Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Harmony Murphy: Raw authentic leadership, the female founder providing orphans an education

Harmony Murphy is Retail Head, Advertising UKI at Google and NDA’s monthly columnist.

Harmony’s quest for understanding leadership and mindset more deeply outside of the office environment found her spending a few weeks across Nepal and the Himalayas including trekking to Everest Base Camp and meeting with different leaders and communities along the way.  

Sitting in deep thinking mode around leadership and what makes a genuinely good leader or one we bond / connect to more-so than others? Some of the most valuable elements of a good leader that drive connection and trust: A good education? Or an empathetic person without a self-agenda or much ego? A person with a similar life experience for guidance and understanding? Or simply someone wholesome you trust? I believe many of these traits and more would make a super leader.

Furthermore, on my global path to understand more about leadership in it rawrest form –  it made me think how some people are born natural leaders and hone their skills, how certain leaders stand-out over others when it comes to holistically cultivating your growth. I wanted to learn more about these leaders, from all different walks of life!!

I was recommended to visit and connect with an incredible woman, Rita Rai, founder of The Orphans Homes in Nepal. A leader intent on creating success in not just their lives but literally pathing the way for others and building a bright future for many. Rita certainly encapsulated many of these leadership traits and I hope her story inspires you all. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and how the orphanage got started and why?

I started in 1988 this is when The Orphan’s Homes was officially registered. We (Rita and her Husband) visited many rural places outside of Kathmandu and often found children wandering the streets real young orphans abandoned at the roadside. Young children literally running up holding Rita’s hand “please bring you to my home” this hurt her heart. As a woman Rita mentioned her maternal instinct kicked in and she wanted to do something to help. As a leader to drive this ambition Rita needed to differentiate emotion from logic she needed to be mind strong and register a well set up orphanage with  agility given limited resources.

Rita knew if she officially got the orphanage setup and went through all of the legal process – then this would give access for the children to have not just a home but an education and get placements within schools in Nepal. For Rita it was a personal journey / process of daily learnings for Rita to understand law and regulation, a lengthier and more complex process than initially expected but one needed to get to the end goal. It was about structure to better the children’s life and a loving environment to foster the growth of the children in multiple ways. 

You mentioned you initially had to separate your emotion from business to move forward – where did you get strength from?

At the initial stage it was very difficult to manage. Seeing the children and how vulnerable they all were was heartbreaking and tugged on her heart strings. However this time she was focusing her energy on the fact that the children need to love a mother and had to use the emotive energy to push through the business. She needed to do the best she could for them, selling jewelry and items to manage funds for their education. Thinking of entrepreneurial ways to bring in money and drive awareness of her ambition within the community where locals could also help; she had to operate with agility and grit to drive pace and precision where it was needed most in the set-up / foundation of the orphanage.

Through Rita’s creativity she sold pickles and items in a market and got branding out on the orphanage. Looking for ethical business mechanisms to drive profit quickly. It is still difficult for Rita as there are 24/7 costs she needs to count for but she needs to evolve methods all the time to do better for children. Rita’s advice around being entrepreneurial, creative in mind and always keeping faith that goals will be hit; even if that goal post sometimes moves! Rita sought coaching from trusted individuals around her to ensure she had an outlet herself and a safe space strategy. 

You are dealing with complexity daily. How do you continue to thrive as an orphanage with all these challenges?

What Rita said I needed to understand is not everyone needs to do the same who runs the orphanage, whatever they can support they can do from their side – different staff members or people from the community bringing different parts to the table. Rita is there to oversee and steer and love all of the children but her network around her builds on her foundation in their own unique ways.

Rita continued that she initially gave priority to girls within the orphanage when as if the daughter is educated the family gets educated- women are not empowered compared to males so she thought necessary to empower these women not just an orphanage but an educational facility. However as the orphanage expanded it became a mixed facility due to so much demand and not enough supply plus her want and love for all children. Rita wants a place in which they could have a chance to shape their own future, to try to live out and fulfill their dreams after a rocky start to life. 

Whilst there I met Manisha who had been in the orphanage from the age of 3, she had been highly academic excelling at school and wanted to be able to continue an upward educational trajectory with the dream of going to university. This may then help to unlock a career and better future with less dependencies for herself. I spoke with Rita about how I could help make her dreams a reality and we made this happen. This is just one amazing woman looking to better herself in a harsh world. But imagine how many more women in a similar position Rita and others are trying to help and change lives (picture of Manisha, Rita and Indria below).

Rita mentioned  more on the details of the educational side of the orphanage. There are still lots of needs around education (the children they have in the orphanage go to a school where monthly and admission fees are free but they still need to provide stationery for 1 child per year; it’s $150 dollars for 35 children)  3 students she has are doing higher education and she needs to help raise for this 1 student approx $1,300 PY (170,740 NPR)  a lot of money in Nepalese rupees.

At the beginning she had lots of challenges that took 25 years to almost complete from paperwork to building and support needs for the children – no day was the same. Some days Rita cried on the road as sometimes it was even hard to feed the children. Now the situation is getting better, people know here, local organizations support here to help feed…there is light!

Digital i.e Social media has helped her to promote and message people and networking, entrepreneurial spirit plus the resilience that even on the hardest days to bring the right attitude and inner strength to never give up!

Anything you would like to say to women around the world who find you inspirational? 

Rita wanted to give me an example of a staff member who is here now and she has 3 children; she had a long marriage then the husband left her and then she bought the women in and gave her a job and kept her children here also, this is just one example. To empower women we need to empower each-other, give them a job, skill and help them to sustain themselves.

To lift others as we lift ourselves and act authentically without self agenda. I seemed to take away many inspirational parables and stories from Rita and The Children’s Home Orphanage – On days where things get hard, seem overwhelming to always know that once the storm passes there are rays of sun, this makes weathering any storm temporary and with each one we hit a higher breakthrough of light. It’s leading people through these with direction and heart that you grow other leaders.  

You can find out more on Rita Rai and how to donate to The Orphans Homes here