Print Edition - 2017-02-18  |  Women Power Up

Ladies first

  • Women now hold top management positions in various organizations
- SANJEEV GIRI
The consolidation of democracy and establishment of NGOs and INGOs working for women’s rights along with government policies have changed the landscape and involvement of women in business. If you compare the situation of today with 20-25 years back, things have changed drastically- Bhawani Rana, senior Vice President, FNCCI

Feb 18, 2017-When Nikita Acharya, 23, started her entrepreneurial journey in 2012, little did she know what lay in store. Today. her start-up venture Urban Girl (UG), an e-commerce portal featuring a range of products for women, stands as a well-known place among online shoppers. From a humble beginning with co-founder Kiran Timsina to her staggering achievement today, it has become a roller-coaster journey for this young entrepreneur. Acharya and Timsina set up UG by investing their pocket money totalling Rs20,000. Cut to 2017. UG has succeeded carving a niche in the domestic e-commerce market. The company today provides jobs to 35 people.

“It wasn’t a calculated decision or planning,” recalls Acharya who was just 19 when she established UG. “I was doing bachelor’s in management. And I wanted to do something.” 

Back then, there were already a handful of e-commerce sites catering to the needs of online shoppers. But none of the sites had secured their position in the domestic market. Acharya used to surf the internet, check out international trends and compare them with local conditions. During the process, she sensed a void in the domestic market. There were several issues in the domestic e-commerce scene. The more she read, analyzed and understood, the more she became determined to do something. 

Acharya, a management student, found a partner in Timsina who was studying information and technology (IT). It was a perfect combination of IT and management to start an e-commerce venture. 

Smriti Tuladhar, 23, of Bitter Sweets is another example. One-year-old Bitter Sweets produces chocolates using local resources. It has already made inroads into a number of hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu. Chocolate consumers who have been munching imported chocolates now have a choice of local tastes with quality that can compete with foreign products. Likewise, Mala Thapa Magar, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, started Himalayan Allo Udhyog when she was only 21. Her company produces fabrics and fibre made from allo, also known as Himalayan mountain nettle. Himalayan Allo Udhyog sources raw materials from places like Dolpa and Bajhang and processes the plants into fibre in her factory situated in Budhanilkantha. Her products are sold from retail stores in Thamel. She also has customers in Japan and South Korea. 

Charting unknown territory in Nepal where business is seen as the domain of men is not an easy job to do. And this is where entrepreneurs like Acharya, Tuladhar and Magar, among others, have forayed into. The times are changing, and attitudes towards women in business are changing too; and this has, to an extent, made it easier for today’s entrepreneurs. “Fortunately I didn’t have to go through the stigma of being a woman in business,” Acharya says. 

But that is not the case for first-generation women entrepreneurs and others operating in remote places of the country. Hajuri Bista, one of the first woman entrepreneurs in Nepal, has described the challenges and hard work she had to do to go into business in a number of interviews and feature stories. Back then, the involvement of women outside their household was considered a taboo, and business was no exception. 

The fact that established business houses like the Chaudhary Group, Golchha Organisation and Jyoti Group, among others, which have been in the country’s business scene for around 100 years, took this long to allow women to take the helm shows the situation of women in business. Shima Golchha of the Golchha Organisation, Srijana Jyoti of the Jyoti Group, Megha Chaudhary of the Chaudhary Group and Ritu Vaidya of Vaidya’s Organisation of Industries and Trading Houses, among others, are now taking the lead in business by playing a key role in their respective business houses. 

Similarly, women like Anupama Khunjeli and Raveena Desraj Shrestha of Mega Bank and Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Development Bank, among others, have been making their mark on the service sector. 

Women entrepreneurs today are not just making it big in business. They now have started taking bureaucratic and political control too. Sneha Group Managing Director Bhawani Rana has succeeded in becoming the senior vice-president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), the apex body of the country’s private sector. The FNCCI has amended its statute stating that the senior vice-president will automatically become the president when his term expires, and this means that Rana will become the first woman leader of the country’s private sector. 

Entrepreneurs like Kamala Shrestha, Jyotsna Shrestha, Kalpana Gaire and Barsha Shrestha have been assuming leadership positions at institutions like the FNCCI and the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI). Not just the private sector. Women in government businesses too have started taking large strides forward. Kamini Rajbhandari, for example, has become the first female managing director of Nepal Telecom, the state-run telecommunications service provider that has been in operation for 100 years. 

The participation of women in the field of business and entrepreneurship surged forward following the political change in 1990. A shift from a repressive regime to democracy, and adoption of liberalism and privatization gave immense scope for industries to flourish. Simultaneously, access to education and awareness regarding gender equality spread from urban areas to remote places. The impact of political change is becoming more visible today. The involvement and engagement of women in business and trade has increased in recent years. 

“The involvement of women in the handicraft, agriculture and service sectors today is substantial,” said Rita Bhandari, immediate past president of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal (FWEAN). However, she added that the achievements were not that great compared to the developed countries. “We can count the number of women making it big in business on the fingers of our hand. And that tells a lot.”  

Bhandari feels that changes in time, education, approach and awareness among the people have made it easier for women to lead businesses today. But again, it has been largely limited to urban areas. The plans and policies formulated by the government have failed to hit the target. 

As per a study conducted by the FWEAN two years ago, there are around 3,000 registered women entrepreneurs in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur districts. This shows that though many women in Nepal are engaged in business, they haven’t come into the formal channel. 

According to Rana, the consolidation of democracy and establishment of NGOs and INGOs working for women’s rights along with government policies have changed the landscape and involvement of women in business. “If you compare the situation of today with 20-25 years back, things have changed drastically,” Rana said, adding that the impact was visible in other cities too besides Kathmandu. 

Being a business leader, Rana has to travel extensively to various districts across the country. That gives her opportunities to interact with locals, especially women in business. She has seen during such trips that most of the presidents of the district chambers are male. And that gives an opportunity for female members of the family to engage in business. “Chamber presidents are engaged in numerous activities that prevent them from looking after the daily affairs of their businesses. That gives an opportunity to women to sharpen their business skills,” Rana said. 

Even though the engagement of women in business is increasing, Rana admits that they still lack leadership dynamism. The FNCCI might be getting its first female president in 50 years soon, but one can hardly find a woman leader who can continue Rana’s legacy. “Leadership is not just about money, or big and small business houses. It is a skill one has to develop oneself,” Rana said, adding that adequate support from the family was a prerequisite for women to stand out and make it big. Both Rana and Bhandari agree that women’s access to business and entrepreneurship is limited not just in Nepal but in the entire South Asian region. Rana feels that the patriarchal setup that exists in the region has limited women’s participation in all sectors. “But again, we have not been able to do what countries like India, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka in the South Asian region have been doing to promote women’s participation in business,” Bhandari said. 

Published: 18-02-2017 09:44

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