The courtyard at Baber Mahal Revisited looked and felt like a thriving bazar last week where 60 enterprises from across Nepal gathered to showcase their products, services, and innovative ideas. Organised by ChangeFusion Nepal, the three day long Social Entrepreneurship Bazar aims to help aspiring social entrepreneurs expand their ventures by bringing together potential investors and customers under the same roof. The event was also a curtain raiser for Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award 2012 which will take place in December.
If the teeming courtyard was anything to go by, the bazar definitely provided the entrepreneurs with a much needed kick start. Nepali Times brings you two innovative businesses showcased last week.
Feeling is believing
Amidst Thamel's labyrinth of alleys, a modest white building tucked in a corner without flashy signboards or thumping loud music is easy to miss. For the past two years this building has been home to Seeing Hands Kathmandu, a massage clinic run by the visually impaired. Started by Chiranjivi Poudel who was born blind, the clinic provides remedial massage therapies and the business has picked up steadily as news of its excellent service spread by word of mouth.
Poudel who is from Kapilbastu is one of the first blind people to become a certified masseur. He received training through a UK-based charity called Seeing Hands Nepal. He was determined to empower other visually impaired Nepalis and make them socially and financially independent. So after working at the Pokhara branch of Seeing Hands for a few years, he opened Seeing Hands Kathmandu in 2010. The clinic currently employs three visually impaired people and has trained three as massage therapists.
Seeing Hands Kathmandu has a devout clientele, mostly trekkers who come to relax and relieve their pain after long trips and the guest book reflects the appreciation for its commitment to improving the lives of the visually impaired. Profit from the clinic goes directly to the funds used to train masseuses. Poudel is proud that his enterprise has become self-reliant within a short time, but he admits that it's hard to expand his business with limited resources.
"People come looking for us, but we don't have the resources or finances to expand our services to cater to our growing clientele," he says. He hopes that as massaging and physiotherapy culture becomes more popular among Nepalis, he won't have to rely exclusively on seasonal tourists and can generate revenue throughout the year.
Despite being lumped together with Thamel's 'infamous' massage parlours, Poudel and his employees are determined to let their work speak for them and not the location or their disability.
Business for a cause, ANNE RENZENBRINK
Nepali social entrepreneurs are on the rise, but they could do with more support
The Village Cafe
Hira Devi Shrestha, 43, had been working as a knitter for over three decades. But as age caught up, her eyesight became poor and she was afraid she would lose her job and end up being unemployed. Today Shrestha works as a chef and supervisor at the Village Cafe where her signature lunch is a weekly special and a favourite among patrons.
"When my eyesight became poor, I could no longer knit and needed to find another job. Friends told me about a training program organised by Sabah and that's how I got into the restaurant business," recalls Shrestha.
Started by Sabah Nepal (SAARC Business Association of Home Based Workers), the Village Cafe incorporates women empowerment with indigenous knowledge and taste buds. Sabah trains those women who would otherwise be completely dependent on their husbands or fathers in household skills, helps them overcome personal and social obstacles and provides a source of income. Currently the Cafe employs 28 women both as cooks and administrators most of who come from the villages of Bungmati and Khokana.
The Village is open seven days a week and features six different lunch menus by six chefs for every business day of the week besides the staple Newari cuisine. In addition to the dining service at Pulchok, the restaurant also provides catering services, home and office deliveries, and also keeps stalls at festival events.
In addition to providing food at affordable prices, the Village Cafe is promoting Nepali cuisine and is helping women become bread earners in their families.
Loop by loop
Sabita Maharjan is transforming the lives of local women one knitted item at a time