WCIC focuses on empowering IT-based women entrepreneurs | Sunday Observer

WCIC focuses on empowering IT-based women entrepreneurs

Chathuri Ranasinghe
Chathuri Ranasinghe

Today, the world is engaged in online trading, making businesses rise as a global phenomenon. Many women in Sri Lanka with education have access to a computer by way of desktop, laptop, smart phone or tablet in their homes with internet connection, but, do not see the potential of the computer as a trade facilitator.

Thus we at Women’s Chamber of Industries and Commerce ( WCIC) are of the strong belief that given the knowledge the women in business can make the progress by going online to expand business beyond Sri Lankan borders moving into international trade and business, Chairperson, WCIC Chathuri P. Ranasinghe said.

“We are happy to note that a large budget allocation was made by the State, in its budgets proposal of November 2017 for the development of the IT sector in Sri Lanka. WCIC is in discussion with IT experts on avenues to empower women entrepreneurs in this sector,” she told Business Observer.

However, she said that the need of the hour is to give attention for the progress of economical empowerment of women in Sri Lanka.

Excerpts:

Q. What are the key priorities that your Chamber needs to address to further its agenda?

A. As per the statistic available, a greater number of women than before are in the business arena as well as in the professions.

There are many educated and entrepreneurial women who have ventured into business on their own or in partnership with others, viz., mothers, sisters or friends.

The areas of business in which their presence is mostly observed are beauty culture and hair dressing, fashion and clothing, the food industry. retailing, fitness, event planning, hotels and tourism and quite large numbers in the professional fields such as medicine, law and accountancy to name a few.

These women are confident, knowledgeable and focused and make use of opportunities that have come their way to progress in their business ventures.

Some of them have even given up regular work in institutions so as to embark on realising their entrepreneurial ambitions working for themselves to realise their full potential.

At the same time as they have progressed in their ventures, they have also become aware of their responsibilities to strengthen, develop and support fledgling women entrepreneurs who could benefit from being mentored and guided by them – hence the significance of the work undertaken by the Women’s Chamber of Industry Commerce is highlighted.

The WCIC is a non-profit organisation of women in entrepreneurship, professions and management, on promoting and developing urban and rural women, into entrepreneurial skills, through mentoring, imparting knowledge and information to better their living standards thereby incorporating them into the mainstream of business activity in the country.

In other words, economical empowerment of women in Sri Lanka is our vision. We are the first women-only Trade Chamber to be set up in Sri Lanka in 1985. We act as a powerful voice and platform for improving the business environment.

Our Chamber is devoted to enable aspiring women entrepreneurs and professionals to overcome obstacles in the path of their progress and development.

We identify these women through our projects, networks and relationships with other organisations and institutions in the country as well as through individual members who happen to know of deserving cases.

They are assisted through the relationships the Chamber has established with the State institutions, banks, and other relevant organizations, both public and private and also through our contacts with the diplomatic missions.

They are also nurtured and mentored, and their progress, thereafter, is monitored to obtain feedback on the assistance they have been offered. We believe that by helping these individuals, we not only enable them to improve their standards of living and realise their ambitions, but we also help in the development of the country’s economy.

As observed by our Chamber, only a marginal number of women entrepreneurs are in the Information and Technology sector and also in technical areas. Perhaps with increasing computer literacy, we may see more women venturing into these areas.

Today, the world is engaged in online trading taking the business to rise as a global phenomenon. Many women with education in Sri Lanka have access to a computer by way of desktop, laptop, smart phone or tablet in their homes with internet connection but do not see the potential of computer as a trade facilitator.

Thus we at WCIC is of the strong belief that given the knowledge the women in business can make the progress by going online to expand the business beyond Sri Lankan borders moving into international trade and business. We are happy to note that a large budget allocation was made by the state, in its budgets proposal of November 2017 for the development of the IT sector in Sri Lanka. WCIC is currently in discussion with IT experts on avenues to empower women entrepreneurs in this sector.

What needs to be given attention for the progress of economical empowerment of women in Sri Lanka.

As observed by the WCIC, we should work on the integration of mentorship programs for women to technology, Introduce flexi working hours, conduct programs on work-life balance programs, making family management easier for both men and women, Increasing support for employees seeking child care, encouraging and promoting crèche facilities, Prioritizing family friendly companies for governmental benefits; are some of the important aspects to be given serious consideration for implementation by the state by regulation and to be adhered by the private sector. Women being given opportunities to be policy makers could contribute more meaningfully and significantly in the government, both at the national and provincial/local govt. levels.

They could focus attention and development efforts on securing improved educational, housing and health services for all, especially women and children, in helping marginalized communities and women-headed families, for instance.

I proudly state that, WCIC lobbied for the allocation of a higher percentage of candidature for women at Local Government Elections and we were given a hearing with the 25% allocation for females at the local government election candidature too was lobbied by the WCIC. WCIC on a continuous basis lobby for a safer environment, free from sexual assault and violence – this is not easily achieved in a short period of time since even in the most affluent countries women are often victims of sex offenders and in cases of domestic violence. However, with sustained calls by women for improvements in this area, a degree of safety could be achieved.

Thus to enhance the economical empowerment of women in Sri Lanka, we should together work towards accelerating gender parity, for equal rights, opportunities and resources for a better tomorrow.

Q. How have you gained commitment from your team?

A. Chamber Board consists of fifteen powerful strong women holding key positions in varied businesses, professions and management .

We work as a united strong team to see the reality of the vision and mission of the Chamber. Our Board Members and also some of our Members form our Mentoring Team .

Q. What action has WCCI taken to improve women’s status in the country?

A. The flagship event of the Chamber is the ‘Woman Entrepreneur Awards’ which is an event in celebration of the recognition of women’s contribution towards the economy of Sri Lanka.

We at the Chamber take great pride in showcasing talented women and recognizing them. We sincerely believe that ‘Awards’ or giving recognition is an excellent way to celebrate business achievements and WCIC’s Woman Entrepreneur Awards is an opportunity to spotlight women achievers in the business arena who are re-inventing the business environment in Sri Lanka and provide recognition for women’s contribution to the economy of the country as well as to the community.

By honoring them WCIC will encourage them and help them advance in their respective businesses and provide significant profiling and visibility essential for networking.

“The Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Ceremony” which has been conducted since 1988, to recognize outstanding women and to also act as an impetus for the women’s business community, in the country to improve their business and set up best practices for others to emulate.

This Award Ceremony is followed by a mentoring program for the successful/unsuccessful applicants to assist them to scale their business venture and to increase their value as mentors and role models in the community.

The Awards Ceremony is designed to recognize women entrepreneurs in every level of business, starting from Micro Scale Enterprises, Small Scale Enterprises, Medium Scale Enterprises, Large Scale Enterprises and Extra Large Enterprises, awarding three winners from each category with bronze, silver and gold winners and then from all categories selection be made for ‘The Woman Entrepreneur of the Year’, ‘The Young Entrepreneur of the Year’ and ‘The Best Startup of the Year’ thus 21 Women Entrepreneur Achievers will carry away awards

Having observed the enthusiasm of the ‘Differently able Women’ into entrepreneurship, this year from the above applicants we are awarding a Very Special Award, ‘The Most Positively Able Women of the Year’ to recognize these great achievers, give them to lime light and help them move up the ladder to the next phase.

This year the Awards ceremony is due to held on August 4 at the Hotel Taj Colombo.

Thus, I take this opportunity to invite you to make every endeavour to identify lady entrepreneurs from each of your village to take part in our event.

All they need is to be the Founder or Initiator of the business, the business has to be in active function for a period of three years and be registered under the Sri Lanka Business laws to be eligible to apply.

Q. Is the regulatory environment in the country supporting the opportunities for entrepreneurs today?

A. Right to Information Act was a great achievement. The budget proposals for 2018 were a woman entrepreneur friendly with the proposal to support majority women owned enterprises. The proposal to grant a 10% interest relief for loans obtained by female entrepreneurs is highly commendable and will be of great encouragement for women entrepreneurs.

The proposal to improve child care facilities will certainly enhance women participating in the workforce.

The Small and Medium Entrepreneurs are immensely benefited by the R.s 10,000 million allocation for establishing an EXIM Bank to provide long term loans for small and medium scale businesses, the Rs. 750 million allocated for launch of Enterprise Sri Lanka loan scheme. 15% Interest relief for loans obtained by disabled entrepreneurs, the Rs. 3 billion fund to be established to fund IT Sector SME’s and local startups.

The ‘export market support program’ created to meet certain costs involved with exports is also beneficial to women. SME guarantee fund to help exporters in CRIB to obtain loans, is an encouragement to them. The One-Stop-Shop to be set up by the Registrar of Companies would enable the hassle free registration which would encourage the entrepreneurs becoming privileged legal entities.

The reduction in the prices of essential items like sprats, potatoes, dhal and onions will help particularly our rural women in some measure to balance their domestic budgets.

What is important now is to ensure that these proposals are implemented and sustained so that they provide the benefits that are intended for the entrepreneurs especially the women who are entrepreneurs/professionals in business, who juggle the roles of also being wife, mother and home maker.

Q. Is it hard to be optimistic about growth in industries when you look at where the world is today?

A. According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka is a developing county showing great potential for future economic growth. In the far past, the country relied totally on the plantation sector as the major source of economic output but as observed, currently the other industrial sectors have now taken over this position.

As per the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, the wholesale and retail trade has taken a large percent of the service sector with more than 20% of all services sector’s contributions coming through this trade, then the transport and communications segment contributing to more than 14% with the tourism industry contributing 10% followed by the banking sector, the insurance and real estate sectors contributing to the industry’s output.

We may be slow but progressing. As we all know, the “teething period” is not very pleasant but with patients if we could endure this period and also give our fullest support and cooperation, we could hail a bright and prosperous future for our motherland Sri Lanka.

Q. How much can business and the private sector do to really drive change?

A. The introduction of flexi working hours, conducting programs on work-life balance programs, making family management easier for both men and women, increasing support for employees seeking child care, encouraging and promoting crèche facilities, prioritising family friendly companies for governmental benefits are some of the important aspects to be given serious consideration for implementation.

In the State sector, the budget proposals of November 2018, once again provided for the promotion of flexi hours, childcare and crèche facility, which we sincerely believe would be implemented in the near future under relevant regulation. And I proudly state these are issues the WCIC lobbied for the Sri Lanka Government 2018 budget proposals and we were given a hearing.

Q. What are the immediate steps that the government should take to tackle the GDP growth?

A. Economically empower the women entrepreneurs whereby they will in turn create more jobs which will result in poverty reduction. This will lead to sustainable socio-economic development in the country.

Q. How could the industries support government’s plans?

A. By being supportive and adhering to the rules and regulations that are being implements at present. Right to Information Act was a great achievement of the state and also the new Inland Revenue Act which will benefit the industries in the long run. 

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