“People asked how we would manage the business on our own because we were women.”
Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Author: Selanika Rosairo
When my mother and I started a small business to produce food traditionally prepared in our village in the Uva Province of Sri Lanka, we were met with much criticism.
At first, we took the idea to organizations assigned to support small businesses, but they discouraged us, saying that our business would not succeed, and asked us to do something else. Some people asked how we would manage the business on our own because we were women and nothing can be done without a man’s help. But we did not give up. We started small and made our first batch of food items and expanded our business over time.
Initially, we could not register our business because the authorities asked us to construct a separate building for our activities and we had limited funds. My mother and I went to the relevant offices, and days, hours and months were spent without much success. We persisted and managed to get the business established and registered all by ourselves. We have shown that women too can be entrepreneurs.
Since this was our first business, we did not have any experience, and sometimes we were shattered by people’s negative comments. Accessing markets was a challenge as well, as sellers in cities constantly harassed us, trying to buy our products for a cheaper price. When we approached banks to find money to expand our business, we were rejected because we did not earn a large monthly income.
Women from our village face many difficulties, as they do not have fixed jobs and their husbands are farmers with a low income. We support them by buying the vegetables they produce and giving employment to women as part of our business.
The women entrepreneurs in my village are facing many difficulties, since they have to look after their children and some of them do not even own a house of their own. Sometimes we support them by introducing them to various buyers who are looking for fresh vegetables. But buyers do not usually purchase products from small-scale producers. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the troubles of small businesses -- people do not buy our products due to safety concerns.
Regardless of the challenges, my message to women entrepreneurs is not to give up. I always say that nothing is impossible. Our situation could be different after the pandemic. So we must start to build from somewhere, even with as little money as 1,000 rupees (USD13). We cannot expect huge profits at the start, but even a small profit made from a humble beginning is worthwhile. I think we should always be ready to face challenges, and we should never give up on our dreams.
Although there are people who oppose you and challenge you, you can still find the support that you need. There are women entrepreneurs from all over our country who are carrying out various small-scale businesses. When we get together, we always uplift each other and try to help each other to promote our businesses.
My immediate goal is to construct a separate building for our business. I am happy to say that with much hard work and generous support from civil society organizations, we are turning that dream into a reality.