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Foreign entrepreneurs - Threat or opportunity?

25 April 2013 06:53 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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On a recent visit to the Galle Fort, supposedly one of the most ‘IT’ places around, I was struck by the boom I saw in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship anywhere is good news but in this case , it seemed that most of it came from foreigners , some of whom have taken up residence in the beautiful gem on Galle’s crown, The Fort. Where once dilapidated, sleepy quarters used to be, trendy French cafes and laid-back boutiques have sprung up, testimony to the Fort’s iconic status and also testimony to the business acumen of the foreign residents.

A status check revealed that some of these outlets are owned and managed by foreign men and women living in Sri Lanka. Some perhaps are married to Sri Lankans, thereby having earned the right to stay here and engage in entrepreneurship while others were only residents.

Exorbitant charges

But for all reasons, having visited some of them including a posh boutique selling clothes priced at Rs 20,000 for a simple dress and another outlet selling a simple vase for Rs 5,000, I came away feeling that just maybe these outlets catered only to an exclusive clientele from their own background. Not that we Lankans cannot afford such things – there are many among us who can and who will – but on the surface, it seemed a bad investment to pay so much for such simple things.
There have always been talented women from overseas who have created a niche for their businesses here in Sri Lanka. As in the case of dear departed Barbara Avossa who ran Regina Margherita, a dear friend who was married to a Sri Lankan, some women have been able to combine their skill and talent with the right opportunity to make a successful business.



Yet others are accused of cashing in on opportunities of networking and status building to create businesses that give nothing back to Sri Lanka but instead are run by foreign residents along ‘elitist’ lines and usually beyond the reach of Sri Lankans. Just how much does the argument hold water – can we learn and co-exist alongside foreigners who seem to have become excellent entrepreneurs on our soil instead of their own countries or are they a threat to our own businesses?

Int’l gateway

Even from ancient times when Point de Galle was a truly international gateway point and there was never a shortage of an influx of men and women doing thriving business, we Lankans have learnt to co-exist with foreign participation and competition. The Bombay onion seller, a woman who travelled from India selling her famous onions, wearing a ring in her nose and seemingly illiterate, yet a shrewd businesswoman, was a common sight on roads in an era gone by. Then there was the Chinaman selling pretty prints and chintz who would market his wares house to house. There were many others too who have been welcomed graciously by the Sri Lankans.

Down Kotte Road, there was the Esmeralda  café run by a wonderful Japanese young woman who created mouthwatering cakes and sweets, some of them wonderfully Japanese such as green tea cakes. Her store was neat and tidy and always reminded me of how meticulously committed the Japanese are to tidiness. She had a booming business with clients both Japanese and Sri Lankans. Her cakes were expensive by average standards but she made them with totally natural ingredients and you could tell the difference when you tucked into them! She moved her shop to Colombo and I lost touch with her soon after but to me, she was a very successful entrepreneur because she had found an opportunity that fitted in with the right product.

Colonial attitudes

 Some complain that colonial attitudes still prevail when it comes to foreigners doing business in Sri Lanka. Some foreign entrepreneurs are accused of acquiring a colonial ‘mindset’ when dealing with locals. How far this holds water, is yet to be seen but the majority of foreign business owners seem to get along fine with their local counterparts.

Foreign-owned or otherwise, competition has always been good for any business, and encourages greater participation and offering of better services. Can our own female entrepreneurs benefit from such competition or can such competition create new opportunities for Sri Lankans – these are the questions we need to ask ourselves.

In today’s wired world, the entire globe is indeed the market place for any  business, whether it is physically operated in Colombo or anywhere else in the world.  With that in mind, we could view the ever expanding opportunities for business wherever it maybe.

(Nayomini is a senior writer, journalist and a PR professional and can be contacted at
nayominiweerasooriya@gmail.com)
See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.

 

 

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See Kapruka's top selling online shopping categories such as Toys, Grocery, Flowers, Birthday Cakes, Fruits, Chocolates, Clothing and Electronics. Also see Kapruka's unique online services such as Money Remittence,News, Courier/Delivery, Food Delivery and over 700 top brands. Also get products from Amazon & Ebay via Kapruka Gloabal Shop into Sri Lanka.