and achievements -village leadership lessons
Sri Lankan village folk have tremendous
individual and collective capacity in helping themselves
to achieve significant economic and social gains, provided
the necessary support infrastructure is readily available
| Village folk have tremendous individual and collective
capacity in helping themselves to achieve significant
economic gains. Library picture shows a fisherman
with his catch.
In these examples that follow actual
case studies from Sri Lanka outline the potential for
effective achievement of equitable economic growth led
poverty reductions, by passing even the UN Millennium
Development Goals, provided the presently poverty impacted
village communities are empowered, effectively networked
to knowledge, best practices and markets, supported
by national infrastructure improvements, good governance,
effective communications, village level collective transparent
self governance options, guided and mentored to change
wrong attitudes and the village leadership capability
A motivator counselor engaged in a consultancy assignment
for a private sector company in a remote village of
Sri Lanka subject to abject poverty, had met a young
man with leadership potential and commitment, yet dependent
on Samadhi benefits as a way of life.
The motivator had convinced villagers that the Samurdhi
entitlement dependency syndrome was the barrier to future
success of himself and his family.
The villager and his spouse had then taken a bold initiative
to surrender their Samurdhi entitlement cards. They
then started their new life with a home gardening enterprise.
Later they had taken a loan and started a yoghurt-making
small business. Next they expanded their range of manufacture
to include brooms. Their small business has since prospered
from sales in nearby villages to a district level manufacturing
and distribution enterprise. The entrepreneurship efforts
now employ 15 other Samurdhi beneficiary families of
Small but happy
A young village housewife whose husband is employed
in government services, had following a meeting with
the motivator counselor engaged in a consultancy assignment
for a private sector company in remote villages of Sri
Lanka, decided that she will seek “Samurdhi”
by becoming “not dependent on her employed husband”.
She had collected a recipe for cutlets from a newspaper
and used her savings for an emergency of Rs 450 to start
She had got up earlier than usual
in order to make 50 cutlets in addition to preparing
her husband’s lunch. She had individually packaged
the cutlets and added a paper napkin as well to improve
the value offer of the cutlets. She had asked her husband
to try and sell the cutlets via his office canteen.
The new savoury was an immediate hit
with the canteen users. The husband had been asked by
the canteen keeper at lunch time to bring 100 cutlets
the next day as all of them had been sold during morning
The small business started by this
young woman has now realized her dream of being “Non
dependent –“ Samurdhi”, She has now
become an entrepreneur on her own right.
She extends her benefits even to her
employed husband by providing him with a free ride to
his city work place on the motor bicycle carrying cutlets
and other savouries for distribution to many outlets
in the city where the husband is employed.
Two young village lasses, who had gained competency
in English and ICT yet live in a remote village without
electricity, cycle four miles everyday to a business
process outsourcing centre and are engaged in transcribing
medical reports and other information transmitted overnight
from USA and UK. They are now in receipt of monthly
incomes in excess of Rs. 15,000.
They yet prefer to live in the remote
village and cycle to work enjoying the positive village
environment and values. They now encourage other village
youth to be similarly empowered seeking knowledge and
skills leverage linked to new employment opportunities
of the global village as the way forward.
Drive and initiative
A young man in a remote village with low telecommunications
penetration had discovered a new niche market opportunity
based on an observation of the number of villagers traveling
to the nearest Communications Centre in the town. He
then decided to offer an added value service offering
to the villagers. His new business model links the benefits
of telecommunications connectivity in villagers marketing
their produce. He had invested in a mobile telephone
and made himself a mobile provider going over to the
clients own houses by appointment to provide the telephone
links from their homes.
This link quickly became popular as
the whole family could now benefit from the link in
networking with family members employed in the cities
He also facilitates value added market
information to villagers in marketing their produce
to the best value offer distribution points.
Similarly, Tri-shaw drivers armed
with mobile phones have increased their customer services
offering, whilst enhancing their own fuel savings related
productivity by limiting travel seeking casual clients
by serving a base of clients on call.
A fairly elderly lady in a sea side town had for many
years engaged in buying the unsold fish catch at attractive
prices from fishermen to make dry fish in the traditional
way, (ie. drying the fish on the sea sand in front of
her home) and selling it to the village merchants. She
had then been exposed to training, where the added value
of dried fish without sand/impurities and individual
attractive packaging had been demonstrated.
She then realized her options to improve
quality and productivity. She now dries the fish on
a raised marble slab covered within a fish net. This
safeguards the fish from crows, dogs and cats, whilst
being dried and the contamination with sand and impurities
Her value addition then improved by
40%. She had borrowed the necessary funds from the village
development society and extended her activities to packaging
and labeling by purchasing a polythene sealer in order
to market individually labeled and packaged dry fish..
The quality improvements and lower
wastage enhanced her income by a further 25%. Next she
took her samples to some medium size super markets in
and around Colombo and got the shop owners to compare
the quality of her products with the produce available
from other suppliers.
Now she now markets her produce with
a leaflet that highlights the competitive advantages.
Her regular supply clients are now chains of small distribution
outlets. Her value added income enhancements now yield
over 100% gain above her initial yield. This is despite
her marketing strategy now being on consignment sales
which requires her to bear the financing costs. She
totally paid off her original loan and has now taken
a bigger loan and employs many others on sub contract
to produce to her quality of dry fish marketed under
her dry fish label .
Assuming leadership and responsibility
A young girl of 26 years living in a multi ethnic, extreme
poverty ridden village in Puttalam (40% Sinhalese, 40%
Muslims and 20% Tamils including a large number of IDP’s)
developed on her own, a total village development plan
for her village to achieve MDG’s in three years.
The village people were so impoverished
that they could not raise Rs. 10,000 required as the
minimum capital to register a village society. Large
numbers of households were headed by women with men
having gone in search of jobs and later abandoning their
families. In the meantime political power houses and
mudalali’s were exploiting the village resources
of gravel without any value addition to the village.
The initial plans drawn up by this
girl included the restoration of a disused tank, development
of the connecting village main road network, developing
a play ground with the clay and sand from cleaning the
tank, development of 3 community wells for drinking
water (large number of families affected by kidney diseases),
enhancing the environmental value of the tank, a building
for a community hall/playground and a village school.
She was first assisted in registering a Society with
her as the President.
Private sector sponsors and a Rotary
Club accepted to support the project plan. However,
the authorities whose permission was required to begin
the tank restoration demanded a large professional fee
included project cost to be paid to them for the work
to be undertaken by the authorities.
The sponsors refused to participate
in the development plan that meant large spends made
via the authorities with consultancy fees and other
She invited all the party leaders
to the opening ceremony and individually met them and
won their support and leveraged them, with an oncoming
election at hand, to apply pressure on the authorities
to grant necessary permission without any fee payments.
Her ability to lead the project, and
getting necessary permission without meeting the high
fees demanded by intermediaries and getting the villagers
organized in a society led own initiative of self supervised
project impressed her private sector sponsors who readily
made available the necessary funding.
The project implementation went smoothly
with regular cash flow statements (actual and estimated
future cash flow needs) being provided. There was then
a power struggle with one community wishing to dominate
The girl overcame this obstacle as
well by giving the Presidency to a member of the other
community but taking the governance responsibility heavy
The work was completed by the next
dry season with the restored tank and wells (objections
from four other nearby villages also being amicably
settled under her leadership) providing ample water
for drinking, bathing and irrigation during the dry
season, a luxury compared to the past. With water now
assured villagers have invested in solar pumps and taken
to home gardening.
The remaining work in the next two
stages relate to pipe borne water connections to each
of the village households and the construction of individual
toilets for several families without individual toilets.
This is planned for the next season. In addition the
young girl is now developing plans for a salt packing
initiative (salturns being close by), a tank supported
inland fisheries and a sustainable agricultural development
project that can yield additional income to all 88 families
of the village.
Despite many obstacles on the way
this young woman’s leadership ability, committed
can and must do spirit and visionary focus have made
this village a model for development links.
Having registered a village society
and using the regulatory protection options the village
is entitled to she has managed to stop illegal excavation
and transport of gravel by politically supported contractors.
The village society now receives a franchise fee from
every lorry load excavated (within three months nearly
Rs. 300,000 collected as fees).
She has organized village youth to
keep track of the movement of lorries and record them
and now requires the contractors in addition to effectively
maintain the road and avoid dust pollution.
She has made the contractors spray
water four times a day to reduce dust pollution. The
funds raised are to be used by the village society for
road maintenance and village development.
She did not forget the environment
as the restored tank now brings in interesting bird
life back to a once barren village.
The playground is a boon to the children
and youth for cricket and football. The community hall/
play house and the school are next on the agenda with
even a political party now lending a helping hand.
This case study demonstrates the power
of village leadership, governance discharged effectively
by villagers and network benefits of effectively implemented
CSR initiatives of the private sector.
A multi national company has developed an integrated
village development plan that capitalizes on improving
the incomes of homestead agriculture and animal husbandry
using simple technology and best practices that improve
the soil conditions and provides a sustainable environment
within a business model that can reach simple village
Whilst improving agricultural productivity,
waste reduction, this Sustainable Agricultural Development
(SAD) Model most importantly links the villagers to
distribution networks for marketing their products and
provides the villagers with a stream of value adding
best practices based advisory services.
This business model managed by village
families follow a thorough training module and is thereafter
linked to regular supervision and advisory services
which then realizes optimum prices for productive quality
This system requires an investment
of less than Rs 50,000 per household and assures a regular
sustainable income option ranging from Rs 4000 per month
to Rs 12,000 per month and leverages the participation
of all members of the household.
A village down south has developed on their own with
the guidance of a Technical Advisory Partner a simple
technology and best practices leveraging compost fertilizer,
enriched with the dried fish waste from the fish sales
in the area. The compost packs produced have been analyzed
and assessed as comparable with best quality compost
fertilizer available in India. This initiative now limited
to this village has the potential of multiple benefits
across the island
World Bank funded Gemi Diriya programme, where the village
community decide on the village priorities and the resource
allocation needs for village economic empowerment is
a bench mark of how decision making, project planning
and implementation can be effectively delegated to the
village community. The success of the projects clearly
reflects the capacity and capability of the village
communities to take accountability on a collective basis
assuring transparency and good governance.
The village community is required
to fund up to 40% of the project costs by themselves
contributing labour or materials of such value and once
this is established they receive the balance as a grant.
Thereafter the villagers take full accountability for
the outcomes and project objectives.
Skeptics are bound to say that these
are rare examples and cannot be repeated in a mass scale
to eradicate poverty. However with initiatives to
* Awaken people to their true power
and leadership potential
* Awaken political leaders to their
* Developing governance to the lowest
level, gram swaraj or village self governance
* Bringing about constitutional reforms
through a bottom up process
* Improving the access to effective
* Good governance improving service
delivery to villagers
* Meritocracy and those most deserving
being the criteria for support
* Effective communications
* Availability of appropriate technology,
best practices and skills development opportunities
* Effective networks to distribution
and marketing channels
* Change leaders and motivators to
change the wrong attitudes and social exclusion processes
* Social premium sales counters and
social premium inclusive pricing mechanisms as a support
marketing network being established by the private sector
* The nation adopts a national vision
with all citizens pledging, within a Sri Lankan value
system to strive to achieve equitable economic growth
led achievement of millennium development goals
* Government and key opposition parties
on a bi-partisan basis to agree long term policy regimes
that assure a high level of equitable economic growth,
with effective macro economic, social and environmental
issue management. There is no doubt that poverty eradication
goals surpassing the UN Millennium Development Goals
will be a reality in Sri Lanka.
(These were extracts of a presentation
made on “Equitable Economic Development –
A Thematic Position Paper” at the conference on
“ Towards The Millennium Development Goals"
- Multi Stakeholder National Conference” on September
12 at the BMICH).