Fathuma Nisreen is an entrepreneur from the south who received the YBI (Young Business International) Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2010. A mother of five, she designs and manufactures traditional women’s outfits and bags under the label Ramsi Fashions. As a small scale entrepreneur, she sells 200-250 school bags a month. She was honoured with the award for overcoming the challenges she faces as a Muslim woman and successfully engaging in business in her local environment. She hopes to empower more women by teaching them and training them in her skills. I think she is a good example of how courage and resilience have paved the way to a successful enterprise.

In my opinion, when taking the context of Sri Lanka into account, enabling an entrepreneurial ecosystem is still in its primary stages. Although there have been many success stories, far more needs to be done in order to make an impact. I am of the belief that emulating other systems in cultivating an ecosystem is not fruitful. Instead, it has to be developed taking into consideration our resources and capabilities.

From a regional perspective, I believe the strengths and competencies within the regions of the island should be strengthened. Institutions, organizations and individuals make up the ecosystem in Sri Lanka. The institutions are manifold and there are various programmes and training sessions in place, but the biggest drawback is the fear of failure and the inability to put forward a successful business plan that would enable them to gain credit. The lack of laws to protect infant industries is also a handicap. Soft skills also need to be inculcated, and perceptions need to be changed.

Sri Lanka envisions a double-digit GDP growth rate for the next decade. By 2014, Sri Lanka aims to increase its GDP growth rate by 9% from the present 6.4%. It also hopes to double per capita income to US$ 4,000 by the year 2016; at present, it is US$ 2,399. Sri Lanka is investing in the infrastructure required to make it the economic hub of South Asia. In the Doing Business report of the World Bank for 2012, Sri Lanka ranked 81; furthermore, it ranked 39 in the Global Gender Gap Index and 68 in the Global Competitiveness Survey done by the World Economic Forum.

To foster an overall ecosystem requires building confidence, increasing financial literacy, engaging financial institutions and creating the opportunity to gain credit for entrepreneurs. Furthermore, I believe that building suitable infrastructure and linking the markets to the rest of the world are crucial for future growth. In terms of the conflict affected areas, the focus should be on normalizing the social fabric through reconciliation.

Author: Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is Executive Director of Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), and a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

Image: Garment workers sew pants in a factory in Colombo, Sri Lanka REUTERS/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds