By Ram Khatry, Sydney
19 October 2016
An Australian woman working for over a decade to secure direct and tangible benefits to thousands of disabled women in Nepal has just been named one of only six honourees of the prestigious Rotary Responsible Business Award.
Stephanie Woollard will receive the award on November 12 amid a gathering of over 1500 Rotarians, UN officials and NGO leaders at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Ms Woollard’s trailblazing initiative began after she met a group of seven disabled women in 2006. These isolated women from Kathmandu were “making soaps and candles in a small tin shed to sell to local markets”. The young Aussie had only $200 in her pocket when she came across the group but that did not stop her from employing two trainers “to up-skill the women to manufacture a range of different products appropriate for sale abroad,” a press release by Rotary said today.
The Melbourne woman eventually established the now-famous Seven Women in 2008. The not-for-profit organisation now provides skills training and employment to Nepal’s disabled women so that they can be independent, have self-respect and live their lives with dignity. Ten years on since Seven Women was established by Ms Woollard, the participating disabled women are today busy making craft available for purchase on www.seven-women.com.
The project has since changed the lives of over a thousand disabled Nepalese women, with a further 5000 women being positively impacted through outreach programs facilitated by the enterprise, Rotary said.
The success of Ms Woollard’s initiative can be gauged from the fact that Seven Women now has six centres around Nepal – just one short of justifying the “Seven” in the project’s official title!
When southasia.com.au asked the social entrepreneur about the countries Seven Women products are exported to, she said “products are sent to mainly Australia but also Germany and Switzerland”.
The Aussie woman currently leads 10-day cultural immersions to Nepal which challenge perspectives and offer opportunities for personal growth and connections. Her tours enrich the lives of both the people they visit as well as the participants themselves.
“Stephanie is a deeply inspiring young woman dedicated to education and empowerment of the world’s most marginalised. Her journey demonstrates how through persistence and unrelenting commitment one person can truly make a difference,” Rotary’s statement further added.
Ms Woollard’s hands on experience in the world of social entrepreneurship is now backed by a formal degree in a relevant field: Masters in Peace and Conflict Resolution from Sweden’s Uppsala University.
“Our approach is to give a hand up, not a hand out,” Ms Woollard, who is also involved with other community organisations including those involved in Australian Indigenous communities, said in a statement adding “All it takes is one generation to learn how to break the cycle of poverty and pass their learning down to the next to transform a village forever. That’s how real and lasting change is created.”
This is the first time the Rotary Responsible Business Awards are being given. The Award recognises the commitment of the winning individuals (six) and organisations (two) to using their time, material resources and hands-on assistance to address social and economic challenges locally and internationally.