Tuesday, 24 February 2015 - 16:00

The Coca-Cola Company’s 5by20 programme is part of a global initiative that strives to empower five million women around the world by 2020. In Sri Lanka, Coca-Cola has partnered with Women In Management (WIM) and the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to conduct a series of entrepreneurship training programmes across the country under the 5by20 banner. Many of the women, who have participated in the programme, have received further training and exposure at the recent Malaysia Business Forum. The forum focused on teaching women the importance of personal branding and was organized by the National Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Malaysia and Women In Management.

Since the inception of 5by20 in 2012, the programme has impacted the lives of thousands of women across Sri Lanka, giving them the knowledge and expertise to successfully run a business. Kumudini Fernando, a 37-year-old mother of two, is one of the programme’s  success stories. Her struggle began after she separated from her husband and was forced to become the sole breadwinner of her family. Without an income and with no means of supporting her children, she decided to earn a living by making bags. She joined a class to fine-tune her skills and she turned down her payment of Rs. 15/- per bag in exchange for free fabric to make more bags. She was thinking of the bigger picture and valued the practice she received more than her pay. She has even branched into shoe making and retailing..

Due to her lack of knowledge about the business world, Kumudini wasn’t paid by many of her retail partners and ended up making colossal losses.  When her son fell sick and had to undergo an operation, all of Kumudini’s resources and attention were directed towards him. She focused on her son’s well-being and despite her lack of success, her drive and determination kept her going. When she heard about the 5by20 programme, she didn’t want to attend at first because it clashed with her church service. Kumudini however felt compelled to attend the programme and her life has never been the same.

At the programme, she gained a wealth of knowledge that helped her take her business forward.  She created a website for her products and started reaching new markets and customers online; she received corporate orders and learnt how to create designs for different markets. She was awarded the ‘Upcoming Woman Entrepreneur of 2013/2014’ at the Professional and Career Women Awards in 2014 and was sponsored by Coca-Cola’s 5by20 programme to attend the Malaysia Business Forum which enabled her to travel abroad for the first time and learn the importance of branding herself in the business world. Today her shoe and bag brand Methusha is becoming extremely popular and her sales have improved drastically.

Akila Raseek is a 19-year-old entrepreneur whose world changed forever when she made the decision to enter the 5by20 programme in Kandy this year.  Akila was doing her diploma in machine embroidery and had no plans of ever starting a business. However financial difficulties at home urged her to use her talent to earn some extra money, and so she started making vases, lampshades and tissue boxes out of old popsicle sticks. Before participating in the 5by20 programme, she didn’t understand the process of production and wasn’t calculating expenses and profit correctly. She works with her father and brother, who help her distribute her products. The 5by20 programme instilled a passion for further development in Akila that prompted her to attend the Malaysia Business Forum. Although it wasn’t easy, she found the funds to attend the programme because she truly valued the opportunity to improve herself. Today her business Amazon Handworks Sri Lanka is doing well and she is spearheading it with a renewed sense of confidence.

Devika Agampodi is a 47-year-old mother who participated in the 5by20 programme in Gampaha this year.  She sews beach shorts and leather bags and has been running her business for over 20 years. Prior to the programme, she operated her business on a very small scale and sold her products mainly to family and friends. The 5by20 programme taught her how to create designs based on customer preferences. The programme also helped her learn the importance of a strong distribution chain for her products and she has now partnered with several commercial plazas in Hikkaduwa, Kadawatha and Gampaha to sell her products. The programme made such a positive impact on her life that she also sponsored herself for the Malaysia Business Forum, to learn more about personal branding and at the forum she realized the importance of presenting herself in a professional manner. The beauty of 5by20 is that it has a ripple effect; it enables women who find success to also empower other women as their businesses grow. The demand for Devika’s products has grown immensely and today she has provided two other women with jobs and her business Athkam Lanka is steadily growing.

Nisha Shahreef participated in the 5by20 programme in Kandy this year; she is differently abled and faces a unique set of challenges. She makes watches for a living and despite facing many hardships; she decided to sponsor herself for the Malaysia Business Forum. All of these women have overcome unbelievable odds and the support and guidance they received from the 5by20 programme has helped them find the strength, courage and the determination they need to find success. By empowering and inspiring women, the 5by20 programme gives them the motivation and confidence they need to succeed in their personal and professional lives.

Commenting on the 5by20 programme, Sulochana Segera, Chairperson, Women In Management (WIM) stated, “Many women who are making a living as entrepreneurs realize that they do not have the most requisite or relevant skills required for entrepreneurship. This is why some of them have chosen to join Coca-Cola’s 5by20 training programmes which offer skill building opportunities in the areas of entrepreneurship and retailing. Over a three-day programme, they acquire certain skills that help them approach their businesses better and achieve greater success.”

Coca-Cola in partnership with WIM has conducted 5by20 programmes across the country in Trincomalee, Panama, Anuradhapura, Mullaitivu, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Negombo, Kilinochchi and Colombo and over 800 have benefited from the programme to date.  Women are already pillars of the Coca-Cola business system and the 5by20 programme supports them as part of the Company’s long-term strategy for sustainable growth. The programme addresses the most common barriers women face when trying to succeed in the marketplace. This initiative offers women access to business skills, training courses, financial services and connections with peers and mentors - along with the confidence that comes with building a successful business.