Darshana Shrestha’s efforts offer further proof that dedication and hard work are far more important for success than something as arbitrary as gender.
Maya Angelou, the famed American writer and civil rights activist, once said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” The life of Darshana Shrestha, founder of Nature Nepal, a herbal products company, perfectly echoes Angelou’s statement.
Shrestha, who considers financial stability as an essential factor for women empowerment, is one of the exemplary female entrepreneurs of today who has found success in the male-dominated Nepali business domain.
During her school days, Shrestha’s classes would start with the moral science course, where students were taught to help others and contribute to society. She says, “I had a strong feeling that I had to do something for the society”.
That is why she decided to complete her higher education that was halted due to marriage and the birth of her child. Despite a two-year gap, she continued her studies and completed a Master’s in Sociology. Shrestha was so inclined to the field of women empowerment and entrepreneurship that she decided to complete her thesis on the topic. Interviewing seniors working in the field of women empowerment and entrepreneurship inspired her to become an entrepreneur.
After completing her postgraduate studies, she worked with an NGO where she had to visit rural areas. Those visits were also an eye opener for Shrestha where she saw how women were struggling financially. “Women there worked from early morning to late night, but they were not financially independent”, she reminiscences. “At that very moment, I realised that until women are financially independent, they cannot grow.” This experience added to her determination to work for them.
Moreover, her bitter experience with an American project added to her determination to start her own company. She said shat she was not given her three percent share that was promised to her. Realising that an outsider was misusing the workforce, she felt that she could provide that three percent (or even more) to Nepali women through her company.
“Though I could not help large numbers of women, I could help a few needy women from the company”, she states. Shrestha’s eagerness to work for people and society kept her moving forward.
Initially, her family members were a bit hesitant when she decided to start a company. They instead asked her to do a regular job, arguing that it will allow her to balance time between family and a career.
However, Shrestha opted for having her own business and started Nature Nepal Herbals in 2006 with just four products. Having an education background in botany, she was already aware of the therapeutic uses and benefits of medicinal herbs found in the country.
The products are handmade and organically produced, which include different varieties of herbal soaps, creams, body balms and lip balms. She had experimented with her products for two years. “The result was splendid. Now, we have a number of different products”, she proudly shares. Currently, there are five women employed in her company, while a few more are hired on a contract basis during orders.
As the company’s business grew, Shrestha also started exporting her products abroad. Currently, Nature Nepal exports products to various countries such as Hong Kong, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan and the USA.
Shrestha’s motive for starting the company was to contribute to the field of women empowerment, but she needed a platform whereby she could reach those women. “After starting the company, I faced a challenge in market recognition. That is why I joined the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal (FWEAN)”, she states. “Things that I could not have achieved alone, we were able to achieve as a team”, she adds.
Shrestha has been involved in FWEAN since 2012. Established in July 2003, FWEAN is a focal point for interaction, not only with the government but also various national and international organisations and stakeholders.
It aims to redefine the perspective of women entrepreneurship – from economic growth and poverty alleviation to the participation of women at all levels in socio-economic sectors.
Though Shrestha had joined the organisation to give back to other people and society, she says that she has gained more instead. Moreover, she has been able to develop networks, enhance exposure, and receive capacity building and different other trainings from the organisation. She has also been able to participate in exhibitions and sell her products through the organisation. “FWEAN consists of women entrepreneurs where they exchange their ideas. Learning is an everyday process there. I could use it develop my business which directly satisfies the family members as well”, she says highlighting the positive impact of being involved in the organisation.
Currently, Shrestha is the general secretary of FWEAN. “Access to finance and market is also a challenge that women entrepreneurs have to face”, she mentions. At a time where society used to undermine women who wished to start their own company, securing a loan was a tremendous challenge. She finds herself lucky to have been able to work in a reputed organisation and save substantial amounts of money before starting the company.
She used her savings to start Nature Nepal. “But, in general, access to finance is one of the major challenges that women entrepreneurs have to face”, she says. “Despite producing such beautiful products, Nepali women entrepreneurs have to stop at one point”, she says, “I think it’s due to lack of access to finance and access to market”.
According to Shrestha, her company being a SME has been facing a challenge in areas such as packaging. As raw materials are not produced in Nepal, they have to be imported from other countries. “While importing, we have to buy materials in high quantities which are later frozen in the store for quite a long time”, she says.
As a working mother, initially, there was difficulty in managing her time. “A women entrepreneur has to look after her family as well as her business. So, we have to struggle a bit more”, she expresses.
Shrestha believes obstacles arise in every step of life, but one should not stop or give up. For her, it has been the believing in oneself as the mantra of finding success. “Though I have not reached those heights, I am satisfied that I have been able to help some people”, she shares.
She says that compared to the initial days, there are more women-friendly policies that the government has introduced to support women entrepreneurs. Due to lack of information, they cannot grow.
“Realising that SMEs contribute a lot to the national economy, the government should create a platform for such SMEs to become better and more sustainable,” suggests Shrestha. She considers herself fortunate to have an understanding family and supportive husband who believe in what she does.
Till date, Nature Nepal does not operate any outlet, but its products are available in different handicraft stores in areas such as Kupondole and Thamel.
As people are attracted to natural products, she plans to open an outlet soon. Shrestha also aspires to expand her product line and bring Nepali natural beauty care products more into the spotlight. As an entrepreneur who is working for women empowerment, she also wishes to reach more women in rural areas.