NDB, Sri Lanka’s formidable banking group, is committed to diversity, equity as well as inclusion and is on a mission to empower women to power the economy. Leading from the front, NDB is one of the few banks to shatter the glass ceiling for women. Women lead critical functions in the bank, and inspire other women to be brave, bold, grow and thrive A few amongst them are influential females such as Melody Wickramanayake, Vice President, Legal; Ruwani De Silva, Vice President, Internal Audit; Shehani Ranasinghe, Vice President, Company Secretary; Suvendrini Muthukumarana, Vice President, Finance; and Ishani Palliyaguru, Vice President, Project Finance and Corporate Credit Control.
The bank has several initiatives to help women shatter the shackles of tradition and cultural biases to be the best they can be.
Compared to the majority of South Asia, Sri Lanka appears to be on the right track towards improving equality and inclusion for women. However, globally, the country has further progress and much to reach. NDB has recognized the need to do more to support and encourage women to build strong professional careers or become successful entrepreneurs. The banking group is cognisant that any progress in achieving equal opportunities for women should not be confined to the Western Province because women from all corners of the country contribute to the economy. To this end, the bank has launched several initiatives to create better opportunities for women, from employees to customers and the multitude of women in society caring for their families while building successful ventures that contribute to GDP growth.
Here, Shehani Ranasinghe and Suvendrini Muthukumarana share insights into NDB’s diversity, equity and inclusion agenda.
What makes the NDB Banking on Women initiative so crucial? What are your objectives and vision for NDB Banking on Women (BOW)?
NDB BOW is a research-backed proposition formulated in partnership with the International Finance Cooperation. Its reach, effectiveness and impact on aspiring females are very encouraging. NDB’s BOW strives to fill gaps in accessibility to quality financing and advisory support in pursuing their dreams from a simple personal financial goal of a homemaker to a more complex one of an entrepreneur. By empowering women in all walks of life, NDB is contributing to enhancing female participation in the Sri Lankan economy, unlocking massive upside potential towards greater GDP growth.
Can you tell us how NDB supports women and the impact of NDB Banking on Women thus far?
Support to women is bi-fold, combining financial support with advisory. One of the spinoffs of NDB BOW is the NDB Araliya banking proposition. NDB Araliya comprises financial assistance from loans to credit cards, saving options with added benefits of insurance coverage for accountholders and immediate family members and a wide range of advisory support. We have reached out to thousands of female customers across all segments right across the country and have helped them prosper. BOW often ties up with the NDB’s corporate sustainability initiatives. We also conduct essential knowledge-sharing sessions on topics ranging from management and leadership, bookkeeping, onboarding digital selling platforms, personal grooming and well-being, and more.
Tell us about the NDB Sri Lanka Vanithaabhimana initiative. What is the underlying purpose for NDB to take this initiative, now in its third year?
NDB Sri Lanka Vanithaabhimana is a flagship initiative under NDB BOW launched in 2020. We partnered with MBC/ NewsFirst to launch NDB Sri Lanka Vanithaabhimana to create a national-level award and recognition platform to celebrate women and their achievements and inspire others to strive for excellence. The award categories include Sports, Entrepreneur–Small, Entrepreneur–Medium, Young leader, Environmental management, Social worker, Education and Upcoming Woman Entrepreneur, crowning the high-performers through a rigorous evaluation process by professionals and veterans from multiple disciplines.
It was officially launched in March 2020. Short-listed applicants had one-on-one reviews at the provincial level to select three winners per category per province for the national-level grand finale. The province-level interview sessions featured workshops and awareness sessions on vital areas such as starting up businesses, accessing markets, etc. and drew large crowds from the localities. The event also attracted the differently-abled and marginalized, and those who had hitherto never had the opportunity to showcase their talents and innovative business ventures from hard-to-reach corners of Sri Lanka.
NDB offers financing and advisory support throughout their entrepreneurial journeys, identifying scalable business ventures and creating opportunities to expand their market access through several strategic partnerships including the Sri Lanka Export Development Board and Daraz (Alibaba) online platforms. Given its resounding success and significant impact, we extended NDB Sri Lanka Vanithaabhimana to professional women in 10 sub-categories, including law, marketing, finance, and public service.
What progress has the bank had in DE&I, and what are your aspirations in this regard?
As an equal opportunity organization, diversity, equity and inclusivity are etched into NDB’s DNA. In the context of Sri Lanka being a multi-ethnic, racial, and religious country, which has a legacy of advancing those differences to the detriment[MZ1] of everybody, NDB aspires to be an organization that thrives in its diversity and is agile and dynamic enough to embrace diversity.
At NDB, we have carried out and continue to carry out a host of initiatives to empower women in the workplace. We were the first corporate in Sri Lanka to obtain the EDGE certification. EDGE is a leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender and intersectional equity. Accordingly, NDB has been assessed and certified for women’s representation at the organizational level, pay equity, and the effectiveness of policies and practices to ensure equitable career flows as well as inclusiveness of our culture.
We have also partnered with various programmes furthering this global cause, such as the She Works Sri Lanka partnership spear-headed by the International Finance Corporation.
We also have several women-friendly initiatives and policies like maternity leave, flexible working and time options, bank-arranged transportation, concessionary canteen facilities and the banks’ equal opportunity; Anti Harassment as well as Whistle Blowing policies, etc. creates and fosters a progressive culture here, at NDB.
What is NDB doing to empower women within the NDB banking group? How are you creating better opportunities for career development and advancement in leadership roles?
The notion of women empowerment permeates across the Group of companies. NDB is the only financial services group in Sri Lanka comprising universal banking and a wide range of capital market services under one parent. Across our capital market cluster companies comprising NDB Capital Holdings Limited, NDB Investment Bank Limited, NDB Wealth Management Limited, NDB Securities Pvt Limited and Zephyr Partners Pvt Limited – you will see the teams being quite diverse across all levels.
The capital market cluster companies boast of diversity not just in gender, but age, exposure and professional qualifications. The NDB capital cluster companies garner the respect among capital market professionals as a versatile workplace to grow and groom. NDB provides the required exposure at different levels of management to develop women as leaders ready for the future.
Can you give us examples of how the bank benefits from those initiatives?
With such initiatives, NDB attracts and retains the best talent and develops its employees to grow and reach their true potential. NDB is also a well-respected sought-after employer in the market and a responsible corporate citizen giving back to society and the country. It also adds to our Banking on Women business proposition because it only makes sense to treat your employees well and take good care of them, to venture out and meaningfully strive to create an equal and empowered world for our female customers.