One determined step changed Devi's life


January 6, 2015

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  • Devi started her shop with a small loan from one of Mercy Corps' microfinance partners. Now, she's using her success to expand into other ventures. All photos: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

With every new year comes new opportunity. But turning opportunity into success takes ambition, grit, a positive attitude and a dream.

On my recent trip to Nepal, I met a young woman who took one small chance three years ago — a microfinance loan — and turned it into her very own flourishing small business. Mercy Corps helped her get that loan, and when we returned this year to see her progress, we were amazed by what she’d accomplished.

That first loan allowed Devi to open a small shop of her own, selling women’s beauty products. When we visited her village, we sought her out to hear about the shop’s success and her progress as a young businesswoman.

But we were in for a surprise. After a brief visit to her shop, which is doing better than ever, Devi told us that she'd had recently taken out a third loan, after paying off her first two, and asked if we’d like to see what she was doing with it.

We eagerly followed her down the road and up a dirt path until we reached a large handmade chicken coop. With a wide smile on her face, Devi led us inside, where hundreds of baby chicks scurried over to greet us.

“I saw other people raising chickens and earning good money, so I thought it was something I could do,” she said. With the success of her first shop under her belt, Devi is no longer shy about investing in herself.

She used her third loan to buy 600 chicks and build three large chicken coops. Devi’s astonishing success is a wonderful reminder that a little help can go a long way in the effort to create lasting change.

When we first visited her in 2011, Devi had only recently used her first loan to start her shop. But she was already doing well.

Devi has the kind of self-assured personality you want to bottle up and share with young girls with big dreams. Women like Devi haven’t always had opportunities to succeed in rural Nepal, where many teenage girls drop out of school to marry at a young age, and traditional family gender roles are still the norm.

But things are slowly changing, and strong women like Devi are paving the way for new generations of ambitious young girls.

Devi used to be a farmer, but she decided that she wanted to try something new. She wanted to be independent. “I always wanted to open my own business,” she told me.

While traveling across Nepal, all the young girls we met described wanting to own their own shops, make their own decisions, have supportive husbands, and earn a living. In short, they wanted to be like Devi. As soon as I met her, I knew she was living their dream. But it took her years — and a little boost.

Starting in 2008, Mercy Corps began working with microfinance and banking partners to establish village savings and loan groups and start a handful of microfinance banking branches, helping thousands of people access credit and loans to expand their small businesses.

In 2011, Devi attended a meeting in her village to learn about how to take out and repay a loan. Nervous at first, she took out her first 15,000 rupees (approximately $151 USD) to start the shop she’d always dreamed of owning.

“When I first went to the [village savings] meeting, I saw that it was easy to get a small loan. You didn’t need a lot of assets to put up as collateral,” Devi recalled. “I was so happy when I realized I could take out a loan and start my business.”

As we sat on the floor of her small shop, now filled to the brim with goods for sale, she remembered the days when she only sold a few hair and makeup products. “When I had the 15,000 rupees in my hand, I could see the full shop in my mind and felt like my dreams had come true.”

At only 29, Devi’s fierce determination to become a successful businesswoman is apparent in everything she does, and her strong spirit is infectious. She told me that she married at 19, had her son a few years later, and then finally started her business endeavors.

She is lucky to have a family that has offered their support. “My mother supported my business dreams completely, but my father wanted me to continue my studies. He asked me, ‘why are you doing this?’ But still, he came and helped me build my shop.”

Since then, Devi has embodied the bold and savvy businesswoman that she once dreamed of becoming. After repaying that first loan in just six months, she took out a second loan to expand her shop’s offerings — and her ambition paid off.

Now, Devi is focused on her latest business endeavor — learning how to successfully raise chickens. Her shop has given her the confidence she needs to try something new.

The chicks will take 45 days to raise before Devi can sell them. She hopes to pay off her third loan as soon as she sells the fully-grown chickens.

The success of her small shop has grown over the years, and now she is able to focus on her new endeavor — raising those baby chicks into healthy chickens she can sell for a profit. Devi is certain that she’ll be able to pay back her third loan as soon as she sells her chickens.

Her confidence comes from her previous experience. “At the time, 15,000 rupees seemed like handling 100,000,” she said of when she got her first loan. “Now 15,000 doesn’t even seem like much of a challenge.”

While Devi is excitedly learning about all-things poultry, her supportive husband tends her shop out front. “He’s working at the shop right now. I hired him for life!”

Their setup is unconventional in Nepal, but being the breadwinner of the family seems to suit Devi just fine. She also knows how important it is for other women in her community to believe in themselves and make the most of their opportunities.

“When a woman owns a business, she’s kept in the decision-making circle of the family. Otherwise, she just has to follow whatever decisions the others make,” said Devi. “I see a great difference in my village between those women who own a business and those who don’t.”

Devi hopes that girls in Nepal will stay in school if they can, but the reality is that cost and family issues keep many girls from attending. “You can get a much better job [if you go to school],” Devi told me. “But the lack of school doesn’t mean you can’t have a good job. It just means you need more self motivation.”

For girls who have been forced out of school, all hope is not lost. “Girls who have had to stop studying and can’t join school again should try to open a small business. My advice to them would be to start small because it will definitely grow.”

If they are anything like Devi, they will surely succeed with time and perseverance. Business clearly comes naturally to her, but Devi says the biggest lessons she’s learned are to save before you spend, invest back into your business, and always be welcoming to your customers.

Devi still attends the local village savings and loan group once a month, which she thinks is doing quite well. She told me that the group has a strong set of leaders, but that if there was an opening, she would certainly step up to the challenge. Having met Devi, that doesn’t surprise me one bit.