Women in Leadership

Ujita Nakarmi and Poonam Gupta Shrestha are two inspiring female leaders in their respective companies in the hospitality sector. Their commitment, hard work and leadership make them role models for women in Nepal aspiring to be in leadership positions.

Ujita Nakarmi is the manager of Traditional Comfort hotel, one of the leading sustainable hotels in Nepal. She oversees different aspects of the hotel from operations to sales and marketing to HR.

Ujita Nakarmi

How did you start your career?

Growing up, I always saw my mother and my aunts turn to their husbands for money. I did not like how dependent this made them on their husbands for little things. I was determined at a young age to never have to turn to my husband for money and to always become self-sufficient. My determination for financial independence led me to start working at a young age. I started tutoring younger kids when I was in grade 9. Throughout the rest of my high school, I also took other jobs through which I could earn money. This way I never had to turn to my parents for pocket money.

After completing 12th grade, an opportunity came for me to go to the UK. Meanwhile, my family was putting pressure on me to get married. I was determined to advance my career so I took the opportunity to go to the UK. In the UK, I worked at Burger King and Travelers Hotel. That is where I officially started my career in the hospitality sector.

What motivated you to return from UK to pursue opportunities in Nepal?

There were primarily two reasons. First of all, it was and still is difficult for foreign workers to get a visa to stay and work. Second, I wanted to study hospitality but the tuition fees were very expensive in the UK. I decided to come back to Nepal and pursue a degree in hospitality. Upon my return, I got admitted to a reputable University in Nepal and completed my degree with my own savings.

Upon the completion of my degree, I came to know that there was an opening for an assistant manager position at Traditional Comfort. At Traditional comfort, I started out as an assistant manager and worked my way up to become the manager.

What motivated you to join the hospitality sector?

At Travelers, I started out in the housekeeping department. I learnt different aspects of housekeeping during my time there but I wanted to grow so I talked to the manager to move me to a different department. I then moved to the Food and Beverage department. Seeing my good performance in the department, I was moved to a client-facing role. Up until that point, no one else in the company had made such a transition or had a growth trajectory like that. I enjoyed being in a client-facing role and quickly discovered my passion for working in the hospitality sector.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I enjoy interacting with clients that come here. When it comes to Traditional Comfort in particular, I like how we don’t always fulfil the requests of our guests at the expense of our staff. In the hospitality sector, a common thing to hear is that ‘guests are always right’. However, we all know that there could be occasions where guests could be unreasonable. At Traditional Comfort, we believe that ‘communication is always right’. We are always open to receiving feedback and improving but sometimes if we have to draw a line in terms of what we can do, we do not hesitate to do so.

What are some of the challenges you have faced at work and how do you tackle them?

Being a woman, it used to be common in Nepal to become recipients of uninvited comments. My experiences at different workplaces are no different. Thankfully, this kind of behaviour is less common today than it was before as people have become more aware.

Another challenge I have faced is although I have worked hard to be in the position that I am and proved my competence through my work, there have been people who have attributed my success to the fact that I am a woman. However, I continue to prove them wrong with my sheer competence.

Family wise, I faced a little bit of a struggle because earlier my parents did not see the value of higher education for me. I had to constantly prove to my family that higher education would serve me well. At the time, my family’s priority was to get me married. This is common in many households in Nepal. Now my family takes pride in my accomplishments and it makes me very happy to see that I have managed to change their perceptions of what a woman can achieve.

When you are not at work what do you enjoy doing?

When I am not at work, I enjoy travelling, shopping and eating.

Favourite travel destination?

A place that has been on the top of my to-visit list is Santorini, Greece

What is your advice to Nepali women aspiring to be in leadership positions?

Be bold, be committed and be persistent. As you work towards your goal, support from the family is also very crucial. If your family does not support you in your vision at first, convince them. Get them on board. But never isolate them as this will only leave you unhappy.

Poonam Gupta Shrestha is the Chief Operating Officer of Community Homestay Network. She oversees different aspects of office administration and operations and also acts as a liaison between communities and Community Homestay Network.

Poonam Gupta Shrestha

Please describe your career trajectory.

As the Community Homestay project picked up in Panauti, I volunteered to help out the community with logistics management and teach the English language to the women homestay hosts. I began to interact with the travellers and showed them around the streets of Panauti. At the same time, Royal Mountain Travel was looking for people to take its Community Homestay model to a larger scale. I was recommended for the job at Royal Mountain Travel and in December 2016, I was appointed as the community homestay coordinator. This was my first job.

Initially, I was a little sceptical about joining the tourism sector since I had a business and commerce background. However, as I noticed the positive changes that Community Homestay had brought in my family’s life and the visible benefits in the entire community, I became convinced of the potential of tourism to change lives for the better.

As the community homestay coordinator, I acted as a liaison between the communities and Royal Mountain Travel. When Community Homestay Network was legally registered in 2017, my role as a coordinator was transferred over to the new entity. At the end of 2018, I was promoted as the Impact Manager. As an impact manager, I not only instituted practices to measure the impact but also oversaw different aspects of our office operations and administration. In November 2019, I was promoted to the position of the Chief Operations Officer.

What motivated you to join the hospitality sector?

As I mentioned earlier, my family is a direct beneficiary of the Community Homestay Model in Panauti. Living in Panauti, every day I get to witness the positive changes that community homestay has brought in the lives of people, particularly the women in the community. This potential of tourism was what motivated me to join the hospitality sector and still motivates me today.

What is your favourite part of your job?

There are many things I like about this job and the things that we do as a network. First of all, I like that Community Homestay Network has been able to provide an additional source of income to a lot of families. The changes that this additional income has brought in the lives of the people is remarkable.

Additionally, when we first take in communities in our network, community members don’t always realize the potential of tourism in their locations. For example, in Panauti, our famous mandir and the Triveni ghaat were always there. Only after the establishment of the community homestay, did the community realize the potential for tourism in those locations. As part of the community homestay network, I appreciate that we get to show communities, their tourism potential, be it through designing experiences (ex. cycling along the Narayani River) or just making them aware.

I also like our community-based approach to developing tourism. In the communities that we are engaged with it is not just individual houses that are benefitting but the entire communities. In Panauti, for example, many businesses have emerged to cater to the travelers that visit Panauti. My husband is about to start a cycling business and train the local youth of Panauti who previously did not have jobs to work as cycling guides.

Lastly, I like that we have been able to pin unknown destination on our travelers map. Narchyang, for example, was an unknown destination until we added it to our network. The community homestay project in Narchyang was started by a former employee at Community Homestay Network after he saw the potential of our model. These impact stories are exciting and give us the impetus to do what we do every day.

What are some of the challenges you have faced at work and how do you tackle them?

With the rise in the success of the community homestays, there are bound to be some criticisms as well. One such example is that we have been accused of taking commissions at the expense of the homestays. Our business model is simple, we give 85% of the proceeds to our communities and take a 15% commission on the bookings that we come through us. We have been transparent with this approach by publishing it on our website. The 15% commission helps us cover our operational costs as we help communities in our network in three areas 1) logistics management 2) promotion, marketing and training 3) product development. To tackle this challenge, we believe in transparent communication with our hosts. Now, when we add new communities in our network, we clearly outline how we add value to their existing efforts.

Another challenge that comes up is a lack of professionalism on some of the community homestays in our network. Sometimes it is difficult to communicate with locals and explain to them what is required of them.

On a personal level, one of the challenges I faced when I first joined Royal Mountain Travel was whether I would be able to fit into the company culture or even the culture of Kathmandu. I had been born and brought up in Panauti which although is not too far away from Kathmandu, it is still slightly culturally different. However, I received a lot of support from the staff at Royal Mountain Travel from the very beginning.

When you are not at work what do you enjoy doing? 

Since I spend a significant amount of time at work and on the commute from here to Panauti, I like to spend any extra time that I get with my family. Besides this, I enjoy dancing and shopping. I am an avid dancer and I love to dance to the tunes of Bollywood songs in my free time.

Favourite travel destination?

Two destinations on my bucket list are Rome and Paris

What is your advice to Nepali women aspiring to be in leadership positions?

Be ambitious. To be independent, it is important to have your own source of income. I think every woman should push herself out of this comfort zone and work to become independent.

At the same time, I know it is not always easy for those of us who are independent and are career-oriented. Especially in small villages, it is common to hear taunts from people in the community about what many consider simple things like wearing pants to larger things like working towards a promising career instead of staying at home and helping in-laws with household work. It is a tough act to balance this, but for women that do, keep at it and do not let yourself be affected by the unkind words of others.

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