Cornell student Shaibyaa Rajbhandari ‘18 started her entrepreneurial journey last year with Utthan. Utthan is a multidimensional social investment company that creates long-term sustainable impact in Nepal following the earthquake in 2015. The entire world came together to help in immediate rehabilitation but often that is short-term. With Utthan, Shaibyaa aims to create a healthier and economically stable alternative for families affected by the earthquake.
What’s going on with Utthan right now?
After successfully launching the goat farming project, we were able to expand it to four different villages in Nepal. It was made possible through grants from Engaged Learning at Cornell and the Janet McKinley family grant award. We have launched our second project called Patuka.
What does Patuka do?
The whole purpose of the venture (both Utthan and Patuka), is to provide a sustainable source of income generation for underprivileged people in Nepal. Growing up, I saw a lot of problems but with the Earthquake of 2015, I saw the opportunity to create an impact and started Utthan. This time, I wanted to specially work with the wonderful women of Nepal. Through Patuka, we give women an opportunity to handcraft tapestries and sell them to the college market.
How does Patuka help these women?
Every time a tapestry is bought, there is an attached postcard of the woman who weaved it and her story. All of the profits from the sales go to the creation of a vocational training program for the women. These women lost their houses and typically come from homes with no other sources of income. Creating a vocational training center for them will allow for them to become more skilled in different areas and be more employable in the longer run and have a constant source of income.
What was the hardest part about the creation of Patuka?
Convincing these women that I could relate to them was extremely difficult. At the end of the day, despite my intentions and willingness to help out, I was indeed in a position of privilege and they were starting their lives all over again. To be able to convince women to partake in Patuka, trust me with their skills and allowing Patuka to help them build their lives was tough. When I was finally able to get them onboard, I was very humbled by their passion, liveliness and their willingness to take charge.
What is your definition of success – both for yourself and Patuka?
At the end of the day, I think I would be successful when I am content. When I wrap up a project, I don’t want the happiness to be temporary but something more long-lasting. That’s how Utthan was for me, and I hope to achieve a similar concept by establishing the training centre with Patuka. I want my impact to be sustainable and that is how I will be content.
Are there any resources at Cornell that helped you build Utthan, Patuka and your own entrepreneurial skills?
Cornell has a lot of great courses that help in honing the way entrepreneurs think. The Women in leadership class with Professor Streeter and the Social Entrepreneurship class in SHA with Professor Creary have taught me to chase after my dreams and structure my plans and projects respectively. In addition, the support that I receive from organizations on-campus has really given me the confidence to apply for grants and launch these projects. A lot of the support for the tapestries has also come through the network I was able to build through my extracurriculars around Cornell.
Do you have any advice for an aspiring social entrepreneur?
College is the best time to take a risk; especially in a place like Cornell where there are so many resources to take a leap a faith – that really helps you build your personal brand and helps you differentiate yourself and your idea.
You can check out the tapestries for sale here.