Meera Bhattarai

Organization: 
Association for Craft Producers
Year founded: 
1984
Country: 
Nepal
Website: 

One of the oldest and largest non-profit handicraft organizations in Nepal, the Association for Craft Producers is dedicated to providing design, marketing, management and technical services to low-income and predominantly female craft producers.

Focus: Women Empowerment, Fair trade
Geographic Area of Impact: Nepal
Model: Social Business
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 1,100 (2010)
Annual Budget: US$ 1,585,899
Percentage Earned Revenue: 99%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

Background
Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world, with half of its population of 29 million living below the poverty line and 80% living in rural areas where agriculture is the primary source of income. Only 45% of those over 15 years of age read and write. The main contributing factors to these statistics are the socio-economic and political turmoil that has characterized the country’s last 50 years. In this context, Meera Bhattarai set up the Association for Craft Producers as a non-profit social venture to improve the development of low-income women artisans in Nepal.

Innovation and Activities
ACP is not just a cooperative, but a catalyst for women’s empowerment by offering female craft workers fair income earning opportunities. While there is nothing new about traditional handicraft as a source of income, ACP’s engagement with local producers acts as a cornerstone of its model and the reason for its success.

Drawing on long of experience of working with women, ACP promotes handicraft production backed by a support programme that assures the supply of raw material, design ideas, management skills and organized market outlets. ACP also provides producers with salaries and social benefits, such as health and housing subsidies, an emergency fund and aid for education (two children per family, at least one being female).

ACP started with 38 craft producers, and today has more than 1,100 (90% women) from 15 districts in Nepal. Their work covers 21 product areas including ceramics, basket weaving, toy making, tableware, wool products and carpentry. ACP has 60 full-time staff and continues to grow, and has remained fully self-sustaining since 1987 (three years after it initiated operations). It serves as an example of what a carefully planned, socially conscious business investment can achieve. The success of the cooperative scheme lies in the reinvestment of profits to benefit the producers.

Women’s earnings from the sales of crafts are an important part of their household economy. Such income has brought increased support and respect from their husbands and fathers, given them a greater voice in household decisions and an increased determination to educate their children, especially their daughters.

The Entrepreneur
Meera Bhattarai started her career at the Nepal Women's Organization. After 10 years she had become increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy, corruption and mistreatment by government staff towards the poor, particularly women. She resigned her position to set up ACP, to improve the situation of the Nepalese poor. Since then, Bhattarai has focused on three major systemic changes needed to improve how handicraft businesses are run: ensure product portfolios meet international quality and design standards; reintroduce ancient crafts; and organize women with families and farming responsibilities into a reliable workforce.