Arriving in Nepal and the CITTA Challenge

After getting settled into our accommodations, we arrived at the women’s center in Patan on Sunday. Seitu, the representative from Aatmiya we have been predominantly in contact with, lead us to the worksite. The current satellite worksite has a centralized location in the downtown square of Patan, surrounded by various temples and historic monuments. CITTA, the parent organization of Aatmiya, is planning to shift the main production office to this Patan location from Bhaktapur, thus changing the central location for work. Upon arrival, Seitu introduced us to three of the full-time employees (called Didis) that were currently working on an order for one of their clients, Oja Moon. As a team, we immediately noticed that the center was spacious, clean, and more than adequate in comparison to other establishments and local vendors within Nepal.

We returned the next day and, considering the shift in production to Patan, started to finalize the scope of our project. We focused on confirming our key question, debated the overall scope of the project and tried to rank the priorities of the center, the project, and what the CITTA/Aatmiya brand had in mind. Branded as a women’s economic development project, we determined with the client that  the creation of more work for more women, with the mission to integrate more part-time/piece-rate women was most important. We further identified three main areas where we sought to further improve on this goal: development of an Aatmiya brand, implementing a CRM system, and growing/improving the current client base/work. In establishing the Aatmiya brand, we entertained various ideas, ranging from creating Ohio State branded products to potentially participating in various trade shows such as New York NOW.

Super Eco Brick Innovations Ribbon Cutting
Super Eco Brick Innovations Ribbon Cutting

As a side intermission from our project, the owner of our accommodations (Hira Guest House) invited us to attend the grand opening of another of his business ventures. The partnership, Super Eco Brick Innovations, is a joint-venture between investors in Nepal and a Japanese chemical company. Utilizing a revolutionary new chemical, bricks are produced by simply mixing the chemical with dirt not suitable for proper agriculture to form bricks that are molded in a specific shape for maximum insulation. Most importantly, with this process there is no need for a kiln for a heat treatment/brick firing process thus the environmental footprint is significantly reduced. In addition, the final product has far superior strength, durability, and resilience to water absorption than anything else on the market. In short, the Super Eco brick is the perfect solution for a country lacking stable, universal infrastructure such as Nepal. The ceremony thanked the various partners, investors, as well as the Japanese ambassador to Nepal, whose attendance was more than valued. The ceremony concluded with a ribbon cutting and exhibition of the current batch-process for brick production.

Trip to Bhaktapur Office
Trip to Bhaktapur Office

Later in the week, we visited the other Aatmiya production site in Bhaktapur, the current central production location. Here, we saw some of the same salaried Didi’s at work, as well as several of the part-time Didi’s, with whom we conducted a group interview. In this interview, we wanted to understand how the Didi’s felt about the work they were doing, what they preferred, and what they would be open to. They ended up voicing a strong opinion in desiring consistent labor, with a preference for smaller pieces, due to the fact that they would make more money per hour due to the pay structure (piece-rate). They also showed strong interest in taking supplementary classes to learn things such as computer skills. In addition to the group interview, we were able to view more of the products in their final form and packaging, which helped us visualize the current product mix that the Didi’s were producing.

Following our trip to Bhaktapur, we visited several women’s cooperatives that sell goods created by women and belong to Fair Trade Nepal, an organization that supports ethical production methods and financially transparent economic development. There, we reviewed products from competitors (quality, price, designs, etc.) and examined and compared the overall layout of the shops. This was especially helpful in determining price-ranges that are appropriate for local consumers in Nepal.

Meeting with KTS
Meeting with KTS

Yesterday, we met with KTS (Kumbeshwar Technical School) a not-for-profit with over 30 years of experience in creating opportunity and education for individuals of the lowest caste in Nepal. We spoke to the director who shared the history of the organization founded by his father and how it developed from a daycare center, to a vocational school, to the multi-faceted organization that it is today. They have vocational schools that train individuals in one of three trades: hand-knitting, carpet weaving, or carpentry, and also a textile/knitting business that creates hand-knit products, rugs, and other related goods. What we found especially interesting was that the organization is vertically integrated, with the dying process done in house as part of manufacturing. There was even a shop located within the same building that sold KTS creations, particularly production overruns.

KTS’ basic business model is to fulfill orders from multiple international clients many of whom are themselves organizations dedicated to creating economic development, healthcare opportunities and food supplementation for marginalized societies and cultural groups. (As an example, Americans might know of SERV International)  The profits generated from these orders support the other on-going programs KTS offers to the community (daycare, orphanage, primary school, vocational programs). It was quite astounding to hear about everything they had to offer as a nonprofit. And, as former president of Fair Trade Nepal, the Director lived the Fair Trade creed of transparency by generously sharing some of KTS’ more technical financials, specifically identifying margins, overhead cost application, as well as the standard mark-up by wholesalers, all of which were very insightful in regards to this line of business.

This week, we plan on using what we have learned to start standardizing the business documents used by Aatmiya and begin developing a strategy for transitioning the products into their own brand (AMA by Aatmiya). Our goals are to create more stable work for the Didi’s; standardize costing, margins, and sampling procedures; and develop a plan for finding some short term orders in the coming fall and into the following year.

All in all, we’ve had a magnificent week of gathering primary research. It is infinitely better to be on the ground asking questions in person, identifying areas of concerns, and truly visualizing goods, manufacturing sites, and the local environment over trying to learn the same from afar. We’ve learned first hand about the state of the business, the pricing of competitors and how they operate, as well as the opinions of those involved in Aatmiya. I am looking forward to what the coming week brings as we synthesize all that we have learned and produce a social entrepreneurship project of tangible value to Aatmiya.

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