Policy Advocacy Programmes
WCIC as a voice for women

The Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce Sri Lanka’s Advocacy Program is a core component of WCIC. Since 1985 the Chamber has embarked on several advocacy programs which has supported our mission to emerge as the pre-eminent organization in Sri Lanka for advancing the interests and views of business women in Sri Lanka.

As a voluntary business association WCIC plays a central role in defending the rights of women owned businesses, advocating for policy reform that drives entrepreneurship and prosperity, and represents the voices and needs of small and medium sized businesses.
Advocacy Projects
South Asian Women’s Economic Network

In February 2013, the Center for Private Enterprise in Washington D.C., USA brought together 15 leaders of key women’s chambers and associations from the south Asian region. The initial focus was on building an effective network among the South Asian women’s business associations, so they can share experience and ideas. WCIC was represented by Rifa Musthapa in Dhaka. The other organizations were from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Butan. By June 2014, CIPE’s fifth series of networking and training session focused intensively on policy advocacy.

The lessons learnt from CIPE Training sessions were:
  • We have to run a chamber or association like a business
  • Members come First. Our orientation has to be on members instead of projects.
  • We have to strengthen board governance ensuring leadership training and succession planning. Institute clear responsibilities for the board members.
  • Successful advocacy requires strong networks and communication strategies.
In August 2014, WCIC with a small grant from CIPE and the support of BWCCI, FLO and AWAKE developed and carried out our first small advocacy initiative. In January 2015, WCIC published their first Policy Brief headed by Refa Mustapha, Renuka Fernando and Sarrah Sammoon.

Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka

In January 2015, WCIC presented a Policy Brief ‘Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in the SME Sector in Sri Lanka’ to Minister Rishad Bathuideen, Ministry for Industry and Commerce for Sri Lanka for collaborative action with all the stakeholders, including the government. At this meeting Minister Baduideen reiterated that the government aims to introduce legislation to ensure at least 25% of women’s representation n Provincial Councils and Local Government Bodies. He said, “our government is keen to seen enhanced women’s pariticpation not only in governance but even in economy as well. Therefore this latest initiative by WCIC is timely.”

First Focus Group Discussion

The first Focus Group Discussion was held on the 11th December 2014 at Galadari Hotel. The session as moderated by Ms Samadani Kiriwandeniya, Chairperson of Sanasa Development Bank and assisted by Anushka Wijesinha, Economist and Minari Fernando, Policy Advocacy Consultant.

WCICSL in association with Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), Washington DC is seeking to conduct a gender review of government policy on small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This is to conduct advocacy for the implementation of a gender sensitive policy. Through this project WCICSL will consult with key stakeholders in formulating a brief policy document to ensure that government policy on SMEs includes a gender component.

The focus group provided an opportunity for the audience to find out more about the project. And it gave WCIC an opportunity to find out the barriers to entry for women entrepreneurs and the issues faced by them. This was the first time that female members of Women’s Chambers across the country were invited for such a FGD and given the opportunity to voice their challenges.

Small and Medium Enterprise Development Initiative under 100 day Programme

In March 2015, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce extended an invitation to WCIC for a discussion of setting up of a bureau to protect small enterprises in Sri Lanka. An open discussion took place about the major constraints faced by SMEs and practical solutions for mitigating such issues. We were also provided with a brief introduction National Policy Framework for SME development, which has been submitted to cabinet on March 23 2015.

Focus Group Discussion between the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) and Representatives of the Banking Sector on ‘Improving Financial Services for Women Entrepreneurs in the SME Sector in Sri Lanka’

The 2nd Focus Group Discussion (FGD) of the WCIC-CIPE Policy Advocacy Programme was held with representatives from the banking sector. This was a follow-up from the first FGD, in which participants identified access to finance as a top constraint faced by women entrepreneurs, and was included in the WCIC Policy Brief handed over to the government. Two suggestions related to access to finance included in this Policy Brief were: 1) Mandated loan portfolios for women entrepreneurs, and 2) Gender-sensitive bank branches.

The purpose of the FGD was to understand the current approach of banks towards lending to women entrepreneurs, the availability of any special loan schemes for women entrepreneurs, obtain the views of the banks on the aforementioned suggestions of the WCIC, and identify possible partnership opportunities between banks and WCIC in moving the access to finance agenda forward. In Sri Lanka, like in many developing countries, banks appear to demonstrate little awareness on possible culturally-driven constraints faced by women entrepreneurs, such as their mobility and higher demands on their time, which may further limit their ability to access finance, as highlighted in IFC (2011) . All banks participating in the discussion questioned the need to develop specific financial products targeting women entrepreneurs. It appears that banks do not conceive women-led or women-owned businesses, as a market with specific needs possibly requiring an innovative approach, the creation of new products or the adaptation of existing ones to alternative circumstances. Recognizing the distinct characteristics of this potential new market segment would enable banks to reposition themselves, differentiate from their competitors, to better acquire and service an emerging client base.

Banks participating in the discussion maintained that their policies and procedures related to lending are gender-neutral and non-discriminatory. Yet, it is now increasingly recognized globally that policies and procedures that are prima facie gender-neutral can often have an unintended differential impact on men and women . The premium placed on collateral and credit history as well as business experience and strategy, in bank lending decisions, could unfairly disadvantage women entrepreneurs given their relatively low level of economic integration when compared to men. Sri Lanka has one of the lowest female economic participation rates in Asia; out of the ‘economically active population’ of the country only 34% are females. In addition, overly stringent risk management regimes may further obstruct banks from venturing into this segment. Accordingly, opportunities exist for banks, women entrepreneurs and other stakeholders, to collectively tackle the mutually reinforcing obstacles to women’s access to finance. WCIC can play a central role in this effort.

Mentor Program

A critical issue that emerged during WCIC’s research is the lack of mentorship, advisory and business development services available to women entrepreneurs. Often the constraint may not just be financial, but rather a lack of ideas and advice. With limited availability of formal business development service (BDS) providers across the country and poor contribution by government institutions, chambers like WCIC have a strong contribution to make.

On May 29th 2015, WCIC launched a 12 month long mentor program with 72 women attending from varied businesses. Some are in micro/ small businesses. Some of them are ones who want a start up and some want the knowledge of how to apply for loans. The initial program commenced with an introduction to registering a business and also advice on finance access by the Regional Development Bank.

Access to Markets: Shared Marketing Platforms: Good Market Stall

WCIC explored the setting up shared marketing platforms to enable small women entrepreneurs access to larger markets than they would have access to on their own. Thus a shared stall at The Good Market taken by WCIC on behalf of mambers on a rotating basis became an option.

The Good Market in Colombo, is a volunteer driven program and makes it easier for consumers to find and choose products that are good for the environment, our communities, and our health. The Good Market operates on a Saturday full day at the Race Course car park in Colombo 7.

The stall was opened for members in May 2015.

Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy

In March 2015, Ms. Rifa Mustapha was invited from WCIC to attend as a Speaker at a conference in Delhi entitled ““Strengthening Democracy in Asia: Inclusion, Participation and Rights,” organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the World Movement for Democracy, the Asia Democracy Network, and the Institute of Social Sciences.

WCIC representatives also had the pleasure to speak with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration Lobsang Sangay and Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2014 Kailash Satyarth.

Read more here: http://www.cipe.org/blog/category/south-asia-2/

Read more about our capacity building sessions:

Policy Brief – Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in the SME Sector in Sri Lanka, Published in January 2015
Policy Advocacy Working Paper - Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in the SME Sector in Sri Lanka, Published in January 2015
Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in the SME Sector in Sri Lanka - 2015 Presentation
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