Applied Cognitive Science

Understanding Entrepreneurship in Nepal


Research, workshop design


Working solo in the field, feeding results back to team in the US


Applied Cognitive Science


April – August 2018

What skills will have the biggest impact on the prospects of of a young person in Nepal? I arrived in Kathmandu with this question; on assignment with Applied Cognitive Science, a non-profit working to make education more effective across the world.

Over the following months I spent time with local people of all backgrounds, interviewing, shadowing and working alongside them. Traveling throughout the Kathmandu’s many districts, further to other cities, and to villages high in the Himalayas. Listening to peoples’ stories, learning about the challenges people face and the opportunities they have available.

Focusing on entrepreneurs

As in many developing economies, small family businesses are extremely common in Nepal, yet they’re increasingly under pressure as chains and international brands move in. I chose to focus on studying the people behind these businesses, discovering what it might take to help them compete with these larger, more sophisticated companies.

There seemed a strong divide among those interviewed between people who’d had significant international exposure, either traveling abroad for work or by learning from the internet. Businesses whose owners had this international experience seemed largely to be doing much better, and were better positioned to grow in the future. This seemed important, and I dug into unpacking the skills behind this.

Testing ideas in classrooms

Taking what we’d learned, I went on to prototype workshops addressing the skills I saw to be lacking. I focused on the skills of entrepreneurship: identifying problems in a market, understanding customers, gathering feedback, iterating on an existing model, and speaking and leading with confidence. I designed workshops and tested them over 4 weeks with groups of students from 3 colleges in Kathmandu.


The speaking and leading workshops however were a notable success. Students would start out shy, and afraid to make themselves heard. Within a few sessions, they’d be transformed. Delivering speeches confidently in front of large groups and taking ownership of their practice. Other workshops needed more iteration, failing to produce a measurable difference in skill, failing due to the logistical hurdles of getting regular time in busy college class timetables.

My work in Nepal built on top of the findings from similar studies in Laos, Zambia, Singapore and San Francisco. Some of my findings and teaching methods have fed directly into a software engineering course being piloted at a tech company in San Francisco.