Cultivating youth entrepreneurship through a Startup Eco System is the key to unlocking massive economic potential of Sri Lanka
Honored to have shared my thoughts on this topic at the ‘Start Up India International Summit’.
Sri Lanka is an island nation in the midst of the Indian Ocean whose strength and potential is vast mainly because of its geographical location in the region and the high literacy, skills qand talent we possess among all our age groups.
Sri Lanka has infact produced some great minds in all professions over the years and has produced startups which have set an example for other entrepreneurs in the region. Infact today, Sri Lanka’s economy is mainly driven by the SME’s and the private sector whose skills and innovative ideas have put Sri Lankan products in the international market.
In developed markets, about 90% of the businesses are SMEs which contribute to about 60% of the job market and 40% contribution to the GDP. However in Sri Lanka, SMEs account to about 75% of the businesses but only contribute to 40-45% of the job market. Hence, there is massive potential for growth with the right level of resources and support
Today, Sri Lanka has produced startups which have gained international fame. The products and brands by these businesses are exported world over and have been commended for its quality, leading to a greater demand in the international market. Further many have had the opportunity to open their outlets in leading countries, taking Sri Lanka’s worth to the international community. This is also mainly due to the end of terrorism in May 2009, and under the strong leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who gave the youth the opportunity and enouragement to blossom into entrepreneurs and showcase their talent.
Following the re-election of the Rajapaksa government last August I was sworn in as the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs and one pledge I made was to continue working hard for the youth sector and create an ecosystem where more youth could be encouraged to become entrepreneurs. Today, 5 months on, I have received so many proposals by the youth, from every part of the country and the ideas and talent for startups is truly remarkable. However due to financial constraints they are unable to move forward, especially now following the hardships faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
But considering the talent which Sri Lanka possesses and the strong commitment of this government and my Ministry, this weekend I was honored to be invited to address the inaugural session of the ‘Start Up India International Summit’ which brought some of the world’s leading minds on one platform virtually and enabled governments and international organizations to share their views to ignite the minds of young innovators and entrepreneurs. In the summit, I was given the opportunity to explain Sri Lanka’s dedication is continuing with a startup ecosystem under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Policy Manifesto Saubhagyaye Dakma – Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor and the role my Ministry is now playing in encouraging youth to get more involved to take Sri Lanka’s entrepreneurship ecosystem to greater heights.
In order to execute an action plan and not limit these ideas to words, my ministry has already launched an entrepreneur focused loan system worth more than Rs. 1 billion to promote innovative entrepreneurship, will provide tax benefits for corporates who help Startup Ecosystem to grow, has launched concepts such as “Q shop” – a simple Retail Franchise model startup eco
system launched in a 40ft customized container and we have even partnered with both state and private media houses creating entrepreneur based reality shows and highlighting entrepreneurs not only through traditional media but on social media platforms as well.
Further, under my Ministry we have already planned to launch a crowdsourcing
platform to draft a “crowdsourced policy” to launch a government backed eco-system to drive innovative entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka. This will be established to ensure we capture the pulse of the entrepreneur in order to remain relevant and current with the emerging ideas.
From nurturing innovation to educating what innovative entrepreneurship is – to
connecting these new entrepreneurs and SMEs with investors, it will all be a part of our new policy. For any successful ecosystem, we must attract resources of all sorts, drawing in capital, partners, suppliers and customers to create cooperative networks and the right talent base. This is why, as explained during my inaugural address, I explained it is vital that we work together as members of BIMSTEC sharing our resources and our knowledge creating linkages for our entrepreneurs and networking them – generating both the supply and the demand.
It is only by supporting each other that we can grow our startups and SMEs and eventually the national economy. I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the best solution for the 20% unemployment among the 4Mn youth population of the country.
Sri Lanka is a lower middle-income country with a GDP per capita of 4,065 USD and a total population of 21.5 million people. Following 30 years of civil war that ended in 2009, Sri Lanka’s economy grew at an average 5.8% during the period of 2010 to 2015, although unfortunately there were some signs of a slowdown in the last few years.
Our economy is transitioning from a predominantly rural based economy towards a more urbanized economy oriented around manufacturing and services.
My Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs is now dedicated to take forward the startup ecosystem and will continue to interact with the youth sector. A lot needs to be done but we have already begun work. We hope to make a change soon.