--BY MANISHA BALAMI
Tommy Hilfiger, the US fashion designer once said, “The road to success is not easy to navigate, but with hard work, drive and passion, it’s possible to achieve the American dream.” Shanta Baskota Koirala, managing director of Kanchannjunga Tea Estate and Research Center (KTERC), lives up to this notion. She believes that strong faith and confidence are important to become a successful entrepreneur.
KTERC is considered to be the first organic certified tea garden in Nepal established in 1984 at Phidim, Paanchthar under a cooperative model. The company was started by Shanta’s politician/entrepreneur father Deepak Prakash Baskota. After joining the company in 2002, she has helped transform it into one of the major Himalayan orthodox tea producers and exporters of the country.
Born in Phidim, Panchthar, Baskota completed her SLC from Namuna Madhyamik School in Phidim. After that, she came to Kathmandu with her father and joined Padma Kanya Campus for her intermediate level studies. As soon as she finished her IA, she got married in 2053 BS at the age of 21. Although tying nuptial knots at a young age, her husband and in-laws motivated her to complete her higher studies. She then joined Pashupati Campus Chabahil as an undergraduate and ultimately completed her MA in Sociology from Trichandra Campus.
After graduating, while looking for a job, her husband suggested that she should create jobs for others by joining her father’s business instead. “My husband suggested that I join my father’s business, KTERC and help him in the areas that he was not able to look into,” she recalls. Her father’s role as a well-known politician and social worker hindered him from giving sufficient time to every aspect of the business.
So, in 2002, she joined the company and started working at KTERC’s marketing wing Shangri-La Agro World which looks after the international marketing of organic tea, herbs and spices produced by the company. “My father started the company with a vision but wasn’t able to focus on business promotion due to his political and social commitments. After joining the company, I started to understand that mass production and innovative marketing strategies are very important for business growth,” she says.
Ever since joining KTERC, Shanta has been putting her efforts in innovative marketing and promotional activities. Realising the importance of participating in trade fairs, she started taking part in national and international trade fairs. This further helped the company to promote its products in the international market. Keeping up with the technology and new trends in marketing, she also started using social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram for promotion purposes.
Today, KTERC exports its products to countries including United States, Japan, China, Europe, Canada, Italy and France. She also organised an Organic Agro Fair at Patan Museum in 2017. “Only a very few people knew about our products two decades ago. Now our brands are well-known in Nepal and in other countries,” she says.
A student of the arts and social sciences, Shanta did not have any know-how about business in the beginning. But to prove her ability to handle her father’s business, she started grooming herself by participating in different national and international corporate management trainings and conferences.
Although Shanta took over her father’s business, her journey has not been easy. When she joined KTERC, there were no women in the management and decision-making levels of the company. “There were women labourers in plucking and processing the tea leaves only. I think, my sister and I are among the first women in Nepal to run a tea business,” she says.
She joined her family business at a time when people still used to think that business only belonged to those who had a lot of money or external support. “The participation of women in management was beyond the expectations of many,” she says, adding, “People were still not ready to accept a woman in a decision-making position or handling business operations.” For Shanta, it was hard to convince people about the abilities of women in business. “I went through situations where clients used to ask for male representatives of the company during meetings and while dealing with the pricing or signing any contract,” she shares.
Shanta, who followed her father’s footsteps of honesty, hard work and truth, won the trust of people with her confidence and dedication. See is happy to see how things are changing now positively for women in business.
Nevertheless, Shanta says that a lot needs to be done to change the situation for women in rural areas. As the General Secretary of the Central Women Entrepreneurs Committee of the Federation of Nepali Cottage and Small Industries, she is engaged in advocacy and lobbying for women-friendly policies in the agriculture sector, organising trainings and developing women entrepreneurship. Shanta is also associated with organisations such as the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal and Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal. Likewise, she is the general secretary of Organic Association Nepal and vice-treasurer of Federation of Export Entrepreneurs Nepal (FEEN).
Apart from her business, she also runs different projects as a part of her social responsibility. Through the KTE Foundation, the CSR arm of the Baskota Group, she also runs a ‘cow bank’ project, scholarship programme, and eco-house project for the upliftment of associated farmers. Besides this, the foundation also provides support to school rebuilding projects, road construction and organises awareness programmes as well.
In her two decades at the company, she has been honoured by various awards and recognitions. She won the Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award in 2012 for being able to address and solve the problems of unproductive wastage of large areas of land in Panchthar and the high number of unemployed women in the area. She was also awarded the Women Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 title by New Business Age. National Women Service Award, National Award on Tea Development, Special Awards in National Expo and Nepal Women Entrepreneurship Award are other awards that she has received for her contributions.
She says that if her family hadn’t supported and motivated her, then she would not have been able to prove her ability and reach her current position. She feels lucky to have had such a supportive family.
The tea garden of KTERC spread over 95 hectares in Ranitar, Phidim of Paanchthar district produces 50,000 kgs of tea a year. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered the company’s production as well as sales. “Although the production was not so directly affected by the pandemic, the lack of sales has impacted us,” she states. Shanta says that there are no local sales while the international clients have also reduced their orders. “The business is down by 75 percent compared to pre-Covid years,” he says. According to her, the company which used provided direct employment to more than 200 people, now employs only 150 people due to the pandemic.
A nature lover, she loves to spend her free time with her family and travel to new places with them. She also loves to read inspirational and motivational books. Shanta plans to continue her work of promoting organic agriculture as a campaign.
As a child she hated politics as her father didn’t have time for the family. However, she later realised that politics is important for every change, be it positive or negative. So, Shanta says that she has plans to eventually join politics in order to address the problems of businesspersons and entrepreneurs.