Six Feet Closer: Shaibyaa Rajbhandari
A recent college graduate creates an online platform for young women in the workforce, which provides mentorship and highlights stories of incredible women.
When you were growing up, what were your goals and aspirations?
I was born in Nepal and I grew up in Kathmandu. When people think of Nepal, they think of a conflict zone. But, I grew up relatively privileged. It was very interesting seeing the dichotomy between the cocoon that I grew up in versus what was happening in my country. Also, navigating myself through a society that was both progressive and conservative was interesting. I had a tough time understanding the mixed signals I would receive on a woman’s self worth. Growing up, my aspiration was to find a platform to voice these concerns. Deep down, I always knew I wanted to create change in my country, and empower women in Southeast Asia.
What inspired you to start your project?
When I went to Cornell, it was a very easy decision for me to study international development. During my freshman year of college, a terrible earthquake struck Nepal. I was supposed to go back home soon, and I became really depressed. It was a huge turning point for me. I knew I had to do something given the resources I had access to, which is how I launched my journey into entrepreneurship. I applied for a few grants and received the John Jacquette Fellowship to start a goat farming project. A lot of organizations who provided aid to Nepal were primarily focusing on giving people money, but cattle is where a lot of families receive income from. We traveled to a small village that was neglected in Nepal, and started the goat farming project. We ended up providing income for over 30 females in the village. Eventually, we expanded the project into three other villages. For me, social impact and women empowerment is the most important cause. We chose a village where there were more women than men, and ensured that the project would be successful.
The following summer, I applied for more grants and received around $15,000. We used some of the funds to expand the goat farm, and the other funds went to creating a tapestry initiative. It was designed for women who lost their livelihoods because of the earthquake but had many skills and were looking for ways to utilize them. We worked with a group of women to hand craft borders of tapestry that we would sell in the United States. Every time you would buy one, you would receive a postcard that has a picture and story of the women who weaved it for you. This way you are not just receiving some cloth, but you are embedding yourself into someone’s story. The money we raised was used to fund education for children in the surrounding areas.
Through these different experiences, I realized what I wanted to do and was passionate about, but I lacked the credibility, capital, and business skills. I decided to take a detour to focus on building my professional skills before diving into the social impact field. I stumbled into consulting, which is why I am at McKinsey. After I started work, I forgot why I was in this role and COVID-19 influenced me to think about how I wanted to spend my life. I recently started with Six Feet Closer, a global mentorship platform for women. A lot of young women I mentored were struggling with how limited the opportunities were given the current situation. We have a two-fold mission. The first one is to create personalized mentor-mentee networks with those who have similar backgrounds. The second mission is to share stories about women in the workforce. We are a community of over 200 women, and we will be releasing another round of applications to build the second cohort. We are a team of seven women, and this project has energized me a lot.
What is the toughest part of being a student founder?
Time management because when you are involved in other extracurriculars and you can forget that you are at college to study. Your college GPA does matter. You have to excel at what you signed up for first before branching out. When you start getting recognized for your work, it can be easy to become egotistical and lose yourself. It is important to re-align yourself and remain humble.
What drives you to keep pushing despite the obstacles that came your way?
Unless I can make life better for people in my homeland, I believe that there is no point for me to have access to so many opportunities if I can not open doors for others.
When was a time you failed, and what did you gain from that experience?
I was so excited about the goat farming project, I did not conduct as much research as I should have. Our idea was that men would herd the goats, and the women would take care of their families. When we held our inauguration ceremony, there were around ten men who came, but over a hundred women. We were so concerned about whether women, culturally, would be allowed to herd goats. My team and I just stared at each other and did not know what to do. However, since cattle farming was not a labor intensive job, it all worked out. This made me realize that I was not thinking as much about the people I was trying to help as I should have. Sometimes, we forget the purpose of what we are doing. Now, I make sure I always understand who I am working for, and what their goals are before I place my own aspirations.
What was a key decision you made that helped you get to where you are today?
At Cornell, there is a large student club culture. People told me if you do not get into certain clubs, it would hinder your college experience. There were a few organizations I really wanted to get into and it didn’t work out. I almost lost all motivation and my performance in school started to take a downfall. I started doubting myself because of the path that people told me I needed to take. Everyone I looked up to was in certain clubs and I was so worried because I did not get into them. One day, I stumbled upon an email that said there were grants for social impact projects for women. I shut down my email because my performance was not great in school and I had just gotten rejected from some clubs, so I did not think I would receive it. However, something sparked in me and I understood that the worst case scenario would be not receiving the grant. So, I applied for the grant and I received it. I also met my biggest mentor at Cornell, Professor Deborah Streeter. She created so many opportunities for me, and she is truly an iconic woman. I genuinely believe if I had not applied for the grant, my entire trajectory would have been so different.
What advice would you give your former self?
I read this quote recently, the only thing that is in your control is how hard you try. There are so many other factors in your life, but you cannot control any of those. Do not look for shortcuts, There is no substitute of sincerity and hard work. Even if I fail, I have given 110% of my effort, I do not feel bad about it as I know there was nothing else I could have done. Deep down, you will always know how hard you tried. Also, social media has induced a lot of anxiety in others and people always put on a facade. We are always comparing ourselves to others and their successes. It is necessary to understand that you are on your own path. You need to focus on your life, rather than on others.
About Six Feet Closer
Six Feet Closer is a global connectivity platform to provide personalized mentorship and professional resources for women across the globe. Our community of 200+ women is composed of Fulbright Scholars, industry professionals, curious undergraduates, Forbes U30 members, and more.
Shaibyaa is a recent graduate from Cornell University, where she studied International Development. Originally from Nepal, her earliest aspiration was to voice the concerns she had growing up as a young woman in a both conservative and progressive society. Growing up, she constantly received mixed signals on a woman’s self worth through different customs and rituals. Today, Shaibyaa’s mission is to open doors for others in her motherland in any way she can. Through her various projects, she hopes to empower women from around the world and mold them into the best version of themselves.
Transcribed by Reva Jariwala, ORIGIN Content Manager