New UN project in Nepal to advance women entrepreneurship

UNESCAP— The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in partnership with Global Affairs Canada and the Government of Nepal, today held a national consultation in line with a new project to support the growth of women entrepreneurs as a strategy for poverty reduction, social well-being and sustainable economic growth.

The five-year project titled ‘Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship: Creating a Gender-Responsive Entrepreneurial Ecosystem’ aims to create an enabling policy and business environment that enhances women entrepreneurs’ access to capital through innovative financing mechanisms as well as increase their use of ICT and digital solutions. The project is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

“Developing women’s entrepreneurship presents an invaluable tool for boosting Nepal’s economy as well as empowering women. Yet women’s entrepreneurship is hindered by lack of access to finance and ICT tools for business development. The case for investing in women’s economic empowerment is compelling. Women are true agents of change whose innovations can lift companies, communities, and countries. Together, governments, the United Nations, civil society and the private sector can improve women’s and girls’ prospects,” said United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Ms. Armida Alisjahbana on the occasion.

The consultation event was inaugurated by H. E. Tham Maya Thapa, Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizen of Government of Nepal . Inaugurating the event, H. E. Thapa said, “The Government of Nepal is committed to achieve ‘Prosperous Nepal: Happy Nepali’, and welcomes any initiatives to achieve this end.” She also added, “since, women are half of the universe, prosperity and happiness cannot be achieved without achieving gender equality in all spheres of life. As a matter of fact, economic empowerment is the strongest means of achieving this equality.” She also showed her hope that the three major components of the project, i.e. the empowering policy for women entrepreneurship, access to finance and use of ICT could help the women entrepreneurs to uplift their skills, build the capital and enlarge their market linkages.

In recent years, Nepal has made significant progress regarding its socio-economic status. Yet women are estimated to own only three per cent of Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and face various barriers to entrepreneurship, which include, amongst others, limited access to finance and ICT infrastructure, lack of financial and business knowledge, and discriminatory social norms.

“Promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls is the most effective approach to achieving the sustainable development goals,” said Ms. Amanda Strohan, Acting Deputy Ambassador of Canada to Nepal. “However, women entrepreneurs continue to face barriers. Tackling the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs will require innovative approaches, including innovative financing mechanisms and new financial technologies. Canada is pleased to support the Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project to provide women-owned enterprises in Nepal with the resources, skills and enabling environment needed to grow their businesses and generate sustainable and inclusive economic growth.”

The national consultation was attended by H. E. Tham Maya Thapa, Minister of Women, Children and Senior Citizen, Government of Nepal; Mr. Khomraj Koirala, Joint Secretary of the National Planning Commission; Mr. Chandra Kumar Ghimire, Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizen, Government of Nepal; Ms. Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labe, UNDP Resident Representative in Nepal; Mr. Shiva Raj Shrestha, Deputy Governor of Nepal Rashtra Bank; Ms. Amanda Strohan, Acting Deputy Ambassador of Canada to Nepal and Dr. Srinivas Tata, Director, Social Development Division, ESCAP.

During the consultation, ESCAP and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) announced the winners of the project’s Women Fintech MSME Innovation Fund and thanked the Government of Canada, the Dutch development Bank (FMO) and Visa Inc. for their support to this initiative. Nepal’s Aeloi Technologies and Khalti (SparrowPay) were among the 10 winning innovative business models. The solutions that the two companies are developing are quite diverse.

Aeloi Technologies is proposing to introduce a green energy mobility platform to Kathmandu. Sonika Manandhar, Co-Founder of Aeloi Technologies stated “we are excited to partner with the Women MSME Fintech Innovation Fund, which will help us kick-start our pilot to turbocharge impact finance for a green economy. We are starting with women-owned green transport targeting key underserved market of women-only night time transportation and move beyond into women-led green microenterprises.”

Khalti on the other hand, is developing a mobile wallet and payment gateway for the unbanked in Nepal. Khalti intends to onboard women MSMEs by providing financial and digital literacy training through their local partners. Amit Agrawal Cofounder and Director of Khalti stated, “Khalti is on a mission to take the payment industry online making it simpler, accessible and convenient for every Nepali; and to drive financial inclusion and literacy by empowering a nationwide network of smart “chhoris” (daughters). We are certain that the support from UNCDF and UNESCAP will help propel our mission.”

More than 110 policymakers, MSME representatives and other stakeholders participated in this national consultation on integrating women’s needs and considerations into policy and other initiatives supporting entrepreneurship, financial inclusion and enabling environment – including ICT solutions – for businesses.

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