Nepalese trader hails event for improving his life, giving him chance to pay it forward
Just four years ago, Shankar Koirala could be considered somewhat of an itinerant merchant who would peddle traditional Nepalese handicrafts at trade fairs around the world.
He estimates that, on average, he would earn about 50,000 yuan ($7,060) during each of these fairs, just enough to lead a modest life and keep his business in Pokhara, Nepal, running. Though life was not particularly tough, he concedes that it lacked the stability he desired.
This all changed in 2020 after he took part in the third China International Import Expo. He initially thought the event would be no different than the other fairs he had taken part in, but he was quickly proven wrong.
In just six days, the Nepalese entrepreneur raked in 300,000 yuan.
"I never expected the CIIE to be such a powerful place for promoting foreign products. I've been to many trade fairs around the world, but I've never gotten such a good result," he said.
Buoyed by this successful event, the Nepalese businessman went on to set up his company Angel Hands in the Greenland Global Commodity Trading Hub, a permanent trading platform of the CIIE, that same year.
Located adjacent to the National Exhibition and Convention Center (Shanghai), the venue for the CIIE, the hub is home to a host of companies that had participated in the previous editions of the expo, allowing them to sell their goods all year round.
The move proved to be a masterstroke as it allowed him to better promote his goods and communicate with clients. At the 2021 CIIE, Angel Hands generated 500,000 yuan in sales.
"If the CIIE never happened, I think I would still be based in Nepal and constantly travel to other countries to sell my products. You could say the CIIE has changed my life for the better," said the 29-year-old.
"Before the expo existed, I was always searching for a direction. But the CIIE has allowed me to find my way. Life is now stable. Every day is a busy day but also a happy day."
This happiness, he notes, does not stem solely from the growing success of his business. Rather, it has more to do with him being able to do what he considers meaningful in life.
Love of country
Influenced by Hollywood movies he had watched on television, Koirala spent much of his younger years dreaming of traveling to the United States, where he would live a different life, one away from the countryside, field crops and farm animals.
"I wanted to become something different in life. I thought maybe I could become an engineer or run a big business one day," said Koirala.
Ironically, it was the very same sentiment that made him change his mind when he got older. Perturbed by the fact that many of his peers were looking to leave the country to seek greener pastures, Koirala set his mind on staying put and doing something more meaningful — contributing to his country's development by showcasing the beauty of Nepal's traditional products.
"Nepal's handmade products are exquisite and of high quality. All we need to do is advertise them around the world. But many people from my generation just wanted to go abroad to study and work. There weren't many who wanted to do something for their own country," he said.
In 2012, when he was just 19, Koirala took it upon himself to champion this cause, setting up a small shop in his hometown to sell traditional handicrafts. He quickly came to learn about the spending power of the Chinese.
"Chinese tourists really like our local handicrafts, and they would often buy in bulk. Given that they were my biggest customers, I started learning Mandarin to better communicate with them," he said.
Eager to learn more about China, Koirala traveled to Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Chengdu, Sichuan province, and Beijing in 2013 to visit some of his customers and do some sightseeing. In 2015, he started attending trade fairs in China to expand his sales channels.
In 2020, Koirala decided to expand his product lineup to include handicrafts made by the Women's Skills Development Organization, a nonprofit organization that focuses on helping disadvantaged and marginalized women in Nepal through skills training.
His reason was simple — he wanted to continue helping his nation by allowing his disadvantaged compatriots to tap into the new opportunities presented by the CIIE.
One of the WSDO handicrafts that Koirala sells in Shanghai is the Ranju bag, which was designed by an acquaintance of the same name who had lost her family during the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. Having witnessed how WSDO helped the woman not just regain her footing, but also thrive in life, Koirala knew the organization would be an ideal fit for both his business and his conscience.
"I feel happy selling WSDO products because they are Nepalese handicrafts and they are for a good cause," he said.
"Many of the women who make these products have sad backgrounds. Some of them have been abandoned by their husbands, and others have lost their families and have nowhere to go. When I help sell these handicrafts through the CIIE and my company, I am in a way helping improve their lives."
Koirala also makes it a point to work with artisans living in remote regions like Manang and Mustang as they usually have little to no means of selling their crafts.
Acts of kindness
But Koirala's acts of kindness have not been limited to his home nation. Earlier this year, when Shanghai was locked down due to COVID-19, the kind man signed up to become a volunteer, helping deliver supplies to members of the Fenglin Road community in Xuhui district.
"Many of the people living in my community are elderly citizens, so I felt it was necessary for young people like me to lend a helping hand with moving heavy supplies. I also thought it was the right thing to do because China had previously rendered much aid to Nepal during the pandemic," he said.
This penchant for paying it forward, Koirala muses, likely stems from his mother, who he describes as ever willing to help those in need. He recalls how she never hesitates to lend money to friends and relatives despite the constant nagging she receives from him.
"We're a family of farmers. We're not rich. But whenever someone pops by the house in need of help or money, she never refuses. I only found out the value of her actions when I got older — I realized that whenever she was in a bind, all those whom she had helped before would quickly come to her aid," he said.
"I learned that what goes around comes around. This is the beauty of kindness."