Women Entrepreneurship, An Untapped Source Of Economic Growth

Pramila Acharya Rijal SAWDF President

Interview by Sai Nikesh D

Woman is key to any society. However, her true potential has been taking a backstep all across, because of various reasons, which could be social inequality, lack of freedom of expression and enough social support, among various others.

In quest of research for special coverage on women and success stories, Nepali Sansar came across the inspiring woman, successful entrepreneur and the current Founder President of South Asian Women Development Forum (SAWDF), Ms. Pramila Acharya Rijal.

In an exclusive interview with Nepali Sansar Bureau, the SAWDF President shared her views on wide range of topics pertaining to women & her participation in social development. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

1. NSB: Hearty congratulations on the recently-concluded International Women Entrepreneurs Summit 2018! How do you feel about the event and its outcome? Was it as expected?

Pramila Acharya: Thank you. The Summit outcome was more than our expectation. There was a strong representation of women entrepreneurs from different parts of Nepal. We had young potential women entrepreneurs from Kathmandu College of Management, Thames and Campion colleges. There was also a representation of international delegates from 27 countries, bringing together four regions- SAARC, ASEAN, Arab and African Regions, besides delegates from the US and the United Kingdom.

International Women Entrepreneurs Summit 2018

2. NSB: Seems, the Summit focused more on women participation for socio-economic development this time, apart from other issues the organization usually pitches for. A little more about that in your words?

Pramila Acharya: The core area of work of South Asian Women Development Forum (SAWDF) is working towards the economic issues of women entrepreneurs in the SAARC Region. The forum works on strategic alliances, coalitions and affiliations through capacity building, advocacy dialogue, and trade information. All our summits, workshops, conferences, round table meetings are focused on entrepreneurial programs. The main focus of our entrepreneurship programs has been on launching new tools and networks, which have enriched the entrepreneurial spectrum, adopting policies that support and promote women entrepreneurship.

International Women Entrepreneurs Summit Closing Ceremony 2018

3. NSB: In the light of changing societal trends, how do you see the role of women in social development, in general and South Asia in specific?

Pramila Acharya: The past few years has seen a lot of changes in our systems, people’s outlook and societal norms. These changes have helped in enhancing women’s roles in social development. A common belief is that the condition of women improves with social development. This is because social development makes women aware of their social rights and potential, so that they can be empowered and play their part in the economy. Today more than ever, women not only in Nepal, but also in South Asia, are becoming active participants and full protagonists of the development process. In general, advances in social development and gender equality place women in a better position than they have had in the past, to face the challenges ahead.  

4. NSB: How impactful has the SAWDF been in empowering and bringing in a societal transformation for the benefit of women in the region?

Pramila Acharya: The work of SAWDF is focused more on the economic empowerment of women. Through the experience and expertise of consortium of women-led institutions through SAWDF Chapters in South Asia, SAWDF has established a wide range of networks and better connectivity, which has lead to the initiation of the Women Entrepreneurs International Trade and Technology Hub (WITH) a milestone in boosting women entrepreneurship in Nepal and the other SAARC nations. The publication of a book “Reflections on Policies for Women Small and Medium Entrepreneurs: Status, Challenges and Opportunities in Hindu Kush Himalayas and in the SAARC Region” has given a clear insight into the status of women SMEs in the region.

One of the major challenges is the socio and cultural norms. Thus, the economic empowerment of women has made a strong impact in bringing about the societal transformation of women, building their self-confidence through self-reliance.

5. NSB: How do you see the security and welfare aspects of women in the current-day scenario? What sort of policy-level support do you think is the need of the hour to address gaps?

Pramila Acharya: One of the biggest challenges is the issue of violence against women, which is widespread. Women are still discriminated in terms of marriage, divorce, inheritance or child custody. Women’s experience of physical, sexual or emotional violence by spouse varies by ecological zone. Almost one-third of women in plain (32 per cent) report are experiencing spousal physical, sexual or emotional violence, compared to less than 20 per cent women in the hills and mountains.

However, several cases of domestic violence go unreported. The gap to address this challenge is not at the policy level but in the execution of the policies. So, to address this issue, it is very important to regulate laws to implement the policies. With equal rights and empowerment, women can be agent of change for socio-economic development.

6. NSB: What factors do you feel are hindering active women participation in the socio-economic development of a country/society?

Pramila Acharya: In the context of Nepal, men have been leaving their homes as migrant workers resulting in women getting burdened with the farm work as well as their domestic chores. Women entrepreneurs have low access to capital and credit facilities; they lack access to market information and linkages, to technologies and business networks.  The discriminatory socio- cultural norms and practices are the main obstacles in the way of women’s participation, as they deny women from many basic rights such as ownership of a property and restrain their mobility relegating their role to the household responsibilities. As long as the gender system and social structure in the society are not changed, women cannot be freed from discriminatory norms, practices and attitude and women cannot flourish as entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, many women have shown that they are capable of performing as well as men.

7. NSB: Entrepreneurship is one trending aspect echoing all the way. How do you see growth of women entrepreneurship and its potential in impacting business prospects of a country?

Pramila Acharya: Women entrepreneurs play an important role in the growth and development in the national as well as global level, as they can produce both wealth and happiness to their families, communities and country. The quickest way to change a country’s economy is by believing and investing in women-owned business.  In developing countries like Nepal, women entrepreneurship is an “untapped source” of economic growth.  More women are entering business by taking advantage of the resources and opportunities that are available by breaking glass ceilings. Thus, women’s entrepreneurship is not limited to entrepreneurship only but also linked to women’s position in society.

8. NSB: Gender disparity and violence are two key factors that have been haunting woman since centuries. How do you look at these aspects in the current-day world, where women are equally competent?

Pramila Acharya:  Nepal is predominantly a patriarchal society. There are high levels of gender disparity, and women lag behind men both socially and economically. Not only this, women have been the victims of household violence since centuries. The level of women entrepreneurship development is closely linked to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Even in cases where women do have their own business, it is found that they have to take the consent of their husband or other family members in making key business decisions.

However, the provision of 33% women’s representation in the Parliament has created an opportunity for influencing and formulating gender sensitive policies. It is clear that the Government of Nepal has its focus on enterprise growth led by women entrepreneurs.

9. NSB: As the past Chairperson of SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council, how do you see Nepal’s role as the head of SAWDF and as a fast-growing regional-level player?

Pramila Acharya: Women’s economic empowerment is an essential factor in cultivating economic growth and with this in mind, SAWDF recently organized an International Women Entrepreneurs Summit-2018 with the theme “Equality begins with Economic Empowerment.” The summit was attended by business leaders, experts and other stakeholders from over 27 countries. It was gratifying to see such a diverse group of people from various parts of the world come together to work towards a common goal. The three days summit convened to deliberate on a wide array of topics including, but not limited to IT, Tourism, e-trade, gender and trade. I am confident that this summit served as a platform for multiple partnerships with a consortium of international organizations to address the challenges associated with advancing and promoting gender egalitarian economies.

As a SAARC-recognized body, SAWDF has not only been advocating the importance of women’s inclusion and representation in economic issues and economic decision-making bodies, but also contributing in promoting active collaboration to accelerate the economic growth of women through entrepreneurship. As Nepal has the chairmanship of SAARC, Nepal has been influencing on strengthening cooperation among the countries of South Asia. With the SAARC Secretariat headquartered in Nepal, we have access to take forward the development issues to the SAARC Social Director.

10. NSB: What are the future goals of SAWDF in the regional development? Any target areas in specific? Any information on the next Summit?

Pramila Acharya: SAWDF plans in partnering with Tata Water Business Project for establishing social enterprises for women entrepreneurs, for safe drinking water at an affordable price. Like many South Asian countries, only 19% of the total population in Nepal have access to processed and safe drinking water. With the initiation of the Tata project in Nepal, women-run rural enterprises can be established as a self-sustainable model enterprise. Bhutan and Sri Lanka will be partnering on this project.

We also plan to set up a Biotechnology Industrial park for Nepalese women entrepreneurs with the collaboration of Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC), Bio-Technology Ministry of the Government of India, SAWDF and Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal (FWEAN). The park will house 100% women-owned and women-run businesses focusing on agriculture biotechnology, food processing using biotech interventions and shelf life extension of perishable food technology, to name a few.

11. NSB: Kudos to your statement at the Summit: “Insecurity comes when women are not self-reliant”! As a successful woman at a dignified position, what do you suggest to the fellow women?

Pramila Acharya: Success comes in many ways and forms. It is not what you do, but how you do makes the difference. Whatever we do, we have to strive for excellence. Nothing can be more rewarding than working hard to earn your own success. So, we must keep re-inventing our strength to discover the ability we all have within ourselves to succeed.

12. NSB: Last, but important! We feel pleasure in knowing a brief of your journey in different roles, right from being a woman individual to emerging into a social woman entrepreneur and holding high-level positions at the national and international level federations, chambers and institutions! A brief in your words?

Pramila Acharya: Paving the way for changes through empowerment of women is something I strongly believe in. It is this belief and passion that led me to commit and contribute in the economic issues of women.

Pramila Acharya Rijal Nepal

Throughout my life, I have always admired change-makers, who have stood up for the right cause at the right time.  I put my heart in everything I do and do not believe in shades of grey. I am constantly developing my capacity to create opportunities through the organizations I represent, for empowerment of women. 

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