The tsunami taught southern Sri Lanka’s businesswomen a bitter lesson. In addition to claiming more than 35,000 lives, the tragedy’s sudden floods destroyed countless businesses in December 2005. Those owned by men were generally registered, formal sector enterprises. Affiliated with local chambers of commerce that later offered donor funded reconstruction programs, they are doing well today. But virtually no women-owned businesses had this status. Most lost everything.
Manurie de Silva had a thriving IT training center with 50 computers. It was washed away in an instant. With no insurance and no access to the local chamber’s rebuilding funds, she had to start over from scratch, like so many others.
“I didn’t want that ever to happen to anyone again in Sri Lanka,” she says. “That’s why I am doing what I am doing.”
She now works at the city of Galle’s chamber of commerce, one of IFC’s partners in an outreach program building the management skills of 1,500 Sri Lankan women entrepreneurs. In addition to encouraging them to formalize and join their local chambers, the program uses Business Edge, IFC’s classroom-based management training curriculum. Offered in local languages at affordable prices by respected local training institutes, it covers the topics most requested by local participants: financial planning, marketing, customer service, and others. For most, it is their first exposure to formal training, leading to business breakthroughs.
For the past six years H.L. Indrani has headed an informal group of 60 village women making dresses from their homes, overseeing operations and distributing to local retailers. Until her IFC-supported chamber contacted her, she didn’t know it existed—or that it could introduce her to Business Edge and other support services, while also increasing her sales through new marketing opportunities at trade fairs and higher-end shops. “I learned a lot of things I never knew before,” Mrs. Indrani says. “Now I have much, much more demand for our dresses.”
Business Edge operates in Sri Lanka with support from Norway. It is also available in 28 other markets, frequently in tandem with the SME Toolkit, IFC’s computer and mobile handset–based knowledge portal for emerging enterprises. Offered in partnership with 87 different training providers in four different regions of the world, Business Edge often specifically reaches out to women entrepreneurs, tailoring its content to their specific needs.