Where Passion Promotes Economic Development
“Each morning I wake up excited about what is in store for me during the day because each day is very different; I meet new people from the community and they each bring in new concerns but I try to do my best to help them in whatever way I can”
It is rare to meet a young person like Fathima Hasmath, 28, who exudes passion, excitement and enthusiasm in the work she does as an Economic Development Officer (EDO). This bright young woman, a resident from the Puttalam District in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka, joined the government public service in 2012 and there has been no looking back for her since then. She recalls her early days of being a newly appointed EDO, “it was a challenge for me to walk into an unknown village and introduce myself, but I adapted and found my own style of working with them. Going beyond my duties as a government officer, I try to relate to them more as a friend and this helps them gain their confidence in me.” This kind of passion has held her in good stead as she began working in some of the most difficult and remote areas in Puttalam.
Under the European Union funded Support to District Development Programme (EU-SDDP), 25 EDOs, including Hasmath, were provided with a certified training in Entrepreneurship Development, designed and facilitated by UNDP. These officers then identify grass root level entrepreneurs and small – medium scale businesses in the District and provide them with the required technical knowledge, advice and mentoring to start up and/or expand and sustain their business entities. It is a competitive selection process to gain a slot for this training but Hasmath, with her incredible skills of social mobilization coupled with her genuine passion for community work, was an obvious choice. “It is the simplest but most crucial aspects in entrepreneurship development that go a long way. You need to first have a good business idea and be able to develop a sound business plan to move ahead. You also need to be able to attract the right market in order to sell your product. Attention to details such as product quality, packaging and presentation will definitely lead to sustainable growth”. This is the key message she communicates to those engaged in self-employed initiatives whom she mentors. Hasmath goes on to say, “The training also taught me how to identify livelihood opportunities in the community and match these with the resources at hand.”
- The EU-funded “Support to District Development Programme” supports Sri Lanka in its transition from post-conflict to reconstruction and development through provision of basic infrastructure and services for the vulnerable population, local economic development and strengthening local governance.
- The Programme (2013-2017) is implemented by five UN agencies – UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, FAO and UNOPS - and the International Finance Cooperation of the World Bank in 7 districts of Sri Lanka with a total budget of 60 million Euros.
- Across the 7 districts, over 150 Economic Development Officers have been trained to mentor entrepreneurs in their communities
42 year old M.I. Bathurusaran is one such person whom she mentors. As a father of three from Mullipuram - a backward fisher community in Puttalam, Bathurusaran has been unsuccessful in his attempt to earn a sufficient income by hiring out of his newly purchased delivery truck. “I was struggling to make ends meet but now I make door-to-door sales of purified filtered water to the rest of the community since the residents of Puttalam are compelled to drink filtered water due to the high levels of salinity in the water”. Through discussions with Hasmath, he has now been able to map out his business development plan and with her guidance, Bathurusaran hopes to expand his business under the EU-SDDP Programme. “At present I am able to transport just 18 cans of water in my truck per trip. If I have a water tank with a capacity of 2000 liters, rather than journeying almost 20km daily to collect a stock of purified water I can store water, purify it and sell it without the additional transportation or fuel cost. With this expansion my selling capacity could increase by atleast five-fold which will enable me to sell at a competitive price”.
Through her visits to the community, Hasmath meets many other self-employed people and she hopes that she can inspire and help other entrepreneurs like Bathurusaran. “My wish for this community is someday this community could produce good entrepreneurs from Mullipuram and the other targeted areas within the District so they in turn can be successful while providing employment to others in the community”.