For every 10 pairs of sunglasses sold, Anthropose collects enough funds to sponsor a cataract surgery for one person or a free remedial course in rural Nepal. It has been five years that this organization has been helping the nation by providing sight to its people and plans to do more. Anthropose is a for-profit social-good company that aspires to recognize and identify social problems and create viable, sustainable and scalable entrepreneurial solutions for them. Let us see what the founder cum CEO, Mr. Suraj Shrestha has to say about Anthropose.
1. What is the social problem that you are trying to solve?
Primarily we are working towards reducing cataract-induced blindness in the underserved and marginalized community who cannot afford life-changing cataract surgeries; providing remedial education to students with weak fundamentals in public schools in rural Nepal. Weak fundamentals in public school students are one of the primary reasons deterring them from completing their secondary schooling. We believe in enabling and empowering the individuals who can later grow to become a powerful force to change their community.
2. Can you share what started Anthropose?
The fact that “A lot is yet to be done in Nepal” does not require any fact proofing. It is visible to everybody. This necessity fueled with burgeoning emigration in search for foreign employment and the pessimistic view towards opportunity in Nepal amongst the youth is what inspired me to start Anthropose.
3. What stage is the company in right now? How did you raise funds to start your company?
We are in our fifth year of operation and are growing by the year. We are a growth stage startup with a deep focus on growing our product offerings and increasing our depth of impact. So far we have been able to provide 416 successful cataract surgeries and 15 students have directly benefited from our remedial education courses. Anthropose started out with my personal funds and funds from friends and family.
4. How many employees did you start with and what’s your employee strength right now?
We started out with no employees. I was the only one, but I guess that is how most of the businesses get started, right? At the moment, we are a team of nine people with five people working here in Nepal and the rest outside Nepal.
5. What challenges did you face while starting Anthropose and what challenges are you facing now?
I think most businesses face similar challenges. The top slot of the challenge is always occupied by –how do you reach out to more people? The difference then comes while completing the question and for Anthropose, the question was – ‘How do we reach out to more people so that we can make more impact?’ Still, we keep asking the same question and I think it’ll live on as the company grows.
Other than that, the major challenge we faced was breaking the psychology of the Nepali market. We were trying to sell high-quality products at a very reasonable price but as Nepal has a very confusing market, the reasonable price still was perceived to be high. Hence, we had a challenge of breaking the stereotype that Nepali brands can’t produce world standard products. Lastly, we had a challenge in earning the trust of the people regarding our capabilities and what we stood for. With time we have overcome the issue though.
6. How did you overcome those challenges?
We actually went out and talked to people about who we were in order to break the stereotypical mindset of people. In the first few years, we were continuously trying to break the barriers of how people looked at us. We got extremely happy after getting a positive response from them as they started to trust our effort and stuck by us. I guess, our relationship with our patrons and fair nature to everything helped us to overcome our challenges.
7. How is the company doing in terms of profit?
More than profit, I would like to focus on the size of the market we have been able to influence. In our first year of operation, we were able to provide 48 surgeries and just recently, we were able to do 225 surgeries in a single camp, which I think is a very big achievement.
8. What is the market potential of Anthropose? Who are your target customers?
This actually depends on the way we define our market. In Nepal, sixty lakh pieces of eyewear were sold in FY 74/75. Speaking in terms of pure business, we aspire to take over at least ten percent of the total market to become a major player. At present, we have been doing around three thousand to four thousand pairs a year. So, I believe that the market potential of Anthropose is pretty big. People between the age group of 25 to 35 years are the primary audience we cater to.
9. What are the key needs and future plans for Anthropose?
Since we are trying to grow, our key need at the moment is of human resources. We’re looking for candidates who can fill the executive roles and lead and guide smaller teams in order to reach our peak point. Other than that, we’re also keen on getting mentorship and guidance from experts. Yes! We’re planning to grow and reach out to a larger market segment. We’re also looking for collaborations in order to access people both inside and outside Kathmandu valley.
10. Do you consider yourself as a social entrepreneur?
I believe that businesses can be the answer to solving bigger problems. I do believe that I am a social entrepreneur.
11. Is there any other information that you would like to share?
We genuinely believe that what we are doing has to be in a way where everybody- the entire ecosystem, wins. Accordingly, we have been providing value to the market which in return is providing value to the society with our sunglasses. When things as such happen, the overall economy booms and the livelihood of disadvantaged groups improve too.
We really believe in what we do but Anthropose alone cannot do everything. I think everyone needs to be on the same boat. So, help us spread the word.
Interviewed by Ashmita Rai and Edited by Yangzum Lama