Women's Chamber of Industry & Commerce: Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2011 Awards Night

Speech by ADB Sri Lanka Resident Mission Country Director Rita O'Sullivan on 15 July 2012 at the Cinnamon Grand, Sri Lanka

Introduction

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to congratulate the Sri Lanka’s Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) on the occasion of organizing the prestigious National Woman Entrepreneurs Award.

The awards in the past have helped the women entrepreneurs with achieving greater confidence, esteem and business expansion.  They would be undoubtedly promoting women’s economic leadership and professional growth; serving as an advocate to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunities for women in business; encouraging the expansion of women owned businesses in the country; designing and implementing initiatives to assist women become economically independent and last but not least stimulating the increase of employment opportunities for women.

Challenges in Sri Lanka

We recognize that female’s labor force participation rate is still low in Sri Lanka—33.7% of female is half of 66.7% for male (The Sri Lanka Labor Force Survey 4Q 2010, which excludes the Northern Province).  Still, female labor in plantation agriculture, migrant domestic labor and the export-oriented garment industry make a significant contribution to national production and income in Sri Lanka’s export-oriented economy.

The labor market is however divided according to occupations dominated by men or women. Women are in the teaching, nursing, domestic (local and migrant) and assembly-line production segments, while men are in the technical and skilled labor segments.  Women are concentrated in the informal sector, in home-based work and as sub-contracted workers with little legal protection.

ADB support

ADB supported women’s livelihood activities for communities under several projects.

Under a project (the North East Coastal Community Development Project), we provided livelihood and enterprise development services in the north and east, primarily in the Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Amparai districts. Under the project, more than 400 skill training programs were undertaken for 13,764 women by partner NGOs.  The project also identified market opportunities in farm and non-farm activities, and developed livelihood clusters in food processing, poultry, tailoring, fishing, retail shops, and handicrafts with a high number of women participants. Microfinance to support livelihood activities was also arranged—7,583 microfinance loans were made, of which more than 80% were for females.

Another project (Aquatic Resources Development and Quality Improvement Project) provided a capacity building and livelihood support for women’s sub-committees of Inland Fisheries Societies targeting 13 villages.  In fact, the assistance was added based on the request of women in the inland fisheries communities.  As the fishers are mainly men, the project activities focused on the male members of the target communities of the project.  Women requested for support to engage in livelihood activities, just as the fishermen were assisted through the project.  As a result, women’s sub-committees were strengthened.  They were linked organizationally with the Fisheries Societies for access to extension services and credit to ensure governance and long-term institutional sustainability. A total of 144 women were trained and provided with material/equipment to support on-going and new livelihood-related activities. Women who were previously involved only in household and caregiver activities have been organized, trained in leadership & organizational management and in livelihood-related skills and have started/strengthened home/community-based economic activities. While some women have also got more involved in inland fisheries through rearing fingerlings and processing fish, many more women have begun to earn incomes through non-fisheries related activities and now contribute financially to the family.

The role of the National Woman Entrepreneurs Award

Many traditional gender roles and domestic tasks e.g. home gardening, poultry keeping and sewing can now being converted to business opportunities. This provides an income but also more intangible benefits such as increased self-esteem and a better standing in the family and community.

While ADB provides support to lower the burden to start the business, it is not always sufficient.  Women sometimes need someone to encourage them.  National Woman Entrepreneurs Award is indeed important in the sense.  The winners can serve as a role model for the hidden women entrepreneurs, which is a powerful push for those thinking of starting their own business.   I cannot imagine how many women are encouraged, and how many of them actually started their own business.

I wish the winners all the best in their future endeavors and would like to see their business ventures reach remarkable heights.