Taking up the mantle: From entrepreneurs to local leaders

Jun 9, 2017

A number of micro-entrepreneurs supported by UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme have successfully participated in the recently-held local elections and come to be role models for others in their community

As a testament to the power of entrepreneurship in not just improving the socio-economic circumstances of individuals and groups, but also in granting them the confidence to take up leadership roles in their communities, 163 micro-entrepreneurs supported by UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) have participated and triumphed in the first phase of the local-level elections, of which 74% are women and 37% from the Dalit community.

One such group of MEs from Myagdi and Parbat recently participated in an interaction session with UN Resident Coordinator Valerie Julliand, held in Kusma, Parbat on 5 June.

Expressing her great pleasure on the results borne by their efforts, Ms. Julliand urged the 38 newly-elected MEs in attendance—majority of whom were women—to make the best of the opportunity they had gained in being chosen to represent the interests of their communities, reminding them at the same time that the task would not be without its challenges.

For their part, the MEs from the two districts shared their experiences with the UN RC and other guests. Seti Mahat, the Deputy Chair of the Madi Rural Municipality, said she was grateful for MEDEP’s support, without which it would’ve been practically impossible for her and others like her to even conceive of such a victory. “One of the biggest hurdles for female candidates in Nepal is the difficulty of accessing financial resources,” Mahat said. “But MEDEP's backing, and the sense it gave us of our own potential, was the push we needed to put ourselves out there.”

In a similar vein, other participating MEs also touched on the need to strike a gender balance in the decision-making process in local bodies, offering up anecdotes about the various challenges they had faced in terms of resource management, family and institutional support, and generally discouraging attitudes towards female leadership. “The political system in its entirety is still very much male-dominated,” said Khar Maya Bitalu, Deputy Chairperson of the Malika Rural Municipality. “It’s difficult for women to forge ahead when doubts are raised about their capabilities at every step.”

Despite these hurdles, the elected MEs said they were confident they could implement their respective road-maps to uplift their communities. All reiterated their commitment to engage women in income-generating activities via micro-enterprises—a strategy whose effectiveness they are very familiar with—and hopefully, through that, motivate them to aspire to more meaningful roles in local governance. As put succinctly by Kesha Pariyar, one of the elected MEs and the former National Chairperson of the National Micro-Entrepreneurs’ Federation Nepal (NMEFEN): “Women have a big role to play in developing the micro-enterprise sector in the country. As a local-level representative, I will dedicate my time in office to empower every woman in my municipality.”

For the 19 years that it has been active, MEDEP has created above 115,000 MEs—a significant proportion of whom represent women, marginalized and excluded groups—engaged in over 125,000 different types of micro-enterprises