Another busy trekking season has come to an end. Among the exodus are visitors who have been lured into Nepal to conquer mountains, practice yoga in one of the country’s sacred sites, or find oneself. Yet tucked in between the Himalayas is another admired attraction – social entrepreneurship.
This fall, Hidden Journeys began giving tours to visitors interested in learning from Nepali social entrepreneurs, or “Hidden Heroes” as they call it because these individuals quietly concentrate on their work. One of whom is Sanduk Ruit, whose Tilganga Hospital has been providing low-cost cataract surgeries to patients for over twenty years.
Catrin Froehlich, co-founder of Hidden Journeys, went on a tour organized by Sankalp Forum in India last year. While the tour catered to key decision makers, she drew inspiration from the model.
Hidden Journeys participants learn about vernacular architecture at Karmi Initiative.
Before starting Hidden Journeys, Froehlich worked with the private sector on peacebuilding activities. The aim was to make the private sector more aware of the expectations of stakeholders. “That didn’t really work out well, because in Nepal you don’t really have a civil society that pushes for the private sector to become more responsible,” she said.
Along the way, discussions about creating a social enterprise award in Nepal surfaced. So her organization – National Business Initiative – partnered with ChangeFusion Nepal to launch the awards. In the process, she met and saw the work of many social entrepreneurs, and came across her new calling: to create a better Nepal by amplifying social entrepreneurship.
Rabindra Puri (centre), sculptor and architect of traditional buildings and schools for marginalized children, shows Hidden Journeys participants the inside of his first project.
Social enterprise tourism is burgeoning. It’s not uncommon for corporations and development organizations to tour other companies, but individuals see social enterprises as an attraction worthy of a visit and educational opportunity too. Events like the Social Enterprise World Forum organize one-time tours, but tours are being offered on a regular basis in Australia, Cambodia, and China, to name but a few countries.
Hidden Journeys participants examine freshly delivered milk at a community dairy collection centre.
Froehlich, a native German, is no stranger to attending movements against human rights violations or justice-oriented action in Nepal. And sometimes her passion leads her to identify more as Nepali. “I was there on the first day and I was there even when all the locals were already gone,” said Froehlich, recalling one experience.
In the past she was always fighting against something. Now she’s helping people who want to make real change, and says “that’s so much more satisfying.”
Nepali social entrepreneurs offer much to learn from. “There’s this amazing resilience and these amazing people taking things into their own hands,” said Froehlich. “In my country things are just in order and you follow rules and you do things as you’re supposed to.”
Amidst the political instability there’s a culture among Nepalis to get things done. “You fight with all these obstacles but in a way it makes life richer, it makes life more interesting. You have to be more resourceful. And I find this extremely beautiful,” she added.
A Hidden Journeys participant transports fodder to goats in a village near Dhulikhel.
Nepal is an eclectic place, especially in the capital Kathmandu, attracting trekkers, people with a social mission, and those with spiritual pursuits.
Recently there are a lot of young people from abroad returning to Nepal – back to both the mountainous scenery and a wealth of problems. Hidden Journeys hopes to connect recent returnees with those already working on something.
“What we can’t do is show them someone who has started 500 hospitals or distributed five million solar panels,” said Froehlich. “But we want to spark something and show individuals what is possible.”
Photos: Hidden Journeys
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