It’s International Women’s Day today; a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Yet this day also addresses gender inequality, which still remains a problem, not in the least because it is a great barrier to human development. As long as women and girls face discrimination in health, education, labour market, etc., there will be negative repercussions for development of their capabilities. This means their talent is being wasted instead of being put to good use, both for human and economic development. Especially in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – women are greatly underrepresented. At Empower Generation, we don’t like untapped talent and gender equality is one of our key missions. We empower women by giving them the opportunity to pursue a career in the energy industry. But setting up women-led enterprises in Nepal is not the only thing we do to encourage more women to work in STEM. Our support for this is also visible through our hiring practice and that’s why we are happy to introduce you to our new team member:

This week we welcome Rishta Karki who has started in a new position with us as a Technical Officer. Holding a degree in industrial engineering her primary responsibilities will be managing our technology in Kathmandu and becoming an expert in all that we sell. Rishta will also help us to build our network’s technical expertise, by developing training modules that will support our team and network to have a better understanding of our products and of clean technologies available on the market. 

Rishta’s story is a common one; as a woman she has faced struggles to find equality in her profession.

“I was born in a small town in the Morang District popularly known as Urlabari. I belong to a family where my mom is a typical housewife with little involvement in social activities; my dad however is a businessman who owns an engineering workshop that performs metal works: particularly manufacturing truss, channel gates, shutters. We are a family of five, including me. My two sisters are already married and settled down. The town where I have lived for 16 years is small with a few thousand inhabitants.

Born and raised in the eastern plains of Nepal, I was always intrigued by the question: why does a woman have to work inside the kitchen and a man out of the home? Sometimes my query resulted into a laughter session and no one thought of answering when I was a naïve, illiterate, five year old girl.

I completed school at the top of the class for several years in one of the reputed schools of the locality. However, I abandoned Urlabari for better education, leaving for the most populated and talked about city of Nepal: Kathmandu. Interested in the science stream, I was a student of biology major during my high school and then I switched to Engineering with the aid of Extra Mathematics from St. Xavier’s College.

I am a tech enthusiast, I love learning about new technologies and checking its applicability in the case of Nepal. I eventually wanted to join a kind of engineering that would allow me to be flexible in all fields and create a positive impact in society; luckily I found Industrial Engineering. This stream targets to improve the system through a minimization of waste; the waste being in any form: workforce, machine run time, raw materials consumption etc.

During the four years of the Engineering course, the condition of my country was depleting with repetitive and increasing scenarios of fuel shortage and growing public frustration. This deeply impacted me and is when I thought of diving into the field of energy: the renewable and alternative energy sector to be more exact.

I started searching and researching about what I really could do: I came up with an idea of generating biogas and storing it in the LPG cylinder that we are familiar with. I eventually presented a seminar paper on it too, highlighting the pros of bottled biogas technology.

I joined as an intern in a hydropower consultancy where I was able to apply my knowledge. Unfortunately, the ongoing projects in Nepal often do not complete in time which ultimately creates the energy scarcity scenario. However, I was able to practically apply my engineering knowledge and I am thankful to the organization for that. I was praised for the work I produced and they were to hire me for a job, but it didn’t eventuate. It was because I was a female. Being a woman my presence at the hydropower site was not appreciated.

I was confused, if I couldn’t be hired just because I was female, why even let me pursue this technical course in the first place, if this course won’t reward me later despite my potential? This question stayed in my brain a long time.

Last September I was connected with Chloe Chapman, Operations Director with Empower Generation and I am pleased about it. Chloe chatted to me over email, and I was invited to the office in Lazimpat where I was interviewed twice and hired for a contract position.

Amidst of the Nepal fuel scarcity and the frustration regarding me being a female engineer, the offer I was provided – to work in the clean energy sector – made me the happiest person in the universe at that moment. I have told and continue to tell people I am helping to empower women through clean energy.

As a Technical Officer with Empower Generation I will share my skills and knowledge to enhance processes that need improvement. I will also be involved in product certification, product procurement, and inventory management. Also, I will be investigating new technology for Empower Generation’s future facilities, services, and products.

Many people have asked me why I pursued Industrial Engineering. I wonder when the time will come that my decision is my decision, and my choices as a female in STEM do not need to be queried by others. I believe I can bring a change to the energy poor in my country and Empower Generation is providing that platform.”

Rishta’s story is one of many examples where women around the world face struggles when trying to find equality in their profession. It goes without saying that a lot of work is still to be done, especially regarding women in STEM. Close to half the world population is female. Still, globally only an estimated 30 percent of researchers in science, technology and innovation are female.  In the field of engineering specifically this number is even considerably lower. For example, in the US the women’s share in the engineering workforce was only 13% in 2013.  Challenging as it may be, we strongly hope more and more female talents, like Rishta, will start a career in STEM. It will maximize not only their personal but also the global, economic development.

We are very excited to welcome this powerful and determined engineer to Empower Generation. One woman at a time, we believe we can make a difference.