Our Perspective

The Need for Ingenious Entrepreneurial Mobilization (IEM) of Sri Lankan Youth


Sri Lankan youth have been mobilized in the past. Not once, but many times in the post-independence era. The 70’s and 80’s saw the Marxist revolution in the South, while the three decades following 1983 saw the civil war in the North and East. The results of such have, unfortunately, been detrimental to the collective growth of the country. What is clear though is that the youth of Sri Lanka, under the rightful guidance, have the potential to be mobilized for a greater cause. What if this cause could serve both a selfish and self-less goal? Selfish in that it would have a monetary benefit and selfless in that it would be addressing the collective needs and issues of the nation through an entrepreneurial approach. What if Sri Lankan youth could lead the way in Ingenious Entrepreneurial Mobilization (IEM) of youth in developing economies?

Entrepreneurship, in its bare form, is the willingness of an individual to take financial risk and operate a business. We see many entrepreneurs in society. The corner store owner in the village who survives by buying goods on credit and selling them to the village folk and the young man who has bought a three wheeler for monthly installments, and operates it for hire, are both entrepreneurs. It is easy for a young lad to walk into a finance company and buy a three wheeler for monthly installments. He could then operate it and pay those installments without any hassle. It’s a low risk easy method practiced by thousands of youth in the country. In fact, the youth are pushed for such options because it is seen as the only alternative or because it’s seen as an easy way to make a quick buck.

However, these methods of entrepreneurship do not facilitate real economic growth beyond self-sustenance and lack entrepreneurial ingenuity. Thus, the term Ingenious Entrepreneurship refers to entrepreneurial efforts that bring forth innovative ideas or products that can address a worldly or societal need. It could be an ingenious product that caters to a high end customer base or it could be a simple ingenious service that helps street children get a better education. 

In Sri Lanka the ingenious entrepreneurial mobilization (IEM) of youth would require a collective effort, in that both the government and the private sector need to invest heavily in fostering the required change. Both stand to gain if such an atmosphere is prevalent and hence it should be incentive enough. In the Sri Lankan context, there are multiple levers that need addressing. First, realigning the educational environment. Second, creating a sustainable ecosystem in which such ingenious entrepreneurial efforts by youth are rightly recognized. Third, forming robust fiscal support mechanisms that enable ingenious entrepreneurial models which have promise to go-to-market and eventually scale-up. Fourth, and most importantly, building inspirational rhetoric by political leaders that push the youth towards IEM.

One of the easiest ways to create such an entrepreneurial outlook amongst the youth might be to inculcate entrepreneurial values in school children at a formative age. Ideally, there needs to be an interactive class on ingenious entrepreneurship that is mandated by the school curriculum.  Such efforts should serve to inspire young minds at the prospect of bringing new ideas to the table. This would also enable a societal attitude shift in favor of ingenious entrepreneurship as a tool for personal and communal growth.

According to the National Human Development Report (NHDR) 2014, the National Youth Survey (2013) found that many young people consider vocational education unattractive. While 85% of the survey respondents said that vocational training is important to secure a job, 62% have not taken any vocational courses.

Currently, the reward incentives for ingenious entrepreneurship are relatively limited in Sri Lanka. For instance, in the United States, Forbes Magazine highlights some of the youth who have come to the forefront of ingenious entrepreneurship by such platforms such as the “30 under 30”. Of course, Sri Lanka has similar platforms but they are predominantly focused at the business community surrounding Colombo. However, if new recognition platforms that go further into the depth of Sri Lanka’s semi-urban and rural areas are not created Sri Lanka stands to lose a vast chunk of unrealized potential.

Once an ingenious entrepreneurial idea or product is born, and recognized, it needs to undergo the litmus test of feasibility. If feasible, then there need to be mechanisms and networks that would support the sustainable growth of the idea or product. The current growth seen in local angel networks and private investors are a great starting point. However, this pool of resources will not be sufficient to push for a mass scale mobilization. The government needs to contribute significantly and dedicate sizable resources and funds. If possible, even attract foreign investors for the cause.

Most importantly, there needs to be a buildup of political rhetoric surrounding the Ingenious Entrepreneurial Mobilization of Sri Lankan youth. It’s rarely that the political rhetoric in Sri Lanka focusses on internal developmental issues. It would be ideal to have mass scale reiterations by political leaders encouraging youth led ingenious entrepreneurial efforts which are then supported by political promises to the cause. We need leaders to motivate our youth to straddle and tame the issues of our times!  

I strongly believe that the Sri Lankan youth have the potential to lead the way in Ingenious Entrepreneurial Mobilization efforts and thrust the economy to greater heights. In fact, it applies to all youth in the developing world. Hopefully, through the right policies and enthusiasm we’d see our youth build Ingenious Entrepreneurial solutions that change the world!

blog series Asia & the Pacific Youth Blog post Sri Lanka

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