Brit Nicola Maharjan and her husband Nabin, a Nepalese native, started trading directly from the country in the wake of the 2015 earthquake. They now run a number of social enterprise initiatives in the country, including two that create products for sale
How did your relationship with Nepal develop?
I met Nabin in the jungles of Nepal in 2011, specifically in Chitwan National Park, whilst I was on holiday trekking and travelling. We married in 2014 and Nepal is now my second home. We visit at least twice a year and I now have a deep affinity for this beautiful country and the warm, welcoming and humble people. Their slogan is ‘once is never enough’ and I am proof of that.
What was your working background up until this point?
I’ve worked in events, marketing and sponsorship for the best part of 20 years now. I spent eight years in London working on international sports and music events such as the Formula One season, UEFA European Championship, British Open Golf and Live Earth, and had the amazing opportunity to travel to over 50 countries delivering events for clients. Dubai then became home ten years ago and, after a few years as an events consultant, my business partner and I took the decision to set up Custard Communications, a boutique events agency. We’ve just celebrated our sevenyear anniversary.
So given you were already busy with your own business, what prompted you to branch out into social enterprise?
I’ve always enjoyed volunteering and getting involved in various social enterprise initiatives. Having spent time in Nepal, I went on to spend three years supporting a small but effective charity there called Children of the Mountain that focused on building schools and training teachers. That kickstarted my desire to establish a platform with my husband that we could grow and develop together.
But it was the 2015 earthquake that solidified that plan and brought your initiatives into fruition…
The earthquake in April 2015 was devastating, and we decided we needed to support the long term recovery by investing in the country. In October 2015, we established the social enterprise Roots, with
“If gIven the choIce, most of us would prefer to support small busInesses and socIal enterprIse”
the tagline ‘discover local’, with the overall objective to develop platforms to support homegrown businesses and create employment. Our first initiative was Roots Eatery, a café that opened in June 2016 in the heart of Kathmandu. Following that, in October 2016, we launched Den, which sells handmade children’s teepees made by craftspeople in Nepal using 100 per cent local cotton canvas, and just recently we finished our first print run of Culture in Colour colouring books for adults, based on the culture and country of Nepal, to encourage mindfulness.
Why was trading with people on the ground in Nepal so important to you?
There are very few exporting companies who source directly and solely from the actual craftspeople themselves in Nepal. We want to make sure the money spent on the products goes directly to those who deserve it and that they are paid a fair price for their work. We also want to develop their skills to make new and unique products that will be popular in the UAE.
What have the benefits of those trading partnerships been – have you seen firsthand evidence on the ground of your initiative’s impact?
The Roots Eatery neighbourhood has really started to be revived with the increased footfall, and the residents enjoy discounts so have started using the café as a meeting spot and a hub for the area. In the future, we are aiming to use the café as a training centre for underprivileged young adults, allowing them to learn hospitality as a trade for free in order to give them a better chance at employment. DEN’s products have also been incredibly popular – we’ve just placed an order for another batch and are looking into new specifications such as different sizes and colours.
How important has the social enterprise aspect of your business been to building your brand and customer base her in Dubai?
It’s definitely been important. If given the choice, most of us would prefer to support small businesses and social enterprise. Consumers are becoming far more savvy too and want to know where the products they buy come from, and ensure the money they pay reaches the source.
What are your ultimate aims for the business, both personally and in terms of assisting in Nepal?
We would like Roots Eatery to grow to become a chain of ethically run cafés, offering free training and employment to the underprivileged and becoming sought out by visitors to Nepal. We would also like Den to provide full time employment to our group of craftspeople and see their teepees feature in homes across the UAE, giving the children who use them a place they can escape, play and relax in whilst reminding them that not every child is as fortunate as them.
1. Nabin and the staff of Roots Eatery, Kathmandu 2. A Den Nepal teepee 3. The Maharjan family