Celebrating Sri Lanka’s rising women entrepreneurs

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Eresha Pushpakumari receiving the award from the then Policy Planning and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva at the fourth annual Professional and Career Women Awards


Since its inception in 2012, the 5by20 programme has worked towards elevating socio-economic status of women across the country, by providing them with the training and development required to run successful entrepreneurial ventures. On the International Women’s Day, the 5by20 programme celebrates Ereshika Pushpakumari Samarasinghe and Nirmala Nilmini Navaratne, two programme participants who have acquired the skills needed to successfully run their businesses whilst supporting their families. This training programme was conducted by Women in Management, a professional organisation dedicated to the success of women in Sri Lanka. 

A story of strength and perseverance: Soon after Ereshika and her husband got married, he lost his job and the young couple was put in a tough situation.  Adamant to build a successful life for themselves, the pair decided to start their own small batik business together in their hometown of Kandy. However, they soon faced challenges as neither had any business experience. 

 The 5by20 workshop in Kandy: Financial pressures built up over time and Ereshika and her husband put all their efforts and energy into ensuring the well-being of their two sons, who at the time were preparing for their O/Level and Grade 5 scholarship examinations. Ereshika heard about the 5by20 programme, which was taking place in Kandy and realized that it could help her to grow her business and generate the funds required to support her children. 

 A practical approach to training: After participating in the 5by20 workshop, Ereshika learnt more about basic accounting and financial management. She also received practical operational skills as well as sales and marketing skills that have helped her to run her business more profitably. By drawing on the advice, business tips and shared experiences that were discussed during the sessions, Ereshika was able to turn her business around in a relatively short period of time. 

Achieving new levels of success: Following her participation in the 5by20 programme, and in consultation with well-wishers, Ereshika diversified her product offering from a limited range of batik wear to saris, shirts, blouses and sarongs in different colours and materials. Today, she and her husband supply a variety of retailers in Kandy and she regularly showcases her work at exhibitions. Her business has grown significantly and she now employs six full-time seamstresses as well as seven others who sew from their homes. One of the most heartening development we have seen amongst the participants of the 5by20 programme is that many of the participants in turn empower other women by providing them with opportunities and employment.

Words of wisdom for others: In 2015, Ereshika was recognized for her achievements and progress as an entrepreneur at the fourth annual Professional and Career Women Awards programme.

Commenting on the impact of the programme, Ereshika Pushpakumari Samarasinghe stated, “I am grateful for the knowledge I acquired through the programme and for the connections I made at the workshop. During the different sessions, women facing different hardships all came together to support each other and share their business insights. This programme has added immense value to my professional and personal life and has helped me transform our family business from a stagnant venture, into a thriving and profitable business.” Sharing her advice for other women entrepreneurs she said, “Be honest, be humble, be kind and rest assured that justice and success will ultimately prevail for those who work hard with consistency, commitment and discipline.” 

 Finding the perfect balance: Desha Shakthi Nirmala Nilani Nawaraathna lives in Trincomalee and currently works as a branch manager at a rural development bank. She is a busy working mother and career woman who also runs her own guesthouse. Before taking part in the 5by20 programme, she was unable to efficiently devote her time to expanding her business. After participating in a 5by20 workshop along with 60 other women, she learned valuable skills such as time management and the importance of personal grooming. She was also able to strengthen her financial management and entrepreneurial skills. One of the insights she received from the 5by20 programme was on balancing her role as a wife, a mother, a full-time bank manager and a business owner. 

 Learning how to expand and grow: The lessons, which Nirmala learned at the 5by20 programme, also inspired her to start a small eatery in her guesthouse. Through Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Limited, she was able to become a retailer of Coca-Cola products and this provided her with an additional source of income.  The eatery helped her to expand and increase her revenue and it also brought in additional business to her guesthouse. 

Recognizing the value of partnerships: Commenting on the key insights that she took away from the programme, Nirmala Nilmini Navaratne said, “The 5by20 programme taught me how to balance the demands of my life and it also taught me the importance of partnerships in growing a business. By becoming a Coca-Cola retailer, I have been able to take my business to greater heights and increase my daily revenue. Coca-Cola is a refreshing beverage and it draws many patrons to my eatery and guesthouse, especially when the weather is extremely hot. I’m really happy about how this partnership and the lessons I learned at the programme, have helped me to change my life and find success.” 

Touching the lives of thousands: The 5by20 programme is a global initiative, which is run by The Coca-Cola Company and facilitated locally by Women In Management (WIM). In Sri Lanka, the programme strives to further the development of women entrepreneurs through educational and training workshops and it also serves a larger societal need by empowering women and encouraging inclusivity.

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