Small industries are the engine of growth in Sri
Lanka, specially outside Colombo and the Western Province. They
are vital to local economic development which creates jobs and
The International Labour Organisation (ILO), the
Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Ministry
of Enterprise Development and Investment Promotions (MEDIP)
implemented a project based on extensive consultations with
provincial and district stakeholders in the government, private
sector, SME and NGO".
The report titled "Enhancing the enterprise
culture of Sri Lanka" forms the basis of the article. The
project was designed and carried out by Nireka Weeratunga and
Karin Reinprecht in four districts in Sri Lanka, Kurunegala,
Puttlam, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
Three youth surveys conducted were consistent in
showing low value attributed to the private sector and
self-employment in general. Around 53 percent held the view that
the private sector discriminated against candidates from low
income groups and favoured known groups and individuals.
Preferences for employment was crucial on the level of
education, with 48 percent of those with primary education
increasing to 62 percent of A/Level qualified candidates
preferring government employment.
Similarly 40 percent of those with primary
education declined to 12 percent of A/Levels for self
-employment. Preference for private sector employment increased
from 13 percent of primary educated person to 23 percent among
those with A/Levels.
The comments made by youth on self-employment
and employment in the private sector are noted below:
"Sri Lankan culture is such that it does not
view self-employment as employment. It should not be like that.
In marriage the male is required to have a stable job in the
public or private sector. Self employment does not count very
much to people," a youth from Hambantota said.
A youth from Jaffna had this to say: "There is a
saying that even if one supervises a poultry farm, it must be a
government poultry farm. The attraction of a government job is
the pension when one retires. However, I prefer self-employment,
but society does to respect educated people who are not employed
in the government sector."
On employment in the private sector
A youth from Weligama said: "The state sector
jobs are good. There is stability for the employees. Even though
the salary is less, the private sector, with better salaries,
could throw out employees in six months with paying the dues."
A Colombo youth had this perception: "I prefer
the government sector because you get many benefits such as job
security and cost of living allowances. The chances of getting
fired are much less in the government sector."
It was agreed by all that business organisations
had an important role to play in bringing peace to Sri Lanka,
and also to be grounded in the social and cultural fabric of Sri
Many private sector representatives complained
that there was no enabling environment for people to go into
business, both in terms of the regulatory framework and
socio-cultural attitudes. The widely prevailing notion was that
business people were exploitative.
Government officials while acknowledging the
shortcomings in the development of the SME sector, such as a
coherent policy, highlighted the weakness of entrepreneurs to
register business and pay taxes.
Regarding the view on the status and respect
received by entrepreneurs, the sentiments expressed were that
large entrepreneurs generally have more status than micro and
small ones and that respect was dependent on their social class
background and connections.
It was also argued that Islam was generally more
conducive to business and that Buddhism could be both
constraining and enabling to business.
Core notions of success in life were mentioned
as a good (well-built with all facilities) house, a good vehicle
(car/van/four-wheel drive), modern household goods and good
education for children. The core qualities necessary to achieve
success were honesty/trust, hard-work/effort/perseverance, good
relations/helping others/listening to others/respecting people
and the environment.
What school leavers say about livelihoods and
"Villagers respect people like doctors because
they earn more money and have status," said a female Sinhala
Buddhist A/Level student from the Kurunegala district.
"I think people here respect doctors, government
officers, lawyers and teachers because they earn better
incomes," commented a female Muslim A/Level student from the
"I want to enter campus. I want to get a degree.
My parents also want me to go to the university. They prefer
that I do accountancy. A lot of people here are doing the
commerce stream," said a female Sinhala Buddhist, A/Level
student from the Anuradhapura district.
School-leavers also had their say on business as
a livelihood option
"I have no plans to do business. I have no idea
how to do business. I donít like the business field at all," a
male Sinhala Buddhist A/Level student from the Anuradhapura
" I do not have any plans to do business. I
think I canít give priority to business. I want to get a good
education and do a job," was the comment of a female Sinhala
Buddhist A/Level student from the Polonnaruwa district.
"I would like to go to Europe, a place where you
can earn well. I donít have money to start a business. During
the off season for fishing, its difficult to do business here.
It takes a lot of time to make money from business. I want to
earn fast by going to Italy," a male Sinaha-Catholic O/Level
student from the Puttlam district opined..
The general view was that most entrepreneurs
subscribe to religious and ethnic traditions which influence
business practices. In the case of Sinhala Buddhists, certain
trades are considered taboo such as livestock rearing for meat
and trading in alcohol and pesticides. Being calm and patient
are also important as well as being satisfied with what you get
Ė an attitude which could curb high aspirations and business
Many of the entrepreneurs prefer to remain in
their "little wells" i.e. their immediate social environment
around their home villages. In order to promote micro and small
enterprise development, it is necessary to lower the current
cultural and social costs of engaging in business.
This could be accomplished by activities such as
a social marketing campaign, awareness raising and awards to
entrepreneurs and public officials who support enterprise
development by linking with appropriate institutions and