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Saturday June 15th, 2024

Sri Lanka Vanithabhimana: empowering Sri Lanka’s women

NDB Bank is celebrating women and their achievements with Sri Lanka Vanithabhimana which includes a programme to uncover and reward successful women entrepreneurs from every corner of the country.

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. Identifying the importance of women and their contribution to our society, the National Development Bank PLC along with Sirasa News 1st initiated ‘Sri Lanka Vanithabhimana’, an awards programme to empower women. With the purpose of developing a complete value proposition for women, the programme uncovered more than 8,000 new female entrepreneurs from across the country.

NDB judges Ishani Palliyaguru and Suvendrini Muthukumarana shared their thoughts.

Tell us about NDB Bank’s ‘Sri Lanka Vanithabhimana’ programme, its conception and purpose?

NDB Bank’s five-year strategy included plans to improve financial inclusion in the country with a focus on female empowerment. ‘Sri Lanka Vanithabhimana’ was conceived as a means to boost entrepreneurship and encourage more women to participate in economic activities and contribute towards growth. The World Bank’s private sector arm – the International Finance Corporation liked the idea and stepped in to provide support and we partnered media organisations to take this programme – centered around female entrepreneurs – forward. Prior to this, NDB Bank had several initiatives to empower women such as the special account we created called Araliya. Vanithabhimana is an extension of it.

The women we have encountered in this programme are truly inspiring and their stories are fascinating. The preparedness for the interview, their understanding of the markets they serve, how they started their businesses and created a customer base for themselves with no or little support from anyone was impressive. Some of these businesses were employing differently abled people, or people who need special care and support, and they centered their business strategies to provide livelihoods and support people with special needs.

One objective is to encourage women to participate in the modern marketplace, so how does Vanithabhimana do this? How does NDB Bank support women who join the program?

The programme aims to recognize women entrepreneurs but NDB Bank takes it beyond that. We provide additional capacity building in terms of technical support in financial management and maintaining proper accounts, legal advice, accessing new markets and linking with e-commerce sites such as Daraz to reach a wider market.

Even during the pandemic, we continued the programme digitally and conducted several financial literacy programmes online. We also introduced digital platforms so the programme participants could continue to sell and earn income to support their families. As a member of the Global Financial Alliance, NDB Bank is positioned to pass on best practices in strategising and managing finances to the entrepreneurs in the Vanithabhimana programme.

What is the programme’s reach and its impact so far?

More than 8,000 women applied to the Vanithabhimana programme from every region across the country. We evaluated these at provincial and regional level and did not limit our search to entrepreneurship, but looked at how they were having a positive socio-economic and environmental impact in their activities, their other interests and talents including sports. Financial literacy, management and leadership skills, ability to strategise and their future plans were also important matrices we looked at. We came up with eight categories for the awards to recognize excellence: Micro-entrepreneur, Small entrepreneur, Upcoming entrepreneur, young leader, environmental management, social services, sports, and education.

Having completed all the interview and evaluations, we picked three finalists from each category to compete in the final stage of the awards programme, and most of it was done during the lockdown period. We had Zoom conferences for everyone and ensured even the remotest areas in the North and East, were reached. The bank even conducted three Women’s Day programmes in the Central, Southern and North Central provinces drawing over 6,000 participants.

The Vanithabhimana awards programme offers generous prizes. Each winner will get a cash gift of Rs250,000 and a Rs1 million business loan for winners in the entrepreneur category. There is also one award for the Most Popular Woman in Sri Lanka.

We have been in contact with the finalists, providing them with the necessary financial advice and educating them about the investment opportunities while encouraging them to meet the required goals. We do see some improvement in their businesses: income levels are recovering and some are expanding their customer bases since the Covid-19 outbreak began. They can find comfort in the knowledge that NDB Bank has aptly demonstrated that the bank is here for them, during the good times and bad.

The grand finals will be held at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in March and will also recognize outstanding women achievers in this country with two awards: The Most Popular Women and 10 Vanithabhimana Lifetime Awards.

How else is NDB Bank empowering the women of this country, and improve financial inclusivity overall?

Before anything else, we first started within the bank. At NDB Bank, all employees are recognised as equal and we have worked hard to improve gender equality with female employees currently at 40% and 35% among senior management. We created an enabling environment for women to be the best they can be, achieve their full potential and grow. Then, we turned our attention to empowering women in the country and improving economic inclusivity. The bank has a programme to provide technical support to small and medium businesses especially those run by women in collaboration with development agencies and professionals in business, finance, and others. We had many training programmes on ethical business, savings and investment, social responsibilities, and English language as well. We even trained trainers to run these programme where women made up 80% of the participants. The bank also has a programme for entrepreneurs to reach each level of a business’ progression, from micro to small scale and then medium scale: our aim is to uplift our customers and facilitate growth in every stage of their journeys.