The Morning — 08/02/2021
By Niyushi Dananjani
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are an integral part of any economy. The Sri Lankan economy is no exception, as when taken together with microenterprises, SMEs contribute to about 52% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In fact, SMEs are the backbone of the Sri Lankan economy, but often receive step-motherly treatment from successive governments, which has not only burdened the SME sector, but also the overall financial performance of the country.
A group of professionals have come together and taken a fresh lead in forming “Aramuna”, an organisation with a vision to lead Sri Lankans towards an economically, socially, and intellectually secure future.
Launched on Independence Day (4), the key expectation of the organisation is to empower the young entrepreneurs by the “Hithe Haiya” project. Accordingly, the organisation will act as a bridge to investors and entrepreneurs.
The organisation has listed not one but four missions: to empower young Sri Lankans to understand, engage, and respond creatively to national global needs, trends, and demands; to provide young Sri Lankan entrepreneurs with roadmaps and tools necessary to develop confidence, competence, resources, and professionalism to develop their own business; to inspire the “Sri Lanka First” philosophy and approach in shaping the economy; and to serve as a think tank that provides constructive commentary and evaluation on policies pertaining to public and private sector enterprises.
The organisation is headed by Sri Lankan Entrepreneur Chairman Dilith Jayaweera, while the rest of the Aramuna organisation comprises Department of Industrial Management Senior Lecturer and Technologist Sanjeewa Alwis, University of Moratuwa Faculty of Business Business Research Unit Director Dr. Thesara Jayawardane, Stockbroker Chamikara Sapuge, Attorney-at-Law Ranjan Seneviratne, Investment Advisor and Corporate Manager Sanoj Hewage, Political Economist Vagisha Gunasekara, and Senior Site Reliability Engineer Thileepan Sivanantham.
The organisation noted that Jayaweera has an innate bond with SMEs, perhaps because he also started off as one. In his experience as the Chairman of many successful businesses, Jayaweera states that creating capital involves a three-pronged approach.
“It needs creativity. An idea that sets itself apart from others is the main asset you need as an entrepreneur, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life. Creating capital requires certain tools that guide you on borrowing, investing and reinvesting. And lastly, it needs discipline. A certain degree of self-restraint and self-discipline offers great clarity in the process of innovation,” explained Jayaweera.
According to him, Aramuna is an initiative through which he wants to share his insights on how to create wealth, how to innovate, and how to focus on the journey of being an entrepreneur, not its destination.
“It is also about embracing indigeneity, because it gives us an edge in innovation and offering something marvelous to the world. Indigeneity should not be about closing our doors to the world, but about fusing global processes with indigenous knowledge and ideas,” he added.
With a keen interest to know further about the objectives of their organisation and how they are going to achieve their missions, we caught up with Sanjeewa Alwis in an exclusive interview with The Morning Business.
Alwis is a technologist by profession. With a passion for technological innovation, he has ventured into the world of digital transformation, software engineering, IT infrastructure management, and IT operations. His motivation for constant improvement made him the first AWS-certified Solution Architect in Sri Lanka. After years of hard work and perseverance, he has been fortunate to be recognised as a global leader in the IT industry. He says that he contributes to our economy as an entrepreneur in his own right. He is also a writer and technology evangelist, doing his best to inspire technological innovations and kindle the entrepreneurial spirit in young Sri Lankans. He claims that his life has always been guided by patriotism, and he firmly believes in the productive association between the market and nationalism. He is a part of Aramuna because he believes that entrepreneurial nationalism is the way of the future.
Following are excerpts of the interview held with Alwis:
When did the Aramuna think tank project start?
The Aramuna think tank project started in 2020. We started as a national organisation, with Chairman Dilith Jayaweera, myself as the Secretary, an executive committee, and other members. Our vision is to lead Sri Lankans towards an intellectually, socially, and economically driven future to provide developed entrepreneurs as a contribution to the organisation.
What was the inspiration to start the Aramuna project?
Firstly, we believe that Sri Lanka should be an entrepreneurial state. The reason is, as we know in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology in the world has improved and due to automation in factories, around five million workers were unemployed in America. For example, in America they are looking forward to replacing courier services with drones. Therefore, there will be a decline for job opportunities in the industry. Due to this, our objective is to lead the entrepreneurs to build an entrepreneurial state. Because people blame the politicians for 70 years in Sri Lanka for not doing things, but in reality it’s not just the politicians who are at fault for not doing things; even we as citizens have a responsibility. As people, there were no attempts made to build an entrepreneurial state.
As the media says, there are only 4% of entrepreneurs left in Sri Lanka, but in developed countries there are about 15% entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs rely on the Government to build its own economy, and this is because of the people’s mentality, so our efforts are to include that mentality in people and to make Sri Lanka a country full of entrepreneurs in the future.
What is the concept behind this project?
One of the main things in the Aramuna project is to develop an entrepreneur’s reliability. We are looking forward to getting involved with various projects in the future, but for now our basic purpose is to create entrepreneurs within the organisation itself.
What’s the constitution of this project?
The Aramuna organisation is very simple. According to the constitution, there is an executive committee with the Chairman, Secretary, and Treasurer, and eight members have been appointed to the committee so far. Chairman Dilith Jayaweera, Secretary Sanjeewa Alwis (myself), Treasurer Sanoj Hewage, and other members Dr. Thesara Jayawardane, Chamikara Sapuge, Ranjan Senevirathna, Vagisha Gunasekara, and Thileepan Sivanantham make up the executive committee.
What are the main objectives that you’re expecting from the Aramuna think tank project?
The first thing we’re going to do is to find various people to help Sri Lankan entrepreneurs. There are a lot of companies and organisations who assist entrepreneurs, but we want to try to bring all the entrepreneurs, companies and organisations into one platform and develop an extensive national organisation, by empowering the entrepreneurs with branding and marketing to find the market, and to gain capital formation for the selected entrepreneurs. These are the main objectives we currently have.
What plans have you made to achieve these goals?
As the first step before 2021 ends, we have planned to help out 100 minor and moderate entrepreneurs with branding, marketing, capital formation and help finding economic subscribers in the market. We have also planned to gather all Sri Lankan entrepreneurs to give them further knowledge about business and how to gain capital formation.
What are the expectations of the economic background from Aramuna?
Our aim is to create more entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka, as there is a high demand in the international and local markets with regard to entrepreneur’s products. In addition, the Department of Imports and Exports supports the quality of packaging and branding of products. As of now a majority of entrepreneurs export their products to almost 15 countries, so that entrepreneurs are able to improve their economy.
Does the project pose any key challenges?
Certainly. The first thing we see as a challenge is that most people are afraid of entrepreneurship, so they always try to get public and private sector jobs with a permanent monthly income and live a relatively stress free and comfortable life. Secondly, what we see as a challenge is that people think capital is the most important part in entrepreneurship. But capital formation is not the main thing, it is one out of several factors in entrepreneurship, and there are many other ways of gaining capital. So far we have found these two things as our main challenges in the Aramuna think tank project.
What are the outcomes that Aramuna has achieved for now?
So far, we have helped quite a number of entrepreneurs (with the above mentioned). And there are many efforts taken to bring all the institutes and people who are helping entrepreneurs into one platform as a common objective on preserving their identities.
Are there any expectations to provide special benefits for entrepreneurs? If so, can you elaborate?
In terms of benefits, we provide the entrepreneurs with branding, marketing, capital formation and all the infrastructure facilities.
For example: we met a young entrepreneur who is an expert in making various vegetable seeds, but the issue was that he doesn’t have a proper land to plant the seeds, therefore our mission was to help him get a land.
Another entrepreneur we came across makes tasty biscuits, which are of a good quality, but there was no good logo and/or a brand, so we helped him in with a better logo and a brand to continue his business.
Another example is of another entrepreneur, who makes yoghurts of a good quality, but the name was not catchy enough. Consumers will not buy products like that because they demand branded products, so we helped him out by giving him a brand.
These are the problems that entrepreneurs are currently facing, and our committee gathered to help them out in branding, marketing, and capital formation to start and develop their own business and economy. This is the main objective of the project.