The National Enterprise Development Authority (NEDA) launched an online platform for capacity building of women entrepreneurs at the BMICH recently. The event was graced by the presence of Hon. (Dr.) Ramesh Pathirana, Minister of Industries and Minister of Plantation Industries as the chief guest, Hon. Prasanna Ranaweera, State Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Mrs. J.M. Thilaka Jayasundara, Secretary of Ministry of Industries, Mr. Sunil Jayarathne, Chairman/ Director General of NEDA and Mr. Takuya Hoshino, Financial Sector Specialist, Asian Development Bank (ADB). This was organized jointly by the NEDA and ADB, utilizing technical assistance funding from the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Sri Lanka as consultants.
Branded as “SME Connect – Empowering Women Entrepreneurs” (smeconnect.lk), the platform is open to all entrepreneurs with special focus on women-led small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The platform was developed by PwC as part of the “Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Line of Credit Project” project by the ADB, supported by the We-Fi.
“SME Connect” is trilingual and mobile-friendly, focusing on 3 key aspects – “Learning”, “Mentoring” and “Networking”.
Under “Learning”, it aims to be an easily accessible, one-stop resource base for women entrepreneurs to reach out for information, knowledge and inspiration, providing access to a range of learning materials such as sales and marketing, finance, production and operations and human resources.
The “Mentoring” service enables registered users to sign up as mentees and gain access to a pool of dedicated volunteer mentors for personalized, one-on-one business advice. Mentors on the platform include both subject matter experts and seasoned entrepreneurs keen to share their wealth of expertise and experience to guide up-and-coming SME women entrepreneurs. Mentees can search for mentors by industry or area of expertise and reach out to their preferred mentor, based on their mentoring need.
The “Networking” component offers registered users the opportunity to connect and interact with each other through a variety of options such as chats, blogging and forum discussions. Users can use the platform to gain awareness and register for upcoming training programs, workshops, seminars, webinars and other events, both virtual and physical programs conducted throughout the country.
Acknowledging the necessity of strong stakeholder engagement to ensure the quality of service, sustainability and dynamism of this national endeavor, NEDA has partnered with several leading public and private sector institutions, such as Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), American Institute of Certified Public Accountants & Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (AICPA & CIMA), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL), National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka (NCCSL), Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industries of Sri Lanka (FCCISL), The Women’s Chamber of Industry & Commerce Sri Lanka (WCIC Sri Lanka), Hatch Works (Pvt) Ltd, Institute of Money and Entrepreneurship Development (IMED), National Innovation Agency, Professional Business Coaching Association (PBCA), Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM), TRACE Expert City and University of Kelaniya. NEDA seeks further opportunities for collaboration from interested parties to join hands as knowledge, mentoring and technical partners.
We-Fi is a multi-donor grant fund governed by 14 founding contributing countries and is managed by the World Bank. The fund aims to mobilize more than $1 billion in commercial and international financial institution finance to afford women entrepreneurs access to debt, equity, venture capital, insurance products, and other opportunities to link with domestic and global markets. The aim is to improve the business environment for women-owned or led SMEs. In April 2018, ADB received a $12.6 million grant from We-Fi to promote women entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. The online platform development is one of the key outputs of this We-Fi funded grant project administered by ADB (https://we-fi.org/project/creating-an-enabling-business-environment-for-women-entrepreneurs-in-sri-lanka/).