With a strong network of more than 3000 home-based women workers, Sabah Nepal is a membership-based organization. Hence, all the members are believed to be the owners of this social-business that is working towards firming the livelihoods of poor and marginalized home based women workers. Giving us differentiated hand made products with high-end quality since 2008; Sabah is now a household name in the socially conscious trendy market.
Here is what the CEO, Mr. Robin Shrestha, has to say about Sabah Nepal’s venture.
1. What are the social problems that Sabah Nepal is trying to solve?
According to data, around 2.2 million home-based workers in Nepal aren’t recognized by the government despite their large contribution to the economy. Sabah Nepal works with these workers from the informal sector of the economy linking them to the mainstream market. SABAH stands for SAARC Business Association of Home Based Workers and hence, it’s working as a brand that empowers marginalized home-based workers by marketing their products and providing them the skill set required to run a business.
2. Can you share about your journey with Sabah Nepal?
With the support from SAARC Development Fund, Sabah started in 2008 and worked in a project mode for six years. They supported us for 6 years and helped in infrastructural and trade facilities development. After that, we’ve been sustaining ourselves through our business activities.
The Sabah journey has been tremendously beautiful. We’ve learned a lot, built up capacities in terms of production, designing, setting up of businesses and have built up carters of master trainers. This way we are looking at 360 degrees approach of the business.
Our journey has been quite bumpy at times too mostly when setting businesses in rural parts of Nepal. 2015 was a bit tough as we had just come out of the project mode and stopped getting external support and the devastating Earthquake had hit Nepal too. However, we kept moving forward. Sabah has an integrated business approach and focuses on various aspects, which also helped us sustain during the hard times.
As of now, we are into 17 business sectors that include agriculture, food processing, natural fibers, and textiles.
3. What is the legal status of your company?
We are registered as a non-profit company. Sabah is also affiliated with Social Welfare Council of Nepal which gives us a status of NGO but at its core, Sabah is a social business.
4. What was your employee strength when you first started Sabah?
When we started out, we had project staff instead of employees as we began as a project and not a fully-fledged company. The people that run this company are home-based women workers who are also the members of this organization. We started out with 24 members and now have increased up to 3000 in 23 different districts of Nepal.
5. Were there any challenges you faced while starting Sabah?
Yes, we faced a lot of challenges while starting Sabah. Since we work with women from the informal sector who’ve neither received formal education nor proper work experience, it was a bit difficult to mobilize them. Also, it was challenging to formalize the business processes since they were unfamiliar with such activities.
Our costs were also high since the lead time to upgrade the people from the grassroots level to running these kinds of businesses is very long. Additionally, we had difficulty explaining our high prices to the consumers and staying competitive in the market as a social business.
6. How did you overcome your challenges?
We believe that Nepal has the necessary resources available along with market demand to run a business like ours. There’s actually three things that we look at before starting any business viz. available local resources, indigenous skills of women we work with and small technological interventions. By utilizing all of this in the correct way, Sabah has created a name for itself. The quality, organic and sustainable products we serve are our biggest strength and help us stand out even in tough competition with national as well as international players.
7. Who are your target customers?
Sabah creates a niche for different sectors in the market. Our product is not for all; we only serve traditional food that can’t be compared with fast food chains or international culinary. It is the same with fashion where we focus heavily on Dhaka- our traditional fabric and some other natural fabrics, which cater to certain categories of the market. The quality Sabah has been able to provide brings us clientele from every sector. We are not directly competing with different businesses in the market but are creating a different market of our own. For instance, Dhaka, considered a traditional fashion fabric in Nepal, is being used to make contemporary products for different market segments hence creating a market that is socially conscious but trendy at the same time.
8. Is Sabah running on a business model or self-sufficiency model?
Sabah Nepal distinguishes and unites local home-based workers in a group and provides various capacity building training coupled with business development and marketing support. These projects are conveyed centrally at the Trade Facilitation Center, which is replicated at the Common Facilitation Center at the regional level.
9. How many clients do you have on a monthly basis?
On average, we have around 3000 clients in the food business and around 2500 clients in the fashion sector on a monthly basis.
10. Do you have any future plan with Sabah Nepal?
Yes, we do! In fact, there are many. To talk about a few, we are planning to open more chains of restaurants. We’ll also be making designs as per customer demand with the very best quality.
11. Is there any other information that you would like to share?
Informal sectors play a major role in the country’s economy and Nepal should tap into this sector in order to develop. Thus, the recognition of the informal sector is very important if companies like Sabah is to sustain and make a difference in society.
You can visit their store Sabah Nepal at Pulchowk or even try their Newari delicacies at The Village Cafe to support their initiation. For more details about this social purpose-driven company, please visit their website SABAH Nepal.
Interviewed by Ashmita Rai and Edited by Yangzum Lama