Developing Social Enterprise in Sri Lanka

A few years ago I felt like I was in a ‘do or die’ situation: dramatic I know, but I had to go away, take myself out of my situation and go somewhere (and do something) totally different. I needed some good old fashioned ‘me’ time. So I booked a two week trip to Thailand for over Christmas and new year. Job done.

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Do you ever feel like sometimes the universe steps in and disrupts things for you? In my case, a few weeks later two major things happened on the same day.

1. My extended freelance contract came to a sudden end

2. And then almost immediately afterwards I got an email from my travel agent saying my return flight from Bangkok had been cancelled and could I pick another return date?

Before I knew it was jetting off on a 6 week trip, which included a spontaneous but very exciting 2 week-long stopover in Sri Lanka on the leg home. Result! I’d never been before but always wanted to… and heard very good things.

I’d also recently read Wave, the moving personal tragedy of Sonali Deraniyagala, who lost her entire family in the 2004 Tsunami. And I had felt it was time to embark on a Tsunami journey of my own, going back to the place where I had been when the waves rolled in.

After a soul searching month in Thailand marooning myself on an (almost) desert island, living with buddhist monks at a meditation retreat, and then doing a food cleanse where I didn’t eat anything for one whole torturous week, I was skinny(er) and hungry, landing in the delectable Sri Lanka. And I certainly did not want to leave when it was time for me to head home (a few pounds heavier).

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Chicken curry with aubergine at Dunes, Unwatuna.

My original plan to road trip round the whole island on a motorbike took a lazy pivot when I hit the beaches in the south, and before I knew it (despite several failed attempts to leave) I had spent the majority of my two weeks in Sri Lanka in Unawatuna. Along with an awesome bunch of new international friends.

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Asides from the glorious sunshine, the beautiful people, the incredible scenery and the spoiled for choice list of activities and trips one can do in the relatively small island, the one thing that struck me about this amazing country was their resilience. Ten years had passed since the devastating boxing day Tsunami, and only six year’s since the end of a terrible conflict that saw awful violence between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.

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Pondering life, the universe, and most likely what it all means on my last night… Negombo Beach.

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Whizzing around on mopeds… incredible fun.

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The temple near Jungle Hill, Unwatuna

When I left to head home in February last year I cried like a baby and vowed to come back. I didn’t know how, but as I sat tapping away on my laptop writing on my travel blog about the experience I’d just had, I knew it would potentially be work related. I just had no idea how. But I vowed to keep talking about it. Manifestation and all that, if you believe in such things 🙂 Nearly 18 months later, I’m happy to say that my new social entrepreneurship training venture _SocialStarters is now working in Sri Lanka! And with three very incredible partners to boot – The British Council, Good Market and Social Enterprise Lanka, so fresh they don’t even have a website yet. I am really excited about what this programme means, both for local social entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka and the NGOs seeking new revenue models – plus the many charities searching for sustainability. There is still a big job to do in Sri Lanka in terms of its economic development, environmental sustainability and social impact. And there’s an equally great job to do in mapping social entrepreneurship and championing it at a higher level.

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Sri Lanka is a stunning destination for holidaymakers, but a lot of those tourism dollars don’t often make their way into the pockets of those who really need it. The programmes we’re developing with The British Council will ensure tourists can travel with purpose – and I suppose what that actually means in literal terms is that we’re designing a programme that allows space for truly experiencing this fascinating country, whilst seeing it through the eyes of the very people creating change.

Over the course of the next year we’ll be doing a number of different things. Perhaps there’s something here for you which might satisfy that itch you’ve got, or help you work through some of those thoughts rattling around your head – whether it be personal or professional? Either way, these programmes are designed to ensure you do some really cool stuff, hanging out with inspirational people whilst learn all about social entrepreneurship – from the very people who are defining it to the new generation. And I can promise you that whilst you’ll have a life changing experience, more importantly, you’ll change the lives of the people on the ground who are working to affect change in their communities for generations to come. Programme dates:

4th July to 22nd August (6 week Immersion Programme, collaborating with Sri Lankans who’ve created sustainable products) 5th September to 19th September (Social Innovation Bootcamp) + additional 4 week fieldwork placement 19th September to 17th October (2 week & 6 week options) 30th January to 12th March (6 week Immersion Programme)

If you’re interested in joining us we still have a few places left for our summer programme in July, but hurry! Deadline for applications closes on 23rd May. Final interviews take place week commencing 25th May 2015. You can find out more about the details of the programme on Escape the City HERE and you can read up on the types of client you could work with HERE.

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