Bec Ordish – inspirational founder of the Mitrataa Foundation, creating a future for hundreds of young Nepalese
Bec is, among many other things, a senior IP lawyer. It was in this capacity that she spent time, some years ago, working on commercial IP matters in our Shanghai office
Bec is one of those rare people who make you want to do something amazing. That’s no doubt partly because of the amazing things she is doing herself, but it’s also the result of her passionate interest in helping people find their strengths and improve their lives. That passion, combined with her intellectual capacity, and the managerial and networking skills she’s picked up along the way, makes her a force to be reckoned with.
Her intellectual ability was obvious when she graduated with First Class Honours from Bond University and was offered a position with multinational law firm Baker McKenzie in Sydney. But her broader interests were also beginning to show themselves. She had always wanted to do volunteer work and had a brief window of opportunity before starting work at Bakers. So when the possibility of a six-month placement in Nepal came up, she jumped at the opportunity. She says now that she felt immediately at home in Nepal – somehow she felt she belonged, the place seemed to give her energy – but she certainly didn’t expect she would end up living there.
As she tells it, the Mitrataa Foundation (‘mitrataa’ meaning ‘friendship’), which she now runs full-time, more or less set itself up during those first six months. In a sense that’s true, but it certainly wouldn’t have happened without Bec’s desire to help and her ability to make things happen. She was teaching at a school during her placement and every day a woman would knock on the door hoping to get a job at the school. Day after day she met with a refusal, but still she came back. After a few weeks, Bec asked why she continued to come and the woman said simply, “I want my son to go to school.” Bec wasn’t in a position to give the boy a place in the school, but she was so impressed with the woman’s dedication and persistence that in the end she decided to pay the AUD$300 annual fee for the son’s education. From there, no doubt seduced by Bec’s enthusiasm, friends and family back in Australia decided to get involved and by the end of the six month placement 30 more children were being educated with their support.
Although the work in Nepal continued over the next few years, Bec’s main focus was establishing what was to become a very successful legal career, first with Bakers and then with Rouse in Shanghai. She says she loved working at Bakers - in fact, one of the striking things about Bec is her enthusiasm for each of the steps she has taken along the way, moving on each time only because there were other mountains to climb. But she was feeling ready for a change: a change from Australia and a change from a large law firm where direct client contact was limited. A move to Rouse in China seemed just the thing.
And she thrived in China, where her role was really providing a bridge between clients and the developing Chinese legal and administrative system. It was exciting and challenging and something she was naturally good at. Even so, after a while she began to feel disheartened by the attitude of clients who seemed to her to be giving up before they got started: even though she kept telling them there were ways of engaging with the system, they felt China was just too difficult. Others might have struggled on, but Bec decided to leave Rouse and write a book telling clients how it could be done. The result was China Intellectual Property – challenges and solutions, written with a colleague, Alan Adcock, and published by John Wiley & Sons in 2008.
Shortly after she began the project, however, she was approached by a former client, global alcoholic drinks manufacturer Diageo, and offered the position of IP Counsel Greater China. She decided to accept it and finish the book part-time. Again, she loved the role with Diageo. She remembers meeting the Managing Director during her first week and asking what his priority was. He simply led her to a room full of bottles of copycat/lookalike Johnnie Walker whisky products and said “Solving this”. She was excited by the challenge and the prospect of working on the problem with Luke at Rouse.
Eventually, however, largely for personal reasons, she decided to leave China and move to Singapore and she’d only been there a couple of weeks when she was offered her dream job - Senior IP Counsel Asia Pacific for Cadbury. It turned out to be everything she had hoped; however, when Cadbury was subsequently taken over by Kraft, she decided it would no longer be the place for her. It was time to move on!
In a way the timing was fortuitous because very soon she found herself back in Nepal working full time with the Foundation. Her original intention had been to spend six months of the year in Australia and six months in Nepal, but when the Foundation took over the management of a children’s home (250 children: 40 babies; 40 toddlers and the rest children up to the age of 18) it was obvious that she needed to be there full time. When the contract came to an end, the Foundation continued to look after 35 of the children and to rehouse others. It was at this point that Bec adopted two teenage girls, Nimu and Saraswoti. It was a challenging thing to do, but one that has worked out extremely well. Both are now involved in, and passionate about, the Foundation and Bec couldn’t be prouder of them. She says they inspire her every day.
Mitrataa is making a real difference to the lives of hundreds of Nepalese. Since it was established in 2000 it has put about 1500 children through school; currently it supports 200. Its work is grounded in the theory of positive psychology – “… rather than ‘fixing what is broken’, we identify what is working based on strengths and passions (whether at country, village, group, or individual level) and build on those”. It aims to inspire and empower Nepali people to take responsibility for their own futures and to provide them with the education, training, and access to networks that will enable them to succeed. You can read more about Mitrataa’s work here and how Rouse supports Mitrataa here.
Bec’s work with Mitrataa has certainly not gone unnoticed. She has received various Awards over the years, including the Edna Ryan Award for Mentoring, which she says she was particularly honoured to receive because she is so grateful for all the help she has received from her own mentors over the years. For Bec, gratitude is one of the most important things in life: if you are grateful, she says, it’s impossible to feel negative. In 2017 she agreed to be profiled in the book 200 Women Who Will Change the Way you View the World because it provided her with a platform to tell the stories of some of the women she is working with in Nepal. She was initially reluctant, but they encouraged her to do it, saying: “You are our voice”. They couldn’t have a better one.