Be ready to take calculated risks

- Saurav R Pandey

Nov 19, 2018-

The nonprofit Hatti Hatti works on a three tier model—‘educate, engage, empower’. First, marginalised women who might not have had the opportunities to go to school are provided with an education. Then, they are given practical training, specifically tailoring. The products they make through this tailoring are then sold through Hatti Hatti, with the profits going directly into their savings account, which can ultimately be used as seed money when they decide to open up their own enterprises. The idea then is to empower women through education and entrepreneurship, teaching them skills but also providing them with the means to become entrepreneurs. In this interview with the Post’s Saurav R Pandey, Priya Sigdel, president of Hatti Hatti, speaks about the organisation’s process and what it takes to run a successful nonprofit. Excerpts:

Hatti Hatti is a nonprofit that educates and trains women from marginalised communities to become skilled tailors and even entrepreneurs. Could you explain how this process works?

Ours is a social enterprise that provides educational and skill development training to women from rural communities. Our vision is that everyone, irrespective of their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, and socio-economic situation, should have access to equal opportunities. We want them to earn for themselves and support their families. We primarily focus on providing tailoring services as we believe in focusing on a single aspect rather than bits and pieces of a variety of skills. The process all starts with education. Along with weekly classes on English, Math and Business Economics, which set the tone for women to complete their primary education, they are also given practical tailoring training. They are taught how to start and maintain their own company to help them strive towards sustainable living.

What led you to start Hatti Hatti? How did the company come about?

This enterprise is not only the result of putting my ideas into practice but also those of a few Swedish people who were travelling to Nepal some years back. Seeing and learning about the dire situation of Nepali women in rural communities, they wanted to come up with something productive for these women. Soon, they came up with the idea of training along with education programmes. They were searching for someone who could start and lead this organisation. Luckily, as I was already working on girls’ and women’s rights, they approached me. We registered officially as an enterprise in early 2016 and began our work.

You help women transition to owning their own enterprises. How many women have started their own businesses so far and how are they doing?

Since we are a relatively new enterprise, only one woman has started her own business so far. She has her own tailoring business centre, which is a direct outcome of Hatti Hatti’s education and tailoring programmes. Currently, most women are comfortable working with us and most will start their businesses in the coming years.

How do you identify and select the ‘marginalised’ women you work with?

One of the ways to do so is to personally approach women who are facing problems like domestic violence, early marriage, early pregnancy etc., particularly in rural areas. But it’s not only limited to going to a community and picking people. Plenty of our members approach us on their own as we are open to all who want to work with us. But when we started, we went around looking for people as they didn’t know about us yet. There were women who wanted to do something but lacked resources and capital.

Who are your target customers? What kind of customer base do you wish to cultivate?

We have Hatti Hatti hubs or outlets in parts of Nepal and Sweden. Middle class families are our target market. The products our skilled women make are environmentally sustainable and are not made by heavy machinery but by using hands and traditional tailoring machines. So, we want to ensure that all their effort results in something beneficial for them. We want our products to reach every nook and corner of the country and for customers to speak well of us. This will only result in more and more underprivileged women learning about us.

What are the obstacles and challenges for a nonprofit social enterprise like yours?

When I initially started, people started doubting us, mostly in ways that centred on our gender and age: “You are a woman. You are young. I don’t think you have what it takes to run an organisation.” To some extent, such comments did discourage us. Also, as many Nepali social enterprises are not genuine, an organisation like ours can face trouble. In fact, I read somewhere that only one out of three NGOs are actually working without misusing funds. These fake enterprises are banes for genuine ones that want to bring a change to people’s livelihoods.  We have had a tough time convincing people that we were planning something for a good cause.

In your opinion, what does it take to run a successful and sustainable non-profit?

For some nonprofits, earning money may be what defines success. But for us, empowering women from marginalised communities is our ambition and the finish line for us. And that’s how nonprofits should run: by focusing not on money but on the tasks at hand. Profit will eventually be made in the long run. Another thing that matters is funding from external sources, like the government itself or international agencies like the UN. Social enterprises cannot run without funds and donations. Again, this only follows if your organisation is genuinely involved in doing what it claims to be doing.

As a relatively new company, what would you suggest budding social entrepreneurs and nonprofits out there focus on when they are just getting started?

Be ready to take risks, not blind but calculated risks. Be confident about who you are and always back your skills. Be comfortable with what you have. Just because someone is doing a particular thing doesn’t mean that one should do the same as well. What matters is always trying to think outside of the box and not shying away from expressing oneself. Most importantly, one should research extensively the task at hand and have proper goals and a mindset to change something.

Published: 19-11-2018 07:49

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