Empowering Women: Step by Step

Sustainable agriculture, Initial vocational education and training, Labour market insertion, Entrepreneurial ecosystems
As we mark the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, we focus on celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. This year, IWD’s slogan is #BreakTheBias, bringing into light the importance of raising awareness against all biases and taking actions for equality.

To #BreakTheBias, Swisscontact Nepal implements projects in a pragmatic way to address complex development challenges, which is participatory, inclusive, and sensitively adapted to local conditions. Addressing equal access for women and men, as well as disadvantaged groups, are critical aspects to any initiative taken by Swisscontact Nepal. It focuses on strengthening the competencies of people and improving their employability through upskilling and reskilling, initial vocational education and training, and labour market insertion.

Swisscontact implements five projects in Nepal - Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA), Nepal Vocational Qualifications System (NVQS), Step Up, Senior Expert Contact (SEC) and Sahaj- Nepal Agricultural Market Development Programme (NAMDP). All of these projects have given special focus on empowering women, step by step.

Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness (CASA)

CASA programme aims to involve smallholder farmer businesses sustainably in agricultural value chains, thereby improving their living conditions and economic situation. By building inclusive agricultural systems, smallholder farmers will have improved access to markets, information, and means of production. Additionally, the project emphasizes improving climate resilience, food security and gender equity. Out of 20,208 farmers accessed through the project, till March 2021, 49% are women.

For example, Gyanu Hamal of Chidipani Village in Palpa is a sole breadwinner in her family, as she runs a small convenience store. The community she belongs to used to rely on agriculture before. But, without the access to a stable market, many people in the community began to go abroad for better income. However, after the Covid-19 pandemic, many of them lost their jobs and returned home. This added further financial burden on their families.

CASA, through PaichoPasal, private sector partner, came to the support of the community and encouraged them to engage in commercial farming with an assurance of buy-back guarantee. Hamal and many other women in her community, mostly home-makers, took part in the training provided by PaichoPasal’s Junior Technical Assistants (JTA). They learnt about tilling, irrigation, maintenance, integrated pest management and Good Agriculture Practices. PaichoPasal bought the first batch of tomatoes produced by local women and sold them in the market, providing much-needed market access. Hamal and women in her community received their first income as farmers.

Today, Gyanu has transformed herself into a strong woman, taking charge of her future by investing herself into vegetable production and managing resources for her family. “Paicho Pasal came in as a positive change to not just me but to other women in my community,” said Gyanu. “With the support of Paicho Pasal and if things go as planned, I might lease nearby land, hire two laborers for ploughing field, and expand my production further from next season”.

Nepal Vocational Qualifications System Project (NVQS-P)

NVQS-P aims to establish a National Vocational Qualifications System (NVQS) that creates opportunities for all youths for testing, certification and recognition of their skills and competencies to enable them to enter national and international labour market for better employment opportunities.

During the first phase of NVQS-P (2015-19), altogether 216,552 candidates were assessed by improved assessment system of National Skill Testing Board (NSTB) of the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT). Out of these, 44% of them were women. It developed 80 National Occupational Skills Standard (NOSS) as per the guideline in which 38 NOSS are women-friendly. The 35 master assessors provided training to the assessors after being trained themselves through an improved assessor training package. Out of the trained assessors, 40% are women. 

Indu Shah of Gatthaghar, Kathmandu, has been working in the electrical repairing field for more than 25 years. She completed a two-year Electrical Engineering Junior Technician course from Balaju School of Engineering and Technology in 1996. After she passed the skill test level 3 from NSTB/CTVET in 2000, she started her professional journey. She set an example when she opened her own electrical repairing service centre called ‘Indu Electro Service’ in 2007.

“People would constantly tell me only men can succeed in a technical field,” shared Indu as she continued to prove them wrong by successfully running her own enterprise. She also received assessor training from NSTB/CTEVT in 2004 and assessor’s refresher training in 2018. She has been active as an assessor in skill tests held in various parts of the country.

Senior Expert Contact (SEC)

Founded in 1979, SEC programme provides rapid, hands-on support to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and institutions in developing countries. Highly experienced volunteers impart their expert skills and knowledge to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and institutions, which otherwise do not have access to this level of professional, affordable support. The SMEs and education or training institutes, as well as other organizations in developing countries, can request an SEC expert if they require technical support to overcome business and structural impediments, but cannot afford this at market prices. Since 1979, SEC has carried out over 3,000 assignments, with experts having provided roughly 1,200,000 hours of voluntary work.

 Rajani Thapa has been running a textile business ‘Creative Touch Garment Industry’ since 1999. It was not easy being a young woman in the industry with no training in business and management. From having management issues to falling into a debt, Rajani went through all sorts of highs and lows. In June 2019, Thapa came across SEC programme. And, from February to March 2020, she got in touch with Senior Expert Ms. Gunda Bornkessel who provided ideas for fashion designing, marketing research, store concept improvement and photography.

The lockdowns enforced due to the pandemic added to her woes. Thapa got in touch with SEC again. They were offered an assignment to help look into their business management and organizational structure with Senior Expert Frank Gesser. With virtual assistance from the expert, Rajani learnt about marketing, strategic planning, functions and the process to run her business professionally. With more and more women taking part, Rajani aims to provide opportunities to women who need support for their livelihood.

Sahaj - Nepal Agricultural Market Development Programme (NAMDP)

Sahaj - NAMDP Phase II focuses on growth and investment in forward market linkages, strengthening the country’s commercialization, processing and export of value-added agriculture products. Sahaj aims to create 1,000 new jobs in local economy, with 40% for women and 20% for disadvantaged groups. It expects 20,000 farmers to benefit from higher farm-income (at least 6,000 women farmers and 5,000 disadvantaged groups.

Sahaj, in partnership with Idea Studio, is piloting the first Agri business incubation program in Province 1 and has completed the set-up of the business incubation center at Purbanchal University School of Management, Biratnagar. Idea Studio Nepal is the lead business incubator whereas PUSOM, Morang Merchant Association, and Ministry of Agriculture are the local business incubators. Pratikshya Shrestha, founder of Nepal Cardamom Seed, has an MSc in Food Technology. She was selected for the Agri business incubation programme out of 100 applicants and went through different events under the business incubation programme such as boot camp, one on one mentorship, business coaching, expert sessions, business development services, etc.  Her business idea is to create a research-based product development center of cardamom that will conduct research and develop different products through cardamom processing along with creating packaged cardamom products. Some of the products that are currently in line are cardamom powders and essential oil. Shrestha is aiming to reach out to Nepali and international households that use cardamom in their recipes, cooking industries and factories, cosmetic factories that use cardamom as raw material and farmers that produce cardamom. After her performance was analyzed at the agri-business incubation programme, Sahaj plans to help the business by providing marketing skills and knowledge, necessary access to market and finance and by connecting the business with experts and one-on-one mentorship sessions.

Step Up

Step Up aims to address employment challenges by working with both public and private actors of labour market to strengthen labour market information, labour market insertion services, and entrepreneurship support services to increase opportunities for employment and income. The primary goal of the project is to increase the income of the target groups — unemployed youths, especially unemployed women, returnee migrants and those unemployed due to Covid‐19 pandemic by providing them productive and sustained employment. The project aims to reach out to 4,590 unemployed youths, 50% women, giving them opportunities to access improved labour market insertion services. It also aims to provide 1,230 formerly unemployed youths and entrepreneurs, 50% women, to increase their income through employment and entrepreneurship.

39-year-old Tara Devi of Jhapa lives in a family of four. After becoming a mother, she had to drop out in the middle of her bachelor’s degree. Instead, she started learning sewing with an old rusty sewing machine at the age of 21. She later worked in a co-operative but had to quit after six years, to take care of her children. She got back to what she was comfortable with and started a tailoring shop in 2013. It began to thrive just in two months. She gradually started providing training to other women and finally registered her own business as “Silai Katai Taalim Kendra” (Sewing and cutting training center). She is now CTEVT-certified Level 2 tailor. 

Tara didn’t stop there. She began producing bags after receiving necessary training from district cottage industry association. She founded ‘Shital Jhola tatha Silai Katai Talim Kendra’ (Shital bag and sewing and cutting training center) in 2020. She now employs six full-time employees who also conduct training in other parts of Nepal. They have also placed an order for Rs. 550,000 worth of bags with the help of Buddha Shanti Rural Municipality. Similarly, Khadbari Rural Municipality has also placed an order for 5,500 bags worth Rs. 550,000. She has hired 10 other part-time workers to meet the demand.

Tara’s center is now training 24 individuals in bag making and 10 people in tailoring. In addition, 29 people in Taplejung are receiving training to make bags. “I want to encourage more women to stand on their own feet and do the best they can for themselves”, said Tara. 

Tara Devi is one of the twenty start-ups being supported by Chamber of Industries Morang (CIM) through their 'Startup and Innovation Program'. Step Up is partnering with CIM  to institutionalize the incubation program to support transformation of innovative business ideas into successful ventures for social and economic development in Province 1.

Sustainable agriculture
Sahaj - Nepal Agricultural Market Development Programme
In 2017, agriculture contributed around 27.04 per cent to Nepal's GDP. Agriculture is a major source of livelihood in the country. However, the agriculture sector is still in a nascent stage as far as technology and modern cultivation methods are concerned. Agriculture mainly engages smallholder farmers who continue to use traditional methods of...
Nepal, Rwanda, Ethiopia
Sustainable agriculture
Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders and Agribusiness Programme
The project aims to involve smallholder farmer businesses sustainably in agricultural value chains, thereby improving their living conditions and economic situation. By building inclusive agricultural systems, smallholder farmers will have improved access to markets, information, and means of production. Additionally, the project emphasizes...
Initial vocational education and training
Nepal Vocational Qualifications System (NVQS)
Youths entering the labour market in Nepal are compelled to remain unemployed or underemployed and work in low-pay jobs due to a lack of skills, and lack of certification and recognition of the skills they have. To provide wider opportunities and to enable Nepali youth without formal vocational training and education, and those who have gained skills through work experience to enter the labour market with recognized certificates for better employability and career path, the Government of Nepal (GoN) has initiated a National Vocational Qualifications System (NVQS) with the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) to be implemented.
Labour market insertion, Migration
Step Up – Improving labour market access for unemployed
Nepal faces enormous employment challenges that are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Difficulties to find gainful employment for the unemployed include lack of information on jobs and business opportunities, appropriate skills and access to networks and support services such as career guidance or counselling. In addition, business support services that provide entrepreneurs with services to start, sustain and improve their businesses are weak or even missing. The project aims to address these deficiencies in the current employment ecosystem and contribute to the Government of Nepal’s efforts to increase job creation and the employability of its labour force.
Benin, Bolivia, Cambodia, Kosovo, Laos, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru
Entrepreneurial ecosystems
Senior Expert Contact
Promoting entrepreneurship through expertise - Imparting technical skills through volunteer work Through their services, Senior Expert Contact (SEC) experts provide hands-on, direct support to companies and institutions in their efforts to grow.