Opportunity knocks when you least expect it. The massive earthquake of 2015 destroyed everything but it was also the starting point of an initiative, Tekka, that would change the lives of women from Sindhupalchowk!
Tekka is a platform that showcases the creativity and skills of women from Sindhupalchowk and works on financially uplifting them. Little did Shailaja Kasaju, the founder, know that this venture would allow her to chase her dream and passion of positively impacting the lives of women.
No doubt there is a long way to go, but we can say that Ms.Shailaja is on the right track based on our conversation with her a couple of weeks back. Moreover, Tekka is also a winning idea of EntrepreneuHER, a cohort by Clock b Business Innovation.
Read on to know more about Shaijala Kasaju and her wonderful venture Tekka.
How did Tekka start?
When working as a community development worker I was surprised to see how the lives of people differed from mine and how so many communities were deprived of the very basic facilities. My curiosity led me to Rotract and other volunteering organizations where I started to indulge myself in small projects.
My first big event was the Vaginal Monologue that happened in 2009. This particular event showed me another shocking reality of our society. Despite being rescued from sex trafficking, the women went back to what they used to do because our society does not accept them. So, that event raised funds for these women, we were able to support a lot of women in a small time span of 2 – 3 months. The impact I saw motivated me further to think about ways to impact even more lives.
I then moved-on to start an NGO. For funds, we organized various fundraising events. In one of those events I met a fellow from Teach for Nepal who encouraged me to join the organization. But only after a year of joining, the massive earthquake hit Nepal and I was in the epicenter. Being there was a turning point for me, I would say that particular experience made me think about sustainability as a whole. I started providing crocheting training and soon it became an integral part of many women’s lives there in Sindhupalchowk which made me establish Tekka, a platform that showcases the skills and creativity of these wonderful women.
Well that is such a great story! Also, the name Tekka is really unique. Is there a meaning behind the name?
Rather than meaning I would say the name signifies what our venture actually is, at core. Tekka in Nepali is something that provides support. After the earthquake, a lot of houses both in villages as well as inside the valley were supported using wooden or metal pieces which is referred to as Tekka. And this venture started as an initiative to support the women whose houses and hearts were broken, hence the name “Tekka”!
How and where did you start working?
We started our operation from Sangha Chowk in Sindhupalchowk with a group of 12 women. The major aim of our very first project was to provide the exposure to the women in the village. Some women were taught people skill whereas some even joined school to complete their education.
We started with 12 women, out of which one is a news journalist, one is a baker and some others are police officers. We now have around 15 people working in the community. They work from home and complete the orders whenever they have time.
What are the different products and services Tekka is offering?
On the product side, we have crocheted toys. We make baby toys and also make mascots for people. We also stitch baby clothes, maternity bags, cushions, mats, and many more. Moreover, we also work with natural fibers like corn husk, pine needles, bamboo, pashmina, cotton, banana which are used to make table mats, table runner, coaster, blinds and also be woven into textile to make bags, coat, purses, shawl, sweater, cap and many more. For all the manufacturing and production we have collaborated with Annapurna handicraft and Akanchaya Creation.
In terms of services, we provide skill development training opportunities for women from the office. We also provide the necessary support to women so that they can work in their field of passion.
Who are your allies in running the venture?
Currently, we are operating from Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Sindhupalchowk, and Nawalparasi. We have group leaders in each community who are the point of contact and coordination.
Inside the organization we have five people excluding me. Anamika Shrestha looks after the admin, accounts, and HR; Ragina Shakha is our marketing head. Then we have Digital Creative is headed by, Anmol Bajracharya our Graphic Designer, Pranay Shrestha and our Impact evaluation Manger Sristi Shrestha .
What are the major challenges running Tekka?
Firstly, maintaining product quality has certainly been one of the biggest challenges for us. To ensure our products are consistent we have hired two ladies in Kathmandu who quality check and finalizes our products.
Secondly, transportation is another challenge. We have to walk 2 to 3 hours in remote areas and get the products from there.
Lastly, not being accepted in the community is another challenge. Similarly it is also tough to retain both our customers as well as the women makers.
How do you manage the stock of your products since there is a huge lead time that goes on bringing the product to the market from remote places?
We communicate this with our customers beforehand which allows us to divide the massive orders among our 4 working sites. The leaders of each working site then work on mobilization and getting the orders ready on time. After the completion the leader sends the product by local transportation. Then the finishing team takes care of it.
And communicating this process and maintaining transparency with our customers has helped us manage the stocks.
Where can people find the products from Tekka?
We are selling the products via our Facebook, Instagram and website. We also sell it through different e-commerce platforms here in Nepal also through the pop-up stalls. In addition, I myself visit and pitch the products to different corporate companies and organizations as well.We also share our stories along with the stories of women working with us in our youtube channel Tekka go local.
How do you pay the women? Is it on a per piece basis?
Yes we pay them on a per-piece basis. We tried out the salary system initially for 2-3 months but with lack of funds it started becoming difficult financially and hence we moved to a piece-rate system.
How many women are currently associated with your enterprise from all 4 districts?
There are 50 women working directly with us. So far we have trained 300 plus women and children.
What are your future plans for Tekka?
The first thing is to start an e-commerce site of our own. We also have plans to focus more on banana fiber and expand the quality control unit. Also, the factory in Nawalparasi was shut down due to COVID, so we are planning to restart it again. Moreover, we will also expand our product line to food items, actually we have already started this. Currently, we have partnered with another enterprise and have been selling Lapsi candies made by women from Nawalpur in Sindhupalchowk.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
As handicraft is not a necessity product we faced a dropdown in sales during the pandemic. When I came back to Kathmandu I saw that a lot of women had lost their job because of lockdown. So, we started the food line where I trained local women to make flaxseed laddus. So, COVID was a learning experience for me. It taught me that there are always other doors of opportunities to explore.
Also a huge congratulations for winning EntreprenHER. Tell us about your experience.
Thanks a lot. It was a surreal experience. Winning EntrepreneHer was never my plan. I just took it as a learning opportunity and learnt a lot of tips and tricks about financing, networking and other technical knowledge. It has helped me systematize my enterprise. Now, I am using the cash prize to create an online store for Tekka.
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