Tag Archives: Sri Lanka

Five Leading Women Entrepreneurs in South Asia

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This post is Part 2 in a series. Read Part 1 here.

In the emerging democracies of South Asia, the majority of women are blocked from full economic and civil participation by a range of both formal and informal obstacles, including laws and regulations, and cultural and societal norms. While there is no shortage of aid programs for women in the region, CIPE recognized that limited attention was being paid to reforming the broader economic and political institutions that are skewed against women – by improving the business environment so that women-owned businesses can thrive.

Last week, CIPE launched a blog series exploring the connection between women’s economic empowerment and democracy in South Asia. The series, inspired by CIPE’s panel at a March 2015 conference in Delhi, tells the stories of five key members of CIPE’s network of South Asian women’s chambers and associations, and explores the crucial role that women’s empowerment plays in strengthening democracy and furthering economic growth.

Women face great difficulties in obtaining finance; their right to own property (and as such, its use as collateral) is often restricted; and at times their very access to marketplaces is constrained. CIPE launched a program to address these issues by strengthening women’s chambers of commerce and business associations, building a network of such organizations from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

Over the last two years, CIPE has brought the network together several times to exchange information and best practices, and to establish links between weaker and stronger organizations. CIPE provided training on governance, financial and staff management, communications, and membership development. CIPE has lately begun to fund small advocacy programs carried out by these organizations. Across the board, their successes have been awe-inspiring.

Key members of each organization were invited to speak about their lives and their organizations at the Delhi conference. Read more about each of these five remarkable women below.

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Outcry Against Corruption Helps Drive a Change of Leadership in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)

Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)

While it is hard to identify all of the issues that drove Sri Lankans during the country’s recent – and for many observers, surprising – elections, a cry for change was evident. Voters had clearly grown tired of corruption, cronyism, and authoritarianism, and there have been widespread calls for investigations into a range of alleged human rights abuses.

On January 8, in an unexpected turn of events, 15 million Sri Lankans, representing a 75 percent voter turnout, went to the polls and ousted incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in favor of Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former Health Minister who shocked many by declaring his intent to run for office. Rajapaksa, who was South Asia’s longest-serving political head of state, in office since 2005, had turned increasingly authoritarian. He called these elections two years early, seeking a third term. It seems unlikely that he anticipated the defection of Sirisena and a number of other parliamentarians.

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South Asian Women’s Chambers and Associations Learn Effective Advocacy Techniques

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By Hammad Siddiqui and Marc Schleifer

For the past two years, CIPE has been working to build the capacity of women’s chambers and businesses associations from across South Asia. Last month, they took the next step into policy advocacy.

Through a series of workshops in Dhaka, Kathmandu, Lahore and Colombo, CIPE has fostered relationships among a group of organizations from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. The workshops have focused on topics such as strategic planning, membership development, board governance, staff empowerment, financial sustainability and communications strategies.

This June, CIPE organized the fifth in its series of networking and training sessions, again in Kathmandu. Following CIPE’s general approach, it is first important to strengthen the organizations themselves so that they can then be more successful in working on policy reform. Thus after four sessions of capacity-building for these chambers and associations, encouraging them to focus on serving the needs of their membership, this three-day session focused intensively on policy advocacy.

The CIPE team, led by Senior Consultant Camelia Bulat, with input from Pakistan Office Deputy Director Hammad Siddiqui, Director for Multiregional Programs Anna Nadgrodkiewicz, and Regional Director for Eurasia and South Asia Marc Schleifer, presented a range of tools and approaches to help the 19 participants think strategically about advocacy.

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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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