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Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity

Ethnographic solutions to inequalities in South Asian advicescapes

The provision of business advice is an important, yet little studied, aspect of contemporary social and economic change in the Global South, with important implications for the reproduction of rural-urban and social inequalities. An extensive industry of business advice-giving exists in South Asia, involving public and non-governmental sectors, and increasingly, private firms. This shift reflects a growing private sector emphasis in development, towards economic growth driven initiatives, entrepreneurship, and a focus on small and medium enterprises. This transformation has altered streams of business advice and finance: steering microfinance into business finance, and shifting informal lending towards formal debt.

The context for this study is the expanding un- and under-employed youth demographic that exists against the backdrop of business and entrepreneurship that is increasingly central to development initiatives. The focus of the study is the practice of giving business advice to young people aged 18 to 25 as potential entrepreneurs. Such advicescapes are more complex than they appear to formal advice-delivery agents, and entangle kin, religious leaders and elders as informal advice agents as well. The presence of discriminatory practices in advicescapes are less visible to these formal advice providers, who may be unwitting perpetrators of bias. Attitudes and other subtle aspects are neither monitored nor measured. These issues lend themselves to the ethnographic approach to be taken in the proposed research.

By comparing advicescapes in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the study aims to capture the possibilities and outcomes of the bifurcation of advice down two distinct state and NGO pathways, intersected by private providers. Applying critical attention to the ways in which inequalities are produced within these trajectories, it will map unequal geographies of opportunity between rural and urban areas by observing differing approaches to advice delivery and uptake outcomes. This will enable the research team to better understand these processes in order to facilitate knowledge exchange from the ground level of business advicescapes, and, as part of this gaining of new knowledge, to co-produce a resource toolkit for advice recipients and practitioners that can help address inequalities within advice delivery.

The project’s overarching research question is: “Can entrepreneurial advice-giving address inequalities of access and outcome for young people in rural and urban south Asia?”

It will also consider a number of other key issues: What does entrepreneurial advice-giving and receiving among young people in urban and rural settings look like? When do rural-urban discrepancies in business advicescapes reproduce geographies of inequality? How do lived experiences of religion, caste, ethnicity and gender intersect in advicescapes? Where do we find disjuncture or synchronicity between public, private and NGO actors in advicescapes?

Banner Image: Photo by Chathura indika on Unsplash


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