Sri Lanka: Economic development helps improve people’s life
“Each morning, I wake up excited about what is in store for me because each day is very different. I meet new people, hear their concerns and I do my best to help them”.
- The EU-funded “Support to District Development Programme” supports Sri Lanka in its transition from post-conflict to reconstruction and development through provision of basic infrastructure and services for the vulnerable population, local economic development and strengthening local governance.
- The Programme (2013-2017) is implemented by five UN agencies – UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, FAO and UNOPS - and the International Finance Cooperation of the World Bank in 7 districts of Sri Lanka with a total budget of 60 million Euros.
- Across the 7 districts, over 150 Economic Development Officers have been trained to mentor entrepreneurs in their communities.
It is rare to meet a young person like Fathima Hasmath, 28, who exudes passion, excitement and enthusiasm in the work she does as Economic Development Officer (EDO). A resident of the Puttalam District in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka, she joined the government public service in 2012 and there has been no looking back for her since then. She recalls her early days in the job, “It was not easy for me to walk into an unknown village and introduce myself, but I found my own way of working with people. Going beyond my duties as a government officer, I try to relate to them more as a friend and this helps them gain confidence in me.”
The three decade long conflict caused significant internal displacement, which challenged country’s progress in human development. Puttalam is one of the districts which hosted approximately 60,000 people who had to flee their homes from the bordering Northern Districts.
Under the EU-funded Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP), 25 government officers including Hasmath from the Puttalam District, were provided with a certified training in Entrepreneurship Development, designed and facilitated by UNDP. One of their major tasks is to identify local entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises and provide the technical knowledge, advice and mentoring needed to start up and/or expand and sustain their business.
“The training taught me how to identify opportunities which match the resources available in the communities. I also learnt that you need to first have a good idea to be able to develop a sound business plan and move ahead. You also need to be able to attract the right market in order to sell your product. Product quality, packaging and presentation are key to succeed”. These are some of the key messages Hasmath communicates to those engaged in self-employed initiatives whom she mentors, including in some of the most remote areas in Puttalam.
M.I. Bathurusaran, 42, is one of the entrepreneurs she mentors. A father of three from Mullipuram, a backward fisher community in Puttalam, Bathurusaran did not succeed to earn a sufficient income by hiring out his newly purchased truck. “I was struggling to make ends meet but now I make door-to-door sales of filtered water to the residents of Puttalam where water has high levels of salinity”.
Coached by Hasmath, he has now a business plan and hopes to expand his business with the support of the EU-SDDP Programme. “I am now able to transport only 18 cans of water per trip. A bigger water tank would allow to stock more purified water and save on the transportation and fuel costs. With this expansion my selling capacity could increase by at least five times”.
Hasmath hopes that she can inspire and help other entrepreneurs like Bathurusaran. “I hope we will have more good entrepreneurs which means more jobs and more development for people in the communities”.