In the words of Keshara Madumali: “Having an income is crucial for women in our society”
Keshara Madumali, 22, is an entrepreneur who manages a mushroom farm in Hagamwela - a small town in the Ampara District in 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, Madumali and over 600 other women-led micro-enterprises have received support to strengthen their business resilience and livelihoods.
I manage a mushroom farm and dishwasher detergent production business with my husband. Our venture began in 2017 when my husband started cultivating on a small-scale. I joined him a year later, and together we expanded our production by constructing a chamber, meticulously crafting pots, planting seeds, sterilizing them, and managing everything from harvesting to packaging and distribution.
We come from a very rural village, where women have less opportunities and space to finish their studies—with many stopping after completing their Ordinary Level exams (secondary education). So, it’s really empowering to have a business of your own.
Financially, we have always struggled to make ends meet, tugging on to whatever lifeline we can find. Our sales plummeted during COVID-19 and the economic downturn, leading to a collapse in our business operations. The soaring prices of fuel, polythene, and labels for packaging forced us to slash prices significantly. We were also unable to access the main road during heavy rains due to floods. Sustaining the business during this time was incredibly challenging. I was even driven to pawn my gold pendant so we could buy food.
In our personal life, too, we have battled many hardships. I had a miscarriage last year, which was a particularly dreadful time for us at home. I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without my husband’s support and determination—he has always been a pillar of strength and has motivated me to achieve my highest potential, even in a society that does not hail women’s strengths. His support, working overnight while I rest and vice versa, demonstrates our mutual dedication to each other's well-being.
Having an income is crucial for women in our society. Especially in rural settings where women’s roles are sidelined. Having an income empowers me to contribute actively to our family’s needs and holds a significance in progressing ahead.
We are incredibly grateful for the knowledge we received from the UN Women training, particularly in areas we had no experience in, such as digital marketing. Implementing these skills has enabled us to sell our products more effectively, easing the strain caused by the crisis.
Understanding business management intricacies—such as tracking expenses against investments—has significantly increased our profits since we started keeping proper records.
Moreover, the ration packs provided during these tough times helped to ease our burdens and proved to be a reliable source of sustenance for the time being. These essentials have not only sustained our daily lives but also enabled us to save for necessary repairs, like building a new roof for our mushroom chamber.
Reflecting on our journey fills me with immense satisfaction, and I have nothing but hope and excitement for the future. I dream of building our house and expanding the business into multiple farms, hiring employees and investing in machinery. Our aim is to create opportunities for others in similar situations and empower women to embrace entrepreneurship in harsh, and often limiting environments.
Our journey signifies resilience against the odds. The sense of achievement in owning a business, especially as a woman, is a transformative experience, allowing us to shape our future amidst adversity”.