It’s Female Founder Friday, and I am thrilled to introduce you to Claire Naylor. Claire is the female founder of Women Lead Nepal, an NGO that provides young women in Nepal with the skills, support and opportunities to become leaders and change-makers in their schools, communities, nation and world. Her organization believes that the full participation of women is crucial to create peaceful and inclusive societies, and I couldn’t agree more. I love when women experience a problem and become entrepreneurs to solve it. Claire did exactly that. She saw a void of leadership development for women in Nepal and personally committed to changing that for the women in the country she grew up in.
Have you ever wanted to change the world or been curious about NGOs (a not-for-profit organization that is independent from states and international governmental organization?) If so, Claire’s candid answers to my questions are particularly important.
What inspired you to create your company?
Two things: the incredible strength and resilience of the women I grew up with in Nepal, and the realization that if we stop at establishing quotas for women, we’re often setting them up to fail.
I never had a specific ambition to become an entrepreneur, but when I couldn’t find anyone focusing on the enormous potential of young women to change the trajectory of Nepal’s future, it didn’t feel like I had a choice but to start Women LEAD- the first leadership development organization for young women in Nepal. I guess I fall under the same category as so many other female founders: an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ born out of an acute understanding of an urgent need, a vision for a better future that got me unreasonably excited, and innate impatience about the current pace of change.
However, over five years later, my answer has changed. It’s now our vision of the world where women leaders co-create the future and the young women at WLEAD that inspire me to keep going. These remarkable young Nepali women have grown from being at the center of our mission, to become my personal inspiration, decision-makers at WLEAD, and true leaders in their own communities. They are bold, fierce, and demonstrate creativity and passion in ways that continue to surprise me. Over this past year when I’ve felt overwhelmed by the fear and prejudice driving our world towards a darker future, their determination and their own visions for a better future is something I’ve kept coming back to.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
Not seeking help often or fast enough. In the early days, I was operating under a double bind of wanting to protect the venture since it was at such a nascent stage (and therefore vulnerable per my subconscious), and feeling I had to prove that I could do it all myself since I was just 22 when I co-founded Women LEAD and was constantly second-guessed because of my age and inexperience. Looking back, I could have saved a lot of time and pain by bringing more people onto the core team and leaning on others from day one.
Fortunately, running my own company in a challenging context like Nepal has brought me daily- if not hourly- doses of humility in a way few other experiences can, so I’m now a lot quicker to ask for help.
Ask me that in a couple months and I’ll have a solid answer. I’m smack in the middle of an extended, participatory strategic planning process. There are a lot of successes to build on from our first five years, and the demand for women’s empowerment and leadership services is growing across many demographics in Nepal. I’m currently working with my team and community of young women leaders to figure out how to scale up our impact while still being absolute in the quality of our programs and preserving the cohesion of our community.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
Find people who will be by your side. Unequivocally. You’ll need their encouragement when the odds seem insurmountable; a reality check from them when you’re in too deep and start losing perspective; and as your own identity becomes intertwined with your identity and performance as a founder, you’ll need people who care for and celebrate YOU- separate from your work. These people will become one of the most precious and valuable things in your life.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
“Run the World (Girls)“ by Beyonce. It’s somewhat of an anthem at Women LEAD, for obvious reasons!