Sri Lanka Looks to Grow its Impact Investment Ecosystem
In the forests of Sri Lanka, elephants are known to deploy a unique strategy to protect their young. In the face of a threat, adult elephants will form a tight pack, herding their young into the middle for safety.
It was this imagery that inspired the name for Sri Lanka’s first reality show on social entrepreneurship, Ath Pavura (translation: elephant wall). The show–modelled on the popular Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den TV shows–invites emerging, young social entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to senior Sri Lankan business leaders for investment and support. The impact investors on the show, known as “Tuskers,” often take a personal interest in their investees, following their progress and advising on strategy, markets and operations.
The first season was highly successful with 44 social entrepreneurs being funded to bring their ideas to scale. Businesses ranged from online social networks for tree planting to handicraft production for very excluded rural women.
Launched by Lanka Impact Investment Network (LIIN), Social Enterprise Lanka, and the Independent Television Network, the show has quickly earned its spot as the number one business series on national television.
Impact Investing is Opening Doors to More Economic Opportunities in Sri Lanka
LIIN is a network of high-net-worth individuals and investors who are tackling some of Sri Lanka’s most pressing social issues through social entrepreneurship and impact investment. Recently, WUSC, CECI, and UNDP co-sponsored the first Sri Lankan Impact Investment training, organized by LIIN.
The idea for the training began with the visit of LIIN’s Chariman, Chandula Abeywickrema, to WUSC and CECI’s International Forum, where he met a number of investors and Canadian social enterprise support institutions. Chandula saw the opportunity to better prepare his own Sri Lankan investors and draw from the rich experiences of the Canadian impact investment community and lessons learned elsewhere.
Thirty-five investors participated in the training, where they enhanced their understanding of impact investment and social enterprise. Participants also heard new research findings from Lanka Social Ventures, which estimates that there are currently 10,000 social enterprises throughout Sri Lanka. The need for a more established impact investing ecosystem to support the growing social enterprise sector is significant—and irrefutable.
Impact Investing Funds Help to Address Financing Gaps for Social Entrepreneurs
LIIN is currently in the early stages of building two national impact investment funds to better meet the financing needs of Sri Lanka’s up-and-coming social entrepreneurship sector. The first, a $5-million Social Enterprise Fund, will finance early stage social entrepreneurs selected through future rounds of LIIN’s reality television show. The second, a larger $20-million Social Impact Fund, will provide larger investments into existing, responsible medium-to-large businesses to finance social innovations, such as improving gender equality in the workplace or reducing energy use.
What is most impressive about Sri Lanka’s emerging impact investment and social enterprise ecosystem is the strong relationships between various individuals and institutions. LIIN has taken on the task of promoting access to finance for social entrepreneurs and social innovations. Their partners at Social Enterprise Lanka and Lanka Social Ventures provide incubation, training, and acceleration support to early to growth stage enterprises.
LIIN is doing something that is highly innovative in the developing world: bringing together high-net-worth individuals to partner in mobilizing local resources to solve local problems.
International actors still have a role to play this effort. WUSC and CECI, through the Uniterra program, arranged for a student volunteer from the University of Winnipeg to help coordinate the recent training in Sri Lanka. In the future, we look forward to continuing to connect LIIN to Canadian support and expertise, and potentially to sources of Canadian investment, including impact investors and the large Canada-based Sri Lanka diaspora.
Advancing our commitment to gender equality, we will also continue to connect LIIN and their members to peer organizations to learn global best practices in investing in women and using impact investment for greater gender equality.
The world can learn a great deal from this small Sri Lankan initiative. We look forward to continuing to tell their story.