Volume 15 Number 1
Investing in the Regeneration of Nagaland
01 February 2002
The aim of Entrepreneurs Associates (EA) is to ‘kick-start a process of social change through entrepreneurship’ and to create stability in Nagaland.
By NEICHU ANGAMI
A group of young first-generation entrepreneurs from Nagaland, in India’s volatile north-east region, recently won a prestigious award for their work in helping fledgling businesses get off the ground. The aim of Entrepreneurs Associates (EA) is to ‘kick-start a process of social change through entrepreneurship’ and to create stability in Nagaland which suffers from a weak economy and an excess of government regulation.
EA received India’s first ever Citizens’ Base Award from the Ashoka Innovators in December at Taj Palace, New Delhi. They were one of seven NGOs, all involved in social entrepreneurship, shortlisted for the prize, and one of three winners. They were chosen mainly because they are funded by private citizens.
Supported by the Ford Company, the award carries a cash prize and also a training course in ‘resource mobilization’ with participants from all over the corporate world.
EA’s leader and founder, Neichute Doulo, has made sacrifices to forward his vision for Nagaland. The first ever post-graduate from his village, he gave up a much coveted job as a lecturer in economics to start EA. He told the Indian Express that he grew up in rural Nagaland where people carried firewood on their heads and worked in the fields. ‘There is no shame in doing such work but when I came to Kohima I was quite shocked to see the snooty behaviour of the students,’ he said. ‘They would not do any work as they thought it was beneath their dignity.’ He and some other students started a scholar self-help project, and after college worked as labourers, loaded trucks and sold ice-cream. ‘We wanted to prove that no work is bad when done with enthusiasm,’ he explained.
After college he spent some months in Australia taking part in an Initiatives of Change study course on ‘effective living’.
EA was formally launched in September 2000 although it has existed under various banners since 1988. It provides ‘micro finance’ loans at 16 per cent annual rate of interest to young people with a business vision. This is comparable with bank rates and much lower than the 120 or more per cent demanded by loan sharks.
EA has more than 500 members including people from all walks of life, both urban and rural. Membership is not confined to Nagaland. Doulo, who is an Ashoka fellow, travels extensively and has exchanged ideas with other fellows in Thailand and Indonesia.
EA tries to support would-be entrepreneurs through motivational workshops. These provide a platform for first generation entrepreneurs to share their experiences and skills with interested, often unemployed, youths as well as among themselves. The workshops aim to build up customer-care skills and managerial techniques.
EA also helps young business entrants to build up a market by introducing them to its members and its circle of friends through pamphlets and newsletters.
Funding comes from core members, people who share EA’s vision and a network of investors who put a minimum of Rs1,000 (£15) into the Micro Fund.
Since the beginning of 2001 EA has enabled more than 40 young Nagas to become economically independent and set up their own businesses.
EA’s long-term goal is to see a shift from today’s easy-money lifestyle—a result of more than half a century of political conflict—to a renewed culture. ‘Unless we control our own resources and utilize them ourselves, we cannot survive as a people,’ they say. ‘Economic development can only come when there is honesty, creativity, hard work and unselfishness.’
One who has benefited is Wetso Mero. Five years ago he had a dream of starting a Christian literature and music shop. His friends who, like him, are now core members of EA, encouraged him and gave him a loan of Rs50,000 (£900). Today ‘Bible House’ is a popular bookshop with a public telephone booth attached. The business is worth one million rupees.
When I heard about the Citizens’ Base Award I visited the EA office to check out the news. In just a few moments there I saw mentoring going on between EA core members and those who came seeking financial help. I heard stories that gave me hope for our people and I felt a strong yearning to be part of such an important venture. I paid Rs100 and signed the membership form straight away. My membership card gets me an eight to ten per cent discount in eight popular shops in Kohima. But a greater incentive is knowing that my membership fee will allow someone to make their dream a reality.