A Winrock Legacy Story

Maya Ghalan is piloting her electric vehicle along the bumpy roads of Kathmandu, Nepal. In the last 15 years, she has logged thousands of miles in the scrappy three-wheeled electric minibus the Nepalis call a safa tempo. It’s part of an improbable fleet of more than 700 electric vehicles that have been plying the streets of Kathmandu for over 20 years. Ghalan, one of the first female safa tempo drivers in Nepal, is where she is today because of a Winrock project that helped women own and drive these vehicles. Though this USAID-funded project ended in 2006, the 200-plus women entrepreneurs it created are completely self-sustaining—forging their own livelihoods, improving the environment and providing low-cost transportation for the Nepalese people.

Women were uncommon behind the wheel then, and Ghalan was harassed. “I used to cry a lot. But I also used to think that if women can drive an airplane, why can’t I drive a safa tempo?” Ghalan says. “I was very determined because there were no other choices. Because I had to look after my children. I had to earn income.” And she did earn income. But it was less than 4,500 rupees (USD $40) a month, not enough for a family of eight. She thought that if only she could own her own vehicle, things would be different. Turns out, people studying Nepal’s energy sector had a similar idea. When Bikash Pandey, director of Winrock’s Clean Energy group, opened Winrock’s Renewable Energy Support Office (REPSO) in Kathmandu in 1998, safa tempo use was surging because the government had recently banned the highly polluting three-wheeled Vikram tempo. As a native of Nepal, Pandey knew that electric vehicles were perfect for its capital city. Kathmandu is relatively small and has low speed limits, so the 70-mile-a-day battery range fit perfectly.

No one could have predicted the catalyzing effect of Kathmandu’s first female safa tempo drivers—how skills and confidence have been passed from woman to woman. Nepal’s women safa tempo drivers have boosted the country’s sustainable energy sector and shaped the streets of its capital city. They have built good lives for themselves and their families. They are proof of the lasting good that can come from small changes. Their legacy continues.

For more information please visit: https://www.winrock.org/how-women-are-driving-change-in-kathmandu/