Running a small business will always be a challenging way of life. But if your home country is occupied by a foreign power and you are part of a diaspora of refugees spread across the world, your challenges rise to a new level.
Those are the circumstances of the Tibetan Chamber of Commerce, which recently sent a delegation to Connecticut.
The Tibetan Chamber of Commerce is based not in Tibet, but in New Delhi, India. And its president, Lobsang Lama, has his business in Nepal. He recently led 16 of his members on a trip to New York and Connecticut.
“The members who have come are small businesses from India -- from different backgrounds, from the tourism sector -- we have got from Tibetan textiles, carpets also, they are here together. Organic products from India, from Nepal also,” he told WNPR.
Tibet is occupied by China and for decades, thousands of Tibetans have lived and worked in India and Nepal. The Tibetan Chamber, which was founded ten years ago, is a way to bring together that community both in exile and inside the country.
Lobsang said this is the second trade mission the chamber has made to the U.S.
“I think the last two days we have learned a lot, met very interesting people, and given us good advice,” he said at the conclusion of the visit.
And in fact, it’s an opportunity to connect with members of diaspora here as well. Kalsang Phuntsok has his business based in Manhattan, and is a former executive of the chamber. “I’ve always been a social entrepreneur," he said, "because I see the problem within the community and try to make an impact through business innovation.”
Kalsang founded and runs Tibetan Nanny, a service that aims to bring the spiritual values of his country to childcare.
He said the trade delegation is another way his community can reach out to the world. “Meeting different chambers of commerce across the states, Connecticut, New York City, and different chambers, we would get a lot of advice," he said. "And we can have a very strong chamber of commerce, which not only connects all the Tibetan businesses across the world -- but also as a Tibetan culture, it can have some positive impact to the world as well.”
She moved to the U.S. from her home in West Bengal 18 years ago, and she said local support like the Eastern Chamber, has been essential to her as an immigrant starting a business here.
“I’ve been very blessed I would say, and obviously the Chamber of Commerce, they have been the support system for me," she said. "There’s a saying, it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s exactly what happened in my case.”
Mukherjee said she would love to pay that forward and show Tibetan businesses how global links can help. “The whole idea is to expose them to the opportunities that Connecticut has to offer, and show them how we can build up this bridge, and connect them and support them,” she said.
The delegates hope to maintain and build on ties from their trip.