This week on FEW Members' Corner, we would like to introduce you to Miyabi Holm, Founder of Bahini, a non-profit organisation that sells Fair-Trade scarves made by the hands of marginalized women and sex-trafficking survivors. For every scarf they sell, Bahini gives back to the community by supporting girls in need with educational scholarships.
Hi Miyabi, can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial journey?
I was born and raised in Sweden, which is considered to be one of the most gender-equal societies in the world. Growing up I was fortunate to experience and witness various cultures and life-styles around the world. After graduating with a Master in Science & Media Management I went to Nepal where I worked as a volunteer for human rights with a focus on helping survivors of sex-trafficking. Once back in Sweden, I continued on my career path within technology and led projects in IOT and hardware production.
My heart was however still with the girls in Nepal- so I started to save up capital and plan how I could further help the girls. In 2016 I took a leap of faith and left my job to fully focus on starting my own social enterprise - Bahini, which in Nepali translates to little sister. With a mission to raise awareness about sex-trafficking and support survivors to live an independent life, Bahini is, through carefully selected Fair Trade certified suppliers, employing older survivors to create handicrafts. With fair pay and good working conditions, they can reintegrate into society and break the harmful cycle of abuse. With independence and a life in freedom they weave and dye the Bahini scarves that are made from 100% vegan eco-friendly materials. The profit from the scarf sales goes towards educational scholarships to younger survivors and to young girls at risk, ranging from pre-school to higher education so that they too can have a future in freedom.
What inspired you to start your company?
While I was in Nepal I learnt about the social stigma that survivors of rape and sex-trafficking face and also about the harsh environment that many Nepali girls grow up in- If a family lives in poverty, their daughters are seldom considered for the opportunity of education but sons automatically are. In Nepali culture, not only people from different caste-systems have different worth, in many areas the same goes for girls and women as they are seen as second-hand citizens. A girl’s place is to take care of the home or her mother in law. If a girl is raped or sold to a sex-trafficker she is automatically blamed and considered to bring shame to the family. Therefore oftentimes survivors are not welcomed back home and the community gives them no opportunities to reintegrate with education or work. The perpetrator usually goes free if it’s a man who is rich, from a higher caste or has contacts within the government. Hence, not many reports of rape or trafficking are being made as it would only put the survivor at more risk.
This system is incredibly unfair. And so I want to change this view on girls and women by supporting them to become independent and by doing so raise their social status so that they can live a life in freedom with equal opportunities as boys and men.
So far, what's the most challenging part of your journey?
As my background is within tech I don’t have any learnt tools nor the experience to work with social matters and that is probably one of the reasons I find this particularly challenging- When I meet some girls and learn about their stories I oftentimes feel completely overwhelmed with the feeling of helplessness. I wish I could do so much more and that I could help everyone. So it has been challenging to put my emotions aside in order for me to not get too numbed by my feelings so that I can keep a focus to still take that step forward. I’m still trying to come to terms with that it is ok if I can’t help every girl on this planet and that it is better if I’ve changed the life for one girl than for none at all.
A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE
On running business
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to not be too stubborn and to be flexible. When I first started Bahini I didn’t know all the things that I know today, and this journey has been incredibly humbling. There is a difference between having grit and blindly sticking to a plan. Bahini first started out as an idea for skincare products - and how it went from that to scarves has been a fun yet bumpy road to say the least.
On the top things to consider before starting your own business…
I hope to see more conscious businesses in the future and believe that every entrepreneur should ask themselves the following three questions:
Is my business idea adding value?
Is my business idea sustainable and kind to both people and the planet?
Does the thought of my business idea make me smile? A great business idea will make you answer yes on all of the above. If not, get back to the drawing board. Our planet doesn’t need any more of the “quick fix-earth damaging- people enslaving” businesses.
My personal success is when I feel happy and I laugh from my core. Company success is when I have managed to provide scholarships to girls and employment for women on a steady rolling basis.
So if you feel like quitting, think about why you started. There are so many great untold stories out there that will never be told only because we give up long before we reach the finish-line. It’s better to have tried and failed ten times than to not have tried at all. Stay gritty.