Legality is one of the major impediments for the Growth of Tibetan Entrepreneurs in India

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Tsewang Rigzin*

For the first of its kind, with help of so many individuals and organizations, I was able to conduct a study titled “Survey Research on Tibetan Entrepreneurs in India” in association with Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives in India limited. (FTCI) Following is the synopsis of the report and those who are interested in reading a detailed survey report please visit

More than 70% of Tibetan refugees in India depend on agriculture, handicraft and other small enterprises as their primary source of income. Tibetans in India begin their new life in exile by constructing roads in difficult terrain of Indian Himalaya. Gradually these Tibetans were resettled in various settlements in south India and agricultural related activities became their major sources of income. While there were plenty of time after agricultural activities, few Tibetans refugees came up with an idea of selling sweaters in various Indian cities and towns during winter season. Eventually this particular business activity spread widely among Exile Tibetans and it is still practiced by significant number of exile households. As exile life prolongs, many Tibetan started small and medium enterprises, both collectively as well as individually. This particular sector is growing.

Although the overall experiences of Tibetans in exile have been successful and have widely lauded as the most successful refugee community in the world. However, the high unemployment rate and continued migration of Tibetans from their respective settlements in India to various India cities and Western Countries, including the United States, Canada and other European countries, threatens the stability and sustainability of Tibetan refugee settlement in India.

According to the ‘Tibetan Demographic Survey 2009’ conducted by Planning Commission of Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala, in ten years, 1998-2009, about 9309 Tibetans have moved to Western countries. Some other source even indicates that each year around 3000 Tibetan move to Western countries. If this trend is to continue at the current rate, by the end of 2019, the total numbers of Tibetans in India will be reduced from current 94203 (TDS. 2009, CTA.) to just 64203 Tibetans (excluding new arrivals from Tibet) in India. Looking at this ever-increasing movement of Tibetans from their settlement to other places, it seems to me that what we call Tibetan refugee settlement is not really a settlement, but more like a transit camps and it is very possible that in near future that most of these settlements in India will turn into large old-age homes.

This survey seeks to understand the present state of Tibetan Entrepreneurs in India by identifying and analyzing the strengths, positive trends, core competencies and best practices by Tibetan entrepreneurs. It also seeks to identify and analyze the internal weaknesses and external impediments faced by existing and potential Tibetan entrepreneurs and bring fact-based recommendation to all the concerned stakeholders.

The method of sampling used for this study was stratified random sampling. In this the businesses were stratified in 5 different stratums and samples were randomly selected from these five stratums.  These five different categories were, manufacturing, retail outlet, hospitality business, health and wellness business, itinerant trade of sweater selling and others.

The sample size for this survey is 96.  This sample size is determined with +/-10% of margin of error (confidence interval) and confidence level of 95%. The estimate of total population for this study is 70,000, (estimate number of Tibetan in India whose main source of income is from small enterprise, agriculture and handicraft) which are based on Tibetan Demographic survey of 2009, conducted by Planning Commission of Central Tibetan Administration. These 96 Tibetan entrepreneurs are randomly selected from above stratum from four major Tibetan settlements in India, i.e. Byllakuppe, Mudgod and Bangalore in Karnataka State and Delhi. This stratification and different location for data collection ensured an inclusion of different perspectives of Tibetan entrepreneurs in both urban and rural context as well as five major types of business that exist among Tibetan refugee community in India.

The data were collected using multiple modes of data collection that include, online questionnaire, face-to-face interviews, telephonic interviews and focus-group interviews. This mixed-mode of data collection method enhanced the quality of collected data by reducing the weakness of each individual mode.

Although, many interesting findings were made through this study, I would like to share few of them with the readers and those who are interested in reading full report, I suggest them to go to the link provided above.

The interesting finding from the demographic part is the formal educational attainment of respondents. Each year on average 1479 Tibetan student graduate from 12th grade (An average number of students graduated from 12th grade from 2011-2014, Department of Education, CTA.) out of which more than 80% these graduate continue with higher education in various Indian universities. This clearly shows that the over all rate of Tibetans with higher educational degree is relatively high. However, the formal education level of these randomly selected 96 Tibetan give rise to one very important question; where are these graduate Tibetans? Not definitely in private enterprise sector as only 14% of respondent indicate that they have bachelor or higher degree. There are only three possible answers for that; a) working in Tibetans or India institutions, b) unemployed or c) have migrated to western countries. The possibility ‘A’ seems not to be a strong justification as employment capacity of various Tibetan institutions including CTA is limited and at the same time to be employed in Indian institution is very competitive. So therefore it can be concluded that many of these graduate Tibetans are either unemployed or have already moved to western countries.

Another important finding suggested by this study is that there are various barriers that impede the growth of this sector and all the concerned stakeholders should put effort in eliminating these barriers. Among the barriers, one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs across the categories is related to government trade rules and regulations or lack of proper registration and licenses. This problem is more prevalent among the enterprises that are operating in settlements. Without these documents and licenses, it is impossible to grow their enterprises into a further growth, although they have capacity to do so.

Prior to this study, my assumption was that people do not register their enterprises intentionally to avoid tax and other obligation mandated by these acts. But in the process of this study, I realize that I was wrong. Through the numbers of interaction with around 100 entrepreneurs, I learnt that people do want to register their businesses but, so far not able to obtain these licenses due to various reasons.  One of the primary reasons that I heard from people is that they are not aware of the process as it involves very long and complicated procedure. It is therefore, highly recommended that the concerned stakeholders especially CTA should appoint special officer under the office of entrepreneur development desk of Ministry of Finance. The primary responsibility of this officer should be supporting the established and potential entrepreneurs in legal matters such as registration of their enterprises and obtaining licenses for operation of their trade.  This officer/s should further train these entrepreneurs on various legal issues pertaining to small and medium enterprises in India.

Training in general is very important for growth of any business. Especially in case of Tibetan entrepreneurs, it is more so as most of these entrepreneurs have limited technical know-how. As indicated in the finding, there is positive relationship between training and net-profit. The net-profit seems to be higher among those who have attended one or other training.

Access to finance is still a major barrier for established and potential Tibetan entrepreneurs in the growth of their enterprises. Except for sweater sellers, who get easy loans from lala and banks, most of the respondents indicate that their biggest source of loan is friends and relatives. As finding suggest, more than 35% of respondent indicated that their major source of loan and credit is friend and relatives. It is highly recommended that the concerned stakeholders, especially CTA, FTCI and other regional Nyamdel (cooperatives) should attempt to fill this gap by providing low interest rate and collateral free loans to these entrepreneurs. Given the ground reality of decrease in agriculture related activities in settlements, and increase in other business establishment, the regional Nyamdel (cooperatives) and other organizations should make all attempts to expend their present crop-loans and sweater-selling loan to other business as well.

As intrigued by entrepreneur’s decision making process, I tried to look at how our traditional culture influence the overall decision making process of these surveyed Tibetan entrepreneurs and it is found out about 37% of respondents said that they do Mo divination before making some important business decision-making. Out of these 37% about 70% of them base their decision making solely on basis of outcome of the Mo divination.

In nutshell, it is of no doubt that overall performance of Tibetan refugees communities in India and other countries have been very successful under the wise leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the CTA. However, in the field of entrepreneurship among Tibetans in India, there are many areas upon which there is need of urgent improvement. One indication of this stagnation is that itinerant trade of sweater-selling is still the most prevalent trade practices among the Tibetan refugees in India. As far as this trade is concerned, it is not a sustainable trade from many different angles. The dependency of their profit on other factors such as weather conditions and availability of sites for market are so high. They are growing numbers of progressive entrepreneurs among Tibetan diaspora and all the concerned stakeholders should facilitate these growing entrepreneurs in whatever manner they can. The Stable and cohesive settlement as one of main goal of current administration cannot be achieve without improving this sector.  If this sector improves and perform efficiently, in short-run, it will solve two major problems that we face, i.e. unemployment and out-migration from settlements. And in long run, we will be in a better position to safeguard our unique cultural heritage.


* Tsewang Rigzin is Graduate student of Laney Graduate School of Emory University and he can be reached through