By Suman Kumar
My journey as a social impact professional started after a massive earthquake hit my home country, Nepal, in 2015. The earthquake killed over 9,000 people, injured over 22,000, and left millions without shelter. Right after the earthquake, my family and I were forced to live outside in an open field. As the drops of rain began to fall, with no roof to cover our heads, I looked at the terrified face of an elderly woman beside me. I felt moved to act, so I started making a small structure with scraps of bamboo and posters that were thrown out as trash. Smiling at this woman, I told her, despite being deeply scared, that everything would be all right. I then went around to other people in the field and helped build more shelters out of the available materials. Although I had completed many construction pursuits before, this one was the most satisfying.
I realized how I could use my building skills to help my community and this is how I found my passion for social entrepreneurship. I gathered my biggest inspiration from the suffering people who were around me. The sense of relief and security that I saw on their faces was my biggest motivation. Working as a relief worker after the earthquake helped me realize the potential that I had to impact the lives of people who are less fortunate than I am. As a result, I have become socially aware which has helped me learn and see things through different perspectives, making me more responsible of my decisions and actions. Prior to this experience, one of the biggest questions that I used to ask myself was, “Am I even capable of bringing about change in my community?”
For me, the perception of social impact was limited to the work done by bigger organizations like the United Nations or the European Commission. What I have realized over the years is that individuals can and are capable enough to bring about social change. Meeting and connecting with social entrepreneurs such as those from the Resolution Project has made me visualize this realization. These connections have helped me find the motivation to work and to be effective in the field of social entrepreneurship.
One of the major roadblocks that I encountered as I started working as a social impact professional was finding support and motivation to move forward. Social entrepreneurship is a very narrow path that is often discouraged in many communities, including Nepal. In my surrounding environment, having a career as a social entrepreneur is almost unheard of and is extremely difficult to sustain. As I decided to work as a social entrepreneur to build schools in Nepal during the summer, my friends could not comprehend as to why I was not focused on finding a well-paying job in the United States. Moreover, I was surrounded by classmates who seemed to be focused on either finding decent jobs or working as researchers in academia. Being in this environment made me question myself and if I was following the right path. One of the main ways I found motivation was by surrounding myself with fellow entrepreneurs and staying close to the Resolution community. Surrounding myself with these entrepreneurs created an environment where we felt accepted and not judged for creating and working on an idea that seemed absurd to other people. Furthermore, this environment also created an ecosystem where we were constantly learning from one another. Often times, when I ran into issues and setbacks, it was comforting to have a community that I could rely on.
The biggest setbacks that I have encountered were the hurdles during the execution phase of my project. The first step of laying down the execution plan for a project and its steps is always the easiest phase, but implementation is always the hardest. Last year, even after raising enough funding, I hit a roadblock as I could not find an effective method to transfer money without an absurd amount of transaction fees. However, right after consulting with other social entrepreneurs, I found an effective method of money transfer as well as the advice to move forward. As for my school rebuilding project, I had to reevaluate almost the entire execution plan that I had prepared. Accepting the reality of failure is always hard but is a necessary step during this period.
As for my experience, I learned more from my failures than from my successes. I was fortunate to get help from other social entrepreneurs who had been going through similar situations. The fact that I had people to rely on was one of my biggest motivating factors and it helped me get through difficult situations. I have learned that circumstances like these are inevitable as a social entrepreneur. It is important to be humble during the process and to reach out to other people for help when you need it.
Suman Kumar is currently studying mechanical engineering and business at the University of Rochester in New York. He is the founder of School Relief, a construction project that provided shelters for approximately 26,000 earthquake victims in Nepal.