Sita Adhikari is a powerhouse of encouragement and commitment to the cause of empowering women to become financially independent while improving their quality of life. She has been training and developing women entrepreneurship in energy smart eco-friendly products such as solar panels and lanterns in power-starved villages with an aim to help lift women out of poverty while also encouraging energy sustainable practices.
Her LinkedIn profile reads: “Recognised innovative community leader, social business entrepreneur, systems thinker, women empowerment expert with nearly 20 years of experience in innovation, impact, design, and implementation strategy. Proven track record of developing impact-driven micro to small and medium enterprises for clean energy distribution in South Asia. Extensive background in building gender-inclusive and sustainable business models that create a safe space for marginalised stakeholders and provide opportunities for social mobility and financial independence. Co-founded multiple impact-driven companies at local, regional, and international scales, through which we improved the lives of more than half a million people in remote and the most neglected communities in Nepal and India.”
And yet, Adhikari is more in a country where less than 7% of women are included in Nepal’s formally recognised workforce. Her impact also lies in the hope she creates for women to have a chance at owning their life story.
Adhikari says that maybe it is in her genes to help people because her family has always believed in social work and been involved in various activities in the rural areas of the country. “Watching my family involved in social work from an early age, I too have always believed in doing something for the good of the community and people,” she shares. With this belief, in 2000, after completing her Master’s degree in Economics, she decided to return to Chitwan with the objective to help people in her hometown. “There was always this urge within me to return to my roots and work with and for the local people,” she elaborates.
Initially, while Adhikari was running a microfinance cooperative she met a person called Anya Cherneff who was seeking to offer sustainable employment to women in rural Nepal. She reminisces, “I wanted to run a business for the women of my community and Cherneff was equally enthusiastic. We thought that if we could work together to bring about a paradigm shift by empowering women to become green entrepreneurs, it would be tremendous.”
Since its inception in 2012, Empower Generation has been working in various fields to provide access to energy for the poor and simultaneously reducing the number of people reliant on expensive and dangerous household fuels like kerosene and firewood. Adhikari explains, “We do this by providing low-interest loans, business skills training, mentorship and access to a supply chain of clean energy products such as solar lights and cookstoves to rural and marginalised women to start their own businesses.”
Why only women based? “If you visit any rural place in Nepal, you’ll see that all the women are either working at home or in agriculture or some may be in horticulture,” she answers, adding, “However, we have come to realise that even when they put in so much effort, they are usually victims of domestic violence with money being the root cause of all problems.” She says that if women can run proper businesses and have a substantial income then the men tend to look at them with a different perspective. “It is about empowering women so that they have a voice and their voices are heard.”
Further explaining her concept, Adhikari shares that Empower Generation is a social enterprise which aims to be a medium to provide technical training and support to women in impoverished parts of the nation to set up clean energy businesses. Adhikari has helped many women launch their businesses and has trained more than a thousand women with a focus on sales.
“When we first began our venture, we found that women had difficulty in speaking up for themselves. They used to be shy or scared because it was all relatively new for them, but with constant mentoring, there has been so much progress; they now speak with confidence,” she shares. “Our beginnings were very humble but the small and strong steps that we took have boosted our goal and encouraged rural women to become a part of it for their own financial independence.”
However, it was not all smooth-sailing. There were many challenges that needed to be overcome to remain sustainable in the market. Adhikari explains that identifying the quality of the product and offering it at affordable prices in the market is still quite challenging. “Running a business and also following the strict rules and policies of the government create hassles at times but we make sure that everything is done as per the set regulations,” she states.
Adhikari says that the patriarchal mindset of society has hindered the progress of women in rural Nepal. “People are still living with the belief that women are meant to only work at home but what we fail to understand is that even to do all that work, one requires leadership qualities. This is the mindset we want to gradually change for better financial stability of marginalised groups,” she states.
Though the work being done by Adhikari is a herculean task, she shares that when your work is recognised within the country or internationally, it provides that extra energy to move forward. “Empower Generation has received a lot of praise and we have also won the International Ashden Award for Clean Energy for Women and Girls for our innovative approach to propagate sustainable energy among Nepal’s rural poor,” she smiles.
Over the years, Adhikari has earned a name for herself and the work she does but she says that it demanded a lot of sacrifice and dedication. For young entrepreneurs and startups, she says, “Be confident in what you really want to achieve and always seek support and mentorship. To run a business, one should learn from those who are well educated in such fields because that provides the support and mentorship needed to go further with your plans”.