Shiwani Neupane our inspirational Nepali woman of the week, worked with various positions which helped her demonstrate her leadership qualities. She has worked to build her leadership and organizational skills. Shiwani, worked under a variety of fields ranging from international organizations, television and media to business. In the free time that Shiwani has had, she writes books and maintains her online blog. She is interested in writing based work. Currently, Shiwani Neupane is working on her second fictional book.
Who is one woman that has impacted you?
My mother. I admire the way she balances her personal life with her professional life. She manages to give me and my brother time while making some major business decisions that most people think a man is making. For example, there was a card that came to our house addressed to “Mr. Laxmi Neupane”, it was for my mother but they couldn’t believe that the director could be a woman. I’m so proud of what she does and really inspired by her work and how she can do everything, and that gives me hope and makes me feel like I can do everything too!
Every step of the way she’s encouraged me: from writing my book to taking up a news job to writing for magazines- she might have been reluctant about it at the beginning because no one in my family understands journalism since we’re a very business-oriented family, but at the same time she always supported me. She would remind me about appointments even if she didn’t agree with what I was doing- her pushing me constantly through every single step is probably be the biggest reason for the success I’ve had so far.
What are some of the obstacles to leadership that are unique to women in Nepal?
It’s a very patriarchal society so people don’t think women can run a business and take up leadership positions. If you look at an average office, all the secretaries are women whereas all the selling and buying, and customer service is done by men. We live in a society where not just business, but every sector including journalism, television, and politics is a man’s world. And to challenge that and get into those male-dominated positions and then prove ourselves is the biggest challenge for women at the moment.
Once we’re in these positions, asserting our authority is the biggest challenge. Often when men have female bosses, they view them as a mother or nurturing figure because that’s how our society has been throughout history. We’ve had very few women leaders for that matter. And to put your authority across, to get things done, to not be taken for granted, even simple things like these can be obstacles for woman.
What is the achievement you are most proud of?
Publishing my book, Monica: Piece of Perfect, and actually getting it published because I wrote the book a pretty long time ago, and receiving really encouraging feedback from a lot of people although it was my first book and a very amateur book. People really encouraged me and said, “We see potential in you, go ahead, write more”- that’s been my biggest achievement till date.
I’ve been lucky because my parents have always told me to do what I enjoy, that I don’t have to go into business or politics, but follow the path that I’m are most confident about, and ever since I was really young I knew I would write a book. I read a lot growing up and writing a book was not unexpected. My mother actually said, “I’m surprised you learned how to drive but I’m not surprised you wrote a book.” So it’s a natural second step to all the reading and writing I did when I was younger, and I was an English major at college so it’s was an obvious next step to put my ideas and all my thoughts down and try a book. Although apparently it was not my first attempt at a book. When I was in 5th grade I started a book, I still have it, it’s half-written and really funny.
When I was young, my favorite book was Helen Keller’s biography because of all the challenges she had to overcome to write a book as someone who was both deaf and dumb. I read it in 4th grade, I still remember, the diary was pretty boring to read at first but I went back to it and read it over and over again because it was ridiculously inspiring.
Were there any messages you wanted to communicate through Monica: Pieces of Perfect?
My book is a very positive, or at least I like to think of it that way. When I was writing it, I wanted to make sure that things were resolved, that there was hope. I’m a huge advocate of hope. Things that look impossible at the beginning can be done. And it’s the same way with my life- I like to believe in optimism and my book was basically a way of providing young people with a dialogue of hope which is currently missing in a political sense, social, economic, media, everything- you do not hear about hope when you talk about the negative things happening in this country.
As someone who has lived both in Nepal and abroad, how have you seen Nepal change in the last 5 years and what’s your vision for the future of this country?
Nepal has definitely become a more democratic country with people increasingly having their voices heard as they lobby for equal rights for a large portion of the population. That’s really encouraging to see. And to know that a lot of people are politically aware which was not true 5 years ago, every youngster in this country knows something about politics, our debates are about politics and there’s a lot of awareness, which is really great.
My first and foremost vision for the future is that we have a stable government because everything is a byproduct of that. Once we have a stable government, we can develop Nepal’s abundant resources that have been untapped- we apparently have a lot of gold in this country that’s been untapped because no foreign companies are willing to invest in a country that is so unstable. After that, I think a lot of development will happen in the future, I’m very hopeful about it. Coming from a business background I learnt a lot about the resources and opportunities that exist in this country and I think if we have a stable government, a lot can happen in Nepal, especially if we work together.
Since you returned to Nepal 18 months ago, how have you been engaged its developments- politically or otherwise?
I’ve been politically engaged, attending lots of meetings, functions, rallies, youth programs, concerts about peace, about development. I also did a clothing drive with a group of youngsters that are really passionate about actually doing something for the country rather than just sitting at home. We collected clothes for an entire village near Kathmandu and distributed them last winter, which was really harsh and lots of people were dying from exposure. So I’ve been trying to get engaged by both going to different kinds of events and doing stuff myself, making change by doing whatever I can individually.
Other young women should also get out of the house and start doing things that they’re passionate about- join rallies, join events, be politically aware, stop thinking that political passivity will develop Nepal. They have to be active, have to take part in debates and have to learn to challenge their ideas which is how change will happen.
What’s the biggest thing you want to achieve in your lifetime?
I love writing, but in the future I hope to make people accountable for their actions through journalism. I want to set up a newspaper or news channel in Nepal and give young people opportunities by running the organization in a fair way, which is currently missing in Nepal. Most news organizations do not pay their employees well or have a very good reputation. Journalism doesn’t have a good reputation in Nepal and I would like to change that in the future. I’d also like to write hopefully about a dozen books, some dealing with political issues.
Ever since I was young, I was always told to follow my dreams and I really took it to heart. I enjoyed writing and as I wrote more and engaged in politics in college, I realized how powerful journalism can be. The public’s opinion is usually shaped by what they read in the newspaper, or the most circulated-newspaper, and personally I would like to make changes through my writing because that’s what I’m the best at.
Nepal is one of those countries where journalism is a dangerous profession, you hear about the murder of journalism all the time in papers and TV. It is not safe to practice journalism. The positive thing is that no matter how terrible the situation is, there are journalists who do go out and get the news and inform the public regardless of the danger posed to themselves. We’ve seen it happen time and again, I remember that when the royal family was massacred in 2001 and Nepal’s news was shut down on TV, Kantipur took up action while we were still under a monarchy, and reported extensively although there was of course a threat to all journalists lives then. And I think that was when I actually realized I wanted to be a journalist eleven years ago.
You’ve achieved so much this early in your career, what drives you?
What really drives me is the position of women in this country, although I never realized this until I started doing women’s leadership. I like to be the change, and being in a family where I have a dozen brothers (I’m the only girl), I have to prove myself time and time again- and probably because I’m a woman. And I’ve always wanted to make my dad really proud, and my mother really proud.
Being a woman, I’ve always wanted to challenge the way society views me- I don’t want the typical narrative of just getting married and having children, that’s not what I want to do! I want to change things and make a difference. What motivates me to push myself is ultimately living in a patriarchal society. Other than that, what motivates me is definitely following my passion- I do what I love which is why it’s easy to do it.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders in Nepal?
I’ve always believed that women are extremely powerful, maybe even more than men. Our strongest ability is that we can multitask and understand things without quickly jumping to conclusions. I would ask all future women leaders to be confident, to believe in yourselves, and to go out there and prove what you believe in because one leader creates another. I’ve always believed that, it’s a multiplier effect.
Everything’s actually possible, even through lots of people will tell you otherwise, I’ve faced rejections but I’ve always kept going. Even if things look hard, and even if you don’t know how to go about achieving your dream right now, there is a path and it is possible.