Rumee Singh co-founded Rumsan four years ago with her husband, the startup’s CEO. Since its launch in 2018, the Kathmandu-based blockchain-focused company has supported and launched initiatives in education, finance, healthcare, and agriculture. Singh, who has a background in engineering, returned to Nepal after spending 13 years in the U.S., where she worked in corporate communication and financial literacy programs. “Working in this side of the world with numerous disadvantages, you still feel you are armed with everything you need to tackle in the tech space,” Singh said. “The playing field seems leveled.”
Your company, Rumsan, has a unique mission of making an impact in daily lives by using frontier technology. What need did you see in the Nepali market and society that made you want to start some of the initiatives like Hamro LifeBank and Rahat?
Moving back home was a transitional challenge. I was overwhelmed by the problems that I’d see in every corner of the road, but I was also equally excited about how I could make a difference. As a developing country, we are still struggling with basic issues that you tend to otherwise take for granted — and you also realize that many problems disproportionately affect women.
For example, in Nepal, patients’ families have the burden of managing blood themselves, and women in maternity are heavily affected. We started Hamro LifeBank to change that by leveraging digital technology and data analytics. We are digitizing blood banks, creating a harmonized donor database, and running a data-centric blood hotline. With blood, the power of information at the right time can be the answer to a life-and-death situation.
Similarly, with Rahat, we are using blockchain technology to build greater financial inclusion. Nepal is prone to natural disasters, and these situations are intensified with a significant population living in extreme poverty. Women and girls become more vulnerable to inequalities brought by cultural beliefs and traditional practices, but getting aid to the most vulnerable is very challenging, and it’s a very opaque process. As an open-source, blockchain-based cash-and-voucher assistance platform, Rahat strengthens humanitarian aid efforts to support vulnerable communities and reach the unbanked with transparency and efficiency.
What’s the hardest thing about building something so different in a country where the tech startups are primarily focused on financial services or easing urban lifestyles?
Local investment and buy-in are difficult. In a country where startups are booming, but sustenance is a challenge, building something’s foundation on impact versus profit is a tough battle. We are obviously looking for impact investment 24/7, but we’ve found local investment interest in impact-driven areas is much more challenging. Also, the digital divide is widening.
With Rahat, our focus is working to benefit marginalized communities and a lack of digital readiness in vulnerable areas makes it challenging. While urban life is seeing a lot of collective effort for tech friendliness, the population that could benefit from it the most is highly ignored. The onboarding hurdle due to a lack of digital literacy makes processes expensive and challenging. More initiatives focusing on building impact can have an amazing ripple effect.
You’re among a handful of young women who’re running their own companies in an industry still largely dominated by men. What roadblocks would you want to prepare for other women who want to get into this field?
It’s very very common to find yourself as the only woman in a room full of men. I’ve been in many situations where people tend to organically look at your male counterparts for opinions, and your voice and perspectives are brushed off. And you have to spend time trying to convince them to take your voice seriously, look beyond how you dress or talk, and treat you as an expert. The major roadblock is having to work more to build that credibility, which should not have been questioned in the first place because of your gender. But it does take grit to continue to power through.
If you could clear one misconception about what it is like to run a company or start a business in Nepal, what would that be?
“Nepal is such a blank slate, you just need an innovative idea to start something and fix it.”
Innovation is highly overrated. You can’t fix a problem easily. What might seem like an easy fix can rather end up being a tall task. The social, cultural barriers, and the bureaucracy can take a toll on the timeline. Without the right funding, investment, and network, sustaining businesses can be challenging. But Nepal does need businesses focused on improving current structures, and above all, for businesses to be persistent and have good sustainable business models.
What was the last book you read and what was your one takeaway from it?
Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It’s a liberating feminist book that encourages you to enjoy the process of navigating your professional goals and to take risks. “The braver I am, the luckier I get.”
If someone is visiting your hometown for the first time, where would you recommend they eat? Anything specific they have to try?
There’s nothing more authentic than trying hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the gallis (narrow alleys) of Kathmandu. If you’re up for it, try a sip of Aila (homemade rice wine).