E-Cane Entrepreneurship for Development

December 19, 2023
E-Cane Entrepreneurship for Development

Methsara Benaragama is a 22-year-old startup entrepreneur. Originally from Gampaha district he now lives in Colombo.  For as long as he can remember, he has always loved doing something different. He was backpacking through Sri Lanka when he heard about the YCLI project and immediately started writing his application. “I have always dreamed of working with the UN.”

All the participants of the YCLI project had to conduct a community needs assessment to identify the most urgent needs in the communities they wanted to work with. “This changed my whole perception about volunteering and working on civil society projects,” says the 22-year-old. “Everyone engaged in volunteering should learn to do it!” He had been volunteering in various capacities before and always thought that it was him who had to come up with an idea. Learning how to conduct a community needs assessment in the YCLI project showed him the importance of talking to people and listening to their priorities.

Methsara had always been interested in the Radawadunna village community producing traditional cane products close to the Colombo-Kandy Road. He first talked to the Grama Niladhari who told him that the village was not doing well due to the economic crisis. He then talked to one of the prominent craftsmen in the village who told him that the main problem was import restrictions, due to which they could no longer import a specific cane raw material that was not produced in Sri Lanka. Methsara then went on to talk to different shop owners and discovered that for them the main problem was that people no longer drove through their village and bought their products due to the new highway.

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As entrepreneurship is his passion, Methsara decided to focus on the second problem and connect the cane producers to new markets using digital technologies. The project he and his team of YCLI participants ultimately proposed and successfully implemented, aimed at connecting the cane producers to new clients through Daraz, a big online marketplace and retailer. To do so, Methsara and his team organized trainings on e-commerce, finances, and product photography. “The main challenge for me was to select 10 families to participate in the project out of the over 25000 families in the area”. In the end, they selected 10 families with the help of the district office and a prominent local craftsman. They focused on families with women in the cane industry and children, because the children could provide help in navigating the online aspects of the project. The project successfully connected these 10 families with a bigger market. And it is not only those 10 families who benefitted from the project. Due to the increased demand, they faced through Daraz, they were able to give orders for more cane products to some of the other cane producers in the village.

“The YCLI project was life-changing for me”, says the young entrepreneur. “I discovered that I was prejudiced about people from certain financial and ethnic backgrounds”. Meeting people from many different backgrounds throughout the project inception and implementation process but also the other YCLI participants, changed him. For instance, during the YCLI training Methsara met people from Jaffna for the first time in his life. They became friends, talked about many different things ranging from LGBTQ rights to the legacy of the war, and he even travelled to Jaffna to visit them.

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Some of the connections Methsara made through the YCLI project also proved valuable for his professional career. He is currently building a startup on professional resume writing and recently hired three employees. But he also continues his social engagement. He still has not given up on the first issue he encountered during the community needs assessment in Radawadunna regarding import restrictions of a specific kind of cane. He is currently working on this together with one of the other YCLI participants whose family has an import business on finding a solution to the import restrictions. 

Looking into the future, Methsara hopes to further develop as a startup entrepreneur and to one day build Sri Lanka's first 'unicorn' – a startup with a value of over 1 billion USD.


About the Project 

The Youth Community Leadership Initiative (YCLI) aimed at improving access to opportunities for young aspiring leaders to meaningfully engage in promoting social cohesion and development. Implemented from 2021 to 2023 by WHO, UNDP and UNV it connected and trained over 573 youth leaders. Participants engaged in trainings, community needs assessments and project proposal writing. Seven of these project proposals were ultimately selected for implementation.