The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission to Sri Lanka has sent positive vibes on a call to strengthen the workforce skills of the country’s largest state owned retail store chain, Lanka Sathosa.
“We are empowered to work with the private sector,” stressed USAID’s Deputy Head of Mission in Colombo Elisabeth Davnie Eston during her meeting with the Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen on 22 August at the Minister’s office, Colombo 3. The five member USAID team led by Davnie Eston was meeting Minister Bathiudeen to map out ways and means in which USAID could collaborate on ventures of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka. During this meeting Minister Bathiudeen called to enlist the USAID Mission here to boost soft skills of Lanka Sathosa personnel in par with the country’s competitive retail market environment at large.
From 1999-2003 USAID worked with the Ministry of Industry on the ‘The Competitiveness Initiative’; more recently at the request of Bathiudeen, USAID support was extended to formulate the Export Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, Fair Trade Certification, the promotional strategy for Ceylon Cinnamon in the US market, efficient energy management for export oriented coconut based industries in Wayamba, review of the handloom industry and livelihood support for war widows.
“The Ministry of Industry and Commerce has been working with USAID since 2005 in various initiatives to enhance the Ministry’s mandate,” said Minister Bathiudeen and added: “I thank USAID for the ongoing support being extended to us. We have launched many initiatives to develop Lanka Sathosa to make it competitive. A private consultancy firms was enlisted to focus on the development of its many processes. We are embarking on expanding the number of stores across the country to 500 by the end of this year in all types of Lanka Sathosa stores. We have seven categories of stores and this proposed expansion impacts all of them. The present staff strength of 3,800 too is expected to increase as a result, to 5,000, by end of this year. More importantly, we welcome a compatible skills training project at USAIDS to enhance Lanka Sathosa staff.”
USAID reps positively responded to Minister Bathiudeen’s request for support saying that the Mission wishes to see the store chain fulfil its mandate of serving Sri Lankan consumers well, and act as the “nation’s price setter”.
“USAID’s support to Sri Lanka includes leveraging expertise for private sector development, and conducting various skill building programs including training support to cater to the needs of the market. We are empowered to work with the private sector,” said Eston, and added: “Our program on Building Skills is focused on school-leavers. It has three elements-enhancing student skills, institutional capacity and entrepreneurship skills. There are possibilities to develop Lanka Sathosa workforce and recruits’ skills as well through this program. Our support shall not be in providing routine direct training found in other similar programs –likely to be in Training the Trainer, and curricular development. This skilling program needs to be designed for Lanka Sathosa’s workforce productivity and efficiency. We are also planning three regional USAID training offices in Sri Lanka co-locating with regional Chambers, and these regional offices can become the regional training centres for Lanka Sathosa staff.”
Minister Bathiudeen, upon receiving such a positive response, directed his top officials to promptly set up a Skills Training Unit that will take the process forward.
Minister Bathiudeen and the USAID representatives also discussed other aspects of development cooperation on the eve of 22 August.
Joining Minister Bathiudeen at the discussions were Secretary of Ministry of Industry and Commerce Chinthaka Lokuhetti, Chairman of Lanka Sathosa TMKB Tennakoon and Senior Advisor to Minister Bathiudeen Himali Jinadasa. Joining USAID’s Elizabeth Davnie-Easton, Acting Mission Director were Nicole Lea Thiher, Second Secretary, US Embassy Vice President of International Executive Service Corps (IESC) Charles Conconi, (YouLead Project Director) T.Jamaldeen, YouLead,Director – Regional Partnerships, Shehara De Silva, Deputy-Director and Nihani Riza who is overseeing the YouLead Project from USAID.