Wider horizons

Jun 24, 2017

Sunti Purja is among the many female entrepreneurs who—despite having little to no formal education—have managed to set up their own businesses and come to be role models for their communities, bolstered by backing received from UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme

For Sunti Purja, the manager of Ritu Saugat Griha, a souvenir shop based in Pokhara’s Lakeside, it had been a childhood dream to work overseas. She had thought of how she would one day leave the country, go somewhere exotic like Europe, and earn big money to send home to her parents. Today, however, her dreams have changed. “I can do better than Europe in Nepal,” she says with a smile.

Ritu Saugat Griha currently sources its wares from 18 artisans who are experienced in handcrafting a variety of products, made with a variety of materials, including vegetable-tanned leather, hemp and allo (nettle), among others. The shop is exceedingly popular among tourists, and Sunti’s success has classed her as something of an entrepreneurial role-model in the area.

The shop had first materialized following an entrepreneurship training Sunti had received from UNDP’s Micro-Enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP). In addition, MEDEP had also provided supporting equipment, assistance in obtaining grants, and facilitation in market promotion. All this support had enabled Sunti to widen her horizons, to not just sell her handicrafts in the domestic market, but also export to Australia and countries in Europe on a large scale. In the process, she had graduated to a “small entrepreneur” from a “micro-entrepreneur”.

Sunti now has her own production factory and showroom, besides the outlet shop, in Pokhara. And not only is she creating opportunities for local artisans, but she has also become a keen advocate for the upliftment of the poor—not too long ago, she had donated Rs. 1.8 million for victims of the 2015 earthquake in Sindhupalchowk. She also explains that given that her goods are made mostly out of locally-sourced natural materials, the business is also largely eco-friendly, a point of great pride for her.

Sunti’s story is just one among many, in which Nepali women—many with little to no formal education—have built their own businesses, with backing from MEDEP in acquiring entrepreneurial skills, accessing funds and other forms of support. The programme, for the last 19 years of its existence, has been dedicated to the cause of poverty reduction and community development, focusing on those who need help the most—in fact, 73% of MEDEP supported micro-entrepreneurs were found to have moved out of poverty. But the project’s true success is not measured solely in terms of the economic gains made by beneficiaries, but also other changes wrought in these individuals and their society—such as empowerment of women, capacity building and community resilience.

MEDEP, financially supported by the Australian Government's Deparment of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), has helped more than 118,800 poor people from rural Nepal to establish micro-enterprises, which have in turn created more than 190,000 jobs. Almost 73% of MEDEP beneficiaries are women and it also reaches out to traditionally marginalized groups and communities.

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