Sisters doing it for themselves: a Sri Lankan success story


Case Study: women and the development process

When it comes to defining development I am not a great fan of using economic indicators like GDP,  or,  in fact any indicators which are used in isolation. To me development indicators just seem to be convenient hooks on which to hang some figures or construct tables in order to compare countries, nothing more. I am not even sure that the Human Development Index really tells us that much beyond average conditions and says very little about self development, which I think is a more interesting avenue to study.

Last February I was visiting a number of community self help projects in and around Colombo. We were shown round by the community leaders; all women, and what struck me was how strong and committed these leaders were. They appeared to be  confident and well informed, obviously used to  lobbying local politicians and representing their communities; one example of women driving the development process forward, helping to improve their neighbourhoods and at the same time developing their own skills and I suspect sense of self worth.

The Women’s Co-op Bank which I wrote about last time out is another example of women developing themselves, their self confidence and their skills and at the same time driving development forwards by improving the lives of their communities.

So, just before I left Colombo in 2014 I went to visit Sulochana Segera – Chairperson and  founder of Women in Management, now called the Institute of Women in Management. I visited her at her shop Amma and caught up with her in session with a group of around twenty women. She was talking to them about how they could develop their micro businesses more effectively. The women listened intently; all part and parcel of a day in the life of the Women in Management team.

As a result of 30 years of conflict many women have been left as head of their family. They have to survive and support their families without the kind of state support we might expect in the UK. Many have the skills to set up in micro business but find it very difficult to get a start.

Women who want to improve themselves and their families face many restrictions:

  • women are still treated as second class citizens and as such are held back
  • they face harassment especially in rural areas
  • access to finance is all but impossible
  • as a result many women lack the self confidence needed to start up a business

In 2010 Sulochana founded  Women in Management. It now has over 25,000 members countrywide. At the centre of it all is an experienced team of around 35 trainers, all professional women.


The management team at the Institute of Women in Management
The management team at the Institute of Women in Management


The way it works is as follows: Members of the management team tour the country and conduct open meetings which are for all women in the area. At the meeting local women learn about the work of the Institute and how it can support them to develop their own businesses. An additional but important part of the work is the emphasis on self help and empowerment.



the list of past events is impressive; see and a glance at the meeting agendas shows where the emphasis lies:

Topics include:

  • Being a woman and Attitude
  • Preparing a Business Plan
  • Market Place and Knowing your customers
  • Basic Book Keeping

(taken from the website: Coca-Cola 5by20 Women Empowerment Workshop Batticaloa)

Support does not include loans for one very simple reason; taking a loan can leave a single parent family vulnerable because she is now in debt; and that could end up with her losing property or falling deeper into poverty as she struggles to repay the loan and interest.

Instead the emphasis is on:

  • advice and support from qualified management team members for example; planning, marketing, packaging, pricing and business organisation
  • access to the W.I.M. website which can help the women to market their products to wider markets
  • Selling products via the shop Amma in Colombo, which showcases and stocks some of the products the women make; check out

And the project is successful. Since 2012  WIM with the support of Coca-Cola Sri Lanka has worked with over 2000 women in Sri Lanka helping them to develop the skills and self confidence to build their businesses and to re-build their lives in many cases.

Women make up 50% of both the population and potential work force; a resource that so far in many emerging economies is underused. Building development from the bottom up,  bringing women, their energies and skills into the workplace can contribute just as much as the “big projects” in terms of helping to realise the development potential of a country. Supporting the programmes of organisations like Women in Management would go a long way to realising that potential.

Note: The Coca Cola ‘5BY20’ programme:

Through the ‘5BY20’ initiative, training programs organized together with WIM, have given the women the training they need in terms of the knowledge the to independently plan, make their own products with financial services, business skills training and the connections they require with peers and mentors.


Next Up: for anyone looking for a case study of a vector borne disease
Dengue Update: it looks like Sri Lanka has made inroads into dealing with dengue; next blog will overview Dengue and review recent progress using GIS tools

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