Reimagining Enterprises for Development
If you are to ask a young Sri Lankan what they want to be when they grow up, the most traditional answer is likely to be a Doctor, an Engineer or a Lawyer1. Given that the majority of the Sri Lankan population sees these professions as powerful and influential, society pressures the young2 to follow what has been set as the norm.
Meanwhile the local education system provides a syllabus that is stagnant and memorization based with very little practicality3, leaving students reeling when they face the real world. A “learn to get a job” attitude has been cultivated so well that one dares not venture out to create something new. People who don’t conform to this trend and do not measure success by the usual standards of money and fame will be seen as outcasts.
These factors have led to a serious lack of innovative, creative individuals who can think for themselves. Thus very few people leave the herd and find their own calling by creating products or services that people need to make their lives better.
In a rapidly evolving sphere of enterprise, Sri Lankan youth are losing out. More than 66,000 unemployed youth4 provide testimony to it. Dasa Mudalali, Nawaloka Mudalali and Wegapitya of Laughs have created entrepreneurial empires with their business acumen and strategy, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the times of Upali Wijewardena, the legendary entrepreneur who was the richest man in South Asia. Unfortunately, enterprises that address social issues haven’t emerged much or at all. This is due to the misconception that such enterprises do not make a profit5 similar to a traditional profit focused business.
Most often success in our society is measured by the amount of money made by an individual or an enterprise. What if enterprise did not mean something that makes money? What if a successful enterprise was measured by how many people it helped while preserving the environment? What if development meant co-existing in harmony? Would people be satisfied or happy with what they have? With radical and different thinking, enterprises like social enterprises have emerged, targeting not only profits but social issues that affect disadvantaged communities.
An enterprise may be a venture to provide social justice by training persons and providing them with jobs to gain a service. It requires coming out of one’s comfort zone. Embracing change, be it positive or negative is an integral part of being an entrepreneur as it broadens one’s horizons and fosters creativity by addressing the needs and wants of society in reimagined ways.
Our current enterprises with only money in focus have left in their wake, much destruction and despair. The overuse of natural resources and the non-committal clearing of lands have led to development becoming synonymous with pollution and desolation.
An enterprise can be any remarkable venture that has a positive impact on a majority of the society. The Global Poverty Project6 which creates fundraisers while providing tickets to concerts for volunteering hours is one such enterprise, as is the Grameen-Danone7 yogurt enterprise which buys milk from communities to create fortified yogurt and sells it back to them at subsidiary rates. These enterprises not only tackle social issues but also provide long term solutions with added financial benefits.
To create such enterprises, an entrepreneurial eco-system with enabling conditions is now being created in Sri Lanka. A few years ago networking events for entrepreneurs were rare and were reserved for persons who were “connected” socially. Therefore, the success of an entrepreneur from a rural area reaching success was considered to be unusual.
However with seed funds and angel investors8 like Lanka Angel Network and Venture Engine now active in Sri Lanka, any entrepreneur with a great idea can create their own enterprise. Angel investors are successful business owners and individuals who invest in aspiring entrepreneurs. As opposed to traditional investors, Angel Investors provide mentorship, connections, skills and guidance as needed. Thus entrepreneurs can fund and power great ideas while continuously scaling up and improving to iron out any kinks. These networks also assist in finding partners who can consolidate skills to scale up an enterprise to reach global heights.
To gain access to such benefits, an entrepreneur must demonstrate strong commitment and dedication to the tasks at hand as an investor will not work with one who will not give the best at creating a successful enterprise. The entrepreneur must have a clear idea of his/her introduction, value proposition, sales strategy, technical/product/delivery model, competitive analysis, risks and mitigation strategies. Having a clear purpose and understanding of the enterprise ensures credibility and long-term working ability with investors.
Social media9 and the internet provide young entrepreneurs with the necessary exposure and the ability to showcase their ideas to attract more investors and consumers. Using a website and a Facebook page has provided many an entrepreneur with the ability to scale their operations up due to the interest of investors and consumers.
With entrepreneurial learning being offered at university level10, diploma level and online through interactive learning methods, the ability to gain more knowledge about enterprise and one’s own enterprise initiative is more possible than ever before.
Someone once said that entrepreneurs are people who live like no else is willing to live for a couple of years, however they live the rest of their lives like no other person ever can. This is why entrepreneurship is not meant for the faint at heart.
Entrepreneurship is the new frontier of re-imagining development that is both sustainable and beneficial to communities. It provides livelihoods and support for countless beneficiaries while creating an enriching experience for the entrepreneur.
The potential for enterprises contributing to long-term development in Sri Lanka is immense, and with the right ecosystems in place budding entrepreneurs can thrive not only in the region, but also in the larger world.
Therefore, it is vital that we ensure that Sri Lankan entrepreneurs reimagine their wares for development11.
$1 6. http://www.globalpovertyproject.com
10. 10. http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_emp/@emp_ent/@ifp_seed/documents/publication/wcms_117393.pdf
11. 11. http://www.ips.lk/publications/series/gov_reports/sme_white_paper/sme_white_paper.html
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