The energy and enthusiasm was palpable as we walked into a room full of eager women entrepreneurs role-playing the everyday dynamic between business owners and their customers. While the room was loaded with fun and laughter during this exercise, its importance was not lost on any of the women who had come to the campus of Coca-Cola Bottlers Nepal Limited’s (BNL) 5by20 training, an initiative to empower 10,000 women business owners across Nepal by 2020. Even though these women are already a part of Kathmandu’s bustling community of urban shop owners, they had come because they realized there are more business skills to learn, hone, and improve. And, as women in micro-enterprise the more skills they learn, the more they can earn for their households in a country where men overwhelmingly dominate the private sector.
Last year, the United Nations ratified seventeen Global Goals for Sustainable Development, one of which is to achieve gender equality for women and girls by 2030. It is a tall order, to be sure. Unified efforts to provide women with improved economic opportunities, however, is a strong step to create an equal playing field where women can benefit from increased earning potential. In fact, according to UN Women, when more women work, economies grow. Additionally, entire households and communities improve when women own their own businesses as they invest more money in their children, especially their educations, and in their families as a whole. Unfortunately, though, as primary caregivers to their children, women business owners have lower earning potential than men because they must couple their paid work with unpaid work in the home.
Radha, a business owner who had already taken the four-hour 5by20 training by Bottlers Nepal Limited had to think creatively about maximizing her earning potential by rotating her money and improving her cash management. She says she now has a grocery store, stationery store, and will soon open a Xerox store as well.
Even though Kathmandu is a large city with over a million residents, the trainees learned the same business skills and will ultimately compete with one another for resources and customers. Even when thought through, however, the overwhelming sentiment in the room was that the women were all in it together and that raising all boats was more important than tearing one another down.
With a national unemployment rate hovering around 50 percent, Nepali women are opening their own businesses to supplement the family’s income or to provide the sole income when a husband may be out of work. During the 5by20 training, women who had come to share testimonials about their success since they had been trained recounted that their husbands now work with them in their shops and have begun delivering food to customers in a creative twist to provide more convenience for their customers. Out of 80,000 shop owners in Nepal, 40 percent are owned by women. Women traditionally work with their daughters in their shops, but now men are starting to also contribute to the success of their wives’ shops.
As a global business, Coca-Cola has committed themselves to empowering five million women in their supply chain by 2020 with skills training, financial education and initiatives, and mentoring. Thus far Nepal has contributed to reaching this global five million women milestone by training 3,050 trainees since 2013. This year, Nepal’s 5by20 STAR (Shopkeeper Training and Resources) program will train 1,200 women with 2,000 women in their sights for 2017. As aforementioned, Bottlers Nepal Limited will train 10,000 women shop owners in their supply chain across five development regions by 2020.
Sita, another shop owner who took the 5by20 training one year ago, said she learned to not take goods from just one seller. She learned during her training that she could get a better price and help her margins if she worked with multiple sellers. This change resulted in more traffic in her shop because she diversified her products. She ended by saying she was extremely happy about taking the training.
Women shop owners in Kathmandu have benefited from easy access to the 5by20 trainings after being recruited by Bottlers Nepal Limited sales team. Now, the team is moving to rural areas to provide training to women who may not be as sophisticated business wise as their urban counterparts who range from being illiterate to highly qualified. And, to reach more women, BNL will now train their sales team to conduct increased 5by20 training. Trainings cover everything from how to sell better to keeping their books to storing product properly.
“What I hope they take away are essential life skills,” said Puneet Varshney, Director of Bottlers Nepal Limited. “Most of the women are very smart. You just have to point them in the right direction. For a lot of the women, it’s a question of confidence.”
One tangible piece of the women’s newfound business confidence is the certificate of completion each receives as the end of their training. Many women proudly display their 5by20 accomplishment inside of their shop for all of their customers and everyone to see.
Full Disclosure: Coca-Cola paid all travel, accommodations, and expenses during my trip to Nepal.
Photos: Jennifer James