It is aptly said that when a woman becomes financially independent she sets off a chain reaction of positive outcomes within her family and wider community. In my long journey of working with women right from the grassroots right up to the higher corporate echelons in Sri Lanka, this reality is evident.
A financially independent woman empowers others members of her family and the next generation, creates employment, and inspires and mentors other women to follow in her footsteps.
As a self-taught entrepreneur I realized early on the paucity of mentoring and guidance opportunities for aspiring female entrepreneurs. Facing lack of opportunities and guidance to start my own business – I understood why many women prefer to remain in their comfort zones without aspiring for leadership or entrepreneurial roles. This led me to set up Women in Management or WIM, where women can lean on each other as mentors and motivators.
The good work being done by WIM was multiplied manifold by partnering Coca-Cola’s ‘5by20’ programme, which aimed to economically empower 5 million women by 2020 across the world.
Globally, the company exceeded its 5by20 goal by enabling the economic empowerment of more than 6 million women. In Sri Lanka, over 5000 women have been trained since 2012 as a part of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 initiative, working with WIMto provide business skills training and mentoring networks to help women entrepreneurs improve their livelihoods, families and communities in Sri Lanka.
I can clearly recall the first Coca-Cola 5by20 project which was conducted in Trincomalee with 30 women. Since then, many of those participants have become successful entrepreneurs in their own right, backed by Coca-Cola and WIM.
Take for instance, NishaShareef,Owner of Nisha Watch Repair and Retail Centre Kandy, a differently-abled businesswoman and social worker,who has encouraged many in her community to reach their goals despite her own constraints. After successfully completing the Coca-Cola 5by20 programme in 2014/15 as an ‘Upcoming Courageous Woman Entrepreneur’, she was given the opportunity to travel to Malaysia with me for a 3-day training programme which helped her gain skills to better manage her business.
She was also a participant of the 2016 ‘Make the Right Real’ Capacity Building Programme held in the Republic of Korea. She has won awards such as ‘Women for Governance Professional and Career Women Awards 2014/15’ and many other certificates on several platforms where women entrepreneurs were awarded for their exceptional contribution to the economy.
Another success story belongs to S. Ireshika Pushpakumari, Owner of Isura Batik Creations in Kandy, another participant of Coca-Cola’s 5by20 program who has been benefitted enormously. After completing the Coca-Cola 5by20 training programme in 2014, she received the ‘Upcoming Women Entrepreneur of the Year’ Award in the Top50 Professional and Career Woman Awards 2014/15; going on to receive the ‘Upcoming Woman Entrepreneur award in the Women for Governance Professional and Career Women Awards 2014/15 by Chandani Bandara, Minister of Women Affairs.
Thereafter, she also won the Best Woman Entrepreneur at the annual World Women’s Day Ceremony held by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Kandy District Secretary’s Office and the ‘Diriya Kantha’ Entrepreneur Appreciation Award of the Akurana Divisional Secretariat for World Women’s Day 2017 organized by the Central Provincial Ministry of Sports, Youth Affairs and Rural Development Ministry. There are many more such success stories delivered bythe 5by20 programme.
(The writer is the Founder Chairperson of Women in Management (WIM) and the official trainer for Coca-Cola’s ‘5by20’ programme in Sri Lanka)