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Creating jobs for unemployed youth

Our social entrepreneur Sujitha and the team of the 20th Capability Program co-created TheBridge to create jobs for unemployed youth in rural Sri Lanka. In this blog article, Sujitha shares insights from the program and calls everyone to support young aspiring entrepreneurs in her StartUp Camps.


What challenge did you encounter in your community upon the start of the Capability Program?

In the aftermath of the economic crisis, Sri Lanka finds itself grappling with a pronounced surge in unemployment, particularly impacting the nation's youth. The repercussions of this crisis have created a challenging landscape where many young individuals are confronted with a stark lack of opportunities to secure the jobs they aspire to attain. This prevailing unemployment issue is not only a setback for the affected individuals but also extends its impact to their families, amplifying financial struggles across communities.


Sujitha (fourth from left) and the team of the 20th Capability Program
Sujitha (fourth from left) and the team of the 20th Capability Program

What solutions did the team come up with? 

In response to the pressing issue of youth unemployment in the aftermath of the economic crisis in Sri Lanka, we established a social enterprise called "The Bridge." The primary objective of The Bridge is to empower and support the youth in acquiring the necessary training to become entrepreneurs and initiate their own businesses. This approach is designed to shift the focus from conventional job-seeking to fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, ultimately contributing to the overall economic development of the country.


The emphasis on entrepreneurship aligns with the belief that empowering individuals to create their own businesses not only addresses the immediate challenge of unemployment but also contributes to the broader economic landscape. New startups have the potential to generate employment opportunities, stimulate innovation, and diversify the economic base, ultimately fostering sustainable growth.


Through "The Bridge," we aim to create a supportive ecosystem that nurtures the entrepreneurial spirit. This includes offering practical training modules covering various aspects of business development, from ideation to market analysis, financial planning, and effective management. Additionally, mentorship programs connect aspiring entrepreneurs with experienced professionals who can provide guidance and insights based on their own entrepreneurial journeys.


"The Bridge" aims to be a transformative force, not just addressing the immediate challenges of youth unemployment but also laying the groundwork for a more resilient and dynamic economy.


Interviewing the target group during the program
Interviewing the target group during the program

What have you achieved so far after the program ended?

The successful implementation of our first startup training program marks a significant milestone for our social enterprise. With the active participation of 10 enthusiastic entrepreneurs, the program has set the stage for fostering innovation and cultivating a spirit of entrepreneurship within our community.


A noteworthy aspect of this achievement is the strong support received from our CAP team members. Eight. members from our CAP team played pivotal roles in sponsoring the participation of entrepreneurs in the training program. Their efforts not only ensured a diverse and engaged group of participants but also showcased the collaborative spirit.


Moreover, the commitment of two Capability Program team members to serve as mentors for two entrepreneurs each adds a valuable layer of personalized guidance. Mentorship is a cornerstone for nurturing startups, providing invaluable insights, and helping entrepreneurs navigate the challenges of business development.


In addition to the training program, our co-working space has become a hub of activity. We've successfully rented out space to an IELTS teacher for one-on-one sessions, showcasing the versatility of our facilities for various educational purposes. This not only contributes to the financial sustainability of our social enterprise but also reinforces the notion that our space is adaptable and conducive to diverse learning experiences.


Furthermore, the utilization of our meeting room by external companies exemplifies the positive reception our facilities have garnered within the local business community. Offering our space as a professional and accommodating venue for meetings enhances our role as a supportive entity in the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem.


The successful execution of the startup training program, coupled with the diverse use of our co-working space, positions our social enterprise as a dynamic and influential force in supporting entrepreneurship and community collaboration. This initial success paves the way for future programs, partnerships, and initiatives that will continue to contribute to the growth and development of our entrepreneurial community.


Opening ceremony of TheBridge in 2023
Opening ceremony of TheBridge in 2023

What challenges have you encountered?

Sponsors contribute €200 on behalf of entrepreneurs for their participation in the startup training. However, when transferring sponsorship funds, a bank fee ranging from €35 to €40 is deducted from the €200, directly impacting our revenue.

 

Simultaneously, given the economic challenges in the country, entrepreneurs are facing difficulties in meeting their €100 portion, managing only a payment of €30.

 

In light of these financial constraints, exploring alternative revenue options for the startup camp becomes imperative to address the current financial challenges.

 

What have been your major learnings from the program and your social enterprise?

Engaging in the program and managing our social enterprise has been a transformative journey, yielding several significant learnings.

The challenges with bank fees and economic constraints have highlighted the need for diversified revenue streams. Relying on a single source for the startup camp can be precarious, and exploring alternative funding avenues ensures financial sustainability and resilience.

 

Flexibility in fee structures is key to accessibility. Reassessing and adapting our pricing models to accommodate the economic circumstances of our participants fosters inclusivity, enabling a broader range of individuals to benefit from our programs.


Cultivating strategic partnerships has proven invaluable. Collaborating with sponsors, mentors, and other stakeholders has not only enhanced our resources but also brought diverse perspectives and expertise to the table, enriching the overall impact of our social enterprise.

 

Achieving a balance between social impact and financial sustainability is an ongoing challenge. Striking the right equilibrium ensures that our initiatives not only make a positive difference in the community but also remain viable in the long term.


The first group of entrepreneurs start their training
The first group of entrepreneurs start their training

What support are you seeking?  

I am seeking assistance in establishing connections with organizations willing to sponsor an entire camp, rather than sponsoring individual entrepreneurs. Additionally, I am seeking support to connect with colleges, high schools, universities, clubs, and social organizations to explore potential partnerships for entrepreneurship exchanges.


If you would like to support Sujitha and TheBridge, you may contact her at https://thebridge.lk/contact/ .

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