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Alumna empowering women through entrepreneurship in Bhutan

Posted: 1 March 2024

Bhutan, Alumni, Impact, Women empowerment,

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we share the story of Australia Awards Short Course alumna Tshewang Dem, who is one of Bhutan’s first female entrepreneurs to venture into small business. Her company, Tshejor’s Ayzey, began as a side hustle in 2000, but in 2013 Tshewang committed full-time to expanding the business, which specialises in producing Bhutanese ezays (a type of chilli paste that is a side dish in traditional Bhutanese dishes). Her passion has not only empowered her business to succeed but also created employment opportunities for other women to gain financial independence and contribute to their households.

Tshewang completed an Australia Awards Short Course on Business Acceleration for Entrepreneurs in 2021, an opportunity that she still greatly appreciates. She reminisces that, although it was tough for her to keep up with fellow participants owing to her lesser educational qualifications, the course taught her that entrepreneurs do not necessarily require degrees to become successful but rather passion, patience, experience and hard work.

Tshewang’s range of ezays on display at her shop. Photo credits: Tshejor’s Ayzey

She also says that the course enriched her entrepreneurial journey, as participants were introduced to aspects of business such as managing people, executing strategies, managing cashflow and other success factors. She notes that the most crucial knowledge she gained from the course was the importance of having a website to authenticate her business, and leveraging it via digital marketing to promote her products. Another element of the Short Course that Tshewang utilised to expand her business was the insight into how to upscale effectively. Applying what she learnt from the course, she collaborated with Cottage & Small Industry (CSI) Market, a dedicated platform for selling products made in Bhutan. This enabled her to meet the growing demand for her products from Bhutanese abroad by marketing them in Australia at a CSI Market outlet that was established in Perth, Western Australia, in 2022.

While Tshewang is witnessing gradual success, she explains that it did not come without challenges. Initially, she encountered limited demand for her product, because people were accustomed to making their own ezays at home. In addition, she had limited time to work on her business because she had a full-time job and family duties to attend to. After resigning from her job in 2013 to focus on Tshejor’s Ayzey, she still struggled with recruitment and retention of staff, as well as packaging and marketing her products. She reiterates that the lack of advanced knowledge and skills in product packaging, certification and standardisation remains an obstacle for Bhutanese producers to export their products.

However, she is happy that the relevant organisations are working towards improving these services and notes her achievements not only in the local market but also internationally through her collaboration with CSI Market. Additionally, she highlights her contribution to the community through generating employment. She says, “I have always employed home-makers who are totally dependent on their husbands, with no spending power to meet their own needs. With the income gained, they can satisfy their needs as well as fulfill their families’ wishes.” She currently employs ten women and one man.

Tshewang (fourth from left, back row) with her team of employees. Photo credits: Tshejor’s Ayzey

Tshewang’s dedication to her business has earned her many accolades, including the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Loden Foundation in 2015, an International Business Excellence Award 2021-Bhutan from Global India Business Forum, and the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2013 and National Trademark Award in 2018, both from the former Ministry of Economic Affairs (now the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment).

Tshewang is an ardent believer that gender equality can be achieved through economic empowerment.

She says, “Women become complacent when dependent on their partners but are resilient in the face of adversity. Sometimes a gentle nudge is all that is required to inspire and motivate them. When women thrive economically, communities prosper and societies progress.”