Gecko Sri Lanka is happy to announce that with the funds raised from the recent Pub Quiz, we will be supporting Youth Business Sri Lanka (YBSL). This is a great scheme that provides loans to young people to start a business as well as expertise, mentoring and support to maintain it. This is a sustainable model, as the repayed loan (repayment rate of 97%) can be reused for other beneficiaries.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity, along with another Gecko member, Nilmini, of visiting some of the YBSL beneficiaries on a trip to Sri Lanka in August. We travelled the length of the island and got to speak with YBSL administrators and beneficiaries from two ends of the country: in Jaffna and Hambantota. In Jaffna we saw the range of different businesses that YBSL supports – one young man made beautiful brass lamps and furniture, one woman (who had lost her husband during the war) was cooking up a storm with her delicious isso vaddai (a flat, crunchy, and spicy(!) snack).
But the ones who really made an impression on me were two young girls, a pair of sisters, just 21 and 23 years old. They had a small poultry farm, from which the income supported their brother and their parents (who were unable to work because of illness). One girl was at studying art at the university of Jaffna and had dreams of becoming a lecturer one day. But her immediate aspirations were to increase their flock of chickens in order to bring in more income for the family. I just had so much admiration for those girls, who were younger than myself but already had so much responsibility. And they were balancing their studies on top of that!
In Hambantota we met with a young man who had a bottled juice industry. He’s the only one in the region to make this kind of juice, because the rare fruit (kirala) grows in the small plot of land next to his house. It was a family business of sorts since he had learned the juicing technique from his mother, but the YBSL loan helped him get the equipment he needed to make it in larger quantities and to refrigerate and distribute it. Although we had mixed opinions about the juice itself (it wasn’t quite to everyone’s taste) we were universal in our respect for him.
We also met a lady who had started a business selling stuffed dolls. We visited the little factory that she had set up in one of the rooms of her house, and met her little daughter who was the inspiration behind the business. The great thing here was that this loan not only generated an income for an individual, it also created employment opportunities for others. The business has grown to employ 3 other women to help with the sewing etc. As her husband was away serving in the Sri Lankan army, this business provided a sense of independence and empowerment for this young woman and her employees. YBSL promotes the involvement of women in entrepreneurship as a way to tackle gender inequalities. In this way they address not only economic disparity but also social disparity.
Nilmini and I came away from these visits full of admiration, and encouraged by the work being done both by the beneficiaries and YBSL as an organisation. In Sri Lanka, where unemployment rates, particularly among young people, are high, YBSL is a timely and effective initiative. As the highly-sought (and deemed most prestigious) government jobs are hard to come by, entrepreneurship offers a chance for young people to use their skills creatively and support themselves, their families, and other members of their community. As YBSL continues its good work, we hope that support and respect for entrepreneurship as a career path will become more widespread.
Nilmini and I were both very impressed by the level and kind of support that YBSL provides for the budding entrepreneurs. The loans vary in amount depending on individual projects and needs. The mentoring approach (in the shape of business experts who give their time and knowledge voluntarily) has been very effective in sustaining and growing fledging businesses and is a vital source of advice and encouragement from the beginning, when young entrepreneurs often face the biggest obstacles.
YBSL are also expanding the geographical scope of their work to the least developed/marginalized areas of Sri Lanka, especially in the North and East. We are happy to announce that the money that we raised from the recent Gecko Pub Quiz will be going to support beneficiaries in these new YBSL branches in the regions of Mannar and Vavuniya.
We thank you once again for your support and we promise to keep you informed. We hope to be in regular and good correspondence with the individual YBSL beneficiaries that our donation will support, and we will keep you updated of the nature of their projects and their subsequent progress.
For more information about the work of YBSL please visit http://www.ybsl.lk/.
P.S You can support the work of YBSL in many ways. One is financial as loans can be provided by individuals and need not be vast quantities of money. Another is also to offer your expertise. The young people we met were eager to talk to us about our experiences and insights from living and working in the UK. You too, could simply share your knowledge, or even organize a workshop to offer training/mentorship in particular skills. If interested, please contact us and we can put you in touch with YBSL.