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Project report

Women's small business enterprises Sri Lanka , RUN BY: Oxfam Australia | STATUS: COMPLETED

Women who have set up a spice business, producing freshly ground spices for the local market. Photo: Alison Cleary/Oxfam

This project is 100% Funded



AUD 50,001

Raised from 21,510 people

Project Summary

The Women’s Small Business Enterprises Project supported by Footprints Fundraising has successfully provided Sri Lankan women with opportunities to significantly increase their confidence, skills and control over income and assets. This project aimed to directly challenge gendered stereotypes in poor communities in Sri Lanka by promoting women’s leadership and entrepreneurship, particularly in higher earning livelihood roles and vocational training.

This project complemented existing gender equality, sustainable livelihoods and peace building projects undertaken by Oxfam’s community-based partner organisations in the South and Central provinces.


To address the issue of poor women’s lack of access to, and control over, a sufficient and independent income to care for their families and meet basic needs.

Planned Activities 2010/11

  1. 80 women in 12 groups will have accessed 12 low interest loans averaging AUD$2,468 for investment in profitable enterprises.
  2. Women will have increased their income and the value of their labor to enable more time to be spent in caring for their families and on personal development.
  3. 80 women will have increased confidence, self-esteem and leadership
  4. Transformation of household power relations; women will have a greater role in decision making, enjoy a reduction in violence, and greater independence.
  5. Girls to have improved access to primary and potentially secondary education as more money is made available to meet family needs
  6. Participating women will be role models for other women and girls, and play a vital leadership role in their communities.

Project Outcomes 2010/11

The specific outcomes achieved against the stated activities were;

  1. 91 women in 7 groups were provided low interest loans varying between Rs 30,000 (approx $300 AUD) and Rs 70,000 (Approx $700 AUD) to establish Small Business Enterprises (SME’s)
  2. All 7 groups have increased profit from their enterprise ranging from Rs.1,500 to Rs.4,000 per month during the first 6 months.
  3. Interviews and baseline information showed participating women experienced increased confidence and self-esteem and have emerged as leaders with ability to deal with community and personal issues
  4. The 91 women in the program have access to income and other forms of social influence through the management of their families’ businesses.
  5. The women in the program reported that they are prioritising the education of their daughters and are allocating separate rooms for the girls. Information on girl participation is being collected and entered into a database for future tracking.
  6. Interviews and the collection of baseline information show a positive move in this area. An example is one woman through her own initiative supporting other members of the group to develop their enterprise. Her own husband is ill in hospital and she is managing the family with her own income. She has set an example to the others and has been able to go around and strengthen them to conduct their enterprises to the best of their ability.

The small scale enterprises supported were:

  • Coconut Oil production and vegetable farming
  • Clay pots production and vegetable cultivation
  • Mushroom cultivation?
  • Coir-based products
  • Spice packaging

Conclusion / general comments

Increasing substantially the income of women and engaging them in non-traditional activities has been a long term objective of Oxfam. Though livelihood activities of women were funded through the micro credit programs and also during disasters such as the tsunami, it has been documented that large injections of funds have not significantly changed women's income patterns or increased women's empowerment.

This intervention therefore, was based on a critical understanding of the constraints and strategies that were needed to succeed – both to increase women’s income and to sustain their decision-making control over income. The outcomes appear to indicate clear strategies and ways forward. In that sense, this is seen as a successful project.

Case Study

"I have two daughters and a son. My elder daughter is studying for her Advanced Level examination. The second one is in grade 10 and the youngest in Grade 5. We lived under much hardship. I was earlier a casual labourer working during the harvesting season in different fields. I would leave very early in the morning and come home late at night. I had only a few days of work each year. The rest of the time I did when work was available. All this was very unreliable. My husband is also a labourer.

When the group members came and told me there is an opportunity to do something else, I wanted to go and see it. After I saw it, I felt that if I learnt this I could do it while looking after the children. I constructed the shed, put up racks and got everything ready. I got a loan of Rs.43,000 and training in mushroom cultivation from ARCDF. With this money I built the cultivation shed and bought all the necessary things such as rice bran, a filter for filtering rice bran, saw dust and a hose. I got the necessary training to do this as a self employment project and now I feel I am in a situation where I can go forward successfully.

It is about eight months since I began this business. Speaking of economic benefits of this work, I am able to say that I am the one who is spending for most of the children’s needs such as school fees, books, etc. I do not go for labour work now as I need to spend time taking care of the mushroom cultivation, harvesting them regularly and taking them for sale. I earn about Rs.10,000 a month. I get a profit of around Rs.3,000 to 4,000. On days that I have to prepare the culture medium, I spend about 6 hours on this work. On harvesting days, I spend two to three hours in the morning doing sales. I packet these myself and go round selling these to boutiques and houses in the village. I return home only after I have sold all my harvest for the day. If I take it to the village fair I have to spend a lot more time, but when I sell from house to house I am able to sell everything and get back quickly. I go in different directions on different days.

am happy I have been able to contribute to my children’s education. I have to put aside approximately Rs.5,000 per month for my elder daughter’s education. She passed her O.L. examination well and is doing bio-science. I get the support of my whole family when there is cleaning work, preparing culture media, etc. I am respected in my family. Earlier I used to work the whole day in the paddy field until I finish harvesting the allocated lot, but now I am able to sell my produce by about 9.00 in the morning, come home and attend to household chores. Paddy harvesting is a very difficult job. This is a great relief for me and I am able to look after the children better and oversee their studies. It is my desire to improve this business and complete my half-built house. And if I can support my children’s education, I will be very content.

I am happy that I started this enterprise. I feel strong now. I am able to go round and sell the products on my own."

Participant in the Mushroom Production and Marketing Enterprise

How was it this funded?

Thanks to hundreds of tiny donations from these online businesses and their customers.

World Nomads USA
World Nomads Canada
***World Nomads UK
Travel Insurance Direct AU
Travel Insurance Direct NZ
***iPhone Postcard App
Oxfam Australia

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