Hand-made happiness

Sushma Shrestha’s story exemplifies how micro-entrepreneurs promoted by UNDP’s MEDEP—especially women—have been able to strengthen and sustain their business prospects through linkages facilitated by the project with such entities as the Chaudhary Foundation

Sushma Shrestha considers herself one of the “lucky ones”. The micro-entrepreneur from Dolakha, who was helped by UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) to acquire the skills necessary to start a successful lokta or handmade Nepali paper business in her village, says the opportunity helped her to turn her life around. “It was just the push I needed,” she says.

At one point, Sushma says she had felt bereft of hope. “It was a struggle just to get by, and I didn’t have any guidance or support,” she recalls. That support came through in 2012, when she enrolled in a skill-development training offered by MEDEP in the area. “I chose to focus on lokta paper, because it was something that could be made locally…. There were others in the community who were already engaged in producing the paper, so I thought it would be easy to tie up with them when starting my business,” Sushma says. And to further her skills, she took up a few more trainings, reflected in the high quality of her products.

Over the last few years, Sushma Handicrafts has seen steady growth in popularity. It offers a range of lokta products today, including general items like stationary and lamps, but also more innovative pieces, such as jewelry—which has proved a hit with customers for their lightweight, waterproof qualities and affordable price.

What’s more, with MEDEP’s continued support, Sushma has lately been able to scale up her business—specifically via a partnership with the Chaudhary Foundation, to whom she now sells products in bulk as a wholesaler. This has further allowed her to expand the market for her products; these days, her clientele consists of organizations and corporate houses who generally source lokta paper files and folders from her.

And a big part of her motivation for expanding and diversifying her business is so she can offer employment opportunities to others who are desperate to find a way to make a living like she had once been, particularly women. Sushma presently has 15 employees under her and has trained a number of women besides.

The journey to get where she is today, Sushma says, has made stark for her the true value of local job creation. “So many of young Nepalis are leaving the country thinking there are no opportunities to be found here, but my own experience shows that with the right effort and assistance—such as that provided by MEDEP—things are not quite so hopeless,” she explains.

About lokta paper in Nepal
The Cottage Industry Department of Nepal reports 377 registered handmade paper production industries, out of approximately 600 units operating in the country. Of these, 175 manufacture about 30,000 metric tons of paper products each year. Yet, despite this major increase in handmade paper production in recent years, large scale lokta resources remain untapped. Handmade lokta-based craft paper products continue to offer considerable economic sustainability for poor rural Nepalese women due to their high-quality niche market potential.

 

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