by Sunil Makwana
The only thing not from the garden was the fish. Rice, dahl, jackfruit, spices, flour to make rotti, wood apples, pomegranates and coconuts – all grown and harvested no more than 50 metres from the house. A complete meal, totally organic, nutritious and very tasty.
We were in the middle of a two day client field trip in the south of the island and had been invited for lunch at a farm group supported by the Green Movement of Sri Lanka (GMSL). This particular farm group is one of the organic suppliers to Savira, an offshoot of GMSL and one of the social enterprises we were working with.
Savira provides traditional and innovative, organic food and teas creating a healthier lifestyle and greater wellbeing for its consumers. Simultaneously, it benefits rural producers through the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices and conservation of traditional seed and food varieties.
On paper, the mission sounds great. To experience and understand it was even better especially when the story is narrated by Suranjan (GMSL) and Wasantha (Savira), two of the nicest people we met in Sri Lanka, whose knowledge and passion for social development and creating a sustainable environment is inspirational.
Suranjan and Wasantha have worked tirelessly to create a network of women-led farm groups across the island. They have educated them to use and preserve Sri Lanka’s natural resources, to become self-sufficient, obtain food security and experience all the health benefits that the fruits of their labour provide. GMSL has provided economic empowerment to women, sustainably challenging traditional male dominated thinking and educated communities in finance, business management and resource- and technology-sharing.
Savira uses a network of around 25 such farm groups across Sri Lanka, providing natural, chemical free produce from which they create their product range of grains, food, snacks and teas. Moringa tea invigorates, lemongrass tea relaxes and the dried crispy jackfruit is an addictive winner. “You keep going back for a Crispy Jak” as they say in Colombo.
The work of GMSL goes beyond that of Savira and I was astounded at the amount they had achieved. At every other turn in the road they would show us the results of their work: a natural reservoir that had been regenerated for biodiversity, a school being set up to educate farm groups, a new water supply to a village or fishermen that they had supported following the tsunami.
My colleague, Wendy, and I focused on two areas where Savira required assistance. 1) a business plan for raising third-party funding and 2) an integrated marketing strategy which was lacking in their
existing business model. At times progress felt slow. However, you just need to find the right way to get the right information. We still haven’t found that answer in Sri Lanka but the field trip helped us enormously. Once you get the “story” and the motivation behind the business the consulting becomes easier.
This was a client meeting like no other. Rice paddy fields, kilometres of empty beaches, culture, green turtles laying eggs and more varieties of tea than I could remember. It was hardly a tough two days in the office yet we decided to head to Ella for an extended relaxing break. Kindly Suranjan and Wasantha offered to drive us there. Sometimes it can be hard as a social enterprise consultant!
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