Monday, December 4, 2017

Emerging Hope Lanka

Singapore is home to over 200,000 foreign domestic workers who migrate every year from Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, India and Sri Lanka in search of financial security. Employed as domestic helpers, these women perform domestic chores such as cleaning, cooking, serving, dishwashing, elderly care and childcare and are required to live with their employers. Nilushika Silva Jayaweera came to Singapore in 2001 to work as a domestic helper and has worked here for 15 years. Despite having worked for years, Nilushika was often left with no savings, which is experienced by most of the domestic workers here, as remittances form a huge part of their financial decisions. But that did not stop her from working hard to overcome these monumental challenges and turn her dreams into reality. In 2017, she returned back to Sri Lanka, but as an entrepreneur. Today, Nilushika is a proud founder of not just her online tea business that has a global market, but also a nonprofit called Emerging Hope Lanka that provides business coaching and training to women in Sri Lanka.  She was also invited to speak at TEDxSingapore in 2016. Here is her story that speaks volumes of her determination to change her destiny.

Tell us about your background to the extent comfortable and your life in Singapore?
My name is Nilushika Silva Jayaweera. I am 36 years old and I am from Sri Lanka. I am the oldest of my five siblings. When I was 16 years old, I lost my parents and I had to take charge and look after my family. As financially we were struggling and hardly had anything to survive on, we were sent to an orphanage. At the age of 18, I took up a job in a garment factory in Sri Lanka. Although it was a lot of work for very little money, this job gave me a sense of independence and I wanted to support my younger siblings. That is when I left home for Singapore to work as a domestic helper. For the first time I was out in a new country all by myself. I was very scared and lacked the confidence to communicate as I could hardly speak or write English. But all I knew was, I had to work hard so that I could give my siblings a good life.

How did you decide to start your own business-  Tell us more about your journey as a businesswoman.
In 2011, with my employer’s support, I enrolled for a course in financial literacy and management at Aidha, a micro business school. At Aidha, I learnt how to manage my money and all the pre-requisites for starting and running a business. From writing a business plan, to the nuances of marketing your business and pitching your business idea to a potential pool of investors, I picked up these different business and leadership skills at Aidha. I realised, when we learn new skills, it creates more choices and possibilities. I could now envision a new future for myself, my family as well as my communities in Sri Lanka. I learnt the ways in which I could translate my ideas into reality. And yes, I discovered freedom, freedom to make choices and determine my own future. My friends and mentors have played a key role in supporting me in this journey. With their help, I also enrolled for a course in leadership that helped me develop both personally and professionally. I founded my own business- an online tea venture, which now has a global market with clients from France, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. It is not a very big business. But however small it is, it is mine and I feel great about it as I have never had anything that belonged to me before.  My education empowered me and helped me shape my destiny. I strongly believe that EDUCATION and EMPOWERMENT are very important to enable women to have a brighter future.

You recently launched your own NGO- Emerging Hope Lanka. What has been instrumental in your decision to start Emerging Hope Lanka and what do you wish to achieve?
There are many organizations that are doing some amazing and significant work to empower women in Sri Lanka. However, most of them focus on providing mainstream academic education to young girls. While education is very important, only learning concepts and theories does not help. Education needs to empower individuals so that they are more empathetic, sensitive and learn about their own worth and rights as human beings. What is the use of education in a society that doesn’t value women. Unless women make their voices heard and have the agency to make a choice, the knowledge they gain does not help in any way. It is important for women to be able to make decisions and not follow the rules and norms set by their fathers, brothers, husbands or uncles. And that decision-making is possible only if women get the opportunity to be independent and determine their own future.

I strongly feel that entrepreneurial and leadership training will have a significant impact in the lives of women and communities in Sri Lanka. The way business and leadership skills have helped me, I am confident that other women will also hugely benefit from such a training. I want to pass on all that I have learnt so that women can create a brighter future for themselves and their families. By working with the women in my community, I want to create a community of micro entrepreneurs. Starting and running their own businesses will not only make them independent but also help them support their families economically. It is not easy to leave your family and migrate to another city or country in search of financial stability. Thus, Emerging Hope Lanka will support them in their entrepreneurial journey while giving them the opportunity to be economically self-sufficient while staying with their families.   Today, I am working with 30 Sri Lankan women, teaching them how to start a micro-business in areas like chicken or pig-farming, flower growing, dressmaking, spice packing and many more. And I am happy to share that 10 women are all set to  launch their businesses. Women can now use their earnings to support the education of their children. And the children get to benefit from the academic knowledge they learn at school as well as the entrepreneurial knowledge from their confident, independent and empowered mothers at home.

What are the major challenges that you face in achieving these goals and how do you overcome the same?
Like most nonprofits, lack of funding has been a major challenge. We are constantly in need of staff and volunteers to help us run our day-to-day activities, Further, we are also trying to find a school space to conduct our training sessions. At the moment, I have been self-funding all the programmes and workshops.

How can the community support you in your endeavor?
There are different ways in which one can help Emerging Hope Lanka. You can be our ambassador and spread the word about the work we do. One can sign-up to be a volunteer and help us conduct our sessions or help us with other activities such as fundraising and exploring meaningful collaborations. We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to help raise funds to help women kickstart their micro-businesses as well as build resources to support our programmes. You can choose to donate.  Every donation counts and will significantly help us take our programmes to a wider community of women. You can also follow us on Facebook and be updated on our work and the impact.

To support Emerging Hope Lanka’s crowdfunding campaign, you can visit:

You can also follow their work on Facebook: