Fellow Since 2009
This description of Sunit Shrestha's work was prepared when Sunit Shrestha was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
Sunit Shrestha is encouraging young people to engage in social sector work in Thailand and across South and Southeast Asia. By providing integrated support and advocating institutional changes, Sunit is creating a space for youth-led social enterprises in the mainstream economy.
The New Idea
In Thailand and the wider region of Asia, where young people are deterred from social sector professions, Sunit has developed mechanisms to support the launch and growth of youth-led social enterprises. His organization, ChangeFusion, provides integrated support for social enterprises, which are inaccessible to young people in this part of the world. In building a long-term foundation to support social enterprises, Sunit also advocates institutional changes through government policy and in the business sector. Sunit has created a regionwide community of youth-led social enterprises. Generally isolated within their respective fields of work and individual countries, these social enterprises can link with one another as well as with professional mentors and potential funders. Community activities, strengthened by active online presence, also sensitize the media and the wider public to the idea of youth-led social enterprises.Since young people interested in social enterprises often lack access to capital, ChangeFusion serves as a rare intermediary with funders. In so doing, youth-led social enterprises can overcome logistical barriers in financing and, at the same time, increase their credibility. Through Sunit s efforts, certain Thai government agencies have entered into contracts with youth-led social enterprises. Sunit has also managed to procure funding commitments from many organizations that have previously been reluctant to support start-up youth-led social enterprises.To make social enterprise a mainstream component of the economy, Sunit is working with the Stock Exchange of Thailand and relevant government officials to design new and attractive mechanisms for socially responsible investment. He also partners with policymakers and citizen organizations (COs) to advocate on behalf of youth-led social enterprises on specific social issues. Sunit is expanding his work both in the form of hands-on support for more social enterprises, and in the form of wider regional and global collaborations with socially responsible investment markets.
There is an ever-increasing ingenuity gapbetween the growing array of social challenges and the dearth of new approaches required for their resolutionranging from climate change, poverty, to rural-urban migration. Young people have important skills and are eager to bridge this gap. But in much of South and Southeast Asia, young people are not attracted to conventional social sector jobs.There are different kinds of barriers keeping young people away from social sector professions. In many organizations, young people are limited to entry level positions and internship roles, where they lack sufficient challenges and creative freedom. There is also a growing impression that donor-dependent COs do not provide financially sustainable career options. Young people are further discouraged from social sector jobs by their families, especially in Asia where parental influence is powerful.Social enterprises provide one important answer for young people to enter the social sector. However, they still face daunting challenges, i.e. lack of capital, connections, and mentorship. All of these ingredients are difficult to come by and not available in an integrated package. Yet they are crucial for social enterprises, especially in the early stage. These factors have effectively deterred young people away from social enterprises. Regionally, there are also institutional obstacles that prevent the growth of social enterprises. The legal framework for financing is not friendly to social enterprises, which tend to be small and without an established track record. Less tangibly, moreover, social enterprises lack credibility in the eyes of many government, business and COs, which are their potential funders, partners, and mentors.In this era of Internet communication, surprisingly little has been done to provide integrated services for social enterprises in this region of the world. Social enterprises, especially those established by young people, are not only isolated from funding, networking, and mentorship opportunities, but they are also isolated from one another. The few social enterprises that exist in this region have thus been unable to develop and inspire others, at least not enough to sufficiently bridge the ever-increasing ingenuity gap.
Operating from his insight that work with the very poor can proceed only at a pace their livesover-filled with the activities that basic survival can sustainNitin has ensured that the meetings are held during times that are not in conflict with their domestic and professional responsibilities. The union meets where the women live and the subgroups are organized by geographical proximity to make it easier for them to meet regularly.
Ever since his student years, Sunit has been interested in the role of social enterprise to address the ingenuity gap.At university, Sunit organized volunteer trips to remote rural areas, but soon realized that many of his fellow youth had new ideas and skills to contribute to age-old social problems. In 2001, as a third-year university student, Sunits team was the only student group to win Thailand s World Bank Development Marketplace award. He proposed to use Internet technology to provide farmers with instant access to crop prices and other information. Sunit used the award money to launch Thai RuralNet, which evolved into ChangeFusion, to create structural support mechanisms to counter the obstacles that he faced as a young social entrepreneur in Thailand. Sunit received a bachelors degree in economics from Thammasat University, and was an exchange student at Lund University, Sweden, where he studied economic history. Other than one years experience in a financial consulting firm, the 28-year-old Sunit has devoted his entire post-graduate career to developing ChangeFusion.