New Daraz MD seeks to make an impact in Nepal
Aanchal Kunwar sits in her office that has an overview of employees of Daraz busy at their desks. A meeting is in progress in a conference room next door.
In January, Kunwar became one of few women in leadership in Nepal’s corporate sector, heading the operations of Daraz, the company now owned by China’s Alibaba.
Kunwar was working for Amazon in Seattle when a recruiter reached out to her via LinkedIn to let her know that the Managing Director position was open at Daraz in Nepal.
“I felt like coming back to Nepal after gaining all the experience would be more impactful than whatever else I could be doing right now in the US,” she says.
Kunwar was born and raised in Kathmandu and spent her early childhood moving around the country because of her father’s job. She left for the US after high-school, graduated in maths and economics, and began to work for Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) while doing her MBA.
She then worked for Amazon for five and a half years, managing the company’s mass cosmetics business, working in global expansion -- helping launch the platform in countries like Sweden, Poland, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“Four years into that job is where I was starting to think --what do I want to do next in my life?” Kunwar recalls.
“There was a clear path in terms of just moving up the ladder in the corporate world. But something in me was telling me that wasn't enough, and that I needed not something more, but probably something different, something that I believed would be more fulfilling.”
Kunwar had been considering going into the non-profit sector when Covid hit. “With the pandemic, I thought I’ll just hold my thoughts for a little bit because there were a lot of other things to handle.”
When the Daraz opening in Nepal came up, she remembers thinking: “That would be cool.”
Daraz would be a perfect fit: she was Nepali, had similar approaches to running a business in terms of being socially and environmentally responsible, and a customer focus.
Kunwar’s entry into Daraz coincides with a dramatic growth in e-commerce in Nepal as Nepalis locked up at home during the pandemic began to explore online purchases.
“The pandemic has definitely helped push people towards e-commerce more,” Kunwar notes. “Prior to the pandemic it was probably just the younger generation but during the pandemic, even the older demographics understood the convenience and started buying things online.”
Kunwar is convinced the Nepali market is quick to adopt new technologies, and gives the example of the growth in e-payments. Even till last year, only 10% of Daraz business was through e-payments, now it is half.
Kunwar’s experience at Amazon has given her insight into how global markets operate, and the unique set of challenges that markets across the world present with legal restrictions, logistics, and tools.
Nepal’s challenges include lack of experience in e-commerce which means sellers need the right kind of training and education to be able to answer questions, so buyers have the information they need to make a judgement call, she says.
Read also: Nepal's budding e-commerce ecosystem, Sikuma Rai
Another challenge is that Nepal does not have a proper GPS mapping system, and deliveries still have to call people to figure out where exactly they are located.
“An unstable government adds to the challenges with banda announcements,” Kunwar says. “And during Covid, if there is a lockdown or odd-even rules, we have to navigate that and ensure proper delivery. These challenges are unique to Nepal, you wouldn’t see them in the US.”
She adds, “The companies I worked for in the US are very mature businesses, where processes are defined. Here in Nepal we still have a start-up culture. But we will probably be where Amazon is now in a number of years.”
Daraz currently operates in 47 cities across Nepal, and plans to expand to 80 this year. But Kunwar wants to take one step at a time, and have the logistics in place for growth.
“In the last two years, we have had to run before we could walk, but in order to keep growing, we just need to have processes in place,” she says. “We need our key account managers to focus more on strategy and then have execution be more on a lower level.”
This is dependent on improvements in connectivity, people being able to shop online, road infrastructure, and mapping systems.
As Daraz Nepal’s managing director, Kunwar joins a growing number of Nepali women taking the lead in the corporate world.
“My family raised me no differently than my brother,” she says. “So I’ve always questioned the status quo. I don't take 'This is just how things are’ as an answer.”
She admits that there have been instances since she joined Daraz where men in power have shut her down halfway through her introduction.
“It is something that I wish was different but it’s not,” she admits. “But I don't necessarily let that get to me as long as it is not preventing me from doing what I want to do for the business, and for the country.”
Kunwar says her driving force is putting in the hard work, and making her presence felt. Outside Daraz, Kunwar is passionate about education for under-served Nepalis and sponsors young students.
She wants to focus on mentorship because even when students have funding for education, they cannot dream bigger because they are stuck in their social milieu.
“I came back to make an impact for Nepal, it is broader than just Daraz,” says Kunwar. “Five years from now, I'm hoping to make some impact here, in addition to taking Daraz to new heights with the team.”
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