Asha Nepal Social Entrepreneurship Award which we ran for 3 years from 2010 to 2013 to award 5 deserving social entrepreneurs in their respective fields.
In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers to entrepreneurial activity in Nepal?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: Innovation and Scale is the main. Another is the lack of funds, human capital, business management skill and the geographic location of our country, which makes it very difficult for social enterprises to develop and grow. Because of this, some businesses shut down, some reach a dead end, and some are extremely stagnant.
Can you tell us more about your role as the Nepal Country Manager of the SPRING Accelerator, and your main takeaways from this experience?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: I recently joined SPRING because I wanted to try something new without going too far away from my focus on social entrepreneurship. SPRING helps businesses that are innovating products and services to improve the lives of adolescent girls. They use Human Centered Design (HCD) approach to achieve their goal. I heard of HCD for the first time, during my work in SPRING and I really appreciated and enjoyed this innovative approach.
My main takeaway from this experience is the way I see adolescent girls now; I have a completely new perspective about them. Working closely with young girls, I felt like I have renewed my youth. They are smart, fun, and fast-learners. They have the potential to be great leaders if they are provided with good education and opportunities. So, this is what we are trying to bring with SPRING.
From your experiences, what have been some effective strategies / policies to encourage women’s entrepreneurship in Nepal?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: I have seen that in women, unity is key. They are stronger together. Encouraging their confidence and believing in them can work wonders. Receiving support from their families, husbands, in-laws and the country would help them a lot. Also, giving them some exposure to real world successes and failures, and technological advancements can really make a difference.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: When I was a teenager, I used to find role models in celebrities. But now, it is hard to name one woman who has inspired me. Every working mother who balances her home and work but still smiles at the end of the day is my hero (or rather, heroine!). I still can’t understand how they keep their spirits up even after having a rough day. They are my true role models as they encourage me to be strong, to smile and simply enjoy life.
What is your advice for prospective entrepreneurial leaders?
Luna Shrestha Thakur: It sure isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. If you believe in yourself and your enterprise and give your best effort, you cannot imagine the fulfillment and satisfaction it will give you. Sometimes it doesn’t work out; it happens to the best of people with the best of ideas. The trick is to persevere and be smart. Have lots of passion and have patience. Be innovative, try different things and don’t be afraid to seek help. That is the beauty of entrepreneurship – it’s not about “I” but about “us”.