In the words of Chitranganie Ekanayake: “Introducing our products to the world is my dream”


Entrepreneur Chitranganie Ekanayake, in her hometown in Panama, a coastal village in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka in December 2023. Photo: UN Women Sri Lanka/Ruvin De Silva

Chitranganie Ekanayake, 36, is an entrepreneur who creates palm products in Panama, a coastal village in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. UN Women’s project ‘Empowering Women in Crisis’ funded by the Government of Japan provides humanitarian assistance for women most affected by Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic crisis. Through the project, Ekanayake and 600 other women-led micro enterprises from the Districts of Ampara, Colombo, Moneragala, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya have received support to strengthen their business resilience and livelihoods.


What started out as a hobby, ultimately became an undeniable passion of mine, one that I started a business with after our lives took a difficult turn in 2018 due to financial hardship.

In 2015, I had already received some training in my handiwork, which pushed me into a more professional sphere. My daughter, an admirer of the products I created, lent me her helping hand, while my husband revered my entrepreneurial endeavor, providing unwavering support.

I started this business alone, but during the pandemic, there was a high demand for eco-friendly products. So I trained around 15 other women who are now working with me and interviewed 20 more for training. All of them come from low-income families and their livelihoods depend on this.

Since we don't have to spend much on raw materials, we are able to maintain daily production of certain products. However, the absence of modern machinery prevents us from producing new items and expanding our production capacity, which I aspire to change some day. Nevertheless, I have learned to adapt by making use of the resources we have available.

At the time UN Women provided us trainings, I lacked entrepreneurial knowledge. I didn’t know how to analyze my income, expenses and profit. I got to know all of this only through the training. I had no knowledge of digital marketing either and UN Women gave us extensive training on running a YouTube channel to reach more customers. After the training I got the idea to start a YouTube channel and with everything that I learned, I devised a business plan, improved my financial management and marketed my products better.

For four years, I have exported my products through a Colombo-based client. After this training, I have unlocked the possibility of reaching a wider network, one that is at reach even outside of Sri Lanka. I hope to build on this network of suppliers, intermediaries and consumers, as I now understand the importance of their role in expanding my business.

The timely aid of dry ration packs provided by UN Women, too, changed the way we operated. Earlier, this money was spent on household expenses but now, the savings are channeled back into business investments.

This business has brought profound changes to my life. I started this business when I was deep in debt. But as the business grew, I was able to settle all my loans. I am proud to say that I am now debt-free.

Initially, we sold only retail, but now well sell items wholesale. We have been able to increase our product value from Rs. 300 (USD 0.93) to an average of Rs. 3000 (USD 9) per piece. I am very happy about this. Knowing that my creations support many families during these trying times is incredibly rewarding.

Introducing our products to the world is my dream and I hope to do that directly without the need for intermediaries. It would also help spread the culture and essence of our village artisanship into the world.”


In video