It should be pointed out, before the story of Giftland, Lokta paper, or the generosity of my Nepalese hosts is mentioned, that some things are done differently in Nepal. We in the West could learn a thing or two from them.
My hosts, while I was in Nepal, are the owners of Giftland, a business making high quality gift paper, journals and other products, run out of Kathmandu. Prasen, one of the owners at Giftland, arranged accommodation for me, a guide, dinner, places to visit and the odd piece of entertainment.
Giftland makes, as the name suggests, gifts. Its fine paper products, some of the finest you’ll come across, are the cornerstone of their business and the Lokta plant, a plant that grows only above about 1,500 metres, is the raw material that goes into these paper products.
I wanted to see their factory, I wanted to see how the paper was made, to see how fibrous bark from a plant grown in the mountains ended up as fine gift paper that is exported to the United States, Australia and who knows where else. The process, which goes back decades, is a manual one, most decidedly a manual one. The bark is collected from the mountains, it’s dried in kilns, bleached, pulped, silk screened and dried in the sun.
The paper is then taken to another factory where the paper is dyed the various colours, and from there to yet another factory where the latest patterns are put through a silk screen process before being packaged up ready for export.
Because of the monsoon season, there is a window that must be taken advantage of, in that sense it’s no different from seasonal considerations in a country such as Australia. But where this operation is not like most Australian businesses, or for that matter, most businesses anywhere, is that whilst Giftland seeks to maximise it’s profit, so it’s no different in that respect, it will not maximise it’s profit at the expense of it’s employees. Giftland wants to make sure that it’s people, it’s staff, stay with the business even through periods when there is no work.
They will keep staff when there is no work for them not only because they want to keep those valuable employees but because at it’s core they actually do care about the livelihoods of their people. They recognise that for Nepal to grow it needs profitable businesses but it also needs families who are able to support each other.
Prasen talked to me about the importance of this to Giftland the company and to him as an individual. He recognises that part of his duty as a business owner is to support the people of Nepal through whatever hard times come. Have a look around when you visit the country, take the time to ask the questions. The people who are rebuilding Nepal, following the earthquake that devastated the country in April, are not the government, it’s not the United Nations, it’s the people of Nepal, with the help of the odd foreigner who sees the dignity within.
The process of manufacturing these products is so much more than merely finding the most efficient (read: cost effective) method of production. It’s a manual process because even though Giftland could adopt the latest labour saving devices at it’s disposal in order to maximise it’s profits, sometimes it just wants to make sure people have jobs. Imagine a Western business adopting this radical and foolhardy approach. The Giftland model certainly reveals business acumen but it equally reeks of humanity. We could learn a lot from this way of doing business.