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Catalyzing Success for Sri Lanka’s Women Entrepreneurs through SCORE
Published 10/06/2023 by Global Communities
Over 50 women entrepreneurs from across Sri Lanka recently gathered for “SCORE Women in Action: Advancing Women Entrepreneurs Through Digital Technology.” The event was organized by Global Communities, in collaboration with the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), as part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (SCORE) Activity.
Over the past five years, SCORE has been working to reduce socioeconomic disparities and strengthen cohesion and resilience among multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities, with a special focus on supporting marginalized women and youth.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the economic crisis that is currently engulfing Sri Lanka, the program intensified its efforts by working with a select group of women who were severely impacted by these shocks and stressors—from widows and single mothers to women-headed households. While some had micro businesses or entrepreneurships, others were daily wage earners, unemployed or engaged in unpaid domestic work such as home gardening and farming.
“Some, if not most, were not treated with respect or dignity within their household or community, because they were seen as dependents and not as a segment that could bring in an income to their household,” said Avanthi Kottegoda, Head of Program & Learning for SCORE. “With COVID-19 and the economic crisis, they were even more vulnerable, subject to abuse and in dire need of support due to the loss of their spouse’s income or their own earnings.”
To help address these challenges, SCORE provided the women with access to specialized tools, technology and training to start, strengthen and grow new or existing micro-enterprises. Support included market analysis and opportunities for them to develop their business and financial management skills.
“These are all resilient women here. No one said, ‘I can’t’ or ‘No.’ They stood up for themselves let it be COVID-19, the Easter Attacks, the economic crisis — they found alternative ways to move forward and were agile,” said Aranee Devanandan, Manager – Social Capital at Hela Apparel Holdings.
Devanandan was one of several guests at the SCORE Women in Action event, which offered a chance for women entrepreneurs who participated in the program to network with potential buyers, investors and advisors from the government sector. Invitees included representatives from leading supermarket chains and apparel companies as well members from the Industrial Development Board and the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka. Wasantha Perera, Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms, was in attendance, in addition to Deepthi Lamahewa, Executive Director of ONUR.
“Four of our members take our products to weekly fairs across the Monaragala District. Now, even the male family members go to the weekly fair and sell our products. We want to go beyond this,” said Ranjani, a member of a women’s collective known as Jayamal Product that produces and sells spices, grains and other products such as flour and jaggery. SCORE provided the collective with the machinery they needed for the production process, along with training to build members’ entrepreneurship skills.
“For example, maintaining books of accounts, and we learned how to work cohesively as a team,” Ranjani said.
Previously, none of the women involved with Jayamal Product had any means of earning an income. Now, Ranjani said she has been able to make approximately 40,000 Sri Lankan Rupees per month and noted benefits that extend past turning a profit.
I feel that life has gotten better in so many ways. That’s the change.”Ranjani, Jayamal Product Women’s Collective, SCORE participant
“Some of the group members’ husbands did not let them participate in activities previously. One member’s husband didn’t even let her leave the house. Now she comes out and engages with us very happily,” Ranjani shared. “She herself says that she is now able to talk well, that she has strength and that she has standing within her family and within the village. Like that, I feel that life has gotten better in so many ways. That’s the change.”
SCORE Women in Action was another chance for her, members of Jayamal Product and other women entrepreneurs involved in the program to put what they have learned into practice.
“We got an opportunity today,” Ranjani said of the event. “We are meeting a representative from a leading supermarket tomorrow with product samples.”
In June, SCORE facilitated a gap analysis workshop with women micro-entrepreneurs engaged in the textile industry. Workshop findings were shared at SCORE Women in Action to support the Government of Sri Lanka and private sector with making policy-level decisions and investments that could improve both the industry and lives of women micro-entrepreneurs involved in it.
The event also included a session facilitated by Amira Ghaffoor, a woman tech entrepreneur who shared how to use digital technology to grow and enhance micro-enterprises. SCORE program participants like Damayanthi, who runs Uttara Fashion in Monaragala, left determined to apply what they learned and to continue adding to their skill set.
“I was able to gain a lot of knowledge from coming here – how to take the business forward, what I should be doing. It would be good to have more events like this,” she said. “The more knowledge we have, the more we can develop our businesses. After listening to the session on digital technology, I am motivated to use Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media platforms to promote my business.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Damayanthi said her shop Uttara Fashion suffered greatly. With support from SCORE, she was able to acquire sewing machines and other equipment needed to raise the quality and output of her products. Now, she has 10 machines, employs five people, and her confidence has grown alongside her business.
“I can take on orders for any frock design,” Damayanthi said, adding that her daughter has been studying fashion design for the past year to help take the shop to the next level.
According to Jeyathevan Kaarththigeyan, Chief of Party for SCORE, success stories like Damayanthi’s and that of other women entrepreneurs supported by SCORE have laid a strong foundation from which the program plans to build.
“Through economic empowerment, SCORE promotes diverse entrepreneurs to have a sustainable and cohesive environment in the working districts. Through scaling up and networking, we would like to expand this to the entire country,” he said. “In addition to replicating the SCORE models for women engagement in economic empowerment, we would also like to link these entrepreneurs with other successful models to ensure sustainability and promote cohesion.”