Shailaja Kasaju and Her Startup, Tekka
Social entrepreneur rightfully claimed the EntrepreneuHER win with her startup Tekka, which is working on its self-sustainability mission to promote local resources and local manpower by creating quality products that are accessible to people inside the country and out, hence aiming to increase production inside the country. Their products come from nooks and crannies of the country, with stories of local entrepreneurs behind them, reflecting authenticity and traditional values in them. To support the local entrepreneurs Tekka provides training and development, mentorship and connection to the market. So far, they have helped rural community people, especially empowering women, in handmade products made out of crochet, banana fiver, pashmina, and packaged food. This is done by sustainably sourced local materials of each respective community, with utmost care to quality maintenance, and helping the local community to improve their living standard by utilizing their skills. The products are sold through local markets, fairs, and also online.
For Shailaja, working with and for the community started really early, since 2008 when she started working for an educational consultancy. She has done a number of fundraisers and projects dedicated towards uplifting the lives of people. She fondly recalls the “vagina monologue” being her first fundraiser, where they featured victims of human trafficking. They told stories about how they were shunned by society after returned after being rescued. Shailaja shares “What we observed was, due to them being shunned, they ended up returning to sex work. So, the fundraiser campaign was to help find an alternative job so that this trend of them going back to illegal sex work ended”. This was a “turning point” for her as it made her realize the impact of social movements on the lives of many people, and that she could change lives if she kept on doing what she was doing.
Shailaja shares that the first concept for Tekka was birthed when she was volunteering in the Sindhupalchowk district of Nepal, and the huge megaquake struck the region in 2015. The majority of houses collapsed and people were living in tents in the fields on which they were dependent for agriculture. After the earthquake Shailaja busied herself with many relief packages for people, ranging from food to sanitary pads, to even scholarships for the local students. However, she also realized that these were immediate responses to the disasters and temporary and a longer-term strategy was required to help uplift the people of the region in the long run. Working with a NGO, she held a community meeting with the women and discussed with them what they think would help to raise their lives, and the response she got was that the women wanted to be empowered enough to earn for themselves. She took crochet dolls to the village and taught the women to crochet, which was a very affordable option at the moment, and which was embraced with much enthusiasm. Not only did crocheting help them open an avenue for revenue but the women also found a safe space where they could come together, talk to each other while crocheting, and it gave them a “sense of relief” at the moment where everything around was daunting.
While these moments paved way for Shailaja towards social entrepreneurship, it has taken her lots of effort, research, and work to bring Tekka to where it is today. When she started out, social entrepreneurship was a fairly new concept, and she took a lot of time to design Tekka. As theirs was not a funded company, it caused many limitations. However, Shailaja shares “when you have limited resources, you become more creative”. They opted for lots of waste minimizing and cost-cutting options, which even led their company to be even more sustainable. Impact-oriented Shailaja has found it highly satisfying to work for the community with her startups. Moments, when women found their safe work in the workspace, connecting them to opportunities and market, seeing their self-confidence and entire life improving, has made her journey worth all the effort. With the community women she worked with, she did not limit them only to handicraft and Tekka but connected them to many other opportunities as per their interest, whether it be studying further, or bakery, or even journalism!
As a winner of EntrepreneuHER Shailaja shares that the program not only gave recognition to her efforts but also gave her practical classes on bookkeeping, business canvas, and other professional business organization, which made her question her own ways and improve during the process! Going forward with the winning Tekka, Shailaja wants it to be an online hub for all handmade products. “I want it to support the women who are making such handicrafts at home but aren’t getting proper access market. I want it to be a hub for these women to channelize their hard work and effort, not just in a few districts, but all over Nepal”. Shailaja has had a wonderful journey with Tekka, and has a long way to go. In Shailaja’s own words “t’s not about how many people you’ve affected, but about how much you could affect their lives, even though it means it is just one person. That is what defines success for me. The warmth and love they show to you is something that should matter. This motivates you to go back and help the community even more. That acts as all the incentive you need.”
To up and coming entrepreneurs, Shailaja says “Everybody has their up and down moments. You just have to believe yourself and keep going because there will surely be a point where you’ll succeed!”
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