Making eclectic and elegant jewelry, Himalayan Jewellery is an initiative started by Kanchan Jha, CEO, and Founder at Sano Paila, and his team under the NGO- Sano Paila. They prefer to call the initiative as a movement rather than an organization that works with the mission to empower differently abled and survivors of trafficking by providing a platform where they receive training, skills and employment opportunities. The movement has been successful in rescuing and engaging women in need with training and skills in making jewelry.
Read further to find out more about the journey of Himalayan Jewellery; a story of women empowerment in a conversation with Kanchan.
1. How did your journey begin with Himalayan Jewellery?
It actually started back in 2014, when we were working with an organization called Freedom Matters. We identified that some children, especially Nepali girls who were rescued from circuses in India, were not accepted by their family during reintegration and were being exploited. During that period, our priority was rescuing young girls who were exploited. Hence, we generated a new initiative with two dimensions for such girls.
The first one was to use visual arts as therapy for the young girls to forget their past and the second one was to empower them to grow their skills. Further ideation of this initiative led to the establishment of the Himalayan Jewellery workshop project where women survivors of trafficking along with differently abled women especially the deaf and dumb were empowered and trained.
The idea started with this workshop. Himalayan Jewellery is recognized as one of our projects in the Social Welfare Council.
It is now an initiative of Sano Paila (NGO); a youth-based organization working to provide opportunities to make improvements in social, economic and health conditions of such women, in order to achieve poverty alleviation and enhance social justice. Our focus area span from youth empowerment, drug rehabilitation to health improvement, peacebuilding, crime prevention and reformation to anti-trafficking and child protection. We are now in the process to register Himalayan Jewellery project as a venture called Kasya. Himalayan Jewelry will be a base where the marginalized women participate and get trained.
We refer to the women as artists and we trained 21 of them for 2-3 years to make jewelry. The trainers were experts in the Jewelry field coming all the way from Europe and Australia. Our main focus is to change the preconceived notions of society on survivors of human trafficking and differently abled women. We wanted to exhibit the local skills of our artists.
Once they are trained, they’ll be part of Kasya- our for-profit company. They are paid on a salary basis and 10 to 15 percent of the profit will be used to rescue other trafficked girls. This is our sustainability plan.
2. How many ‘artists’ did you begin with at Himalayan Jewellery?
We began with seven women and later went on to train 23 artists. Most of the artists began their own venture after the training. We still have seven of them. Some of the women are waiting to work with us after registering Kasya.
3. How do you sell the jewelry?
We sell the products in the local market and we also have our network of friends and family who support us by buying the jewelry. Further, we have partner projects that support us by buying the product from us to gift their guests.
The supply isn’t up to the mark but we hope it grows in the next six months so that we will have our own outlet and sell more products.
4. Are you in the process to sustain?
Yes, we are still in the process to sustain. This is our big challenge as we still have to raise 40 percent of the investment from shareholders and board members and the sales only comprise of 60 percent.
5. How did you raise funds for Himalayan Jewellery?
Our board members provided certain contribution. Also, our head office at Birgunj contributed 40 percent for the investment from the funding we receive. But it is from the local community and crown funding from supporters abroad and we do not receive any international funds from organizations.
6. What challenges do you face with Himalayan Jewellery?
We have been facing different challenges since our inception. One of our initial challenge was communication with deaf and dumb women. It is a tough work for us to make deaf and dumb understand the HR policies. Our program coordinator learned the sign language and she is an interpreter and we have been very lenient with them as they are all new to the working environment. We’re teaching them to fill the attendance and time sheets because we are now considering them as professionals.
Secondly, the legal challenge is prevalent as our country’s laws are not clear on the objective of social ventures. Another challenge is that there’s a lot of discrimination and negative view toeards differently abled people and women in general. We as a society talk about them a lot but we don’t believe in them from within.
Lastly, we have a billing problem as we still operate as an NGO and have two auditors to work on it. We have three audits annually. We are billing the product as per the provision provided by the Social Welfare Council (SWC). The money comes as part of Sano Paila and it goes back to the project. So we aren’t getting any profit from this initiative. This provides us leverage and we are also paying tax so, all the revenues and the billing generated are attributed to the tax office at the end of the year. This is still a problem because we have to mobilize the auditor and it’s very expensive. This is the reason we’re intending to register Kasya as a separate entity as soon as possible.
7. How many products are produced on a weekly basis?
When we don’t have any consignment, we make around 50 pieces because each design is different. However, when there is a consignment, we can finish up to 300 pieces per week.
8. How many customers do you have?
We have approximately 15-20 customers who are regular buyers. However, we have been slow in the last couple of months with the clients. Recently, we have received interest from a foreign client to order a huge amount of jewelry. So, after registering Kasya as a separate venture, we will start exporting as well.
9. What social changes are you intending to bring in the society?
The main intention is to empower women who are differently abled and survivors of trafficking. We are one of the organizations that work in the grassroots for women empowerment. We have seen that disadvantaged women do not get a place. The only key to empower these women is through financial independence because once they take money home, they will be part of the decision making in their family.
Our concept is not only to promote jewelry. Our ultimate goal is to empower women; making jewelry is just a medium. So, in the future, we are also planning to make handicrafts out of artistic materials like Mithila paintings and the glasses from Palpa.
The girls who are currently working with us had the lowest confidence when they joined four years back. They did not have any ambition; they just wanted to survive. Every year you meet them, we witness growth in their confidence and ambition. So, creating ambition is what we can do as an organization. We want to inspire them and create a role model. I feel that women in this country are not provided a space that they actually deserve. Unless we do not address that, the development process is not possible. We have been involved in various projects such as education, health, youth empowerment, and trafficking and the only thing we have analyzed is that women are in a vulnerable situation.
10. How do you approach such women to join Himalayan Jewellery?
Around six trafficked girls whom we rescued ourselves worked with us before. We have a refuge house in Birgunj. However, our first priority is to send them back to their family and if it does not work, then we keep them with us.
In 2014- 2015, we found that most of the circuses in India were exploiting young Nepali girls aged around 18. They were all trafficked and we were rescuing those kids through the organization “Freedom Matters”. We are in touch with other organizations who link us with the rescued women and girls.
11. Do you consider yourself as an entrepreneur or a business person?
Entrepreneurs are generally thought to be only for profit but I think entrepreneurship is a bigger dimension. Now, I think Social Entrepreneur is more about responsible business. One of the main missions of Kasya is to be a socially responsible business. This is why I call myself a social entrepreneur.
12. Do you measure the social impact of your service?
Honestly speaking we do not have a specific measurement. However, we definitely want to measure our social impact because it inspires us to work harder to make a difference. The objective of Himalayan Jewellery workshop is for people to come and learn the skills. But we haven’t done the social impact measurement on a quantitative scale.
13. Do you want to share something more?
Yes. I think the government and the people from our society should also encourage these kinds of work. Although we are not taking profit, it must have a ripple effect so that others are inspired as well. There are a lot of people who are differently abled but there is no proper platform for them. I feel privileged working with them and would be really happy if society accepts our work.
With all the social work happening by generating employment opportunities for those otherwise boycotted by the society after surviving through different type of discriminations. Himalayan Jewelry is an initiative we need to look out for.