Optimizing processes for sustainable enterprise
Westerners might hear the name Jyotir Nisha and think, how lovely, but people in Jyotir’s home country of Nepal look puzzled and ask a question because her name hasn’t revealed that which they think they need to know in order to place her into a preconceived slot. This slot has nothing to do with her country or her specific identity. It is, instead, a social niche that maps out an entire life-plan for an individual born in Nepal. It is caste. In Nepal, caste is revealed by the surname and will determine which doors will open and which will close. Though belonging to the high Brahmin caste, Jyotir’s family refused to let a name limit their daughter or give her unfair advantages. They chose her surname because they wanted her to form her own identity and earn her own merits.
Even a daughter in the Brahmin caste is not typically consulted about personal identity, mate choice, and career path. Though education was available to Jyotir, other doors had a tendency to remain closed. Yet, Jyotir is a problem solver, the epitome of one who sees challenges where others see obstacles. Examining the nature of these obstacles, Jyotir says, “The more poverty, illiteracy, injustice, and unawareness exists in a society, the more chaos and conflicts exist, whether they be social inequality, identity, gender discrimination, or ethnic conflicts.” One long and bloody political conflict ended when “the Maoists put their weapons down and came into peace talks,” Jyotir says, but ethnicity is still a huge issue. “Language creates a barrier in our country,” she says, citing those who speak Maithili, the second-most widely spoken language. They are considered by some as less than true Nepalese, leading to national conflicts and protest movements. Adding gender discrimination, girls, as the weaker gender, are expected to marry and become dependent on their husbands.
So, what would Jyotir do to solve these problems? She knows one part of that answer right away. “I will do things that I want to do rather than those that I am supposed to do.” After receiving a Mahatma Gandhi scholarship for high school from the Indian Embassy in Nepal, she received a full scholarship from the government of Nepal to pursue a degree in “a man’s field,” industrial engineering—causing still more puzzled looks and questions.
“Industrial engineering,” Jyotir says, “is all about optimization of processes and effective ways of utilizing man, machine and material. So for any social enterprise to be sustainable, I envision the perfect blend of all these.” That, not caste, is her road map.
Supplementing her degree from the Institute of Engineering at Thapathali, she’s trained in such diverse components as boiler safety, operations management, and energy audits. A final seminar paper involved her project with Varun Beverages (PepsiCo in Nepal) in finding ways to reduce or eliminate the waste from bottle caps and other segments of the manufacturing process.
She’d also begun volunteering at Himalayan Rainbow Trout Sunkhani, a feed production company supported by an NGO that develops fisheries.
After graduation, Jyotir became a production supervisor for Sunkhani, and often visits low income trout farmers for trouble-shooting. In one village, her team invited the workers to participate in the First National Fish Festival. Jyotir tried to convince women to compete in a dish-making competition as a way to showcase their cooking skills and grow their businesses. The women feared professional competition, so Jyotir encouraged them by entering a dish of her own. She won second prize, and the women saw her receiving an award on television. She says, “They understood my point that anyone can make an identity doing anything she is good at.” Over her next few visits, she encouraged them to start up local restaurants and sell trout produced in their own farms, supplementing their husbands’ earnings and becoming entrepreneurs. “Now there are many such restaurants,” Jyotir says, and “many people visiting them during weekends from Kathmandu Valley.” They express their gratitude, and she sees happiness in their eyes. That’s when she realized, “if a small effort of mine can bring such a change in someone’s life, then I will be more than happy to do such any day in my life.”
Technology and engineering have introduced machines like aerators and vacuum packing machines, and Jyotir sees another opportunity. She would like to set up a marketing cooperative for fish farmers with all these facilities, so she presented the idea at the social entrepreneurship venture competition at HSI and received a $1,000 award to get the project started. “I see myself working for youth and women empowerment projects and those projects that integrate engineering in agriculture,” Jyotir says, “And I also see myself making a contribution in the social entrepreneurship sector.” If anyone can influence change, it is a determined person like Jyotir who has successfully resisted the traditional pressures of caste every day of her life.
Jyotir’s Award-winning Fish Rolls:
Chopped onions and chili
Process: Pour lemon juice over fish and steam it till it’s cooked. After removing head, bones, fins and skin, mash the fish to make a paste. Heat a pan, add some oil to it. Add chopped onion and chili. Let it turn golden brown; add tomato puree. Add the mashed fish, garlic-cumin paste and salt to taste. Stir it for a while and the stuffing is ready. For the outer covering, cook some rice and make a paste of it in blender. Add two spoonfuls of flour to it for binding and add salt to taste. Make rice balls and fill in the stuffing. Fry them till golden, and it’s ready to be served with any dip or sauce of your choice.