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Sunday July 25th, 2021

John Keells Holdings: The Pursuit of Inclusive Growth

Nadija Tambiah, John Keells Group President for Legal, Secretarial & CSR, articulates the reasoning behind the 150-year conglomerate’s commitment to people, communities, and environments. The JKH Group is Sri Lanka’s premier diversified company with over 70 business interests employing over 15,000 people across seven industries including ports and logistics, property and real estate, food and beverages, technology and leisure. “It is our firm belief that for our businesses to grow and succeed, our nation, both our people and environment must grow and prosper around us,” Tambiah says.

For JKH, why does giving back to the community matter, especially now during this unprecedented pandemic? 

We at John Keells Group have always recognized our responsibility to uplift the communities we serve, and all our projects are focused on empowering our people and environments to meet tomorrow’s needs. It is our firm belief that for our businesses to grow and succeed, our nation, both our people and environment, must grow and prosper around us. We target initiatives that build capacity and productivity, trying to build skills and livelihoods which will move our people from relying on handouts to working with dignity. The Group implements all its initiatives through stakeholder consultations. In the past 18 months, these consultations have naturally taken on the challenges posed by COVID-19 into account.

-Nadija Tambiah, John Keells Group President for Legal, Secretarial & CSR-

Now more than ever, as everyday interactions have become virtual, the skill gaps in English and ICT have become apparent. Our interventions in empowering our youth have targeted enhancement of relevant skills such as English and IT in school children and career skills in undergraduates and develop the pursuit of higher education among youth, as well as livelihood skills. In enhancing opportunities of communities based around Group businesses through our ‘Praja Shakthi’, programme, we seek to mitigate and address social ills such as gender-based violence, child abuse, and substance abuse as well as building livelihoods which are sustainable and with a focus on women. This year, through its disaster relief efforts, community support has also been given to meet the immediate needs of the community and to augment the medical capacity of the country.

-Some of the CSR Initiatives of the Group to empower communities-


What is the Group’s approach to CSR? CSR is often loosely used, but can you tell us how at JKH, CSR is positioned as part of the overall strategy?

The John Keells Group is 150 years old and has been an active participant and leader in the growth of Sri Lanka’s economy. Many of our initiatives have catalysed industries such as ports, food and beverages, and leisure. As said before, in this journey, it is essential that our communities, people and environment grow too. Thus, our approach has been one of responsibility, partnering our people to contribute to national growth and prosperity. From the John Keells Foundation, we drive six focus areas across the group in Health, Education, Livelihoods, Environment, Arts and Culture and Disaster Relief. Medium to long-term projects across these focus areas are aligned to national priorities, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and principles of the UN Global Compact to ensure a collective, targeted focus towards addressing key universal needs for holistic development, focusing on the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection.

Can you tell us about a few noteworthy initiatives that you have done during the COVID-19 pandemic to support our communities?

Whilst COVID-19 presented unprecedented challenges to our businesses and communities, it was a phenomenon that highlighted gaps and opportunities. We have already spoken about our projects in English and ICT and how we have seen increased demand and interest in both adults (such as our suppliers, contractors) and youth. What was unexpected was how impactful some of these projects seem to have been. Perhaps even more impactful than some of the physical sessions. The pandemic also highlighted the gaps and talent of our community framework.

The Group has worked with the Health sector to increase national capacity. This included supporting the establishment of a Molecular Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (IDH) as early as March 2020 in collaboration with SAGT, Melstacorp and Deutsche Bank). This helped increase the overall testing capacity of the country, reduce the turnaround times, and improve the clinical management of patients. We have also provided extra equipment such as ventilators, nebulizers and PPE at both national and community levels to both hospitals, the army and PHIs in an effort to meet long-term national needs. In recognition of the tireless efforts of our talented frontline workers, we provided free holidays to frontline workers in the health industry. Cinnamon was also one of the first hotels to be offered as a quarantine center.

Arts and Culture is an area that the Group has supported for over 30 years and is a community acutely affected by the pandemic. Our work through the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art has focused on capacity building of curators, researchers and translators towards providing sustainable livelihoods for both artists and graduates. Our online Kala Pola provided an unexpected opportunity to showcase Sri Lankan talent to overseas markets and we were pleasantly surprised at how many of our Kala Pola artists had made overseas sales during the pandemic. Over our history of 150 years, we as a Group have partnered with our communities to remain resilient and overcome the many challenges during national and global crises, and we are certain that we can come out of this stronger, together with our communities.

-The Group’s COVID-19 relief efforts-