Tibetan Women Innovating

By Tenzin Kusang

This past week, I had the pleasure of being part of the Tibetan Innovation Challenge, a competition organized by the University of Rochester. The purpose of this competition is to promote economic development and stability so that Tibetan refugees in India can apply them in their communities.

My team consisted of five Tibetan female students from Syracuse University and one male MBA student from the Rochester Institute. Being the only Tibetan team truly felt special, and being almost an all-female team gave me a sense of pride and empowerment that I’ve never felt before. This competition proved to me that motivation and willingness goes a long way. Although many of us had little to no experience in business and entrepreneurship, we stayed focused and were able to finish our project in less than a month.

We initially thought of many interesting and different business ideas, but the one that prevailed was the “Tsampa Bar.”  Similar to nutritional bars, we called this project “Tsampa – Taste of Tibet” because tsampa is the staple food of Tibetans in Tibet and also in the diaspora. In this way, it touched on a cultural aspect and had a potentially large contribution to make in the energy bar market, since tsampa has far more superior nutritional value than other grains in the industry.

The manufacturing of the Tsampa Bar would take place in the northern area of India (a majority of barley is grown there) within the Tibetan refugee settlements. The proceeds made from the tsampa are to go towards funding the Federation of Tibetan Cooperatives in India (FTCI), which works to support Tibetan farmers and create employment and entrepreneurial opportunities within the Tibetan communities. Our reason for choosing to work with FTCI is that they’re already an established organization whose work contributes to our community. Our product will provide job opportunities for Tibetan refugees while also promoting our culture across the world.

It was also interesting to hear ideas from other competitors, many of whom were not Tibetan. At times, it was uncomfortable for me to hear the non-Tibetans refer to Tibetans as “they” when there were Tibetans in the audience, as well as in the competition (namely, our team). I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm by it, and I truly did appreciate all the teams that participated in this competition. Their interest in  the Tibetan Innovation Challenge showed their immense respect for the Tibetan people and culture.

The Syracuse Team

Kusang’s team won second place in the competition. Their members include:

  • Tenzin Kusang
  • Rinchen Dolma
  • Tenzin Lama
  • Norzom Lama
  • Pasang Lhamo
  • Rinchen Namgyal

The Texas Tech team (all non-Tibetan) was awarded the 1st place prize of $5,000 for their business idea – an online point-of-sales system that allows Tibetan handicraft producers to target western consumers.

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