Prakriti Mainali came to Kathmandu with her family as a child. She was the youngest of three sisters.
“Then I saw my mother sick and my father old,” says Mainali, adding that her father was already 51 when she was born. “Deep down, I always had the feeling that I was the one who took care of my life when I was a child.”
After graduating from school in Kathmandu, she decided to study commerce, taking into account the financial situation of her family. It would take a lot of money to study medicine or engineering. During her BBS degree, she realized that she should be an entrepreneur.
About 10 years later, today she has the life she dreamed of: an entrepreneur. With her business, she has also made efforts to empower women from disadvantaged communities to lead better lives, which she believes is a common endeavor of all people.
Empowering disadvantaged women
While studying, Mainali had no clear idea of what business to do. In a way, she wasn’t even confident that she could do business.
Shakti Milan workers sew bags. Photo: Shankar Giri
However, during her master’s degree, she realized that she had the privilege of dreaming of starting her own business. In addition, this realization raised another question: What about disadvantaged women who are deprived of educational and employment opportunities? What should you dream of?
These questions paved a clear path for their entrepreneurial pursuit. “These questions made me realize that I was doing business that would empower such women economically by creating job opportunities.”
According to her wish, which remained in her subconscious, she co-founded Shakti Milan Nepal in 2014 by investing 25,000 rupees in such a woman, a sewing machine and a product. She registered the company in 2016.
Mainali chose the name not only because “Shakti” means “power”. Its connotation in Hinduism is goddesses, while “Milan” is “together”. Hence, it means the power of women coming together, says Mainali.
“Shakti Milan is not only committed to the economic empowerment of women, but this company also has a different perspective: ecological sustainability. That is why we make various sacks from rice sacks, which are considered waste in Nepal. through upcycling. “
These upcycling bags are mainly exported to Germany. The company also sends them to the United States, Australia, Japan, and China. Shakti Milan’s products are also sold on the local market in collaboration with NGOs and companies.
The day care center in Shakti Milan. Photo: Shankar Giri
Shakti Milan currently employs around 20 people, all women from marginalized and disadvantaged groups. Mainali says: “We also have domestic workers because not every woman can come to the workplace and work. This does not necessarily mean that women should no longer have employment opportunities. “
Shakti Milan also has a daycare center. Mainali shares: “I am a mother myself. My whole family has to look after my child. But most of the women who work here are single women. They have no choice but to bring their children to work. That is why we have a daycare center. “
Challenges as an entrepreneur
A mother’s need for childcare facilities made it clear to Mainali that the path from women to entrepreneurship is fraught with challenges. On a personal level, however, she feels privileged because, as she says, she was not exposed to any restrictions from her family.
“I grew up in Kathmandu and had the opportunity to study. My family has always supported me and my entrepreneurial journey, “says Mainali.” But while I am saying this, I cannot represent every woman. There are still such women who find it very difficult to get out of their home and work. “
Shakti Milan products. Photo: Shankar Giri
Still, there are other major challenges. Although government policies are friendly to women entrepreneurs, especially credit and subsidy policies, the patriarchal social structure is an obstacle. “Working women are always under pressure to balance work and family, but this does not apply to men,” she explains.
According to Mainali, every woman’s challenges can be personal, and how she challenges those obstacles shows her potential.
However, according to Mainali, it crossed with many other challenges in the first few days of Shakti Milan.
She explains, “I did such a business that was completely new. So I didn’t have a clear idea of anything, be it quality or design. But little by little we have overcome these hurdles by learning through action. “
Shakti Milan started with just one travel bag and is now in its seventh year. The company has expanded its product range to 25 types including pencil cases, travel bags, school bags and handbags with annual sales of Rs 10 million.
Promote women’s entrepreneurship
There are challenges, but also opportunities, and, according to Mainali, women also have some comparative advantages over men.
Prakriti Mainali. Photo: Shankar Giri
“When it comes to skills, women are way ahead of men. For example, my mother knows how to make pickles and Dhaka clothes, and also has farming skills. But my father doesn’t have all of these skills, “she says.” I think women can be lifestyle entrepreneurs, especially in a country like ours. “
Therefore, Mainali, who also owns a bread and breakfast company, also promotes entrepreneurship by women outside and inside her company. So far, she has helped about 10 women from her company start their own business by providing sewing machines and technical support.
The Nepalese government recognized Mainali’s efforts and presented her with the National Youth Talent Award 2020 in the entrepreneurship category. She has also been named an executive member of the Social Entrepreneurship Fund of the Social Welfare Council, Department of Women, Children and Seniors.
In addition, she wants to “create more and more employment opportunities for women and inspire them to be entrepreneurs by sharing knowledge”.