When you hear the stories of some people, you are simply impressed. Other times, you hear a story of someone doing something good and you are torn between being amazed and feeling guilty for not having done more.
Stephanie Woollard, a Rotarian from Melbourne Australia will receive the Rotary Responsible Business Award at the United Nations on Saturday, November 12, 2016.
A Rotary statement says, “In the last 10 years, Seven Women has trained and employed more than 1,000 disadvantaged women in Kathmandu and remote villages of Nepal and impacted 5,000 women through outreach programs.”
To better understand how this came about, I asked her how she got started.
“As a young girl touring the world like many of us do, I was leading groups of architects to Nepal, through a tour company called Duke of Edinburgh, when I came across seven disabled women operating in a tin shed in the backstreets of Kathmandu. I saw these women were living in dirt, poverty stricken and unable to make an income. I heard their stories of social isolation and struggle because of reasons they could not change and I felt their pain and suffering.”
You’re probably like me. After seeing this, I would have shaken my head and said, what a tragedy, before heading on my way. Stephanie did something else.
The then 22-year-old young woman says, “I had $200 and a week left in Nepal before flying home to Australia. It didn’t make sense to give them money then leave. I wanted to start something that would bring real and lasting change. We decided to us the initial money to pay for two Nepali trainers to train the women in skills so they could earn an income.”
From that simple “teach a woman to fish” beginning, the program has grown.
She says, “I began selling the products they had made to earn money to provide the basics for these women, which gave them a hand up initially.”
But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. She explains some of the challenges she’s faced along the way.
“The first main challenge was the language barrier and quality of the products the women were making. They were unskilled and illiterate which meant it was hard for them to measure products. So we created literacy classes for them to learn how to read, count and measure. This took time so things moved very slowly in the beginning and we were receiving cargo of unfinished products which made it difficult to get shop owners on board and earn the money we needed at the time.”
In these early stages she found demand on the wrong side of the business equation.
“There were also many women hearing about our activities in Nepal who wanted to come and learn and work for us,” Stephanie says, “but we had to focus on improving the quality, so we could get the orders, to create the demand to employ the amounts of women approaching us.”
It was neither fast nor easy.
“This took around three years to get right, because at the same time we were training the initial seven women in leadership and management roles so they could start a proper enterprise and manage all involved,” she said.
She says it took another three years to get things humming. Imagine the patience required to work at this for six years.
“After six years, once all our systems were in place, we really started to grow and expand. Because of the time it took, and because I wanted more than anything for us to be self sustaining, we did not take funding from anybody for the first six years.”
She says, “This approach allowed us to grow organically into a strong enterprise that had understanding and control over our operations and budgets and was not reliant on any funders for our survival. After the initial six years we had people interested in funding us, which was fantastic as we used this funding for new projects and expansion.”
Stephanie credits her partners, including Rotary, for her success.
“I owe our success to the many people who have supported us along the way, whether it was buying our products to support the enterprise growth, donors and funders, the many volunteers who have contributed with their skills to grow our vision and my fantastic family who have always been there,” she says.
She notes particularly the value of her relationship with Rotary. “Aligning with a global brand such as Rotary has also been a great support. Rotary is a great example of what can be achieved when like-minded people with different vocations come together to achieve a common goal.”
Other partners have helped in strategic ways as well. “Collaborating with different businesses such as Intrepid, the largest Tour operator in Nepal which makes up just under 40 percent of customers for our cooking school has been a great fit and our other referral partners in Nepal,” she says. “Wilderness Wear is another brand who gives us 10 percent of their online sales of adventure wear and Cooper Investors have been fantastic to us in funding our expansion projects.”
Choosing and developing a capable team on the ground in Nepal has also been critical, she says. “Lastly, none of this would be possible without our very courageous and resilient local team, which we have selected very carefully. They are incredibly dedicated to improving the situation of women in Nepal.”
Visit this YouTube channel to learn more.
On Saturday, November 12, 2016 at 12:30 Eastern, Stephanie will join me at Rotary to talk about her award and the tremendous success she’s had in changing lives in Nepal. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
Steph is a Melbourne born girl who has branched out internationally as a social entrepreneur. She has founded Seven Women, Hands On Development and The Kathmandu Cooking School, to change social stigmas she experiences towards disabled, single mothers, widows and women experiencing domestic violence. The vision for all three enterprises are to create a more compassionate, tolerant and inclusive world.
More about Seven Women:
Seven Women is a Social enterprise which trains and employes marginalized Nepalese women to manufacture fair trade products which are sold both locally and globally. The profits from the enterprise fund literacy, skills training and income generation programs in remote villages to socially and economically empower women.
More about Hands On Development:
Hands On Development is a tour company that brings people from around the world to Nepal on cultural immersions. Hands on Development Tours provide enriching life experiences for both tour participants and Nepali people. Hands On Development also leads Indigenous Cultural Tours to Australian communities.
More about The Kathmandu Cooking School:
The Kathmandu Cooking School and Training College, provides cooking classes for tourists to gain authentic local experiences which funds training of marginalized women in hospitality and culinary skills, making them attractive employers for local restaurant and hotel businesses.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!