Sunday, March 20, 2011

Social innovation for all

Simone Galimberti:On a recent visit to Chitwan District I came across an amazing example of grassroots-level social innovation. Something so stunning I had a hard time believing it was real: a community library, turned incubator for social change.

The Jhuwani Community Library, located in Bacchuli, Jhuwani VDC is a perfect illustration of what can be achieved through commitment, consistency and the spirit of social entrepreneurship by youth and local communities. The library became a community hub, generating progress, prosperity and hope. It is true that Chitwan is not one of the poorer districts in Nepal, but the idea can work anywhere with a bit of support and an extensive network of stakeholders. So how can the

simple idea of lending books be turned into a catalyst for social and economic development?

The library has been promoted by READ Nepal, an international not-for-profit agency with a solid track of innovative, sustainable, economic ventures through library establishment. The library is a multi store for social innovation, from the disaster preparedness corner to the credit cooperative with thousands of members to the computer literacy class. And let’s not forget the health camps for 2,600 women or the weekly healthcare and counselling they are receiving thanks to a partnership with the Nepal Family Planning Association. These are just a few of the side initiatives supported by the library. Its core activities include encouraging reading habits and adult literacy and setting up satellite libraries in nearby VDCs—all equipped with high speed internet.

Incredibly, all this is available with no fee for membership. Still, economic sustainability is a key component to success: some spaces have been rented to a telecom operator and the meeting hall is rented for parties and ceremonies. I was impressed by the long list of actors involved in this social enterprise, including Rotary, Tewa, local hospitals and private corporate houses and, significantly, the local VDC that invests a minimum of Rs. 30,000 annually.

Can this idea change the world? Yes, of course, together with the wave of smart ideas that are rewriting the way aid is run and managed. Do not be surprised if the new focus of the aid industry is on ‘wealth generation’ because simple ideas like the Jhuwani Community Library can be a transformative platform. Kicking off a domino effect, they can turn dust, depression and frustration into a bright future for local youth.

In another example, Change Fusion Nepal (CFN), a leading national promoter of social change, is in the final stages of the selection of 25 smart ideas from visionary youth who dare to dream and make a difference in their own and their rural peers’ lives. A workshop will be held soon at which the finalists will showcase their ideas, which cover a wide spectrum of activities from the environment and sustainable tourism promotion to health and wellness, to arts and crafts. The winners of the contest will become CFN Fellows and will receive individual coaching to turn their ideas into sustainable ventures. CFN was starving for funds only few months back, but fortunately good wishers and innovative minds within the development sector decided to support the cause for social innovation. However it is discouraging that most of the funds come from abroad. It’s time for Nepal to wake up and embrace innovation!

I am personally happy that CFN accepted without hesitation CCS Italy’s offer to strategically advise its social entrepreneurship and volunteering project implemented by the Centre for Cooperation and Development in Kavre District. We want to support local social entrepreneurship while simultaneously encouraging a spirit of service and volunteerism. The response from local youth has been overwhelming.  Lali Tamang, a 21-year-old from a rural area where CCS Italy works, was one of the 25 selected for the CFN Fellows final round. Despite her young age, Lali has clear ideas: she wants to promote goat farming and generate income by selling dairy products in the local market. She will have the chance to try to convince CFN that her idea is the best.

There are thousands of untapped Lalis all around Nepal and the decision of the government to re-launch the Youth and Small Enterprise Self-Employment Fund (YSESEF) with new funding and increased support could give them an opportunity. Can we create a win-win partnership between youth-led social innovation catalysts and this public interesting scheme? The Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), already committed to the promotion of youth employability, can connect with other national young entrepreneurs’ networks to make sure that YSESEF will become a real opportunity and not another incubator of frustration and false expectations. Let’s remember the immense human queue of young people dreaming of South Korea last year.

Child Nepal, a leading national not-for-profit organisation, is doing its homework for setting up the first schools in the country where the entire management responsibility lies with the not-for-profit agency. This could be an interesting idea to explore provided there is cooperation and support of the Ministry of Education, which should lay the regulatory framework for the new model.

Around the world, the seeds of social innovation are sprouting and many flowers are beginning to blossom. The global foundation, Ashoka, came up with the Champions of Quality Education in Africa, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The competition aims to prove how new approaches can improve learning achievements of students in Africa. Recently, the European Commission launched Erasmus for Social Entrepreneurs, an exchange programme for social innovators that takes its name from the successful student programme. Can SAARC come up with something similar? Social innovation can be the smart power of the new

century, cultivating the flowers of social change. The youth of the entire region can greatly benefit from it. Can Nepal and South Asia take on the wave of social innovation? The examples I mentioned before already offer a convincing answer to this question but many more social innovation ‘nurseries’ are needed. One last question: do we have enough water?

Galimberti is deputy country director of CCS Italy (Nepal), an INGO which works for the benefit of children

source: The Kathmandu Post, 19 march 2011