Ideas Start-ing in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka — Student VolunteeringUniterra
Ideas start here. Beyond ideas. This is branding which has been plastered across the University of Waterloo campus since my first-year. It’s an idea that every incoming student learns, whether the culture of innovation is what drew you to the school, or it is your first time hearing about your entrepreneurial potential as an undergrad. Our school is known internationally for its world renowned entrepreneurship incubation, knowledge sharing and business development culture which takes place by students, researchers and staff.
Image by Danielle Hak You @ Waterloo Day 2018. 26 May 2018
This is a feature of our campus that I have grown accustomed to but I had never really entertained the idea of creating my own business. I never had the intention of ever calling myself an entrepreneur but this shifted dramatically once I set out on my placement to Sri Lanka. I found myself in a job focused solely on social entrepreneurship and innovation. It was very quickly once I arrived, that I realized how important teaching entrepreneurial thinking, and building a culture of creative innovation can be in the development of a country.
Creativity and entrepreneurship are inherently connected and are integral to development. By teaching creative thinking, this enables ordinary citizens to design solutions to complex problems and address market gaps which currently exist[i]. In my job alone, I have come into contact with over 100 entrepreneurs whose businesses are creating an impact, both small and large scale in Sri Lanka.
Meet Uditha for example,
Image by Danielle Hak, Colombo Good Market – Ceylon Herbals Stall. September 15, 2018
Uditha is a woman living in the Kegalle area of Sri Lanka, and she has started her own spice production business. Not only does this business help consumers to access top-quality spices but she employs only women in her workforce, empowering women and building their economic potential[ii] and engages in the most environmentally sustainable practices
However, despite the incredible entrepreneurs I have met, it is clear that most individuals don’t have access to entrepreneurial tools and training. Through conversations with collogues, the sharp contrast in the education I had received to that of a student in Sri Lanka was very apparent.
Despite receiving praise for the ‘free education system’ (Hint: it’s not really free but that is a whole other blog post), the colonially influenced education system emphasizes hard skills, such as math and science, while repressing free thinking[iii]. The education system streamlines students into narrow thinking and academic sectors, which stifles creative thinking and independent thought requires in entrepreneurship. Of course, schools do not openly condemn creativity, but it is a by-product, as one co-worker explained, reinforced in the system which teaches children to sit still, and not speak out of turn or raise their hand and ask questions, which has been implemented for generations, unable to be broken and perpetuating the cycle.[iv]
The truth is, this structure of education which suppresses creativity and innovation leads to adults who don’t challenge issues in society, accept inequality, and adhere to the status quo. My educational background which prioritized innovative thinking, especially social entrepreneurship, is a privilege students in Sri Lankan never have…. until now.
Image by Danielle Hak, Social Entrepreneurship Training, Lanka Social Enterprise Lanka, Impact Investing Network and Ath Pavura. October 6, 2018.
Change is starting in Sri Lanka. The business community knows the potential for impact that empowering entrepreneurs can have, but the cultural foundations do not exist in Sri Lanka. Through companies, initiatives and communities collaborating to grow the culture of social entrepreneurship[v] and enabling entrepreneurs with the tools and finances[vi] for their business to thrive, we can begin to see more success stories like Uditha and tangible change in the lives of Sri Lankans.
Ath Pavura is a television program which allows social entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas in hopes of receiving an investment, for a percentage share in their company. The show has become the largest business program on public television in Sri Lanka and is just one example of how dedicated individuals are growing the culture of social businesses in Sri Lanka
Image by Danielle Hak, Filming from Season 2 of Ath Pavura. September 8, 2018
For too many years, Sri Lanka has looked to the highest levels of power to create change, but change is coming, and it is from ordinary people with extraordinary ideas for a better country, who have been empowered through entrepreneurship.
[i] Fillis, I., & Rentschiler, R. (2010). The Role of Creativity in Entrepreneurship. Journal of Enterprising Culture, 18 (1), 49-81. doi: https: //doi.org/10.1142/S0218495810000501
[iii] Gunaratna, G. (2018, September 27). No opportunity for creativity in Sri Lanka’s education system. Retrieved from http://www.colombopage.com/archive_18B/Sep27_1538072833CH.php
[iv] Interview with Rochana Cooray [Personal Interview by Danielle Hak] (2018, September 25).
[v] Ismail, A. (2016, April 24). Building a family of social entrepreneurs | The Sunday Times Sri Lanka. Retrieved from http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160424/plus/building-a-family-of-social-entrepreneurs-190089.html
[vi] Sri Lanka, UNDP launch social impact funds to support small businesses. (2018, September 27). Retrieved from https://economynext.com/Sri_Lanka,_UNDP_launch_social_impact_funds_to_support_small_businesses-3-12032-1.html#.W6zrMLymH4Y.facebook