Social Enterprise Mark: "Looking outwards – Sri Lanka and beyond..."
Lucy Findlay of Social Enterprise Mark shares her experience speaking at the 2nd International Conference on Social Enterprise and Social Finance in Sri Lanka.
"In January I was lucky to be invited to Sri Lanka by Lanka Social Ventures, to address the 2nd International Conference on Social Enterprise and Social Finance. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience in so many unexpected ways.
The conference itself attracted very high profile speakers, such as the Governor of the Bank of Sri Lanka, but as is often the case with conferences, it was the discussions that happened on the side lines that fascinated me. We learnt a lot, even from my whistle-stop three day trip!
The need for sustainable business models that will keep addressing the social and environmental challenges faced once the aid agencies inevitably pull out is becoming more pressing.
Firstly, the vibes that I picked up are that the social enterprise movement in Sri Lanka is such an obvious fit for the sustainable development of their economy. The country has gone through so much recent turmoil, with the combination of the civil wars and the devastating Tsunami in 2004. This has made the country relatively aid and donor focused, which brings its own set of challenges. The need for sustainable business models that will keep addressing the social and environmental challenges faced once the aid agencies inevitably pull out is becoming more pressing.
This is where the women-led social enterprises combined with the Fair Trade model come in! I was amazed at the level of co-operation and synergy between these entrepreneurs and business owners. The social enterprise business model fits in so many ways, for instance in addressing the extreme social challenges faced by women trying to earn a living, many of which have to travel to the Middle East to access work.
Having been so well embedded in the Fair Trade world, the Sri Lankan’s completely ‘get’ that there is a need for meaningful external certification/accreditation/ verification.
Those that stay experience huge challenges finding work that can be combined with the challenges of child rearing, as well as older women, who also find it hard due to cultural constraints. Examples of local social enterprises include Selyn, which is 99% women led and empowers women by giving them flexible working arrangements to make beautiful handloomed products to fit around their family commitments.
I was also very impressed with the way in which all these businesses have come together to develop the Good Market. Led by another impressive female social entrepreneur, Amanda Kiessel, this directory has over 825 ethical businesses, which are mainly social enterprises, based in Sri Lanka and now further afield. It has been very much community-led and is clear about the importance of certifications for all the producers and suppliers, to provide reassurance to buyers."