Bimala Shrestha Pokharel
Founder & CEO, Higher Ground Nepal
Bimala Shrestha Pokharel aspired to be a medical doctor, but when she was exposed to liberal arts education in the United States, Pokharel realised her true calling which was to be a social entrepreneur. She followed her passion to help the marginalised communities in Nepal. Resultantly in 2006, she founded Higher Ground with the mission to prevent trafficking and abuse of women and children through socio-economic empowerment. Pokharel is dedicated to empowering women and youth through mentoring, coaching and entrepreneurial trainings. She is the recipient of the IIX-N-Peace Innovation Award by the N-Peace Network, UNDP in 2015 and was the top 10 finalists for SCWEC Nepal Excellence Award for Best Woman Entrepreneur in 2018.
In this edition of B360, Pokharel shares the five things that have shaped her work and life.
Best business advice
‘Keep your vision alive and your vision will keep you alive. Do not compromise on your values’ – this advice was given to me by my husband. I also remember my Dad telling me – ‘Be willing to pay the price as an entrepreneur. Prepare the exit process before you begin anything. Write down when you would like to exit, how and who you would like to hand it over to and by when. Listen to your customers, they will teach you about your business’.
There are ups and downs in life. Doing business is a huge risk; we never know what’s ahead of us. But we must not lose hope and confidence in believing that better days are yet to come. We must not jump here and there to gain short term success or profits by following the trends and copying other people’s vision, values and business ideas or plans. We must listen to our heart; we must be driven by values and vision not by a quick and short term gratification, fame and profit. It’s okay to take a sabbatical from our business if we are not able to do anything right now. Not doing anything, taking a pause, reflecting and creating your own mastermind group with like-minded friends and team members, restructuring, re-strategising, refocusing, and renewing our vision and passion is equally important.
When we pause and reflect on our past, review our strategy, we can achieve greater things for the future. We need to take care of ourselves, our mental and emotional health and our team members during this pandemic; this is the most important task. If we are able to respond for the immediate actions through online delivery, e-commerce platforms by partnering with existing businesses, this can save time, energy and effort and at the same time we can collaborate to add value to the lives of customers and community through our united vision and shared values.
This crisis or chaos shall pass, we may not get back to normal but we have to adapt to the new normal. Better days are yet to come for those businesses which are able to understand the needs of their customers, connect with them, with their emotions, add value and create lasting impact with unforgettable moments with their product delivery and development.
My Dad: the person who means the most
A person that means the most to me has been my own father. He was not only my dad, but he was also my mentor, coach and my closest confidant. He modeled his life to his kids, he taught us about gratitude, forgiveness, empathy, love and purpose of life. He shared with us about his childhood, his high school years, his experience from the military, wars, hard training, trail running and he told us stories about hardship, challenges, joys, obstacles, threats, conflict as well as problem solving, building self-confidence, being resilient and serving humanity. Now when I look back, I realise that my dad had been coaching us since we were born, he had been mentoring us, modeling his life around us, being the best dad he could be, and as we grew up, he decided to be our friend.
He not only talked about great issues around the world but also spoke about deep matters of the heart and emotions. I grew up watching him, his unique way of connecting with people, helping people in greater need, respecting all religions and cultures, and reading and writing every day and helping around the home, cooking, cleaning, and loving his family deeply. I saw the man walking his talk and talking his walk.
I saw him as a person who was able to relate to a new born as he could to a dying man. I saw joy on his face, gentleness and wisdom in his words, I saw a genuine human being living his life simply, thinking highly and adding value by investing in the lives of others. My dad passed away in 2015, but his memories and inspirational stories will never die in my heart. My dad has been the source of my inspiration and encouragement.
A life-changing decision
Having been admitted to a medical school in Chittagong, Bangladesh, I was told to go to the United States to study Liberal Arts. My personal decision was to go to medical school, but my family decision was for me to go the US because an opportunity came after I was admitted to the medical school. My autopilot mode told me to go to medical school , but after listening to my dad, reflecting, I felt that I had to go to please my father and as a wise dad he gave me options, “Daughter, I will be a fool, if I do not send you to the US and help you explore the world. Yes, it’s possible, you may not be a doctor after a Liberal Arts Education, but I am confident that you will find your true passion.” He also promised me, “You do not have to go to please me, but the opportunity you are getting now, it might never come back to you again. Go and try it for six months; if you do not like it, I will send you anywhere in the world you want to go for medical school.”
I saw that I had a choice to go or not to go. I also had a choice that if I did not like it there, I could always go back to medical school of my own choice. Studying liberal arts did expand my horizon. I started to explore the world and my own mind through new lenses that I was getting at my university. I was able to interact, mirror and model my professors and mentors. I was given freedom to think independently, decide for my own life, future and career. Going to Kenya during my study in the US helped me to explore the country, culture, people’s thoughts and perceptions, listening to the stories of women and how their lives were being transformed through micro-enterprises gave me a new perspective in life. I came to understand that being a doctor is not the only way to serve humanity; I could help people through business and community development as well. When I went back to University, through the help of my mentors and professors counseling, I was able to decide what I wanted to study and how I wanted to follow my calling to serve people in greater need through socio-economic empowerment and social enterprise.
I love books, I love reading and I have a hard time naming one book that I would like to recommend. However, when I am forced to choose one, it would be “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brene Brown.