A five-series virtual forum—“Youth + Virtual Exchange on COVID Experience”—brings to table the issue of how youth-led businesses can start, grow and adapt amid the pandemic.
Kathmandu: While the pandemic has brought businesses all over the world to their knees, a youth-led organization in Nepal has started a virtual forum to facilitate communication between Nepali and global youths about entrepreneurship and collaborative efforts to address global issues.
The first session of the series, organized by Youth Council in Action for Nation (YOUTH CAN), a non-profit youth organization, took place on July 28. The series, titled “Youth + Virtual Exchange on COVID Experience”, brings together like-minded youths from Nepal and Thailand, with support from UNDP.
The first of five sessions in the series was titled “Youth and Entrepreneurship.” The session’s speakers included Ayshanie Labe, Resident Representative of UNDP Nepal, Renaud Meyer, Resident Representative of UNDP Thailand, and Ramu Pandey, President of YOUTH CAN.
Similarly, Chanakate Boonyakhan, Vice-President of the Young Entrepreneur Chamber of Commerce of Thailand, and Pavitra Gautam, Representative of Karkhana and the Nepalese Young Entrepreneurs’ Forum, spoke as speakers, joined by Sadikshya Aryal, Representative of Himalayan Innovation, and Thanakorn Phromyos, CEO of Young Happy.
Speaking at the session, Labe emphasized the plight of the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises, which have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.
“Ninety-nine percent of enterprises in Nepal are SMEs, but the majority of them have not registered due to a lack of knowledge, a costly and time-consuming registration process, and so on,” Labe said. “Many of these businesses were expecting cash subsidies from the government because they couldn’t even pay rent.”
Labe also highlighted the rise of unemployment in Nepal during the pandemic, as well as the fact that not all young people start out on the same footing when it comes to starting businesses.
Youths in Nepal and Thailand, according to Meyer, cannot afford to wait for change. Instead, youths should channel their abilities to improve conditions in their communities and countries, he said.
“This boils down to UNDP giving young people a voice and assisting them in seeing beyond their horizon,” Meyer said. “We don’t want to leave anyone out of this process.”
In his remarks, Pavitra Gautam emphasized the significant disparity between the skillsets demanded by employers and the ones employees afford to offer.
“Because the information and economic landscapes are changing so quickly, there is a gap in demand and supply of skills,” Gautam said. “Despite the fact that the demand for STEM professionals is increasing, I believe there is still a skills gap that needs to be filled.”
According to him, there are primarily two types of start-ups in Nepal. One, he said, were heavily tech-driven startups primarily based in the country’s urban and semi-urban areas. Second, he stated, are start-ups with grass-roots ideas in agriculture, consulting, and so on.
He noted a recent increase in access to finance in the start-up scene, with few venture capitalists in the market and FDIs coming in. “Our startup recently received a half-million-dollar FDI, but such cases are uncommon,” he said. “The trend should continue.”
“We have a lot of beginning stories but not enough growth stories. Youth should focus as much on growing their businesses as they do on starting them,” he said.
He also emphasized the growing importance of youth leaders in bridging the gap between bureaucratic practices and startup requirements. “Legal compliance has been an important issue in the country where many startups have to work in grey areas due to the lack of proper legal mechanisms,” he said, adding that changes in legislation that cater to businesses should also be prioritized in the country.
Chanakate Boonyakhan, Vice-President of Thailand’s Young Entrepreneur Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the importance of enterprises and youth adapting to the changed circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We can’t wait for the pandemic to be over before we start our businesses,” Boonyakhan concluded. “Everyone on the planet is dealing with this together, and the best bet we have is to adapt and be optimistic.”