With an MBA in her hand, Prakriti Mainali jumped right into becoming a Social Entrepreneur with her initiative Shakti Milan. She says that in our society, men are expected to be breadwinners and earn money but women are just expected to stay home making pickles. What they do not realize is that these are products that could be sold in the market. Therefore, Ms. Mainali believes that indirectly and unknowingly women are producers and they can be entrepreneurs too.
1. What is the social problem that you are trying to solve or what social change do you see your product/service bringing in society?
The employees we have appointed are single mothers and victims of marginalization, neglect, sexual abuse, and trafficking. We seek women who are really in need and simultaneously motivated to bring a change in their life. We wanted this to be a revenue-generating business model. We had to earn to feed our team, to sustain, grow and to solve the social problems.
2. Tell me about your story behind starting the venture? When did it start?
I started Shakti Milan at the end of 2014, right after completing my MBA. I was always motivated to start my enterprise. After witnessing many circumstances that my uneducated mother faced while taking care of me and my two sisters, I started this venture. Empowering women economically was my objective.
Shakti Milan means the power of women coming together. All women have the power within themselves and to make them realize this, they just need to be ignited with proper guidance. We just facilitate, but it is they who bring a positive change to their lives. I believe that when powerful women come together, they become limitless.
3. What does Shakti Milan do?
We produce bags that are made out of used rice sacks. We use ‘Dhaka’ which is a traditional Nepali handwoven fabric, to make bags as well. Operations wise, we are a manufacturing company that has 25 different producers.
Shakti Milan has a vision of women empowerment and promoting women entrepreneurship. We provide a holistic platform that collaborates with many entrepreneurs from rural areas who find it difficult to sell their products.
Creating a platform that bridges the gap between producers and consumers is our goal. Shakti Milan is all about connecting, collaborating, creating impact and changing lives.
4. What is the legal status of your company? Who are the founders or partners of the company?
We are registered under Company Registrar as a private entity. However, in our Memorandum of understanding, we have written the objectives that separate us as a social enterprise. Ther are 4 founders of Shakti Milan; Me, my husband Gokul Subedi and a couple from Germany, Kirstin and Oliver Prothmann.
My husband has been in the human rights sector for more than a decade now. Previously, we used to run a homestay where the German couple once came to stay. We had a conversation about my notion and they were too interested in becoming partners. Additionally, we have an online service provider and our partners in the German market who sell our products in Germany.
5. How many people did you start with and what is your current staff strength?
We started with just 1 woman and a machine and now we have 23 women with 15 machines. So the initial capital was just around Rs. 25000. Shakti Milan was never a capital intensive company because we gradually increased our women and machines accordingly. Now, we have some advanced electronic machines for sewing.
6. What stage is the company in right now?
We’re in the growth stage. It’s a little challenging but now after having operated for 4 years, we have gone through various learning phases.
We now are in the process of constructing our building that will be completely women-centric with a childcare center for the children of the employees, that will be ready by April 2019 in Dhapasi.
7. What challenges did you face while starting the company and what are the challenges you are facing right now?
The level and magnitude of the challenges are always varying. When I started out, the challenges appeared huge. Working with women who are traumatized was the biggest challenge I faced. We only started with women who were in real need of skills and employment. Slowly and steadily, we overcame our challenges.
I learned everything theoretically and I had never worked anywhere else and had never received any exposure to a work environment. With no guidance from anyone, I had to organize everything by myself.
We underwent trial and error with our product rigorously to maintain quality standards. There are so many things to keep in mind ranging from the materials to be used to finding their vendors.
8. How much capital has been invested in the company to date? How many customers or clients do you incur? (on a monthly or yearly basis)
The investment until the date has been around 1 crore now, including the new building. We have sold approximately about 5000 bags per year.
9. What is the market potential of the industry your company is in? Has the company been able to make a profit and reach the breakeven point?
Nepal is full of potential but we are not able to deliver the demanded product quantity. There is a huge demand for products, but I never knew this before reading an article about it.
Once, a Brazilian cosmetics company wanted us to make 1,000,000 bags for them. Then I could not imagine taking the order, so I declined it. With the SDGs, people are more environmentally aware and are demanding more of the upcycled products. So, it may not be directly visible but there is solid market potential.
As we have reached the breakeven point, we can fund our new building project from our revenue.
11. What are the key needs of your company?
A proper computerized system in terms of operations and overall management to check our inventories and final products so we could be more transparent and measurable.
12. Do you consider yourself as a Social Entrepreneur?
I consider myself a social entrepreneur because we are working towards women empowerment. If you are doing something that is solving some social problems then you are a social entrepreneur.
Additionally, we have been reinvesting our profit for scholarships and also for reproductive health training, teaching girls to make reusable sanitary pads. While employing women, we are solving their problems too.
13. Do you measure the impact of your product/service? If not what are your thoughts about impact measurement?
I find this question to be debatable as the impact cannot be quantified at times. When working towards social problems, it is difficult to measure the impact. So, impact wise I do not go for the numbers because we are changing lives and that is sufficient. I believe in something more sustainable and impactful than just numbers.
Interviewed and article by Priyadarshani Shrestha.