Prakriti Mainali: The Power of Women Coming Together

by Weronika Pukrop

Shakti Milan is a revolutionary company in Nepal which sells recyclable bags and accessories to support and empower disadvantaged women. We interviewed the founder Kerstin and are today getting the perspective of her business partner, Prakriti, who lives and manages the company in Nepal.

Imagine a world, where women are the least privileged. Where their qualifications are diminished and their only purpose in life is to become a wife. Where they are rejected by the society if they don’t fit within the ‘norms’. The world you’re imagining is the reality of many and is called Nepal. Luckily, there are people who are changing this reality.

Prakriti Mainali:

I really wanted to make a change. I couldn’t live as if nothing was happening in the society to which I belong to. Our company’s name, ‘Shakti Milan’ literally means “The power of women coming together” and that’s exactly what we are doing, we are empowering women. We created the company two and a half years ago and our main objective is to help the most marginalized community here in Nepal, especially those who are victims of abuse and domestic violence, single mothers, women who come from lower casts and survivors of sexual trafficking. In a nutshell: all women who don’t fit into societal norms in Nepal.

For as long as I can remember, in my society women and men were never the same. I, myself, was privileged enough to be able to get education and study a business course at the university. I know I was lucky and that’s why I want to help those who are less fortunate than me. Those people, those women are the reason why me and Kerstin started Shakti Milan.

Apart from managing Shakti Milan, I met Kerstin when she came to Nepal to stay with me and my family in our home. We started talking and we immediately became friends! I was telling her all about women’s situation in Nepal and it really resonated with Kerstin, it really moved her. She shared my passion for bringing justice in my society and we both felt the strong urge to act. We started exploring how can we help, what can we do to make a change. We wanted to create something for the most voiceless women, the most underprivileged ones. Together we created a vision. And we’ve decided to give it a chance.

I didn’t know if it was going to work to be honest. I realised that we both come from very different cultures and there was not only literal distance between us, but also six hours of time difference between Germany, where Kerstin lives, and Nepal, where I am. However, communication was never our issue, especially now with the advanced technology we talk everyday with no interruptions. The only problem for me was the way in which Germans conduct business and their pace of work! In Nepal everyone is so relaxed, we are not very structured or organized or even punctual like people in Germany. At the beginning, those differences were difficult to manage, but with time we learned how to compromise and work together.

I must admit, I have a lot of faith in working in collaborations. However, I do think that if they are to work, listening is key. When we started Shakti Milan, I didn’t have much experience. At that time, I just graduated from university and I have never worked anywhere before. I had the knowledge of course, from my business studies, but I lacked practice. Kerstin was my biggest mentor at that time. She had so much experience and she learned so many things through her careers, she really empowered and inspired me. I was struggling at the beginning, because to create a business from scratch, to work with the most marginalized group in the society and to make a revenue-orientated company was a huge challenge for me, but Kerstin was very helpful. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.

Shakti Milan

Although the situation of women in Nepal is still quite frightening, I think that the overall perception of women is definitely shifting for better. The society still faces the issues such as child marriages, menstruation taboo, lack of education for women and general stigma towards them and who they should be and how they should live. It still saddens me, that women are perceived in the society solely as wives, so then why should they work, why should they get education, if their only purpose is to serve at their husbands’ houses? That’s what I wanted to change. Until recently, women were portrayed as liabilities, now they are viewed more as assets.

I believe that our company has a great impact on those changes. We now employ 23 women, all of whom have been rejected by the society because of the trauma they have been through. Once victims, now they earn not only money, but they earn their dignity back. It really makes me happy, to see that my society is changing in this way and that I can experience this change. Those women who were once blamed for being trafficked are now the examples in our society and inspiration and hope for others. This is what I’m the most proud of. Those women, thanks to us, are changing their lives and the lives of their children.

We are also inspiring others who would one day want to create ethical companies. We have students visiting Shakti Milan to learn about our business model and seek advice. The only one I can give is to create a business which will give back to others, which will help the community, to me that’s the most important thing.

We use our profits to support women in my society. We provide childcare, as most of our employees are single mothers, but recently we also opened counselling centre for traumatized women, which will help them to get back on their feet.

Now my focus is to have more women working for us. My vision is to empower more women entrepreneurs from rural parts of Nepal. I really believe in change and I know that the future for Nepalese women looks brighter and more hopeful every day.

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