Mahila Sahayatra Microfinance: Bringing together microfinance and women entrepreneurs in Nepal

Winner of the Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment in the Private Sector category.

Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Women entrepreneurs attend a meeting with Mahila Sahayatra in Ghartigaun village, North-Eastern Nepal. Photo: Courtesy of Mahila Sahayatra.

Launched in 2018 by the Supreme Council for Women of Bahrain in partnership with UN Women, the Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment aims to celebrate and recognize the achievements of champions of women's equality and women’s empowerment globally. 

Sumitra Gurung is the CEO of Mahila Sahayatra, a microfinance institution providing banking services for women and other vulnerable groups in Nepal. The company won the 2018 Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment, in the Private Sector category.

When Sumitra learned about the Global Award’s call for applications, she was immediately inspired to apply. Her company provides access to services such as loans, deposits, remittances and insurance for marginalized women in very remote and mountainous areas of the country. Thanks to their work, many vulnerable women are able to become entrepreneurs by producing organic products while using natural Himalayan resources.

“Women in Nepal have been restricted by patriarchal social, economic, and political structures for centuries. Domestic violence is a serious challenge to women’s human rights,” said Sumitra. “Gender equality for women means having access to knowledge and money, being recognized for their capabilities, being independent to make their own choices and decisions, and being able to represent themselves at all levels of governance. The company’s effort to provide access to financial services to women and support them in developing entrepreneurship has resulted in hundreds of women emerging as entrepreneurs,” she added.

Presently, over 4 million women across Nepal receive microfinance support. Mahila Sahayatra is advocating and working for the continued expansion of this approach, so that more women can become economically independent and free of domestic violence.

Sumitra Manandhar Gurung at the United Nations in 2019. Photo: Courtesy of Mahila Sahayatra.

The Princess Sabeeka Award is a high recognition of the company’s efforts both domestically and internationally. Receiving the award has helped to raise the profile of their work on promoting women’s entrepreneurship while highlighting the essential role of microfinance for women’s economic empowerment.

Mahila Sahayatra is the first ever company in its sector to receive an award of this magnitude. Thanks to this exposure, the company is becoming better known beyond the microfinance sector.

Upon receiving the Award, Sumitra Manandhar Gurung visited over 20 of their branches to share the great news of the Award with the centers’ chiefs and the community women entrepreneurs and expanded their initiative to 17 additional branches by training field staff and recruiting Enterprise Development Officers.

Currently, they are compiling success stories of over 50 women who made incredible progress and stand out as role models. The company also produced the pictorial book Milestones: Linking Credit to Enterprise Development alongside a 20-minute video, for those interested to learn and replicate their approach.