Sri Lanka, a country known for beautiful beaches and the best tasting tea in the world, has also survived a three-decade long war and a devastating tsunami in recent history. With development aid tapering due its middle-income status, Sri Lanka requires unique solutions to generate employment for its displaced youth and to realize the full potential of its natural resources. Social Enterprises (SEs), particularly those in agriculture, could provide sustainable solutions to Sri Lanka’s development problems. Here at Shujog our research shows that agricultural SEs in Sri Lanka face many challenges such as access to finance, technology, quality human resources and high value markets, as well as grappling with weak infrastructure and governance.
Development agencies need to invest in building a healthy social finance ecosystem in order for SEs to thrive. One part of the solution could be to set up an accelerator for the SEs in Sri Lanka. Accelerators are teams of experienced professionals that work with early-stage enterprises to mentor them, prepare them for growth and scale, and become investor-ready. The benefits of an agriculture SE focused accelerator could be tremendous! An effective accelerator program can help to create viable agriculture SEs in the short run and generate employment. In the longer term they can foster an environment conducive for entrepreneurial growth and innovation within the agriculture sector.
However, achieving financial sustainability can be challenging for SE accelerators. They service pre-revenue or early stage companies that may not have the means to afford market rates for the services they provide. Furthermore, the setup costs can be high for developing and designing services, hiring an effective team and marketing these services. Globally, only a handful of accelerators have been able to achieve complete financial sustainability even for those that service fully commercial start-ups. A majority are funded by donors, development organizations, corporations, or wealthy individuals with a keen interest in entrepreneurship.
Where Sri Lanka is concerned, Oxfam shares our belief that accelerators can serve as catalysts to encourage healthy and organic growth for the SE ecosystem. Working together with Oxfam GB’s regional team in Thailand, Shujog has published an Agriculture SE Feasibility Assessment for Sri Lanka.
Shujog will continue to work with Oxfam and other development organizations who believe strengthening the SE ecosystem in developing Asia is an effective strategy for achieving sustainable and scalable social impact. Together with our sister company, IIX, we have ran a successful pilot accelerator service in Singapore. IIX is currently launching its next accelerator program, called the Impact Accelerator, in the Philippines.
By Rashi Agrawal
Manager, IIX & Shujog