--By Siromani Dhungana
Nepali women entrepreneurs have not broken the glass ceiling, says Pramila Rijal, president of SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC). “But they have already made the first cracks.”
Rijal’s idea rightly summarizes the present conditions of women in business in Nepal. Alka Rajouria Rijal, executive director at Federation of Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal is also of the same opinion. Women entrepreneurs have come far but they still have a long way to go, she opines.
According to her, there are many issues that still need to be improved: access to finance, gender-responsive policies, family barriers and deconstructing stereotypes about women entrepreneurs.
Business: It was Men's Domain
Hajuri Bista, one of the forerunners in the arena of women entrepreneurship says, “I had never seen men and women work together. It was really challenging to get out of the dogma that women should take care of household chores and not venture into the business world.”
In 1990, the country adopted a democratic political system but women entrepreneurs still finding not an easy path at that time, she recalls. Late Yangzi Sherpa, Ambica Shrestha, Rita Thapa, Maggie Shah, Renchin Yonjan, Shyam Badan Shrestha, Shanti Chadha, Nilam Pande, Mohini Lama, Brinda Rana and some other faces were managed to shine in this period as entreprenuers. They were the trailblazers at that time, Bista recalls.
"Even after democracy, I have seen many times aspiring women entrepreneurs breaking into tears in meetings due to unexpected hurdles and apathy from their family and the society," she said reflecting on her experience. “Why should be women engaged in business?" was a common mindset at that time, she adds.
Fortunately, times have changed now. There are host ofefforts underway to boost women’s participation in business and women are in the condition to get guidance in all phasesof entreprise development -- from training on leadership, to new forms of financing.
Entrepreneurship has been traditionally seen a male preserve and idea of women taking up entrepreneurial activities considered as a distant dream, she says. But the mindset has been changing, she adds. “It takes time to change all the established social norms but we have achieved tremendous success in the field of women entrepreneurship.”
Has a Long Way to Go
There are umpteen problems even now. Women face problem from their initial commencement of enterprise, says Barsha Shrestha, deputy chief executive officer at Clean Energy Development Bank.
The society still does not believe in their capacity and it is an uphill task for women to face such conflicts and cope with such challenges, she adds. Obtaining the support of bankers, managing the working capital, difficulty in getting credit are the problems to solve which male family member's support is still needed, she informs.
Now women are empowered enough and can lead big corporations too, says Ambica Shrestha, women entrepreneur and president of The Dwarika’s Hotel. “All they need is chance of working as freely as their male counterparts.”
Absence of Entrepreneurial Aptitude
If you have innovative idea to venture into business that is what we call entrepreneurship, says Renchin Yonjan. But male businessmen in Nepal lack entrepreneurial aptitude, she claims. Most of the women who are aspiring in entrepreneurs are involved either in their family business or in service sector that still does not have talents (male or female) with the basic ingredients of entrepreneurship.
Parents want their daughter to be involved in jobs rather than entrepreneurship, shares Barsha Shrestha. The reason is clear. They do not want their daughters to take risk and put their money at risk.
Besides, even majority of women in the country lack entrepreneurial aptitude. Women have no entrepreneurial bent of mind, informs Pramila Rijal. “But this problem does not prevail only among women but also among men too.” “Yes, women are more inclined towards household chores and existing social structure does not allow them to think broadly,” she adds.
Expand Access to Finance
Women in the country have been facing many problems to get going with their business ideas. Finance shortage is one of them. Women entrepreneurs always suffer from inadequate financial recourses and working capital, says Rita Bhandary, president of Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal (FWEAN). They are not able to afford external finance due to absence of tangible assets as security. Women have very less property and bank balance in their name. Male members of the family do not want to invest their capital in the business run by women due to lack of confidence in the women's ability to run a venture successfully.
Most of the women entrepreneurs fail due to lack of proper financing facilities, because finance is life blood of every business activities, according to Shrestha. Marketing and financial problems are such obstacles where even training doesn't significantly help the women. Some problems are structural in nature and beyond the control of entrepreneurs.
Bankers often deny women credit on the ground of lack of collateral security, Shrestha says. Therefore, their access to risk capital is limited. Women cannot start big business ventures unless equal access of finance is ensured, Shrestha claims.
A Wave of Progress in SME
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are possibly one of the best and most cost-effective avenues for furthering economic development. Slowly but gradually, women have been expanding their foothold in this SME field. Currently, women own about 14,300 small and medium enterprises in Nepal, accounting for 2 percent of GDP (registered formal sector) and employing over 200,000 workers. A study commissioned by IFC, private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group, suggests that meeting their current credit requirements of US$ 106 million can increase their contribution to the economy, according to SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC).
Throughout the country, women have been setting up small and medium enterprises after acquiring the skills, resources, and support necessary to grow and sustain their businesses, says Alka Rajouria Rijal.
It is very positive aspect of women in entrepreneurship that they are creating jobs at a time when the country is reeling under massive unemployment problem.
Similarly, women’s involvement in entrepreneurship will not only contribute to create jobs but also to change the stereotyped role of women which is largely limited to household chores. All should motivate women entrepreneurs to give them the moral support for their business ideas.
Networking: Key to Success
The equation is very simple: you have to expand your business once you start it, you have to develop a network to expand business and you have to have a free-society to develop a network, says Barsha Shrestha who believes that Nepali women are struggling to this end.
Women should have a very strong network at three levels: in the sector concerned, with all entrepreneurs and national and international level, according to women entrepreneur Renchin Yonjan.
Women have tremendous potential for networking as they are polite and soft compared to their male counterparts, she opines. In business, exposure gives knowledge. Exposure is key that will help women to materialize their dreams. Women entrepreneurs should get out from social restrictions, expand their contacts and start business ventures. Women entrepreneurs should not hesitate to create their brand.
Full-time entrepreneurs should have the broadest networks. Long-held belief is, however, that women have weaker networks and rely excessively on family and friends to build their business. This logic is directly linked with the perception that women cannot handle business independently and they are reliant on family and friends for networking, says Yonjan.
The number of women-owned business has been growing over the past decade or so. However, evidences show that most of these businesses don't scale up. Further, women entrepreneurs are still considered suitable only in small and medium enterprises.
Over the last few years, it is found that women entrepreneurs often seem to be pigeonholed into the ‘lifestyle business’ category or education sector in Nepal. This is obviously good but not enough, says Ambica Shrestha. Women entrepreneurs are still missing out on the chance of a bigger slice of the pie.
Women-owned businesses are still a drop in the ocean of commerce, according to Pramila Rijal. She suggests women entrepreneurs to dream high. “It is time that women entrepreneurs start dreaming of setting up big corporations and running big businesses.” We have to dream and we have to work to full our dreams, opines Rita Bhandary.
Picture a woman and you might imagine a women busy in domestic chores and childcare. Further, if someone speaks about a female entrepreneur and you might imagine a woman at the helm of a small business, perhaps in a cosmetic outlet or childcare centre.
For decades the symbol of women entrepreneurship has been, to many, the pickle, fashion or childcare. They were considered shadow of their male counterparts. Time has come now to break the stereotypes and women should take the baton.
On the one hand, the mindset of society has been changing, Yonjan opines. “But challenges have also increased and women have to compete in the highly competitive world.” Access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and better exposure to the rest of the world have provided unique opportunities to the women entrepreneurs to expand their footholds,” she claims.
Our aim is not to steal the profit pie, which male entrepreneurs have been enjoying but to seek new chances of generating new and innovative sectors where women can see their future, says Yonjan. However, these sectors should not be limited to the small and medium industries.
“I am definitely seeing more women enter the entrepreneurship sector,” Shrestha says. Is entrepreneurship a man’s world? No not at all, she firmly believes. We need to break all the stereotypes prevailing regarding women in business.
Women across the country have started several business ventures at their own initiatives. It is time to taking bigger steps towards providing flexible workplaces for women to get in the entrepreneurship. "We know that where women are venturing now had been a male bastion. But that should not deter them. Women are equal partners in business,” says Yonjan. All section of the society should encourage their effort of entering into the entrepreneurship because people’s dream of peace and prosperity is directly related to the economic growth. Women’s involvement in entrepreneurship should be encouraged because it will not only create more opportunities but also ensure inclusive growth. It will be imperative in achieving highest sustainable economic growth and employment and in raising living standard.