Setbacks in the wake of disasters and economic challenges
Struggling Entrepreneurs in Rakwana
August 31, 2023
In Kottala, within the Rakwana region, lives Pradeep Kumara, a determined 28-year-old entrepreneur. With unwavering ambition, he establishes a small-owned enterprise in 2018, offering semi-luxury items to locals. However, in the aftermath of recent calamities and economic crises, his aspirations have collided with the harsh realities faced by many in Sri Lanka.
Pradeep speaks of his tight-knit family unit, comprising his parents, wife, and a six-month-old son. The business he built operates out of a rented space, both as a physical shop and an online platform known as "Pradeep's Collection." Through various digital channels such as social media and his website, he reaches customers in the neighbouring Hatton and Nuwara Eliya areas, posting items either through the local postal service or with the assistance of traveling friends.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unravelled in Sri Lanka between 2020–2021, Pradeep's shop experienced a temporary surge in sales, as demand for non-essential products increased among his customers. However, the post-pandemic era—combined with the lingering aftermath of the poly-crisis that unfolded in Sri Lanka in 2022—has presented a new set of challenges. People are now more inclined to prioritise essential purchases, diligently saving their hard-earned money. The escalating prices of goods and services have further constricted Pradeep's already limited income, leaving him with scarce options of diversifying or growing his business.
Pradeep pursued an education in the Arts, lacking the mathematical expertise traditionally associated with running a business. He hints at the lack of resources in his hometown constricting access to better education systems. However, his resourcefulness and savvy personality compelled him to pick up skills and knowledge in various domains, often resorting to self-guided learning.
In the past, the Rakwana region endured a string of natural disasters, including floods and landslides. While these catastrophes have diminished in recent years, the lingering effects of climate change manifest in rising temperatures; Pradeep attributes these changes to deforestation and a lack of support from authorities in tackling environmental concerns.
Pradeep's business and family received no financial assistance, particularly during the hardships they faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The absence of aid left them to fend for themselves, with no external outreach to rely upon. Instead, they benefited from familial support and the generosity of the community and religious institutions. Notably, Pradeep does not qualify for Samurdhi welfare benefits as he is a businessman and has a family member residing abroad.
Looking towards the future, Pradeep aspires to embrace digitalisation and advocates for a ‘smarter way’ of doing business and working. However, currently, the prospects for their family appear relatively uncertain, considering the limited opportunities available in Rakwana—particularly for his wife's career aspirations in accounting. He believes there is much opportunity to be found within metropolitan Colombo or overseas, though he is unsure of the means and possibilities to take this route.
The struggles faced by Pradeep Kumara and countless others in Rakwana reflect the broader challenges experienced by Sri Lanka in the wake of the Easter attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the multidimensional crisis of 2022. Now, the financial hardships faced by Sri Lankans transcend regions, ethnicities and groups of working-class people—whether lower-income earners or SMEs—and Pradeep’s story is a testament to that.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual. This interview was conducted in June 2023 and the individual was a respondent of the National Citizen Survey 2022-3.