--By Akhilesh Tripathi
Patience is one of the core virtues of Bhawani Rana, the current senior vice-president of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI). If impatience had gotten the better of her, she could have ascended the FNCCI throne this year itself, as many business stalwarts at the time believed. But, in her own words, she thought it right to show patience - also for the sake of FNCCI unity – and stepped aside for Pashupati Murarka, the current FNCCI president.
“I have patience. So, I can wait till the term of the current FNCCI President ends,” Rana says, “Pashupati ji had become the acting president following the arrest of Pradeep Jung Pandey. It was also time to make efforts for an unprecedented unity in FNCCI. So we supported him.”
In the male-dominated world of Nepal’s business politics, she stands out as a high-achieving, successful business woman, though from a privileged background. But she has dug her teeth in, into the business community to end up second inline to the FNCCI throne.
Rana joined FNCCI more than a decade ago as a nominated member. Back then, women used to be nominated only. Later, she became the first elected female FNCCI executive committee member.
“What I believe is when you hold a particular position, you have to do justice to that position,” recalls Rana, “I tried to do the same as a nominated member. That’s why, perhaps, I got the highest votes among all members when I stood in the FNCCI election.” She points out that all her voters were men.
According to Rana, there are merits and demerits of competing with men for high posts. “Nobody will support you just because you are a woman; you have to show your calibre.” She prides herself in the fact that when she is introduced to people, she gets compliments like ‘don’t take her just as a woman; she can do more than a man’.
When she filed her candidacy for the vice-president of FNCCI, some people, she recalls, tried to discourage her. “Standing in elections for FNCCI vice-president means campaigning during nights as well. There will be a financial burden too. How are you going to do that as a woman?” asked such people. But Rana was undeterred. She had her family behind her and so she ran the election and won it.
During her early days at FNCCI, Rana would feel a bit awkward as she would be the only woman in a group of men. But now she feels like a part of the group and doesn’t look at the gender difference. “In the early days, I would invite my friends for company as there would be no other woman in FNCCI gatherings and parties. Now I travel with men even if I am the only lady in the group. My confidence level has gone up,” she says, “Positive thinking is the mantra that has helped me to be successful in life.”
Her career in business began soon after she returned from studying IT at Isabella Thoburn College in India when she started a garment factory with her sister. Called Award Garments the business received orders from as far afield as America. She points out that she has seen and been through all the phases in the business industry. “My experience ranges from the grassroots level to the policy level,” she says.
Then came SAATHI. As one of the NGO’s founders, she realised right from the start that no matter how many rights women won, the ultimate empowerment was economic empowerment. And this is reflected in the fact that she has worked for almost twenty years for women empowerment at the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal (FWEAN) and, of course, SAATHI.
Closer to home, she also worked with her husband in the tourism and Agro sector, where she kept on adding to his business moving it forward.
Currently, with the help of her team she runs two successful hotels – one in Nepalgunj and the other in Bardiya.
She mentions that family support has been very instrumental in her success as a woman entrepreneur. “Unless you get support from your family, you can never go ahead. Before marriage, I had very good parents and I was married to a family which supported me.”
A sense of independence was instilled in her at an early age. Even today, one of her strongest sources of inspiration has been her mother who encouraged her sense of independence. “My mother used to say ‘as a woman you should learn everything’.”
And she did.
Swimming (back when pools were a rare sight), learning to shoot, horse riding, hunting and playing the sitar were just some of the skills she learned, while attending school at St. Mary’s School in Kathmandu, one of Nepal’s top girls schools back then.
Her family clearly worked as one big stepping stone in her early life. Her father, being an anchaladheesh (zonal commissioner) back in the 1980s, insured that she got the environment that many others did not get. This is clearly revealed in the way she talks and carries herself.
And her observations about her father show that he was another big influence in shaping her future identity. “I got to travel to a lot of districts with my father. I would watch him make public speeches and I was pretty much inspired by that.”
Such exposures fuelled her desire to become a leader. Becoming a leader became a childhood dream. “If I wasn’t in the business sector, I would have joined politics," she says.
She admits that she is a very spiritual person. She begins her day with morning prayers. She gives a lot of credit for her success to spirituality. As to hobbies, she likes to read a lot of auto-biographies and spiritual books and enjoys Kathak dancing and belly dancing.
At the end of a long business day, positivity is something Bhawani seems to strongly espouse and with a great degree of self-belief. For a woman at the top of her career in business it is always wise to believe in affirmative action. “As I said, I am a very positive person. I always think that maybe there is something better for you. You may face failures in life but you must think that there is something better in life. And I convey this message to others as well.