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8 Mar 2019 | Gender in Koshi

Balance for better: Community enterprise for strengthening women entrepreneurship in Nepal

Anu Joshi Shrestha & Surendra Raj Joshi

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Business has largely been dominated by men across the world, and Nepal is no exception. Women usually need to be afforded leeway by men to launch a business and continue to dedicate time to it. This restrictive environment is compounded by women’s limited access to information, finance, and services. This naturally means that women are excluded from the opportunity to assimilate vital business concepts and experience, such as the capacity to do business, profit analyses, and return on investment calculations.

The Support to Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalaya (Himalica) Initiative – managed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and funded by the European Union – worked on empowering women in entrepreneurship from 2012 to 2018 by building their capacities and helping them step out from their traditional roles and take up new challenges. A community enterprise model – Kangchenjunga Himalica Agriculture Industry (KHAI) – was designed specifically to understand the unique needs and capabilities of women in business. Thereafter, women’s entrepreneurial skills were developed to enable them to lead, compete, and collaborate with men in entrepreneurship.

KHAI was registered in 2017, with 10 out of 13 members holding key positions in departments such as production and design, quality control, and market development. KHAI members invested USD 100 each for a capital investment of USD 1,300, and Himalica provided equipment support amounting to USD 700 and capacity-building support. The community enterprise recorded a turnover of USD 12,000 in its first year of operation, 40% of which went to the community to which the members belonged. KHAI serves as an incubation centre which helps women invest collectively, share risks, increase bargaining power, ensure quality control, and produce in volume. This has encouraged women to continue expanding areas of investment and developing profitable business models. In 2018, more than 30 women entrepreneurs launched their own businesses producing diversified value-added products and are currently in the process of registering the businesses.
Before joining KHAI, I used to do household work and take care of my children. I was completely dependent on my husband’s earnings even to buy textbooks for my daughter. Today, I earn a regular income working in KHAI’s production department. I feel proud to be able to support my daughter’s education and contribute to household expenses. I used to be quite shy, but working for KHAI has built my confidence and I can now comfortably interact with people. I am thankful for this opportunity.
– Hastakumari Limbu, In-charge of Production Department at KHAI, Phungling Municipality, Ward 6, Taplejung
KHAI’s capacity-building activities were tailored for women driven to engage in business but without the know-how to begin and sustain their ventures. Training programmes were conducted for securing work–life balance, managing risks, and identifying commercial solutions for cardamom production.

Value addition and income diversification were important skills imparted to reduce dependency on the sale of cardamom capsules alone and counterbalance price fluctuation, which was the major issue in cardamom trade. These entrepreneurs underwent various training programmes such as enterprise management, market development, branding, food processing, and product development and packaging to help diversify their business portfolio and evolve from farmers to entrepreneurs. Today, they produce more than 30 different products developed using cardamom pods and fibre as basic raw materials, as well as other fruits and vegetables that are sold through KHAI.
I am an active member of the KHAI management committee. I have been trained to weave cardamom fibre products with various patterns and designs with fine finishing. Today, I have diversified my product portfolio to tea mats, table mats, men’s wallets, women’s purses and bags, and computer bags, among other products. I sell some from my home and the rest in Kathmandu through the outlets of the Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal (WEAN) and SABAH and through ICIMOD-supported outlets in Taplejung. Design and new product development has helped create demand in local, national, and international markets, increasing profits by 10% to 15% for each unit. The annual net profit increased from USD 3,000 to USD 4,000 in a year. I have three women employed in my business and also provide training to the community in weaving cardamom fibre. I feel we need volume to make our products commercial, and business prospects will improve as more women become involved in business.
– Maya Gurung, owner of Chandan Fibre Enterprises and In-charge of Cardamom Fibre Department at KHAI, Phungling Municipality, Ward 2, Taplejung
Himalica has also emphasized on branding efforts to position mountain products differently in the high-end market given the pull of the unique quality, resources, livelihoods, and ecosystems associated with these products. To this end, the tagline “Green Products from the Mountains” was promoted with assistance from the SAARC Business Association for Home Based Workers (SABAH). SABAH Nepal continues to promote the Himalica brand, provides market outlets for cardamom products, and looks forward to an ever increasing membership of women entrepreneurs.
It was a good decision to begin our work at KHAI in collaboration with men as we learned from them and slowly started assuming leadership and learning other skills to take charge. If it was an exclusive women’s group, we probably would have taken time to set up and get things running.
– Lila Dahal, In-charge of Quality Control Department at KHAI, Phungling Municipality, Ward 6, Taplejung
Bhim Gurung, Manager of KHAI, pointed to the organization, diligence, and focus of KHAI’s women members and stressed that imparting skills and building confidence can open innumerable business avenues for budding women entrepreneurs. By helping women take leadership in businesses in collaboration with men, KHAI is rapidly becoming an exemplary enterprise for inclusion and empowerment of women in entrepreneurship.


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