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Diwas - Nepal - Victoria University

#InThisTogether stories - In 2014, Diwas, from Nepal, made a choice to step out of his comfort zone and applied for to study in Australia which, he heard, was a hub for greater opportunity.

In 2014, I made a choice to step out of my box and applied for a visa to a country which I heard [was] a hub for greater opportunity.

My name is Diwas Man Singh Tuladhar, I am 28 years old, and I come from a country surrounded by mountains, hill stations, rich culture and history: Nepal. Growing up in a Western-influenced high school, I always wondered what it was like to actually be living in a developed country.

I was a management student and was always interested in business, which is why I applied to pursue a Bachelor of Professional Accounting at Victoria University. I landed in Melbourne on the 6 February 2014, and immediately knew I would do something great for myself here.

Towards my final year of university in 2018, I had an opportunity to set up a business. This time it was not just a business idea – it was about reducing environmental impacts by choosing environmentally-friendly products and creating awareness about the sustainable accessory industry. We also had the extra benefit of supporting communities in rural villages of Nepal.

What is Kathmandu Hemp?

Kathmandu Hemp is a community-based brand where all the products are produced in a small village close to Kathmandu city in Nepal, from developing the fabric to the final product. We focus on utilising the talents of women from the town, helping them make their living and send their kids to school. Each hemp item that we offer is handsewn and is firmly worked back to front.

The brand Kathmandu Hemp itself was founded in 2016 by a Nepali – Sayuj Shrestha. The idea was generated after the massive, devastating earthquake that happened in Nepal in 2015. The earthquake had a death toll of 9000 people between the Kathmandu Valley and nearby cities. A lot of people were left homeless and jobless. Making beautiful hemp backpacks and clothing has always been a local business culture in Nepal. Even though hemp products were locally made in Nepal, the locals rarely consumed the product. The business was focused on tourists, leaving a small, targeted and seasonal audience.

After the earthquake, Kathmandu Hemp purchased the remainder of the final product to support families financially. The products were brought to Australia and were promoted in the markets here. A lot of people were impressed by the quality of the product, and interest in hemp products started to generate. Kathmandu Hemp started designing their bags and making them more unique, more stylish and stronger.

Adapting to working during COVID-19

COVID-19 is something that I never expected to happen, and not being prepared for a situation like this has left us with very minimal options. As a small start-up business, 80% of our cash flow depends on the community markets where we sell our products every week and 20% depends on the online e-commerce platform.

Just before the outbreak of COVID-19, in order to scale Kathmandu Hemp, I started doing a pre-accelerator program at Outcome.Life. Through eight weeks of intensive programs, and having a strong mentor, Domenic Saporiti, we managed to pitch to potential investors and other business enthusiasts.

Striving for that one opportunity that could change the entire structure of Kathmandu Hemp, going back to thinking about a new idea to survive, was a new challenge. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak in Australia, the community markets and festivals were all cancelled. That was a full stop for cash flow.

My next strategy was taking an Uber Eats delivery job. I have a habit of overdoing everything. While waiting for a delivery order, I was thinking about how to sell my products during this crisis. I saw another opportunity. I started giving out Kathmandu Hemp flyers, including $10 vouchers to every customer who I delivered food to. They could purchase from our online site.

The cleaning business is also booming. I managed to take an odd job at my friend’s cleaning business. With the sudden growth of his business, he needed help with business strategy. That meant he had to hire people, and locations that needed cleaning increased. He was confused, but I have been there and done that, so I organised his cleaning sites and managed the finances. I am looking forward to helping him out with the business strategies and his accounts.

Overcoming challenges

I am not a very competitive person, but I love challenges – even to just learn something different. I do not think it's necessary to come first. I always keep failure as an option which is why I'm not scared of it. In fact, it's an eye-opener, and helps me correct my flaws.

Because Kathmandu Hemp is not making any cashflow at the moment, as a responsible owner, I have to consider that many people are dependent on our business in Nepal, and they need support. Thus, I had to improvise, by taking on any job opportunities that come – not just to maintain my livelihood, but to eventually help sustain them financially, as well.

This is unfortunately a very difficult situation, not just for us, but for the entire world. In such times there is nothing we can do other than adapt to the situation. My accounting degree has come in use; even though my educational background is accounting, I have never experienced a corporate accounting job. However, with the knowledge I have gained, I've managed to help out friends with their bookkeeping for extra income. At the moment, the ultimate plan is to take any jobs available. You should know your hidden talents, and we must make progressive use of everything we know.

We are all desperately waiting for things to come together. [It is] high time we understand how businesses like ours are fragile under such situations. In order to overcome the situation, we have been working on making a sustainable plan – an effective disaster management plan to sustain our business better. As soon as this pandemic is controlled, we are ready to run Kathmandu Hemp at full throttle.

International students staying resilient

This is the best time to take advantage of every hour you spend at home. From catching up with your studies, to brainstorming new innovative ideas that could potentially kickstart your career.

Tomorrow, when this is all over, you are not going to have the time that you have today, so instead of complaining about the situation that is not in your control, how about working on things that are under your control? LinkedIn is the best place to be, from marketing courses like HubSpot, to engineering software courses like CAD or Revit – everything is in there for free.

There are so many things that you must have thought about doing, but haven’t had the chance to do, due to work or going to uni. Make the best out of this time and discover your passion and perfect your skills – plan for things you're passionate about. This will give you maximum output and most importantly will make you happy.

It is the best time for trial and error. Do what you have not been doing and don't be scared. Tomorrow you will have a dynamic story to tell if you make this moment count.

*This article has been edited for clarity

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