By Fredrika Ekman, Volunteer with RUWON Nepal, September 2013
“You are Businesswomen!”
This is not charity – you are businesswomen!” Dr. Selvamalar Ayadurai (Dr. Malar) proclaimed with a powerful voice and strong gestures to the 17 women who gathered in Rural Women's Network Nepal's (RUWON Nepal) office on the 1st of August.
Dr. Malar is the president of Tech Outreach Malaysia and was in Nepal for a two-day visit as a part of the microfinance project that is a collaboration between RUWON Nepal and Tech Outreach.
The project is implemented by RUWON Nepal and has given 17 single mothers who all live below the poverty line, the opportunity to receive an interest-free loan that enables them to start their own business. The loan should be paid back on a weekly basis over 18 months and is used to start businesses in which the women already have skills, such as tailoring, and starting a tea shop.
Business Skills, Confidence and Empowerment
As the introduction quote indicates, the aim of the project is bigger than just to enable the women start a business that will help them make their ends meet and support their children, for whom they are now struggling to put food on the table.
Moreover, the project aims to empower the women with confidence and skills – transforming them into real business women who are in charge of their own destiny.
As Dr. Malar declares in her charismatic way, “We are women – we are strong! We are women – we are powerful! We are women – we are smart!”
As a result, an important part of the project is to train the women to increase their business skills.
Important Characteristics of Empowered Women Entrepreneurs
During her visit, Dr. Malar signed the contract with RUWON Nepal and distributed the loan to the women, but more importantly, she held an interactive workshop with the women as a first step towards becoming empowered women entrepreneurs.
Among other things, she taught them seven characteristics that are important on this journey:
- Uniqueness of their business
- Hard work
- Work-family balance
Successful Training Model
The training of the women will continue as each of them will have a meeting twice a month with a business coach from RUWON Nepal.
The coach will support the women in their business and help them overcome the difficulties as well as training them in business skills such as basic profit and loss calculations and how to differentiate from other businesses.
The [training] model has proved successful before. When carried out by Tech Outreach in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 98 % of the women have repaid their loan and 88 % are still successfully running their business.
Dr. Malar: Humble Beginnings
Dr. Malar herself is a truly inspiring and intelligent woman.
She has a Ph.D. in Political Science and is running Tech Malaysia on a voluntary basis on the side of her ordinary work as a Honorary Lecturer at Newcastle University, Australia. Here, she teaches entrepreneurship at the university's campuses in Malaysia and Singapore.
When asked from where she gets the energy to do all this work – and with such passion, she says, “When I work with disadvantaged women I feel inspired” and goes on by saying that the satisfaction of making a difference is unimaginable.
This may be partly because she herself comes from a humble background, and now that she has worked hard to be successful herself, life becomes more meaningful when she can help others.
Words that more successful businesswomen should take to their heart to help their disadvantaged sisters.
Second Microfinance Project Launch to Help 40 Women
A second batch of the microfinance project will be launched in November, when around 40 women will be selected in the Sindhouli District of Nepal to receive the loan, thus enabling more single-women households from marginalized communities to change their lives.
The repayment of the loans will go into a revolving fund that RUWON Nepal will use to run the same project in the future.
In addition, RUWON Nepal is looking for more funds at the moment to be able to increase the scale of the project and turn more poor women into successful business women.
Anu Tamang's Story
One woman who received a loan from the micro finance project implemented by RUWON Nepal is Anu Tamang.
Anu lives with her three children (Arati, 9, Samir, 5 and Sabina, 4 years old) in a tiny room in Kathmandu. In the room which they are sleeping, four people have two small beds, some old posters decorate the wall, and there is a gas burner for cooking.
The room is dark and damp; a simpler home is hard to imagine. Up until now, she has had a difficult time making her ends meet. There have been days when she has only been able to feed her children once a day and it is only thanks to a recent private donation that she could afford to send her children back to school.
Anu has faced a difficult life.
She was born in Sindhupalchok, a village four hours away from Kathmandu. She moved to Kathmandu with her mother, who left Sindhupalchok after a family conflict.
Anu went to school until 5th grade, and then her mother was unable to find the funds to send her children to school. Instead of receiving a proper education, she started working as a construction worker at 16 and when she could not find any work as that, she worked at other people's homes, cleaning their house and washing their laundry.
Surviving a Marriage Marked by Difficulties
At 20, she got married to a man she had met two years earlier at a construction job. The marriage was marked by difficulties.
After she gave birth to her first daughter Arati at 22, she and her husband had a disagreement and he went away to India to work. As she was now alone to support her family, like many Nepalese, she went abroad to try her luck at getting a job, while her mother took care of Arati. However, after only a few months in Kuwait, she got sick and had to return home. After a while, her husband also came back from India and she forgave him from their previous conflict; they lived together again.
During this time period, Anu had two more children, Samir and Sabina, and together with her husband and his sister and brother, she ran a teashop.
She liked this work but they had to close down since the brother and sister were not handling the tea shop properly; they took the tea shop profits and put that into their own pockets.
After some time, the trouble continued and her husband went to Uman instead to find work. This was four years ago and Anu has not heard from her husband since.
Instead, she has been forced to support her family all by herself by working sporadically as a construction worker. It is a hard work and it has been difficult for Anu to find enough work to be able to put food on the table for her children, and let alone pay their school fees and textbooks.
A Tea Shop of Her Own
Finally, it seems like the winds have changed for Anu.
Through the micro finance project that RUWON Nepal is implementing, she has been given a loan that has enabled her to buy a small tea shop.
The tea shop will sell cold drinks in addition to tea, and has a few tables where the guests can sit down and enjoy their drinks.
It is located close to a busy road and a government office that should provide a steady flow of customers. Thanks to the loan, and the training that she will receive from her business coach at RUWON Nepal, she can hopefully turn her situation around.
When asked how she feels about this opportunity she has been given she says,“Very happy”, and a big smile spreads over her face.
She says that she had never expected something like this to happen, and now she can finally save some money for her children and send them to school – at the same time becoming an empowered business woman herself.
Fredrika Ekman is based in Sweden where she is studying Business Administration at Lund University.
“I came to Nepal because I was interested in learning more about the culture and what it is like to work at a small NGO and because I think it is important to help people who happen to be born under less fortunate circumstances than myself”.