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    Nepalese Businesswoman Assists New Exporters


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2003

    Interview with Sulo Shrestha-Shah, Lotus Holdings

    A successful businesswoman boosts business exports in Nepal by starting an investment company built on the principle of corporate social responsibility.

    Lotus Holdings is an investment company and business incubator that has already helped to establish five manufacturing companies and six other companies in information technology (IT) and other service areas.

    How it all began

    Sulo Shrestha-Shah, president and founder of Lotus Holdings, began trading in carpets and textiles in 1991. As she had a German designer as business partner, she exported to Germany from the outset. She set up her own manufacturing company, Formation Carpets, when it became difficult to find high-quality goods.

    Ms Shrestha-Shah's experiences as a businesswoman in a man's world, and the obstacles that she identified as hampering development in her native Nepal, shaped her vision in setting up Lotus Holdings. "It was the realization that I needed to look beyond myself which led to investing in other companies and sharing the market," she explains.

    Ms Shrestha-Shah says that although there are some women entrepreneurs currently exporting from Nepal, most women are unable to engage in business activities because their families prevent them from working.

    Apart from the cultural resistance to women working outside the home, she sees the laws governing property rights as the main problem for would-be women entrepreneurs, since only males can inherit property in Nepal. If this were not the case, she is convinced that more Nepalese women would become entrepreneurs.

    Blocks to export competitiveness

    Although some barriers are specific to women, other obstacles to competitiveness are gender neutral. Ms Shrestha-Shah identifies skill shortages as a major difficulty for Nepalese companies, as 50% of the country's population is illiterate.

    Another problem is obtaining finance, since banks are unwilling to issue loans against companies, as is the practice in many countries.

    Investments for success

    Lotus Holdings and its affiliates believe that research and development activities are the only path to success in exports. After it was set up in 1998, Lotus Holdings began to research markets, such as France, Italy and the United States of America, with help from the Nepalese Government and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

    It plans to accelerate its current development rate by investing in companies in areas identified as productive and in need of assistance. It helps its members to export efficiently by providing advice and information on shipments and legal requirements.

    To address the skills shortage problem, Lotus Holdings and its affiliates have introduced educational programmes for staff and their children. They have also invested in technology that they feel has the potential to increase exports.

    Lotus Holdings has a strong philosophy of corporate social responsibility, and will only invest in companies that believe in ethical business, treat their employees fairly and invest in education. It has founded a non-governmental organization, Hoste Hainse, to focus on social issues. All companies within the group operate an equal rights policy, always employing the best person for the job. Ms Shrestha-Shah feels that the business community as a whole would have a better image if it focused more on corporate social responsibility.

    Company: Lotus Holdings

    Sector: Manufacturing, trading, investment management, services

    Location: Nepal

    Employees: Over 400, of whom 20 are in the head office at Kathmandu

    Yearly turnover: US$ 427,000

    Export sales as % of total turnover: 50%

    Current export markets: France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, United States of America

    Web site:http://www.lotusholdings.com.np

    Advice to other women entrepreneurs: "Make your presence felt, and break down barriers. This is difficult, even for educated women, but necessary if women are to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the business community."

    Mary Treacy, Trade Forum contributing editor, conducted this interview.

    For more information about Lotus Holdings, contact info@lotusholdings.com.np