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ISLAMABAD: It is apparent that South Asian women entrepreneurs face numerous difficulties in doing business due to structural barriers and socio-cultural dimensions. As a whole, South Asian women in business undergo several challenges such as limited access to finance, the low business capacity of women entrepreneurs, inadequate policy and regulatory frameworks for women entrepreneurship, and poor data and evidence on women entrepreneurs based on which policies and strategies are created.

Whilst South Asia reflects the lowest percentage (18%) of women-led businesses amongst the regions in the world, Sri Lanka reflects a comparatively low percentage of women-owned SMEs, i.e. only 24.8% out of over one million registered SMEs in Sri Lanka. Against this backdrop of South Asian women entrepreneurs, under the leadership of the President of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), Iftikhar Ali Malik, in collaboration with several development partners, has initiated several workshops and conferences for the development of women entrepreneurship in South Asian nations.

Iftikhar Ali Malik once said, “Innovative measures to empower women in every sector will lead to a balanced socioeconomic milieu and a brighter future.”

Given the importance of female participation in economic development, as a part of the SCCI series of workshops and conferences for South Asian women entrepreneurs, with a vision for empowering Sri Lankan women in business, the Women Entrepreneurs Forum was successfully held on 18th of November 2022 at the Kingsbury Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka. The event was co-organized by the SCCI and FCCISL (Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka) in collaboration with WCIC (Women Chamber of Industry and Commerce), sponsored by FNF South Asia (Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom), IFC Women in Work Programme with Australian Aid and the NDB Bank.

Under the main theme “Icons of Change”, the Women Entrepreneurs Forum conducted three sessions on different sub-thematic areas. The first session focused on the challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs amidst the socioeconomic turmoil in Sri Lanka whilst the second session discussed various aspects of increasing access to finance and financial literacy for women entrepreneurs in SMEs. The third session deliberated on leveraging e-commerce and digital platforms for women-led businesses.

The inauguration was graced by the distinguished guests such as the Secretary to the Ministry of Industries, J M Thilaka Jayasundara; Ambassador of Turkey, HE Rakibe Demet Sekercioglu; Ambassador of Vietnam, HE Ho Thi Thanh; Programme Manager (Women in Work, Sri Lanka) of International Finance Corporation, Sarah Twigg; Director General of National Apprentice and Industrial Training Authority, Dr W M S Wijeysingha; Chairman of National Enterprise Development Authority, Sunil Jayarathne; Vice Chairperson of WCIC, Gayani de Alwis; President of FCCISL, Keerthi Gunawardane; Vice President of FCCISL and Vice President of SCCI, Dr Rohitha Silva; and Director of FCCISL, Ruwan De Silva. The Master of the Ceremony was Tilan M Wijesooriya, Associate Director SCCI Sub Office (South) and Deputy Secretary General (Acting) FCCISL.

In her speech, the Secretary to the Ministry of Industries, J M Thilaka Jayasundara, focused on the importance of women entrepreneurs in rebuilding Sri Lanka’s economy whilst the Turkish Ambassador, HE Rakibe Demet Sekercioglu, elaborated on international cooperation for women entrepreneurship development in Sri Lanka.

The Programme Manager (Women in Work) of International Finance Corporation, Sarah Twigg, delineated the initiatives for empowering Sri Lankan women in work with an emphasis on women-led businesses. The Vice Chairperson of WCIC, Gayani de Alwis, emphasized the importance of women leadership in the Sri Lankan economy.

Focusing on challenges and opportunities for Sri Lankan women entrepreneurs, the first session was moderated by internationally recognized Senela Jayasuriya, Founder of Women Empowered Global and Founder of One Million Women in Power. The

eminent panelists such as Selyna Peiris, Director (Business Development) of Selyn Exporters and Co-Founder of Positive Impact Consultancy; Adhisha Dahanayake, Founding Director of Double XL and Director of DXL Plus Size Clothing; and Krishnajina Rajapathirane, Chief Software Architect of Cyber Concepts Sri Lanka, illuminated the discussions of the first session with their expert knowledge and experience in the field.

Emphasizing on enhancing access to finance and finance literacy for women entrepreneurs, during the second session, fruitful discussions were carried out by expert panelists such as Sarrah Sammoon, Founder of Magellan Champlain, Founder of SCOR Literary Salon and Co-Founder of Sapphire Capital Group; Ashanti Fernando, Senior Manager (Corporate Banking) of Seylan Bank PLC; Rathnija Arandara, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group), Indika Ranaweera, Vice President (SME, Middle Market & Business Banking) of NDB Bank. Elaborating on leveraging e-commerce and digital platforms for women-led businesses, renowned panelists such as Rakhil Fernando, Managing Director of Daraz (Alibaba Group), Founder of KOKO and Goodwill Ambassador of Habitat for Humanity; Ayanthi Gurusinghe, Founder Director of and Director at ARAVA; Kanchana Wijetunga, Programme Manager of Ideamart for Women at Dialog Axiata PLC; and Ms. Zahra Cader, Director Consulting and ESG Leada at PwC Sri Lanka, Consultant to SME Connect of NEDA and Forum Lead at WTech for SLASSCOM carried out insightful discussions during the third session which was moderated by the Management Consultant, Tusitha Kumarakulasingam who is the Transformation

Catalysts at Z Consultancy and the Author of “Because I Said So”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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