When Prakriti Mainali completed her MBA in 2014 and saw all her friends working and settling down in their lives, she recalls that it was a time when she strongly felt doing something on her own. As a student of management studies, she wanted to become an entrepreneur and create jobs rather than just becoming a jobholder. “I wanted to get into business but was not seeing a clear path in my career moving forward,” she says.
Finding the right path was difficult and she struggled with it but she shares that the period was also a huge learning experience for her. She learned that once people start comparing themselves with others, they can never be happy. “I am who I am. I am better than yesterday, and I will be better than today. Life became a lot easier for me when I embraced this thinking,” she says. A spiritual person, Prakriti says that looking at the positive aspects in everything will help everyone during difficult times.
A native of Nuwakot, her family came to Kathmandu when she was just six months old. Since Prakriti’s father was a principal in a village government school, her family always prioritised education, of herself and her two sisters over other things. While studying MBA at Ace College of Management in 2014, she was certain that she would start something of her own.
Right from her teens, Prakriti's area of interest has been to work for women's empowerment. Early on she noticed how negatively a society based on a patriarchal mindset judged her parents for only having daughters. “This situation is even more difficult for women of marginalised and underprivileged communities,” she says.
Prakriti says that she wanted to do something that would prosper as a business and also contribute to the socio-economic transformation of women. So, in 2014 she established Shakti Milan Nepal, a social business initiative to provide income generation opportunities and different types of support to disadvantaged women. Before founding the organisation, she operated a homestay business for seven months hosting foreign guests in her house.
Shakti Milan Nepal makes different types of upcycled bags from old rice sacks. They collect the sacks from waste collection centres then clean the sacks to make different styles of bags. The whole upcycling process is carried out at the organisation’s factory in Dhapasi.
Prakriti started the business with an initial investment of Rs 25,000 and with only one sewing machine and a worker. Today, Shakti Milan produces more than 25 types of products and many women are working with the company. Its products are mainly tote bags, backpacks, school bags, laptop bags, small pouches, pencil pouches, accessory bags, messenger and shopping bags. According to Prakriti, the bags can be customised as per the requirements of the customer.
Since its inception in 2014, Shakti Milan has been an export-oriented company. Europe, United States and Australia are its main export markets. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced Prakriti also to focus on the Nepali market. She has started selling school bags in different parts of the country. The bags are ordered by NGOs working for girls’ education. “We are also supporting rural girls through our match bag business. We produce match bags and provide one bag to a rural school girl for free after their match (bags) are sold abroad,” informs Prakriti.
According to her, producing bags from rice sacks was a new concept in Nepal when she started the company. “Seven years ago, people would not give much importance to initiatives like ours. But today, serious issues related to sustainability and climate change are increasingly being raised and the perspectives of people have changed towards our business,” she expresses.
Shakti Milan Nepal is entirely run by women. At present, there are only 12 to 13 women working regularly for the company as orders have been halted due to the pandemic. But there are other women working for the company from their homes as well. “So, we have around 25 women with us currently,” she informs.
There is a child care unit at the company’s workplace to help single mothers working with her. According to Prakriti, this has helped to increase the productivity of the women. “We have focused on empowering women who were rejected or cast out by their families and society. They have become financially independent and confident and have been able to buy land in their villages,” she says, adding, “Even though I have not been able to earn huge sums of money, this work has given me a sense of satisfaction in that I am contributing to a change in the lives of people.”
Acknowledging her efforts, the government awarded Prakriti with the National Youth Talent Award in 2020 in the entrepreneurship category. Similarly, she has also been appointed as an executive member of the Social Entrepreneurship Fund of the Social Welfare Council.
After the lockdown was imposed by the government in March 2020, she was forced to shut down the company temporarily as exports closed. Two months later, she decided to enter the domestic market.
She came up with the concept to produce school bags at that time. “It is just about how you look at things. You have to look into different alternatives and search for new doors of opportunities during such crises,” she says. Prakriti regrets not exploring the local market sooner. Even during the last year, which has been a tumultuous one for most businesses, Shakti Milan Nepal recorded a total sales transaction of Rs 9.7 million. According to Prakriti, this amount is surprisingly more than during the pre-Covid times when her company solely focused on exports.
As the mother of a daughter, Prakriti feels that her family is her main strength. “My family members have always been supportive of my decisions and I feel blessed to have them by my side,” she says.
She has learned a lot from her parents, especially from her mother, to become stronger and never cheat and hurt others. Likewise, her father used to donate all his social security grants to the school where he was the principal. “From my father, I have learned to support people in need and empower them,” she adds.
She believes that to become a successful entrepreneur, one must be adaptive, creative, and innovative and says that it is necessary not to follow the herd but listen to one’s inner self and find out what you enjoy doing.
Whenever she is free, she likes to read books, meditate, and listen to music. Prakriti loves spending time with her daughter and says that she gives importance to a set number of priorities and manages the time to balance the personal and professional sides of her life.
She is also a founding member of Access Nepal and is also a member of the Nepal-Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Currently, she is studying for a PhD at Tribhuvan University and plans to go abroad for further studies in order to know more about social entrepreneurship. She also has plans to expand her business by exporting products to more countries.