Friday, September 26, 2008


Lots has been going on here at CSU and at Dhaka Weaves. Stacey and I are extremely busy with school and work, but we have managed to have a couple of sales, thanks to all who have shown their additional support! We have almost broke even, which means we will start putting the money aside so we can send it back to Dhaka Weaves.

I have been in touch with Mohini quite a bit lately and just recently heard from Rita. The good news is that Dhaka Weaves is still in business! I have connected them with a woman who is going to Nepal and is interested in buying their products for a group called, Empower Dalit Women of Nepal (EDWON).

Apparently the organization works with so-called 'untouchable' women in rural areas. Through self-help groups, microfinance activity and education, EDWON seeks to empowers women economically and socially. It seems like a really neat organization. Where Dhaka Weaves comes in, is that EDWON raises money here, in the US, through private donations and through selling crafts from Nepal. The women they work with directly make only a few products. So they are looking for other women’s groups who make products that will sell and that they can support. Dhaka Weaves is a really great fit and this relationship could be very beneficial for both groups.

The situation in Nepal has not gotten any better, in fact it has gotten a little worse. From what I understand the minimum wage has increased 40% and the weavers are demanding that they get salary based on that number. It seems fair, but without orders and without a manager, where is this money going to come from? Mohini mentioned that most groups like Dhaka Weaves will have to close down because of these outrageous demands. Rita and Mohini both have hope that Dhaka Weaves will make it through, by raising the cost of the product they will make some additional profit. I was speaking with a friend today and she brought up a great point, hope is not a strategy! Hope is needed and it is a great thing to have, but hope and faith alone cannot run a company.

I found out earlier this week that Rita's son has thyroid cancer, this news is very tragic. Please keep your thoughts with him! Pritiva had her baby on September 2nd and both mother and son are doing great.

In class we have been discussing funding and that how one chooses to fund their organization will place a shadow over it. In the case of Dhaka Weaves changing to a not-for-profit might have been one of the biggest mistakes made. Now no one is taking direct responsibility and this might be because no one is making money from it anymore. I know the board members all care tremendously about Dhaka Weaves and the women that work there, but it takes more than this. They are all so busy with their other companies that Dhaka Weaves is left to run on its own. I believe the emotional attachment is what has kept it alive. I too am emotionally attached to the organization, but what to do from here while I am in school? The question is how can we turn emotional attachment and hope into action that makes a difference? I would love to go back and help get momentum going, like my friend said, just help get them to the top of the hill. From there, they will be able to take off rolling!

I guess these are the only thoughts and updates I have for now. I hope to be able to tell you more soon. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please let me know.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Now??

It has been almost three weeks since returning from Nepal and the time has really gone too quickly! Catching up with friends and family has taken the majority of the time, but Stacey and I continue to do follow up work for Dhaka Weaves. We started school last Monday, now we are really crammed with readings, projects, work and life!

Stacey and I bought several Dhaka Weaves products while we were in Nepal and brought them back with us to Fort Collins, CO. We have three goals: 1- to see what the consumer response is 2- to promote the product to small companies that we believe will want to sell it and 3- to make a profit that we will send back to Dhaka Weaves, which will then be used to educate the weavers in basic health, hygiene and investment education.

So far the customer response to the textiles has been awesome, people just love it! This is a great thing because it means that there is market opportunity. The challenge we face is, is Dhaka Weaves ready to have international buyers? Unfortunately, at this point the answer to that question is no. With no manager and no marketer Dhaka Weaves does not have the capacity to make partnerships without a middleman. Currently, we are the middlemen and our communication has been cut off! With Rita out of town (we think because her email is full), Pritiva (Rita's daughter) without email and having a baby soon, and no Internet access at Dhaka Weaves, we have not been able to communicate with them. Stacey tried to call Ratna the other day, but access is not easy and he was unable to get through. If just trying to talk is this complicated, what does that mean for business? We have to move slowly, think strategically and learn along the way. It is going to be very complicated, but it is possible!

We have not had the time to promote the products to other small companies, but with the help of Carolyn Fineran we hope to have a showing in Denver soon. The sooner we get this stuff done the better because, although we only have three classes, the work load is very time consuming and we have to complete a thesis on top of that.

We are selling the products we brought back very quickly and still working on making our money back. The good news is that if we continue to sell at the rate we are selling, we will have our investment back and make some money to send back to Dhaka Weaves. Before leaving Nepal we discussed this possibility with the board. We wanted to know where the money would go if we were able to send some back. Because of the situation with the weavers union, they thought that it would be best to spend the money to directly benefit the weavers, we agreed.

Last weekend we set up a table at the Cupboard and were very successful! We will continue to set up tables to sell whenever and wherever we get the opportunity. While at the Cupboard we had several valuable conversations that gave us insight into what customers think about the product. Customers also gave us ideas on where and how to continue selling Dhaka Weaves. From now on I will let you know where we will be when we plan to sell!

Throughout the semester we will continue to do follow up work for Dhaka Weaves. We will write a case study, documenting the history and evolution of Dhaka Weaves and promote the product. Again, this has been and continues to be a very valuable learning experience! We are both very thankful that we have this opportunity to learn and grow and thank you for joining us.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Leaving Nepal

Sorry it has been so long since we have informed you all of our activities. We have been so busy the last few weeks tying up loose ends and trying to get everything completed. We really need more time to accomplish all of our goals, so we will continue to work with Dhaka Weaves over the next couple of months.

We were able to help Ratna and Bindue get started on creating a coding system and documentation of their product designs. We were also able to turn in the application for Dhaka Weaves to become a member of Fair trade Group Nepal (FTGN). It will really be a monumental accomplishment when Dhaka Weaves is accepted. When FTGN was established in 1996 there were 17 founding members, to this day there are still 17 members. No other organization has been accepted, although I don't know if any have applied. Ideally Dhaka Weaves will break the club and, hopefully encourage other organizations to apply for membership. Expanding FTGN so it will have a greater impact across the country.

In Nepal, it seems that the smaller groups really struggle to get noticed, most of the FTGN organizations are huge NGO's that employ several hundred workers. Some have producer groups out in the villages where the producers do their work at home, this decreased the overhead and enables the organization to lower their costs, sell the item for a lower price and still pay a fair wage. Smaller organizations with more overhead costs, less employs and lower production struggle to keep their prices low enough for big buyers of Fair Trade. It is a situation that needs to be addressed, but the question is where to begin?

Yesterday we had a goodbye lunch with Mohini and Shyam Badan, the other two board members. It was spectacular! They are both such vibrant ladies with energy, intellect and motivation. Whenever we meet I always feel inspired and honored to have had the opportunity to work with them. Unfortunately Rita had to leave town last Monday for Delhi. Her son got very sick and it was critical for her to be with him. He is getting better, slowly, and hopefully she will be able to bring him back to Nepal with her in a weeks time. It was unfortunate that we didn't' get to say goodbye personally, but totally understandable and I am sure we will continue working with her and see her again sometime in the future. We did get to see her daughter, Pritiva, who has been a tremendous help! She worked with Dhaka Weaves as the manager and designer for 10 years, until 2000 when she got married and moved to India. She just happened to be in Kathmandu for our entire stay because she is pregnant and wants to give birth in Kathmandu, near her family and friends.

Now Stacey and I are in the Hong Kong airport gawking at the speed of the Internet and the cleanliness of the building and the bathrooms! In Kathmandu there are about 50 public toilets for a population of over 3 million people! I used one once, and never again! I is amazing how your perception of clean changes depending on where you are, where you are going and where you came from.

I am looking forward to getting back, but sad to have left. We met such great people! Most Nepalis hospitality is astonishing, they are so welcoming and friendly, making me feel completely at home. The general attitude in Nepal is to 'wait and see,' now I think that this causes several problems and so do many Nepali's, but again, what to do? When there is no government to establish and implement rules and regulations, how does one get heard and who is supposed to hear it? So, I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens...

Thanks again for all of your support. We have had a very successful and great learning experience and hope to be able to share more with all of you when we get back. We plan to keep this blog up and running while we work with Dhaka Weaves and continue with our progress.

Take care...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Complete Chaos!

Things have been a bit crazy here in Kathmandu. One thing I have learned is how flexible, dedicated and resilient one must be to get anything done!

The election was in April and the president and vice president just recently elected. I can't explain what I don't fully understand, but the state of the government, or non-existing government, really effects business. When laws are always changing, which one is right? When leaders work for themselves, where does that leave the people?

There are several student unions that have been causing chaos around town for several different reasons since we have been here. The protesting used to be over the cost of the bus and taxi fares, they wanted a 50% discount!

The strike today was caused because the Vice President was sworn in in Hindi, the national language of India, not Nepal. Because the infrastructure is so basic a simple chain of men holding hands blocking traffic from all directions can cause terrible trouble, people not getting to work, not able to make money and children piled in buses not able to learn.

It is a sad state, to think that the only way people believe they can be heard is through blocking the roads and causing destruction. Just think how great this country would be if all these efforts were used in constructive ways to build the economy!

Stacey and I are dealing with it as it comes, just like the rest of the people here. We had to cancel a meeting today because of the road blocks and burning of tires. Luckily, not many people have been physically injured and we should be able to reschedule the meeting. Hopefully things will settle down so people can get back to some normalcy.

I guess only time will tell, and I am very sad to say that our time is almost running out!

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Rest of the Story...Almost!

I left off telling you that we had decided to give the organization a try. It was fabulous! We had a wonderful trekking experience, hiked through the misty forests, gawked at the beautiful waterfalls, and struggled to keep ourselves free of leaches! Because it is the monsoon and the off-season, it was cloudy and cool for most of the adventure. The last morning we woke up early to the astonishing site of the Annapurna Mountain Range. This view only lasted a few minutes, until the clouds came in, but still, nothing better than a beautiful view while drinking a cup of warm tea in the mountains.

Our porter was an 18 year old girl from the northwest mountain area. She was looking forward to becoming a guide, but knew she needed to work her way up to that job and develop her English skills. She was living in the dorms provided by the company and taking English and computer classes, also provided by Three Sisters. I have to be honest, at first I felt horrible having this young girl carrying my sleeping bag and change of clothes. But as we continued our trek, I realized how much harder life would have been for her if she had not left her village or ended up with the wrong employers.

Women are put to work when they can carry a baby or mop the floor which ever comes first. They are often looked at as free labor and violent actions against women happen quite often. Lately, many girls will come to Pokhara or Kathmandu looking for jobs, they end up in the dance bars or the brothels. Even worse, some are kidnapped from the hills at a very young age and taken into India, part of the sex trade.

Three Sister’s Adventure trekking provides training and job opportunities that are fair and, now, respectable. If the girl doesn’t want to become a guide or porter, she can still take the training and use the skills learned to pass tests or for other job interviews. It is a really great organization and I highly recommend that if you ever go trekking, you contact Three Sister’s Trekking Adventures.

Now we are back in Kathmandu and realizing that we only have three weeks left! We have plenty to do before we leave and plenty to do once we return home. Rita is out of town at the moment, but we will meet with her, Ratna, Pritiva and Bindu sometime next week. This meeting is to help set up some coding systems and other systems that will be simple enough to understand and establish quickly, but good enough to work. Really, this information needs to come from them, Stacey and I are acting as support and giving recommendations. The final actions will be made and decided by the management team and the Board Members.

We are trying to close up loose ends and make sure that we have met with everyone that we need to while we are here. This has proved to be difficult because no one seems to have anyones current contact information. Most of the founding members of Dhaka Weaves have changed their phone numbers. I guess it is all about finding the right people to do the research. Pritiva is working on this for us, she said her sister knows someone who is related to someone, who just might have a few of the phone numbers. Time will tell.

Everyday we are learning, or at least trying to learn, more about Fair Trade and how it affects the producers. It is such a new movement here and it seems that everyone is still trying to understand it, especially us! We will continue to send out questionnaires via email and make appointments whenever possible, every conversation leads to something new! This work is still very exciting and challenging, and I think we are coming along quite nicely!

Please, we are open to comments and suggestions, or even just reactions! At this point, we are not even sure if anyone is reading or enjoying our experiences! If you don't feel comfortable posting to the blog, please feel free to contact me or Stacey directly! Our information is on the blog page. Thanks you...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Women of Nepal

I once read the quote, “to be born a daughter in Nepal is ill fate,” I was surprised, but not shocked. Knowing that women have been exploited and mistreated everywhere in the world, it only makes sense that it would be happening here as well.

Stacey and I have been given the opportunity to work with and meet some of the strongest women I have ever known or read about. They take action to improve the lives of women everywhere. These extraordinary women find bottom up solutions to support women in gaining strength and voice. This is done through the creation of job opportunity, an economic advantage and, ideally leads to an education and an improved livelihood for the women and their families.

Rita Thapa, Mohini Lama and Shyam Badan Shrestha are the three women that sit on the board of Dhaka Weaves, each run their own enterprise concurrently, their enterprises train and employ women. The Board members come from diverse backgrounds and have their own strategies, but their goal is the same; to empower women economically and politically in a country where the idea of gender equality isn’t so hip. They had, and still have, to face struggles because they are challenging social norms and ‘blowing the whistle’ on thousands of years of ill treatment.

Last week, Stacey and I took a trip to Pokhara, a beautiful city near the Annapurna mountain range. We went there for several reasons: 1. To get out of the city for a while, 2. To interview the Executive Director of a fair trade organization, Women’s Skill Development Project, Mrs. Ramkali Khadka 3. To meet Ashoka Fellow and the Program Director of Empowering Women of Nepal, Lucky K. Chhetri and 4. Maybe we would go trekking for a couple of days.

Mrs. Ramkali Khadka is a strong and independent woman, a little harder for me to follow than some of the other interviewees; still it was fascinating listening to her story and explanation of the creation of the Women’s Skill Development Project. This project was registered in 1975 and is now a not-for-profit, non-governmental-organization that is completely self-sufficient. They provide handicraft related skills training to poor, underprivileged Nepalese women so they can become self-reliant. Currently they are working with 280 women in 7 different areas, and about 80 employees work in the Pokhara compound, all women.

The business model is very interesting because much of the power lies in the hands of the producers. The producer groups decide their wages through a committee, much like the previously discussed, Kala Raksha. They produce 600 different products that are kept track of through computer systems. Women’s Skill Development Project also has many of the systems in place that we are supporting Dhaka Weaves in creating. The systems might take a while to get established, but we are planting the seed and helping Ratna and Bhindu understand why these systems are needed.

What I found most fascinating and relevant about our meeting is that Ramkali stated their orders went up dramatically after receiving the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) certification and that IFAT membership fees are based on sales. IFAT is currently the highest level of membership in fair trade, leading to international networks of buyers and sellers. This reinforced the importance of fair trade certifications for Dhaka Weaves. We are working on the papers for a Fair Trade Group Nepal (FTGN) certification and don’t plan on stopping with that. IFAT is a membership that Dhaka Weaves can use to expand into broader markets. (To find out more about this project: ).

The next inspirational women that we met was Lucky K. Chhetri, this was truly an honor. Several years back, in 1993, Lucky and her two sisters opened a lodge and restaurant in Pokhara, where mainly trekkers would gather before and after their journeys. After a while, the sisters began hearing more and more women complain about having problems with their all male guides. Lucky took this challenge and used it as an opportunity. She had had some experience with mountaineering in Darjeeling and knew how strong the village women in the mountain areas were. Along with her sisters, Dicky and Nicky, they set up Three Sisters Adventure Trekking, which would have all women guides and porters. They started to market the job opportunities to the women in the area and to the tourist market. At first, no one responded to the ads, but slowly women began to come, both as employees and customers.

There was a big problem though, the women who were responding to the ad for work, couldn't’t speak English and they needed Training. The sisters went to a training to learn the critical information, and then changed it around to make it fun for the women. They have trained over 600 women and employ 80 during the high seasons. At first, many people saw this as exploiting women, and the sisters had to put up with a lot of social stigmas. Now there is a large demand for women guides and there are 2 annual trainings.

We decided to give the organization a try, but I will tell you more about our adventure later.
Sorry we haven’t been in touch recently. Pokhara was a little more expensive and we were pretty busy!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

History, Politics and Business

In 1989 eight women entrepreneurs in Nepal who had formed an association known as WEAN – Women Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal, thought to provide training for women so that they might become entrepreneurs themselves. Twelve women who had some weaving experience were brought together to learn more about the traditional method of Dhaka weaving. However, in the initial interview of the women who would receive the training, each woman said, “Will I get a job at the conclusion?” The WEAN members had not really thought of this, their intention was to provide education not employment. The WEAN members held an emergency meeting and decided that following the training, each of them would invest some of their own money to create a production unit to preserve and promote Dhaka textile weaving. This enterprise would become Dhaka Weaves. The initial training was a great success. Today, nearly twenty years later, Dhaka Weaves produces very high quality hand woven Dhaka textiles. On average 40 weavers at a time are employed, bringing income into their families that might not be there without the opportunity provided by Dhaka Weaves.

Lindsay and I have had the pleasure of meeting the extraordinary women who had the vision, the persistence and the heart to initiate, maintain and care about Dhaka Weaves. They represent the spirit and the potential of a new Nepal. However, Nepal has had 15 different governments in the past 17 years. The Nepali Rupee is pegged to the Indian Rupee and the small struggling economy of Nepal is overwhelmed and directly affected by the high inflation experienced in the Indian economy and carries over into Nepal. Political instability had driven out most of the tourists (a major source of foreign currency), and daily life for the average Nepali has become increasingly difficult.

Writing for the Nepali Times on July 4th, 2008, Bihari K. Shrestha states:
The people are desperate for food, jobs, income, healthcare and education. They were promised these during the elections, but now that the politicians are comfortably ensconced, these issues are being ignored in the power plays. Whatever sense of collective accountability that appeared at election time has vanished into thin air.

In a letter to the editor in the July 3, 2008 Kathmandu Post, Sanu Kayastha writes:
The month of June 2008 observed 11 days as banda (strike) in the Kathmandu Valley. There were some official holidays and, of course Sundays and Saturdays too. Actually we had only 17 working days in the last month. There is no calculation as to what price the nation has to pay for these crippling bandas.

In and around these “strike” days Lindsay and I continue to meet with women entrepreneurs, leaders of various associations, and the people involved with Fair Trade who are working to increase and promote improved livelihoods for artisans. The practice of Fair Trade outlines a set of criteria and principles. We are working with Dhaka Weaves to complete an application for membership into the organization Fair Trade Group Nepal. Business in Nepal is often based on trust and relationships. Business can also be based on whom you know. In a rapidly shifting political landscape, the value of whom you know changes daily.

This is the environment business and enterprise is trying to move forward in. In spite of the difficulties, people are optimistic and patient. Challenges come in many forms and from many directions. I am inspired each day by the spirit and the potential of the women we are collaborating with. In order to move Dhaka Weaves onto solid ground, we are proposing a set of business systems and practices adapted to meet Dhaka Weaves specific needs. Day by day we are learning and sharing. Thanks again to each of you for your support and suggestions. Do you need some Dhaka?