Business for the Better: Sri Lankan women entrepreneurs lead sustainable social enterprises
25 September 2023
Jena Jeyakanthi, 38, has been self-employed for two years, selling processed local herbs and vegetables under her own brand Good Life Products in Mannar, northern Sri Lanka. Jena says that she started this business to be “self-reliant and to create a healthy society.”
''It was my mother and grandmother that gave me this idea to start a business. Ever since my husband and my three children have been supporting me every step of the way.”
With the country’s economic crisis, Jena, like many other entrepreneurs has faced hardships to sustain her businesses.
“During this time I had to increase prices because the cost of packaging sky-rocketed. It was difficult to get customers because of this.”
In September 2022, Jena participated in a project called Empowering Communities to Prevent Violence against Women and Girls in Mannar, carried out by UN Women, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sri Lanka. The project, funded by the Government of Australia, has helped over 90 women entrepreneurs to become economically independent and thus less vulnerable to violence. UN Women and its project-implementation partner Chrysalis, a local social enterprise, have conducted these entrepreneurship trainings from 2020 – 2023.
“The training provided by UN Women and Chrysalis gave us a lot of knowledge,” Jena said. “They taught us how to manage accounts and to grow our business further while also securing our rights. They showed us the important contributions women entrepreneurs make to the economy.” Jena acknowledges that women face many forms of gender-based violence in society, which can hinder them from reaching their full potential.
“The main reason for violence against women is because we live in a male-dominated society. From childhood, we are taught that girls and boys should behave a certain way, even through our education system. The Year 5 social studies book separates the duties of the mother, father, brother, and sister. This teaches young children to think that one cannot do the work assigned to another,” she said. “These attitudes must change,” including to overcome violence, she added. Following the programme, “Our family has realized and embraced that there are no limitations to what people can achieve based on their gender. We give each other the space to live in a way that doesn’t affect another person’s freedom, and treat each other as equals”.
Noting the importance of being independent, Jena muses that “When a woman has her own income, her confidence will grow, and she will have her freedom. If we work towards securing our rights, we can escape violence to some extent as well.”
“I have only one thing to tell women like me who plan to start a business: Don’t think you need a large investment. Make use of the resources around you. As for the men in their life, I ask them to please support these women. And if you cannot, at least don’t trouble them.”
Looking toward the future, Jena has big dreams for her business. “Within the next 10 years, I am working towards making Good Life Products one of the top businesses in Sri Lanka, and I believe it will happen.”