Sonika Manandhar a climate advocate and entrepreneur from Nepal whose start-up company tackles the country’s air pollution problem while empowering women’s financial independence.
Her childhood experience of accompanying her father on her minibus routes taught her the value of finance to drive business growth and improve the economic situation.
Sonika Manandhar, witnessing her father’s journey from minibus driver to co-owner of bigger buses, made her realize the crucial role of finance in entrepreneurship and improving the economic situation. She believes that finances are the key to business growth and financial stability for families.
At 31, Sonika took this lesson to heart and applied it as co-founder and CTO of Aloi, a fintech startup that provides low-interest financing to women electric bus drivers.
In the 1990s, when Sonika accompanied her father on her bus routes, Kathmandu was one of the first cities to introduce electric vehicles, with a fleet of around 700 units operated mainly by women micro-entrepreneurs. This was a unique development compared to the rest of the public transport in Nepal.
Nepali women drive climate action
Sonika affectionately refers to these electric bus drivers as ‘climate ninjas,’ noting that they are unknowingly contributing to the fight against climate change.
The safa tempo, a fleet of around 700 battery-powered vehicles operated mainly by women micro-entrepreneurs, were a big step forward for Kathmandu in reducing carbon emissions in a pollution-plagued city.
However, the high cost of lithium-ion batteries, which cost nearly $10,000 each, was a major hurdle for these drivers who did not have access to formal financing. As a result, many of the electric buses now sit unused in garages, rusting away.
Due to their work in the informal sector, these women drivers are often ignored by formal financial institutions and unable to provide proof of income or a fingerprint, making it difficult for them to obtain loans.
A digital token system created by Sonika and her team at Aloi helps to build trust between lenders and borrowers. Microloans in the form of these tokens can be accessed via SMS from any type of phone, and can also be used to purchase goods and services from participating vendors.
Financial institutions can track the use of their funds and the impact they’re making. The interest rates negotiated by Aloi, at 1.33%, are much lower than the 20% rates typically faced by their users.
Despite facing distrust as a young woman in tech, Sonika persevered with Aloi and co-founder Tiffany Tong to convince others of their idea’s impact.
Transportation and climate crisis
Manandhar stressed that improving public transportation is not just about providing comfortable travel options for all genders throughout the day, but also about addressing environmental concerns.
She became more aware of the urgency of the climate crisis after taking a course on technological solutions to climate hazards.
Manandhar highlighted that Nepal saw an 8% increase in private vehicle imports in 2017 and has the highest per capita carbon emissions growth rate in South Asia, exceeding the world average.
She now draws inspiration from the Young Climate Advocates network, a platform connecting over 800 young people in over 100 countries to exchange resources and discuss successes and challenges in climate action.
Who is Sonika Manandhar?
Born in Kathmandu, Nepal, Manandhar graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering from Kathmandu College of Engineering, Tribhuvan University. She started her career as a software engineer at Microsoft Innovation Center Nepal in 2011.
As an alumnus of Singularity University and Korea Aerospace Research Institute, she studied exponential technologies including robotics, AI, and blockchain.
She received a scholarship to attend NASA’s Global Solutions Program and presented her company at the Singularity University Global Summit in Silicon Valley. Manandhar is also an advocate for blind students and has established a computer lab to provide them with computer education.
Manandhar is a fintech entrepreneur and co-founder of Aloi. Her company has been recognized with multiple awards from prestigious organizations such as the United Nations Capital Development Fund, UNESCAP and Welthungerhilfe.
She has also received honors as 2019 Young Champions of the Earth from the United Nations Environment Program and Emerging Explorer from the National Geographic Society.
Manandhar has a degree in computer engineering from Tribhuwan University and has received training from Singularity University in Silicon Valley and the Korea Aerospace Research Institute.
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