Entrepreneurship supports livelihood, preserves tradition

Members of 'Dobanha Laghu Uddhyami Samuha'
Members of 'Dobanha Laghu Uddhyami Samuha' micro-enterprise at Damak municipality of Jhapa district weaving their traditional dress known as 'petani'. Photo taken by Tapa Dipti Sitaula / UNDP Nepal

Keeping alive old tradition sometimes requires embracing new technology. This has been true for a group of Dhimal women in Jhapa who have been able to revive their old tradition of weaving pateni (a traditional dress) with improved weaving machines.

Led by Shanti Dhimal, a group of 16 Dhimal women has been running an enterprise that showcases how under women's leadership a community can conserve their old tradition and also support livelihoods.

The micro-enterprise -- Dobanha Laghu Uddhyami Samuha -- has brought about new hopes to the marginalized indigenous Dhimal community of the Doghare village in Jhapa by enterprising on the community's traditional skills of weaving the unique dress pateni.

"Weaving pateni is our tradition and there was a time when this tradition was almost extinct," says Shanti, the chairperson of the enterprise and a member of one of the 45 Dhimal households in the community.

In the past, they used to produce pateni using traditional method that consumed a lot of time and effort. It took them a whole day to produce one single pateni. They also did not have much space for making clothes. Besides weaving, they worked as wage laborers during the day to eke out a living.

But things have now changed. With the financial support from Micro-Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP), Small Cottage Industry Department of Jhapa district, and contribution from themselves, they have replaced the age-old traditional weaving machine with the improved ones and housed them in a more spacious and safe earthquake resistant building. Now, they have altogether 10 weaving machines and are able to produce 5-6 pateni clothes per day. Each member earns Rs. 16,464 (US$ 168) monthly. In order to conserve and promote their weaving tradition, Shanti with the help of other members of the enterprise, has also started training Dhimal women how to weave.

With increased training and support on business planning and promotion, the women's group has now been able to brand their product and successfully expand their market in other districts, setting an example for others to replicate.