“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.” This is a famous quote by the American aviation pioneer, Wilbur Wright. It’s a fact that skills are the fundamental caparisons of any person that makes the person create his/her distinct identity. But there has been much evidence that even many people with different skills are not being able to showcase their potentials among others. Their works haven’t been appreciated and their skills are being rusted in some corners behind the walls of the house. But what if the people chaperoned with enough skills get a platform to exhibit their skills and their products are appreciated in the commercial market?
SABAH Nepal, a social-entrepreneurial non-profit business organization, established with the mission of proliferating economic empowerment of home-based workers and promoting local products made up of manipulating local resources and skills, has been empowering a number of home-based workers especially women since 2009.
BUT What is SABAH Nepal? How does it empower home-based workers and local products?
To understand more about SABAH Nepal, let’s hear it out from the very genius behind the success of SABAH Nepal, CEO of SABAH Nepal, Robin Amatya:
1. When did the concept of SABAH Nepal emerge and how was it established?
In 2006 AD, when SAARC conceived the idea of empowering home-based workers economically and in the same time, an organization called Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) also working for the same purpose, to initiate the vision module, the project of SABAH Nepal was rolled out in 2008 with the support of SAARC and the project got fully implemented from 2009. With the collaboration of business modules of SAARC, SEWA, and Home Net South Asia, SABAH Nepal aka SAARC Business Association of Home-Based Workers was formed. SABAH Nepal was established with the board members involved in different sectors like the social sector, activism, handicraft sector, etc. I joined the delightful team of SABAH Nepal in 2009. I was already working before in Manufacturing, exporting, retailing, and home-based cottage industry and I was leading Project Management where we trained vendors and home-based workers and chose efficient leaders to initiate ground level activities. We formed clusters in different places where leaders could set up production, designing, and marketing activities.
2. What was the main motive behind the establishment of such a socio-business non-profit organization?
The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also stated the terminology of home-based workers, definition, and the data of home-based workers in the context of Nepal and globally too. According to the informal data study undertaken in 2006, it was estimated that about 2.2 million people are home-based workers in Nepal. SABAH Nepal focuses on three things:
Recognizing of home-based workers
Organizing the home-based workers
Implementing the activities for their economic empowerment
In fact, strengthening the livelihoods of home-based workers is one of the strong motives of SABAH Nepal and we focus more on female home-based workers by providing them leadership training and personality development skills. ILO C177 has clearly stated about the home-based workers but still, the Nepal Government hasn’t ratified it. We have been providing specific training to the poor and marginalized people to initiate their own products in terms of capacity building, skill enhancement, selling market-oriented products, etc. Till now, we have provided training to more than 16,000 home-based workers free of cost.
In the context of Kathmandu valley, most of the people are involved in handicraft sectors such as knitting, weaving, metal crafts, stone crafts, etc and these workers have been working at their homes as their workplace instead of directly going into the factories. Some of them may have registered businesses but they have been functioning informally. Just like metropolitan areas, people in rural areas too are involved in knitting, embellishing but for the finishing of the final products, they have to be dependent on the formal sector. The products like Nanglo, Dala, Dhaka Topis, hand-woven fabrics are made at the homes, not factories. SABAH Nepal recognizes such home-based workers and exhibits their products in the market with the goal of empowering and promoting the home-based workers. We have been making the products from the natural fiber called Allo (Himalayan nettle) which grows at 1,200 meters and above. Similarly, SABAH Nepal is working on the value addition works of agro-products, traditional and ethnic cuisines. We are always in terms of research about the possibilities of the types of home-based works. And till now, we have been able to work under 17 different variations.
4. How does SABAH Nepal operate its activities?
We have Trade Facilitation Centres as our business module where the groups of workers are formed. We support them to make their products in terms of raw materials and designing matters. We also provide training in market lineages, color combinations, and the final finishing of the products. SABAH also makes its distinct products under the SABAH brand whereas it also provides online and offline marketing support to the home-based workers from the local level to the international level. Besides these, we offer Business Support services like entrepreneurship training, brand creating training, making effective business plans, sales and marketing techniques, etc. And we have our own shop as well. We have categorized our different products under different brand names such as:
Sabah- Fashion Wears
Village- Food products
Kailash- Allo, Natural products
Himalica- Agro-based spices, Tea, etc
5. Who are your loyal customers? Are the customers excited about using the local products?
Even before 10 years, Dhaka products were considered as so much ethnic and traditional wear. We attempted to make Dhaka wear trendy and glamorous by promoting Dhaka products in Miss Nepal, television shows, movies, modeling shows, etc. Now the concept of Dhaka as ethnic wear has been changed and it’s used in weddings and parties. We have been promoting Dhaka since 2011 in fashion shoes and many others and we are happy for the revival of Dhaka in the market. We have been making different accessories, bags, cushion covers out of Dhaka and people are loving them.
Similarly, we have been exporting natural dye products made from Allo and knitted hand-woven fabrics using traditional skill sets. We believe that we have to sustain within the local market, so about 65% of sales are done in the local market within the country and the rest is exported. We have a number of home-based workers all over Nepal and we sell their products mainly within South Asian countries.
6. Please share with us something about the past challenges that SABAH Nepal has to tackle.
The learning curve is different as we provide training to the workers who work from their homes. We had to stay at the bottom of the value chain and there would be the problem of mismanagement of production capacity. We had to also face timely production challenges. Reaching out to home-based workers for providing them the required raw materials in different areas, causing high logistics costs, financing struggles, persuading customers due to new brands, branding, etc were some of the initial phase challenges. But challenges make us goal-focused and without challenges, no work can be successful.
7. How are you different from your competition?
SABAH is owned by the workers themselves. We have home-based workers as the governing board of members accompanied by board members from the professional sector too. Selling the products from the grassroots by adding value and the charismatic skills of home-based workers is the fundamental difference between us and others. We strongly believe in the mutual collaboration of Nepalese resources and the skill set of home-based workers.
8. How has COVID-19 affected your business operation and home-based workers?
COVID-19 has affected the whole global world. As I mentioned earlier, 65% of sales are within the local market, the pandemic has created a very huge impact on our local and export business. But at the time of the pandemic, we chose innovative ways to sustain the skills of home-based workers. During the 1st lockdown, we made a plan to deliver the food products which were of 3 kinds: Ready to cook, Ready to eat, and Cooked food. We switched our fashion unit to a medical unit and began making medical unit wears like reusable masks, PPE suits, hospital suits, and more. Our workers worked from homes and we partnered with our logistics partner and we got more involved in making the medical wear products.
9. Any upcoming plans in the future.
In the present context, consumers are more conscious in terms of fashion and health. We have been making fashionable masks with Allo, Dhaka, and more. Especially, we are focussing on making 3-layered protective and reusable masks for school children for the lessening the use of plastic and disposable masks which can be reused and good for health with sweat soaking materials.
Likewise, we are making a protective body and head covering gears. And we have the theme of Green Fashion where products can be upcycled. We have been constantly promoting non-additives local honey, spices, teas, etc and we will be doing other projects as well.
10. Your message to the local startups.
We are very happy to know that many local startups have been established with the motive of promoting local products. You have to face many challenges in the beginning but you have to stick to your main motives and goals. We can’t achieve anything in a short time. We need stability, perseverance, continuity, and a collaborating spirit. There is a high demand for Nepalese local products in neighboring and international countries. If we can focus more on quality, standardization, branding, and marketing of local products, we can set a hallmark in the international market.
SABAH Nepal has been a great platform for home-based workers and it has supported thousands of families to exhibit their skills and upgrade their identity. The products of SABAH Nepal can also be found in Rolling Bazaar, an online hub and an E-Commerce website for the Nepalese local products.
Let’s promote Nepalese products. Let’s use our local products.