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The Independent Gongal

December 5, 2014 , by Richa Pokhrel, 2 Comments
It is no doubt a tough ask for anyone in any part of the world to kick start a business. Starting a business relates to many facets of it – determining the target group, injecting money, marketing, spotting perfect location and potentially, hiring recruits. For women, the barriers are even bigger whether subtle or blatant. Usha Gongal, founder of Young WoW Craft, a small organization specializing in artisan craft, tells a success story of a businesswoman who broke all those barriers. Over the years, a law and women's studies student Gongal has not only become an entrepreneur but also a women rights activist.


 

Gongal’s journey of life that was to transform into a successful business story one day began with a bitter revelation that came through experience. While studying the newly established Women’s Studies at the Tribhuvan University in the late 1990s, Gongal won herself a one-year Post graduate Diploma scholarship in Hannover, Germany. The big company of people from over 95 countries in Hannover gave her an opportunity to learn everyone’s stories. It was the time she realised that no matter where you come from, from a rich or a poor country, women face similar issues across the globe.

After her return from Germany, Gongal was appointed the General Manager at the WEAN Multipurpose Cooperative. Since 1992 WEAN co-op has been supporting women entrepreneurs lending training, setting up marketing plans and exporting products.

 
It is owned and run by women of various backgrounds who are passionate about women’s economic empowerment. The cooperative accounts for marketing and exporting traditional Nepali products like pickles, candles, wool items or beaded jewelleries. During her successful tenure at WEAN, Gongal succeeded in bringing in profit, first time since its inception. She also travelled to various conferences relating to women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship.
 

In the early 2000s, Gongal thought of starting a business. Making money was not her sole purpose. For her, doing business was an attempt to make other women independent. The turn of events led her to a meeting with a representative from Nepali Bazaar who was looking for a woman entrepreneur to start a business – the famous Japanese cloth shifu was now about to be made in Nepal.

Shifu, woven cloth in Japanese, is a material made out of paper threads. It’s a lengthy traditional technique that goes through several steps before taking a final shape.

This is a simplified version of the steps involved:

1. Get bark from tree

2. Clean, pound, and make bark into paste like consistency

3. Turn paste into paper sheet by using bamboo mesh screen

4 Cut paper into thin strips and twist into yarn

5. Use yarn for final products including clothes

 
 
It took Gongal one year to learn the process. Instead of using traditional Japanese trees, Young WoW uses bark from the “lokta” tree, native to Nepal. Lokta – a material used to produce Nepali hand-made paper – trees grow at an elevation of 6,000 to 9,000 feet. Young WoW Craft makes both paper and clothes. Shifu made in Nepal is mainly exported to Japan, Korea, and Italy.

Gongal had a small company when three staff members worked from her living room. As time elapsed, the number has soared to 24 with 40 more involved in the production. Her success has not come overnight but is rather a result of hard work, patience, perseveration and her decision to go with her heart. As a person whose journey begins from the root to the top, Gongal is modest in her advice to upcoming woman entrepreneurs: “Don’t give up easily. Things don’t always turn out like you hoped and success doesn’t come overnight.”

 
 
Throughout the years, she has been recognized and awarded for her feats. However, she is prudent when she talks about the achievements. Her main goal has always been to open doors for others, leaving herself with little to take. She puts a chunk of money that she earns into her business, mostly for her employees.
 
 
Married at 19, Gongal had two kids soon after. With multiple responsibilities to perform, she should be lauded to get education and pursue her dreams. To thank for, she has a perfect family where males valued education more than anything else. In a Nepalese society where men walk away with almost all privligeges, it’s hard for women to start their own business because of the lack of access to loans from banks, land, and parent’s property. Even if there was money and other assets, male figures in one’s life may still influence how the business runs.

But Gongal has been an exception. She has built a mini empire that has not been influenced by any outsider.

 
She believes that things are getting better for women entrepreneurs as time goes on, in some ways it is much easier to start a business now than it was in the 1990s. Apart from providing employment and training to women, she also gives scholarships to her workers’ children so that they can continue their education. She also has an interest-free loan system where employees purchasing homes or a piece of land have a chance to own something.
 

While Gongal was setting up her business, she worked as a freelance Gender Specialist to the Nepalese government. The role allowed her to go out to the rural areas across the country and work on projects related to women. She has a different approach in empowering women. “We have to motivate the men who support women’s empowerment. Men need to support women so that they have freedom, mobility and free time from household chores,” she said.

Gongal currently lives in the United States, close to her two sons. She travels back to Nepal every year to be connected to her business. Even here in the US, she is actively involved in a non profit organisation that provides free baking training to low income residents who have barriers to employment. She is constantly thinking of ways to connect Nepali women who live here, finding a way for women to be active and independent.

 
 
An independent woman who wants her women employees to replicate her, Gongal is a tale that ensures happy endings for many. Her ceaseless dedication towards work and the ambitions to empower women will inspire many other women entrepreneurs to follow her footsteps. DREAMS thanks Gongal for her unprecedented achievements and works expecting more from her.

Words by Richa Pokhrel.

 
 

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Categorised in: People, Technology

2 comments on “The Independent Gongal

  1. Richa P says:

    She is an amazing lady!

  2. S Gongal says:

    One great person with lot of energy! She is very religious too and fulfills all her responsibilities as a mother, wife, business entreprneur, and more….

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