Entrepreneurship should not be judged on the basis of gender

Women entrepreneurship has been growing in Nepal in the past few years. While the government has been reforming policies to boost the entrepreneurial growth in the country, different organisations like South Asian Women Development Forum have been initiating different national and regional level projects to enhance women entrepreneurship. Recently, SAWDF signed an agreement with the government of Andhra Pradesh of India to set up a regional trade centre at Visakhapatnam to promote women entrepreneurship in the SAARC region. Sujan Dhungana of The Himalayan Times spoke to Pramila Acharya Rijal, president of SAWDF, to know about the status of women entrepreneurship in Nepal and in the region, and the planned trade hub at Visakhapatnam. Excerpts:

How do you evaluate the current state of women entrepreneurship in Nepal?

A lot of things have changed in the past few years with the change in our systems, people’s mindset and societal norms. These changes have certainly boosted people’s morale for entrepreneurship in general and women entrepreneurship in particular. Lately, the government has been reforming existing policies to promote ‘doing business’ in the country, which is one of the major achievements for entrepreneurship development. Similarly, inclusion of women entrepreneurship in the country’s economy is increasing. All these instances are testimony to the fact that women entrepreneurship in Nepal has been strengthening in recent years. However, there still exist numerous hurdles in this sector which have been hindering the proper growth of women entrepreneurship. For instance, women entrepreneurs in Nepal are always linked with only small industries and this mindset has gripped people in the country, society and even women entrepreneurs to some extent. Entrepreneurship should not be judged on the basis of gender. Women have the capacity to run medium and large scale industries and there are many examples of women leading different big industries and business houses. It is time that the country should come out of such traditional mindset and culture that in a way impede the growth of women entrepreneurs.

SAWDF recently signed an agreement with the government of Andhra Pradesh, India, to set up the Women Entrepreneurs International Trade and Technology Hub at Visakhapatnam. How will this hub help promote women entrepreneurship in the South Asian region?

The Women Entrepreneurs International Trade and Technology Hub (WEITTH) is the greatest project that South Asian Women Development Forum (SAWDF) has initiated recently and will be a milestone in boosting women entrepreneurship in Nepal and the other SAARC nations. SAWDF is thankful to the government of Andhra Pradesh for providing us 100ropanis of land at Visakhapatnam. It shows the willingness of the Indian government to support the growth of women entrepreneurship in the South Asian region. Now, it is time for SAWDF to execute the WEITTH project as soon as possible. This trade centre will be crucial in creating new business opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the local, national, regional and international markets and will facilitate women’s participation in trade and mutual trade opportunities regionally and globally. The trade centre will not only be a common platform for women entrepreneurs in the region to showcase and promote their products, but will also be of help in boosting the capacity of women entrepreneurs, identifying common hurdles that women entrepreneurs in South Asia face and in adopting effective measures to address such problems. Moreover, the trade hub will also promote the exchange of skills, entrepreneurial technologies and provide training among women in the region. In a bid to take this trade centre to the global level, SAWDF is preparing to share this project with Chinese Women Entrepreneurs’ Association (CWEA) and ensure their inclusion in this project. Similarly, SAWDF will also approach women entrepreneurs of other nations to promote holistic women entrepreneurship among women across the world. The WEITTH project at Visakhapatnam can be a turning point for women entrepreneurs in the South Asian region as Visakhapatnam itself is an economic hub. It is one of the largest cargo handling ports of India and has many Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and economic corridors. This port has the capacity to accommodate more than 150,000 vessels atany given time. Establishment of WEITTH in such a business hub is an advantage for women entrepreneurs of the entire SAARC region. Thus, the government of Nepal should now support the WEITTH project by helping SAWDF to execute the project, generate resources and develop technologies for the development of women entrepreneurs.

Could you briefly explain how the trade centre will function?   

SAWDF has been coordinating with the All India Women Entrepreneurs Association (AIWEA) in this project. As per the signed memorandum of understanding, the government of India, government of Andhra Pradesh and AIWEA will complete the construction of the trade hub within the next two years. These entities will work together to develop required infrastructure at the trade centre. Simultaneously, SAWDF will also work to develop the entrepreneurial capacity of members of different women entrepreneur associations of all eight SAARC nations, help them diversify their products and transfer skills and knowledge. SAWDF will also identify different export potential products in the South Asian nations and adopt measures to market these products at the local, national, regional and global level. Allo, pashmina, dhaka and cardamom, among others are a few products from Nepal with export potential. SAWDF will brand these products from the trade hub. We will also market such export potential products among big multinational companies in India and other countries. In a nutshell, the trade hub will act as a platform to promote products and services of women entrepreneurs of South Asian countries in the national, regional and global market.

How will you relate growth of women entrepreneurship in Nepal to other South Asian countries?

Though women entrepreneurship is growing in Nepal in recent years, the growth rate is comparatively slow. Sri Lanka and Bhutan are far ahead in women entrepreneurship compared to Nepal. Entrepreneurial growth is directly related to the literacy level in any country. As Sri Lanka has 98 per cent literacy rate, the state of women entrepreneurship is very good there and women are involved in practically all high-level sectors and professions. Similarly, the state of economy of a country is directly related to entrepreneurship. Nepal’s economy is comparatively weak. Unless Nepal has a strong economy, not only entrepreneurs but even its citizens cannot reap the benefit from the country’s economy. Nepal is still fighting for basic things like education and health and has not been able to grasp the opportunity from the global competitive markets. However, a few surveys have shown that Nepali women are ahead compared to other countries in the region at the decision-making level. Similarly, the policies that Nepal has adopted to boost women entrepreneurship are praiseworthy. Other nations in the region too have acknowledged the policies that Nepal has adopted to promote women entrepreneurship. Moreover, government authorities and entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Afghanistan have asked SAWDF to send them the documents of policies that Nepal has adopted to promote women entrepreneurship so that they can also introduce such policies in their respective countries. This proves that Nepal is in the path of entrepreneurial growth. Meanwhile, SAWDF is preparing to launch a booklet on March 22 that highlights the women entrepreneurial challenges in South Asia, opportunities, policies in practice and state of women entrepreneurship of all eight South Asian nations.

In what sectors are Nepali women entrepreneurs basically involved?

Women entrepreneurs in the country have been gradually switching to medium and large scale businesses in recent years. Today we can see many women in sectors like banking and tourism. Moreover, a number of women today are in upper level decision making positions in the country. This shows that women entrepreneurs in Nepal today are gradually switching from small manufacturing or home-based businesses to mainstream businesses.