Driving an entrepreneurship cultureView(s):
“Magey massina aluth podi viyaparayak patan aragena asarum karapu elavalu saha palathuru geval walata genath denna (My cousin has started a small, new business selling packed vegetables and fruits which can be delivered to your home),” he said.
“Eh kiyanne eya vyavas yakayek wela (So he is an entrepreneur),” noted Serapina.
“Eka honda viyaparayak mokada eya sahathika karanawaney asarum karala thiyenne navum eva kiyala (That’s a good business because he is ensuring that when it is packed it means it’s fresh),” said Mabel Rasthiyadu.
“COVID-19 kaley podi viyapara kada wetunata honda illumak thibba athya-avashya deval walata (While COVID-19 also saw many small businesses collapse, there was good demand for the supply and delivery of essential items),” added Kussi Amma Sera.
Small businesses are an integral, if not, a key part of the
Sri Lankan economy. Gone are the days when bankers would frown with disapproval when they spot a shabbily dressed individual coming into the bank, seeking a loan. Now MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) are drivers of economic growth. However, they suffered badly during the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis and sought and obtained government support and that of banks to delay repayment of loans (with the advent of moratoriums). Some banks also have special grant schemes for MSMEs.
According to the ADB, in Sri Lanka SMEs comprise more than 75 per cent of enterprises and account for more than 20 per cent of exports, 45 per cent of employment and 52 per cent of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product).
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s budget also had some focus on MSMEs. It said a recent survey revealed that about 20 per cent of such enterprises have either temporarily or permanently closed down. The survey also revealed a decrease in the performance volume of the currently operating enterprises.
“We want to fast track the journey towards a production economy. Therefore, SMEs should be further strengthened, encouraged and facilitated. For this purpose, we are introducing a concessionary loan scheme of around Rs. 30 billion with the support of the ADB,” the President said.
He said this programme is the first phase of action which will collectively provide a major impetus to the SMEs. In addition to concessionary credit facilities, capacity development programmes have been implemented for the participating institutions. Steps will be taken to link SMEs with the value chains of large companies in the industrial sector. He said a total amount allocated for the development of SMEs is Rs. 50 billion.
As I walked into the kitchen to get my morning mug of tea and a maalu paan, the phone rang. It was Arty, the intrepid entrepreneur, and the timing of the call was perfect as I also wanted to discuss today’s topic on entrepreneurs with an expert.
“Recently I read an interesting programme on entrepreneurship organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce,” he said. He was referring to ‘Schoolpreneur 2023: School Entrepreneurship Day’ launched across Sri Lanka on November 16 by the chamber, the Ministry of Education and the ILO aiming to foster entrepreneurial mindsets among schoolchildren.
The programme will be run across schools in the country, with one district chosen from each province to host the event. The districts are Anuradhapura, Badulla, Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Puttalam, Ratnapura, Trincomalee and Vavuniya
A statement on the event said the inclusion of School Entrepreneurship Day in the annual school calendar “is designed to act as a catalyst to promote and highlight entrepreneurism among schoolchildren across Sri Lanka. This initiative is geared towards cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit and a set of skills in youth with the goal of contributing to Sri Lanka’s sustainable and inclusive socio-economic development”.
“Small businesses are the drivers of many economies,” I told Arty, adding that the US Small Business Administration (https://www.sba.gov) is a gigantic organisation and a useful guide to build entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka.
“There is a need to encourage more small businesses as they have a trickle down impact on sustaining small communities, particularly at village level,” he said.
“What we need is a National Entrepreneurship Council similar to the Export Development Board (EDB) which can be governed by the various trade and business chambers as partners with government facilitation to help grow small businesses and guide MSMEs in all facets of a business,” I said.
Many banks are now helping small entrepreneurs. While not wanting to single out any particular bank (as all banks have special MSME schemes), A.K.K. Dias, a Gami Pubuduwa entrepreneur and recipient of the grant, speaking about his long history with a bank said: “I was there when this bank branch opened in Kiribathgoda; it was also the first day that I started working with the bank. Over the past 15 years, I have been supported with not just capital but with sound advice to expand my business.”
In another programme helping MSMEs, an entity was named ‘Lak Nature’ a business that manufactures a variety of preservative-free, all-natural, ready-to-prepare food by utilising the abundant supply of fruits and vegetables in Sri Lanka. Lakmini Weerakkody, founder of Lak Nature said, “My journey began when I came across a newspaper article on the excessive wastage of fresh produce in Sri Lanka. This inspired me to take action and find a way to utilise and minimise this waste. I’m also proud to mention that my factory staff is entirely made up of women, as I strongly believe in empowering and supporting women in the workforce.”
There are also special programmes nurturing female entrepreneurs. One such programme is by Hatch which in November 2021 introduced ‘AccelerateHER’ in partnership with the US Department of State. This initiative serves as an accelerator and gender-focused awareness campaign, with the goal of creating and guiding female entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka. Hatch plans to expand AccelerateHER and many more programmes centred on female entrepreneurship in the hope of being a driving force of economic and social change in Sri Lanka.
As I wound up my column, sipping a second mug of tea and eating another maalu paan, I reflected on the need for a special body like the suggested National Entrepreneurship Council to nurture, guide and develop small businesses in Sri Lanka. There are many examples in the world to follow to build an entrepreneurship culture.
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