Thirty-four-year old Sarita Lama started cultivating mushroom, on a small scale, at her home in Thankot back in 2001. She was intrigued by the idea of extending her mushroom farming to generate some income for her family with a meager budget of Rs 5,000. But her poor financial condition restricted her from turning her personal farming into a full-fledged business.
When Lama faced a dire situation as she wasn’t eligible to take loans directly from banks, she took the support of the micro-credit program of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (WEAN). She started off by taking a loan of Rs 10,000 by growing mushrooms in nine temporary sheds in a small land holding. But now, she has over 52 mushroom sheds and her investment has reached almost Rs 400,000 per year.
Photo Courtesy: Wean
Participants of liquid Soap making training at Godavari organized by WEAN.
“I didn’t have the confidence to expand my business until I received the loan. My business has slowly picked up and has helped sustain my family,” shares Lama.
WEAN was established in 1987 as a non-profit organization to empower women like Sarita through personal entrepreneurship and develop potential women entrepreneurs through various skill trainings, technical assistance and providing loans to underprivileged women. A micro-credit program was initiated by the organization in 1992 in Rasuwa with its own small capital fund of Rs 300,000. At present, it has been providing its services in four districts, namely Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, and Rasuwa.
Disadvantaged and low-income women who are vying to become economically self-sufficient from these four districts have been receiving 45 different types of training skills. Compost and organic farming, making liquid soap, candles, pickles, producing dairy products, training in agriculture sector along with required skills in pricing and labeling for making those products marketable are some of the trainings provided for such women to help them start their own enterprises.
Laxmi Lama, 34, who lives in Godavari with her family of five, also shares a story similar to Sarita’s. She started her business of piggery by taking up a micro-credit of Rs 10,000. After her business started picking up, she took additional loans. She even makes and sells liquid soaps in her community after she received the training. With her income, she has been covering school fees of her two sons and bears sole responsibility of sustaining her family.
Renu Sthapati, President of WEAN, who has been involved with the organization for the past 25 years, says that though women in city areas are independent to some extent, the situation is more complicated in the villages.
“In places like Dhankuta and Taplejung, women couldn’t even comprehend the idea that they could work to earn. They were limited to taking care of household chores,” she says.
Sthapit explains that after going on field visits to various districts and places like Rasuwa and Jajarkot to interact with women’s groups and after understanding their plights, women were encouraged to use whatever raw materials that was available in their community to make various products.
She recalls an instance in Taplejung where lots of Lapsi, a native fruit of Nepal, was growing abundantly but were wasted as the women there were not aware about how to use them.
“They didn’t even have the slightest idea that the fruit could be eaten until we trained them to make lapsi candies,” she shares.
Like Laxmi and Sarita, there are currently 2,000 micro-credit members all over the country who take loans to sustain their businesses. Those women who started with a loan of Rs 10,000 now are ready to take up credit of more than Rs 50,000 which indicates their success in their respective businesses.
“A lot of production took place in various districts but it was hard to make those products marketable and it took a lot of time, especially in the villages,” explains Sthapit.
The various products are thus sold under the Navaras brand of WEAN cooperative which was established in 1992. It has two cooperatives out of the previous micro-credit beneficiaries that market the products made by its members.
Women who come from low economic backgrounds aren’t in a condition to directly take loan from the banks because they don’t have property to be registered as collateral. So the members of the WEAN micro-credit basically take loans in group collateral and the group usually comprises five. Firstly, each member of the group can take loans of Rs 10,000, and upon repaying it within a year, they become eligible to upgrade their loans upto Rs 60,000.
After identifying VDCs and districts, micro-credit trainings and orientation programs are provided to such women to make them aware about entrepreneurship. In Rasuwa alone, investment in micro-credit has reached Rs 6 million which has supported business enthusiasts and help ed to upgrade the condition of women entrepreneurs. After taking proper skill trainings, women, who were financially helpless and lacked knowledge, thus slowly learnt the tricks of the trade to become financially independent, self-reliant and confident.
While WEAN has been working to empower such potential business enthusiasts, the Women’s Environment Preservation Committee’s (WEPCO) has likewise been committed to conserving the urban environment by working to raise awareness about environmental issues and introducing pragmatic methods in solid waste management.
Established in 1992, the organization has introduced and imparted ideas of vermi-composting, a technique of using earthworms to turn organic wastes into very high-quality compost, paper collection and recycling as well as biogas production from organic waste.
One of the founders and President of WEPCO, Bishnu Thakali, says that the story goes back to 1990 when a group of 30 housewives took an environmental awareness training focused on sustainable development of the environment. This further encouraged them to take lead in bringing a change in the environment by doing something substantial for their community and fellow women as well.
Thakali talks about how earlier solid waste was dumped in containers in a haphazard manner. It was then they initiated a scheme to collect waste from each home in their communities at a fixed time in the Lalitpur area. They started by hiring a person to collect waste from fifty homes with Rs 1 as charge per home and then used that money and collected waste to make compost. With their initiation, the old unhygienic system of random disposal of waste on streets was successfully brought to an end in the Lalitpur area.
Besides preserving the environment, they also provide solid waste management, leadership development, and composting, paper recycling and income generation training in order to empower women not only to conserve their environment but also to make them financially independent.
The organization now has 30 such women’s groups all over the country, in places like Nepalgunj, Chitwan and Pokhara, that take the responsibility to work as a catalyst to improve local environment through education programs by mobilizing communities.
In Kathmandu alone, they have 40 staffs who help empower women to bring positive changes by collecting, managing and recycling waste for useful purposes and generate income in the process.
The stories of urban and rural areas are however different. It is especially difficult to change the mindset of women in villages because they lack infrastructure and skills and they depend on their husbands even to take minor decisions, which is why it is important to empower them because until they earn, it is hard for them to make decisions, says Sthapit of WEAN.
“But we don’t stop right after providing trainings as we continuously monitor the activities of the participants to help grow their businesses,’ she adds.
She further says that though many women work on the fields in villages, they don’t get access to their money although they put in all the efforts, as their men are the ones who sell the products. “So we convince them to start off by at least increasing the household products like pickles that they prepare so that they can sell it professionally and gradually become economically strong,” says Sthapit.
Kyamuna Mijar, 25, a cobbler by profession, was expert in shoemaking but she also lacked financial support to expand her work. After receiving the micro-credit, she now is successfully running a leather shoe shop in Hepali Height near Golfutar and has been supplying shoes to school children along with sustaining her family of four.
There are many women like Mijar who have developed their skills on to the next level by turning it into a prospective business.
By taking an initiative to hone their skills in order to start their own enterprises, these women have not only made financial contributions to their own families but have set examples on the importance of empowering women with a little help from women’s organizations.
Empowering women entrepreneurs
In order to represent the collective efforts of women entrepreneurs and encourage their potentials, the Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal (FWEAN), a non-profit organization, was established in 1989. FWEAN is the central body of WEAN (Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal) that helps to strengthen WEAN chapters at the district level.
The Week talked to Chaaya Sharma, President of FWEAN, to discuss the importance of women’s empowerment in the country
Why do you think it is important to empower women?
It is vital to empower women for the sake of their independence and to build their confidence to take decisions. In our society, many people still have the traditional thinking that women are supposed to limit themselves within their household chores. But I think that if a woman is educated in a house, the whole home becomes educated. By promoting women entrepreneurship, it will not only help to generate employment but will help build the nation in the long run as well. I also feel that one of the reasons for the increase in violence against women is basically due to the poor status of women in the society. If they become economically strong, they won’t have to depend on anyone and would have the power to report cases of violence rather than live in a suppressed way.
How do you think that micro-credit programs can help aspiring women entrepreneurs?
We can see that many women are financially dependent on men and they are bound with their household responsibilities. If they are willing to work for themselves and earn, they can financially support their family in which way they will not only earn respect from their family members but will also develop self-esteem. Micro-credit can help support women who come from economically poor families to take up small loans so that they can invest in their ventures and can afford to pay off the loan in time. I think that we now need to move one step ahead and introduce Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as well.
Do you have any suggestions for aspiring women entrepreneurs?
I think that opportunities don’t always come knocking on your door. So it is important to venture out with possibilities in order to progress economically. You just have to take a small step at a time and have the confidence to move forward. You should also take the initiative to do something and not depend on someone else, because in the end, it is your effort that counts. Therefore, to be successful, it is important to have dedication, determination and devotion.