The 2021 Big Give Christmas Challenge

Written by Philip Holmes on Sunday 18th July 2021

Your chance to double your money this Christmas….

This Christmas we'll be taking part in "The Big Give" Christmas Appeal in a bid to raise £100,000 towards our 2022 project work - and we really need your help. That's because we've once again set the fundraising bar high in keeping with our ambitious and exciting plans for the coming three years in Nepal.

The main Appeal week runs from noon on the 30th November to noon on the 7th December during which time we will be encouraging supporters, old and new, to donate online with the opportunity to have a gift automatically doubling in value. We'll be launching the campaign with an incredible £50,000 available in matching pledges that we have already secured from major donors, corporates and grant-making Foundations. The minimum donation during Appeal week is £5 - a £5 that as if by magic will double up to £10. And if we can raise £50,000 in online donations that will allow us to hit our £100,000 target.

October 2021: First birthday celebrations at Lily's Leaves.
Lily distributing "dignity pads" - reusable sanitary pads - to schoolgirls in south Nepal

You can read what we need the funds for through this link. But the lion's share - 70% - of the funds raised will be allocated towards meeting the operational and development costs of the Lily's Leaves social enterprise in Kathmandu, that we helped establish in October 2020 (the staff, trainees and workforce have just celebrated their first birthday in fine style!). In spite of the ongoing challenges presented by COVID, the work of Lily's Leaves is proceeding very well and broadly to schedule. The initiative is having a substantial social impact beyond the training and employment of a group of vulnerable women from impoverished rural communities. For we are now helping hundreds, if not thousands, of Nepalese school children (especially girls) while also making a contribution towards environmental projects and prospects. Lily's Leaves is collaborating closely with our other Nepal partner, the Mithila Wildlife Trust (MWT). MWT is based in Dhanusha District, southeast Nepal, and supports Lily's Leaves in the selection of trainees and in research and development of employment and livelihoods opportunities. 

A year for flexibility

In large part, we have come through this past year not only through the passion and hard work of Lily's Leaves Founder Lily Katuwal and her dedicated team, but also by remaining flexible and being prepared to shift focus in response to market forces (or lack of them!). There has been a significant change to our funding strategy. Rather than paying a monthly transfer based upon budget line items such as salaries, rentals, utilities etc, we have switched to paying at least part of these costs through orders in which core cost elements have been embedded. This is to encourage productivity and to prepare the way for Lily's Leaves to become largely self-sustaining after three years based upon retail/wholesale sales and through making goods linked to charity products (including orders from other charities). By January 2025 we aim to reduce Pipal Tree's regular monthly transfers to Lily's Leaves to one third of current levels.

This year, we have also revisited our markets and products.  It became clear very quickly that with exports suspended from Nepal because of the pandemic it would be impossible to deliver jewellery in substantial quantities to Western markets, that were flat in any case. Likewise, making tailored items for sale abroad would be unlikely to work given not only the export limitations but also the drop in online and market trading. Small businesses that could have been customers were closing. So, instead, we concentrated on developing products relevant to the domestic market in Nepal and also to our own and other charity Nepal programmes. In developing tailoring products, we have, as anticipated, enjoyed the volunteer consultancy support of Brenda Sheil and Molly Board of registered faith-based charity Fashion with Heart Creations who hold regular Zoom meetings with us and with Lily's Leaves. And for jewellery products we have been supported by British silversmith Felicity Denby, who was introduced to us by our U.S. partner nonprofit, Her Future Coalition.

New products

Initial products developed and delivered in our first year have included:

Branded beach bags
  • Garments and beach bags:   We have produced a goods sample of garments for UK company, Karma Gear. These have been very well received and further orders will follow. Branded beach bags have also been designed and made to a very high standard.
  • Treecelets:  Our deaf workers have produced an initial consignment of 100 "treecelets" (= tree + bracelet) which have been made to a design by Felicity Denby. The beads are seeds from the Pipal Tree and the silver fastener has our logo. The items have a linkage to our reforestation projects with each treecelet sold at £15 covering the cost of 1m2 of reforestation at our new Dhanushadham Bird Park site.
  • Dignity pads:  We have been able to apply major donor and Soroptimist funding towards the manufacture of 1,000 packs of branded "dignity pads" i.e., reusable sanitary pads. Of these, 972 packs have been distributed to girls in the poorest schools in Province 2. It should be noted that many girls go absent from school or drop out altogether after reaching puberty, especially given the lack of toilet facilities at government schools. Beyond this worthy charitable purpose, there is potential to sell these as branded items in Kathmandu and other major cities.
  • A market for face masks is one positive development that has emerged from the pandemic. These have been made as branded items for the domestic market. Lily's Leaves has also developed reusable nappies. These items are ready and waiting for the appointment of a marketing team!
Branded face masks
  • School rucksacks:   We have placed an order with Lily's Leaves for the manufacture of 1,000 school rucksacks for distribution to the poorest children as per the dignity pads. These sell at £12 each, including overheads costs. Cheaper rucksacks are available in the marketplace, these being items imported from China, India or Bangladesh where working conditions and worker remuneration are very poor. We expect that, with time, increased production, and decentralisation of manufacture away from (expensive) Kathmandu we can bring the costs down significantly and that we can still sell these to charity partners for their projects with a "social premium", an extra amount given that the sales support vulnerable and marginalised women who make up the workforce.
  • School uniforms:   There is a potentially massive market in Nepal for school uniforms to be made for both government and private schools. However, there is of course existing competition. Again, we would hope that with good social branding we could encourage orders from philanthropically-minded schools or from other charities.

How can we improve?

In a recent team review we decided that we need to implement some fundamental changes. It had become clear that trainees from Province 2 have struggled for two reasons - apart from the culture shock for girls from rural communities of being in Kathmandu for the first time! One reason has been a lack of basic education and numeracy as girls have had such a limited education or dropped out of school very early. This has created problems with measurement and design of garments. The other reason has been the linguistic challenge, with all the girls' first language being Mithili rather than Nepali.

We also noted that the women who had completed the basic tailoring course and returned to their homes in south Nepal (with a gift sewing machine and desk) were not realising their full potential. Graduates were certainly making and mending clothes for their friends and family and earning an income as a consequence. But these highly trained young women could benefit from being exposed to a bigger and broader market through setting up a local production centre, working as part of a team. It is very difficult within the rural domestic environment to work without distraction. We believe that setting up and supporting such a team and helping the graduates with modest salaries would allow them the chance to get established. These same women could contribute towards the training of new girls and act as role models within the community.

Our conclusion was that a better return on investment would arise from:

  • Providing basic education in numeracy to girls before joining the training
  • Conducting basic tailoring training, residential and non-residential, for girls from the eight Districts of Province 2 in Janakpur, Dhanusha District. This would be cheaper and remove language obstacles. Trainers could be trained at the Lily's Leaves Kathmandu centre.
  • Use the Kathmandu centre for basic non-residential training for girls from Kathmandu valley and advanced skills training in both jewellery and tailoring for girls who have completed the basic training at either centre. Girls from Province 2 who aspire to join the advanced training course will have to learn relevant Nepali during their basic training.
  • Decentralising production of goods, as far as possible, away from the Kathmandu facility either to Janakpur in a new production centre or home-based work, thereby reducing overheads and providing opportunities to women.
  • Appointing marketing/operational managers in both Kathmandu and Janakpur for programme development, market research and to secure new orders

We will therefore extend the Lily's Leaves presence to Janakpur from January 2022, which will also allow research and development on forest products, including essential oils, to commence.

Strategically, we are aiming to be able to reduce Pipal Tree's funding commitment to Lily's Leaves over the next four years so that the social enterprise can stand on its own feet. By 2025 Lily's Leaves will have developed strength in depth, with income from the following sources:

  • Pipal Tree regular monthly transfers towards core costs at one third to one quarter of 2021 levels
  • Third party charity contracts (e.g. charities that wish to purchase schoolbags or uniforms for their own projects)
  • Vocational training charity and corporate grants
  • Sales of tailoring items, - garments, bags, dignity pads etc, both to the domestic and international markets
  • Silver jewellery sales, again both domestically and internationally
  • The sale of forest products, including essential oils, arising from a joint venture between Lily's Leaves and MWT

The bottom line is that will continue to need those charitable gifts to cover those operational, training and R&D costs for the coming three years. So, for this year's Big Give, please "dig deep"!

 

 

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