Youth Impact Game Changer: Bandita Thapa (Nepal)

In Empowerment, Game Changers 14, womensempowerment, Youth by Mary Kurek

Bandita Thapa is Creating an Economic Revolution in Nepal by Helping Women Entrepreneurs

Nepali born and raised global social entrepreneur, Bandita Thapa started Women Foundation in Nepal at just 17 years of age.  As the youngest change maker by founding Women Foundation, Bandita has traveled the world advancing her skills in leadership development, women’s entrepreneurship, and bringing economic revolution to rural communities through branding and marketing local products in the global market.  A decade of work in community development changed Bandita’s vision after her year of hard work for earthquake-affected communities.  Butterfly Ventures was started in 2018 to fill the gaps between the public and private sector and asset-based community development and continues to blaze trails representing the voices of grassroots women. She earned a Post Graduate Diploma in Leadership Development at St. Francis Xavier University, Canada, 2009 (completed as an Award Winner of CIDA). Project Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Local Governance and Rural Decentralization; Multi-Stakeholder processes for Institutional Strengthening (NUFFIC Fellowship, The Netherlands).  She has also served as an expert in Monitoring and Evaluations for major international agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Finland and Swiss Embassies.  Bandita has accomplished major projects on youth, women, and enterprise. She has traveled widely to present women’s issues and opportunities and served as a Co-Chair in The Global Summit, UN fellowship in Berlin School of Economics.  Bandita was awarded a Community Solution Program – fellowship by U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in 2011.

Q & A with Bandita:

Q:  Can you share the story of how you came to found Butterfly Ventures?

A:  After working more than a decade in a nonprofit organization and working in coordination with government agencies I found there is a gap to address moving beyond charity to systemic change in economic empowerment.  In developing countries like Nepal, there are many organizations supporting in communities and some projects are overlapped or with short term vision. They do good work but, after that, what next has been gapped. There are many projects that address poverty, empowerment, entrepreneurship, and creating jobs. But if they are working on products there should be market as well; they should get trained how to make a brand, sell them out, and make their living. Butterfly Ventures works to fill that gap between local products and the global market. Young startups have ideas, but rather than them leaving the country for jobs, if we can support with seed funds to start their own business, it creates jobs. As they have their own sustainable business, it brings change in their quality of life. On these practical phenomena, Butterfly Ventures has started to create Millions of

Change Makers in Asia and abroad.  Butterfly Ventures has started start-ups movement in Nepal to promote youth entrepreneurs and create sustainable startups ecosystem in Nepal in coordination with government, private sectors, and organizations.  Basically, in rural communities with whom we work that don’t have access to technology, to fill this gap, Butterfly Ventures’ goal is to incorporate tech in different programs, such as girls/women in tech, to reach the global community for their products.  Technology has reached all over the world; it has made us in a small world.  We are working on tech-based products to reach the global community. As well, Butterfly Ventures does dialogue, research, and debate with the government to create an ecosystem in startups community to address the lack of proper policy on it.

Q:  What needs to change in order to give girls and women the opportunities they need to flourish?

A:  First of all, girls need to have education opportunities; education is the key to success. To have a better education, a gal needs to have a better socialization process as she grows up. She should be treated as equal to other family at home, society, school, and surroundings. In society there is a taboo; oh! you are a girl – you can’t do this or that.  In many countries, especially South Asia region, girls/women are kept as a reservation on the name of opportunity.  They deserve equality. If they are given by birth equal opportunities, they can fight in any area in competition not as in reservation.  In education, equal opportunities don’t address the root causes since, in the country, there is no proper policy to address their basic rights.  Here, the fact goes, a girl is not allowed to stay at home, get good food, or hygiene during her monthly cycle; this sounds weird though this is a bitter fact and practices in many South Asian regions, including Nepal. What are the roots causes to make this happen in this world? Society, family, culture, religion, education, rights or the biggest question is WE?  Girls are forced to marriage at an early age and will have to pay less dowry if she does marry to an older man; this practice has been a serious issue since decades, and this practice is all over in South Asia, Africa, and other continents as well.  In one hand we are talking about globalization, the technology era, but on the other hand, we are living in this world where it all has been a real story just to read out.  I believe if a girl gets an education and opportunity to stand on her feet she wouldn’t have to face heartbreaking moments.  Girls/women deserve a safe place to live.

After the 2015 earthquake, we had created “Child Friendly Space” supported by Leger Foundation, Canada, to ensure and protect them for their basic needs, provide emotional and mental health support, and protect from human trafficking. We reached more than 30,000 girls to support them with food, emotional wellbeing, and protect from traffickers.

Q:  What are the challenges you face in achieving your goals with Butterfly Ventures?

A:  The traditional approach that we define between a nonprofit organization and a profit-making organization is to fill each other’s gap has been understood differently. The vision Butterfly Ventures has to promote is to create an ecosystem culture in startups; collaborative work between government, civil society, investors and international forums have to come together. Lack of proper policy and culture of working individuals are challenging. Fewer girls/women participation has been a challenge and in the process to provide training and mentoring, receiving seed funds is challenging.  To connect with experts, relevant divisions of different organizations, universities, and mentors are challenges, though we have taken it as an opportunity.  Our country government is less cooperative for young leaders so it’s difficult to find support.

Q:  You have a program you started that you’ve been working on for a few months that speaks to “emotional wellbeing” – can you share what that means and a bit about that program?

A:  We have been working on a project since the last few months called “GUNASO – Unsung Voices.”  The main idea of this project is to be heard, share, and address unsung voices of youth through our mobile app and get them access to address their needs, seek advice or secure a mentor. It will be a platform to hear the voices of youth, to mentor, share, learn, and educate to be a global citizen. Preparing youth as a global citizen…youth should get an education, get involved in social causes, take lead, and be fit mentally, physically, and socially. Then only, later on, they can be a leader and create impacts on their lives and society.  After having long work experience with youth, that emotional wellbeing is the most important factor in any person’s life. If they are emotionally fine, they will have other interest and passion towards life and society and can think they can contribute to changes.

In 2009 I had an opportunity to work with Crossing Communities Art ProjectLooking in Speaking Out, which has covered Single Women, HIV/AIDs and Self Harm; it was an exchange program between Canada and Nepal. Those workshops were based on emotional and mental wellbeing and dialogue between youths, mentors, policymakers, and other organizations.  Emotional wellbeing is often defined as the combination of positive affect (in the absence of negative affect) and general satisfaction with life (appreciation of life’s rewards). Youth might go through one experience like failure and rejection, so strenuously attempting to avoid them is ultimately as imprudent and self-defeating as it is futile.  Mainly girls and women should be strong emotionally or have to be healed so that they can overcome their emotional issue.  Once they come with team spirit, we help them build ideas and make those ideas into reality. We will provide them with all the resources they need – counseling, networking, mentoring, access to information, and getting connected and finding their dreams.  Few examples of the importance of building wellbeing:  In Nepal, there is a high suicide rate happening, mostly students; right after their high school results, students are committing suicide.   Some failed in the exam, some got fewer marks, most of the cases are happening by family and social pressure. And other cases that we want to address through this project are young people leaving country for foreign jobs as they leave behind family alone and sometimes other factors make them emotionally hurt to commit suicide.

We collaborate with colleges, universities, youth ministries, local government, youth clubs, and organizations for youth to bring awareness on these issues, have dialogue for creating opportunities, and provide mentorships and finding opportunity to support startups.  We are looking forward to having an international collaboration with universities experts and mentors who are willing to inspire and create millions of change makers.  Such forums will be a milestone to youths addressing their emotional wellbeing, social wellbeing, and creating opportunities.

Q:  What are the next steps for your work – a new direction in the coming year or two?

A:  By next year, we plan to launch “GUNASO – Unsung Voices APP” with international collaboration and support.  We will have collaboration and more funding opportunities from universities and embassies where we will get connected with youth, mentors, and researchers.  We’ll have youth fellowship inside country and exchange programs in international forums.  We will launch hundreds of startups.  Major stakeholders will be leading this project in community and Butterfly Ventures will be selling local products in the international market.  Youth will start addressing global issues and start exchanging ideas, views, and opportunities through “GUNASO-Unsung voices APP.”

Q:  What is your philosophy on developing youth as global citizens?

A:  “Education gives us a profound understanding that we are tied together as citizens of the global community and that our challenges are all interconnected.”  These words were spoken by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.  Following his thoughts, education is the key to open doors that take us to be as global citizens. Education brings awareness to other issues that are happening around the globe. Development of technology has made people have access to reach global communities, though, among youths, there should be proper mentorship or guidance to be in the forum, and a teamwork practice culture should have to be developed.

Bandita’s Networking Interests:

  • Women in Technology International
  • Open society foundations
  • Universities,  INGOs
  • Global Affairs Canada
  • Startup seed funds for young girls
  • Anyone interested in buying spices and handicrafts, made by Nepali women entrepreneurs