Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Women’s Business Associations Come Together in South Asia

SA regional networking meeting

Last week in Colombo, Sri Lanka, CIPE held the fourth in its series of training and networking sessions for a group of women business leaders from across South Asia, helping bring about a range of positive steps – both for national understanding and increasing economic opportunity for traditionally marginalized women.

This network  includes participants from major and emerging chambers of commerce and business associations in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. CIPE also invited two additional participants for this session from Papua New Guinea, because these women are just starting the process of establishing the first ever Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in that country and requested CIPE’s assistance.

The idea to bring together representatives from these countries — particularly given the tensions between India and Pakistan, and the history between Bangladesh and Pakistan — was not guaranteed to succeed. But after the first three meetings, the first last winter in Dhaka, the second last spring in Kathmandu, and the third last September in Lahore, it has become clear that these women business leaders have grown closer, have learned from one another, are sharing ideas and information, and are finding ways to strengthen their organizations based on best practices learned from one another.

The Colombo workshop was a productive, inspiring, and an exciting two days of learning and networking. Below are some words from the participants about their experience at CIPE’s workshop:

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Capacity Building for Women Business Organizations in South Asia: What Participants Had to Say

south asia women cap building

Yesterday I wrote about how CIPE is helping women business leaders to break down barriers in South Asia – both barriers between countries and barriers that are keeping women out of the economic mainstream. CIPE’s third networking and training session for the heads of women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, held on September 18-20 in Lahore, Pakistan, was a resounding success, including a dinner at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce that drew the Governor of Punjab as a featured speaker.

But we also wanted to take some time to focus on the training program itself, and the results of the hard work that these women are putting in to building their organizations. There is no shortage of programs in South Asia to build links among women entrepreneurs – to encourage trade and business ties – but CIPE is focused on strengthening the capacity of the chambers and associations, both so they can better represent their members in the policy process, and help their members grow their own businesses.

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Women Business Leaders Breaking Down Barriers in South Asia

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The biggest changes can start with small steps – particularly in the effort to change cultural barriers and to ease decades-old national tensions. Often it is the private sector, seeking to open new markets, explore possibilities, and expand trade and commerce, that is at the forefront of such changes.

Last week in Lahore, Pakistan, CIPE organized the third in its series of training and networking sessions for a group of women’s business leaders from across South Asia, helping bring about a range of positive steps – both for national understanding and opportunity for traditionally marginalized women.

This network, which CIPE has been developing with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy, includes participants from major and emerging chambers of commerce and business associations from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.

The idea to bring together representatives from these countries – particularly given the tensions between India and Pakistan, and the history between Bangladesh and Pakistan, was not guaranteed to succeed. But after two meetings, one last winter in Dhaka and then again in the spring in Kathmandu, it was becoming clear that these women business leaders were growing closer, learning from one another, sharing ideas and information, and finding ways to strengthen their organizations.

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Women’s Business Associations Moving Forward in South Asia

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“The sessions in Dhaka and Kathmandu helped develop structure and set direction and proper governance guidance to our business associations, which usually tend to be run according to individual chairperson’s goals. Setting vision and mission based on a membership needs assessment is such a simple idea that we learned…so basic but yet hardly used as we tend to overlook membership requirements in our day to day chamber activities and operations” – Rezani Aziz, Sri Lanka

Despite severe challenges, women’s business associations are playing effective roles in promoting interests of their members. However, CIPE has observed that most women’s business associations in South Asia are struggling to perform optimally.

CIPE took this challenge as an opportunity to work with a selected group of eleven business associations in the South Asia region, aiming at strengthening institutional capacity to help them become stronger advocates for their members. In the first phase of this project, CIPE organized a two-day session for the group in Dhaka in January 2013.

The second workshop for the same group was held in Kathmandu, Nepal on 22 and 23 April. After the Dhaka session, the Peshawar Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry embarked upon an advocacy project to identify barriers to women’s entrepreneurship in the terror-affected Khyber Pakhtoon Khawa region, while the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry conducted a survey focusing on their 600 women members. These two case studies from Pakistan were presented to participants in Kathmandu.

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Building Women’s Chambers and Associations in South Asia

south asia women entrepreneurship symposium

Hammad Siddiqui, Deputy Country Director for CIPE’s Pakistan field office, contributed to this report.

To begin addressing the issue of why some women’s business organizations thrive while others do not, CIPE recently launched a project to build links among women’s chambers and associations in South Asia.

CIPE identified 11 organizations, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka – and for the first time reached out to groups from India and Bhutan – to participate. With the assistance of long-time partner the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI), conducted a diagnostic survey of these organizations’ governance, finances, membership, strategic planning, advocacy, services and other issues. The organizations were then invited to participate in a networking meeting held this February in Dhaka, Bangladesh. CIPE’s efforts complement a U.S. State Department program to build links among women entrepreneurs in the region, the South Asia Women Entrepreneurship Symposium.

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The military is not the answer

A typical street scene during 2009 in Colombo, Sri Lanka's largest city. (Photo: Biel Calderon via Flickr)

For more than 25 years, Sri Lanka had been consumed by an ongoing civil war. With the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009, Sri Lanka has turned its focus to governance and economic growth. Although the end of hostilities has brought relief, moving from war to peace has its own challenges.

One of those challenges is what to do with a military whose soldiers are no longer needed for the job they were recruited for. Sri Lanka has found plenty of tasks for them to do, everything from building bridges and houses to selling vegetables and operating an air-ticketing agency. The military can be a capable institution, but relying too heavily on the military can prevent the development of other institutions necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy. Whether its managing government services, or running businesses, turning to the military should be a last resort.

For many countries, the temptation to employ the army for roles beyond defense is too much to resist. Militaries tend to be highly structured and efficient organizations. In a country with few or weak institutions, the military is often the one institution seen as able to ‘get things done.’ But turning to the military to solve non-military problems can be perilous. Once the military starts taking on additional roles, it can be hard to stop.

Sri Lanka would be wise to study the role the military plays among its neighbors. With Bangladesh’s democratic government mired in corruption, the military stepped in to form a caretaker government in 2006. Although largely welcomed as a stabilizing force, the caretaker government was no better at overcoming Bangladesh’s challenges, and created problems of their own. According to the International Crisis Group:

In its first year in power, the government made some 440,000 arrests ostensibly linked to its anti-corruption drive, creating a climate of fear in the country. Its poor handling of the economy and natural disasters has aggravated underlying scepticism over its real intentions. The continued state of emergency and efforts to undermine popular politicians and split their parties have left many questioning its sincerity.

Elections were held in 2008 and Bangladesh returned to civilian rule. Bangladesh has regularly topped the list of most corrupt countries. Desperate for a solution, the caretaker government offered a glimmer of hope. Fighting corruption requires institutional changes that remove the incentives for corruption in the first place. The military proved capable at arresting anyone suspected of corruption, but was wholly unable to enact the institutional changes necessary.

Pakistan faces its own challenges with its military. Although no longer a military government, the military is still the dominant player, bringing in billions of dollars in foreign assistance, not to mention its vast businesses with $10 billion in assets. In total, Pakistan’s military businesses make up over 7 percent of GDP. But is the military contributing? In her book, “The Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy,” Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa Agha finds that many of the Pakistan military’s businesses are operating at a loss, propped up by the government. These businesses crowd out more legitimate private businesses and dry up resources that could be used more efficiently. But taking away support from an institution like the military is no easy task.

In many countries, the military is a highly respected institution, often viewed as bound by honor and above partisanship. When a country is facing challenges, it can be easy to look to the military to solve them. But tasking the military with duties beyond defense invites new challenges. Militaries are not designed for such tasks, and however well intentioned, they will likely fail.

International Day of Democracy and Sri Lanka’s Way Forward

September 15 marks the UN International Day of Democracy. UN states that “democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life” and this definition provides ample inspiration for reflecting on what it means for individuals to be citizens of a democratic country. It means being engaged in an open dialogue with the government; it means being free to become an entrepreneur in search of a better life; finally, it means appreciation of and cooperation with fellow citizens regardless of their culture or ethnicity.

Piyumi Erandima Kapugeekiyana, winner of the first place in CIPE Feature Service article

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