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NCE forum on ‘Women to the Fore in Exports’ on 25 July

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Women in Sri Lanka constitute approximately 57% of the total population of a little over 21 million. However, out of the total economically active 8.5 million persons, only a little over 33% are women. 

As such around 70% of the labour force constitutes economically inactive women. 

Women contribute to the rural economy in diverse ways ranging from small village self-help groups, to leadership roles in decision making processes at different levels. However, there are still inadequate opportunities for women to actively engage in economic development activities, although women centric programs have been organised by governments and as well as non-governmental institutions in the past. In this regard it is noteworthy that the present Government has given priority to focus on potential women entrepreneurs and women led enterprises by providing financial and technical assistance on special concessionary terms under the ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka Programme’ announced in the last budget, and which has commenced implementation this month. 

Objective and content of the forum

In this background the National Chamber of Exporters, (NCE) will conduct the above important Forum on 27 July, at the Galle Face Hotel Colombo, with a view to support Women Entrepreneurship in business, especially exports, and also to enhance the leadership roles and performance of women who are already engaged in export enterprises. This objective of the Forum is allied with the stated policy of the Government to encourage increased participation of women in the economic development of Sri Lanka through their leadership in policy making and related economic activities. 

It is also reflected in the legislation that has already been enacted by the Government to ensure the participation of a minimum of 25% women in all elected legislative bodies, as well as the desire of the Government to increase the number of registered exporters from the current approximately 3500 by an additional 2000 by the year 2020, with a view to achieve national export and economic development targets under its “Vision 2025” policy document as well as the “National Export Strategy”. 

The Forum will focus on the identification of issues, both at the policy and operational levels, which hinders the participation of women in business activities and particularly in exports, with the sole aim of encouraging and enhancing the participation of women in export trade by exploiting overseas markets for their products and services, through efficient and cost effective cross border trading activities.

It is a fact that women although in limited numbers, play an important role in business and trade, and occupy top positions in many Sri Lankan entities both in the State and Private Sector. In this context it is noteworthy that women play an important role by providing leadership in important trade related State Institutions such as the Export Development Board, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Customs, the Department of Import and Export Control, etc. Women also occupy senior managerial positions in many State Institutions, in addition to their leadership roles in some private enterprises both as entrepreneurs, and occupants of key managerial positions. 

This shows their potential to contribute effectively to the overall economic development of Sri Lanka given the opportunity to do so. There are also a few instances of enterprising women entrepreneurs who have developed lucrative business organisations, including the exports through their inherent skills related to entrepreneurship, professionalism, leadership and commitment. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that women in Sri Lanka have so far failed to make a major impact on the export sector.

Although there have been some Government initiated programs in the past to encourage and facilitate women led businesses, it appears that information related to these programs have not been highlighted or have not effectively filtered down to prospective entrepreneurs, especially in the SME Sector. Further even in instances where the concerned women entrepreneurs have been able to access such information, they have been unable to obtain the support of the relevant authorities due to various other constraints they have encountered.

In this context the Forum will highlight and elaborate the available Government assistance for women led businesses, especially women led startups, since the objective of the NCE is to encourage women entrepreneurs to focus on the field of exports as a professional career path, as well as a rewarding business. 

The Chief Guest at the Forum will be Amena Arif, who is the Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is an affiliate of the World Bank. 

She will address the forum from an international perspective of the potential for women to play leadership roles in business and related fields, and the paths that are available and open to them. As such her address will add more value and depth to the Forum from a financial, and inclusive growth perspective.       

The Guest of Honour at the Forum will be Varuni Amunugama Fernando, who is a successful Sri Lankan Businesswoman and a prominent figure in the advertising industry of Sri Lanka. 

She is the Creative Head of TRIAD Private Limited and is also the Co-Founder of TRIAD as its Joint Managing Director, as well as a Group of 22 Companies with over 17 years’ experience in the field of advertising and related fields. She is also the Founder of the National Television Channel, “Derana”. 

She will deliver the keynote address related to her success story, to inspire other potential women entrepreneurs. 

The presentations will be followed by a panel discussion of professional women panellists, who are either leaders of their respective institutions or achieves of excellence in their respective fields. 

They comprise the following:

Ramya Weerakoon – Leadership and Excellence in the Apparel and Horticulture Sector

Shamalie Wickremasinghe – Leadership and Excellence in the Confectionery Sector

Dr. Sulochana Sigera – Leadership on Women in Management

Varuni Amunugama Fernando – Leadership and Excellence in the advertising and related fields

Lakmini Wijesundara – Leadership and Excellence in the field of Information & Technology

Anushka Wijesinghe – Specialist on Government Initiatives to support women led enterprises

The panel discussion will be moderated by Daily FT Editor Nisthar Cassim.

The target audience of the forum are women entrepreneurs who are already active in the field of exports and related services, as well as those who have the potential to become entrepreneurs in the field of exports and related services, especially in the small business category.

The Chamber invites all potential Sri Lankan women entrepreneurs, especially potential entrepreneurs in the field of exports, as well as those already engaged in some aspect of business, to make use of this opportunity, to learn about the assistance available to them to forge ahead in their career paths, and learn from the success stories of those who have achieved excellence in their respective fields.  


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