After five years of building up our network of social enterprises in Sri Lanka, Sujitha co-founded her third social enterprise called "TheBridge". In this interview, she shares her achievements and lessons learnt in starting BOOKBRIDGE in Sri Lanka.
What are you proud of when you look back at your time as Country Manager in Sri Lanka?
In my role as Country Manager in Sri Lanka, my primary focus and passion were directed towards the development of youth in rural communities. Whether I started in the position of Country Manager or as a social entrepreneur, my singular ambition was to empower young individuals in these communities, enabling them to pursue and attain their dream jobs.
As I reflect on my tenure, I find immense satisfaction in the tangible impact that has been made. Witnessing numerous young people from various social enterprises benefiting from the initiatives we put in place is a source of pride for me. I am thrilled to have played a role, albeit a modest one, in facilitating these positive developments.
The success stories of these youth stand as a testament to the dedication and hard work that went into the programs and strategies implemented during my time as Country Manager. The fulfillment comes not just from achieving organizational goals but, more importantly, from contributing to the personal and professional growth of individuals who may have otherwise faced challenges in realizing their aspirations.
I take pride in the fact that my efforts were directed towards a cause that transcends organizational success — the empowerment and development of the youth. Looking back, it is evident that the dream I harbored at the beginning of my journey in Sri Lanka has materialized into real opportunities and transformations for the community, and that, to me, is a gratifying accomplishment.
What challenges have you encountered?
Operating in the realm of social enterprises, I grappled with the inherent diversity that characterized each entity. No two social enterprises were alike, each possessing distinct expectations and offerings that set them apart. This realization presented a multifaceted challenge that required a nuanced and tailored approach to effectively meet the unique needs of each venture.
One of the primary challenges was the necessity to build partnerships that could provide targeted support for every individual social enterprise. Crafting partnerships that aligned with the specific aspirations and challenges of each social enterprise demanded a strategic and customized approach, ensuring that the support offered was not only relevant but also impactful.
Equally challenging was the task of providing training for the social entrepreneurs and staff associated with each enterprise. Recognizing that the skill sets and requirements varied significantly, a one-size-fits-all approach was impractical. Instead, a bespoke training program had to be designed for each social enterprise, addressing their unique needs, capacities, and areas of improvement. This personalized training approach aimed not only to enhance the capabilities of individual entrepreneurs and staff but also to fortify the overall sustainability of each social enterprise.
Ultimately, the intricate task of satisfying the expectations of each social enterprise within the broader framework of partnerships, training, and support required a delicate balance. It demanded a commitment to individualized attention, adaptability, and a keen awareness of the unique nuances inherent in the diverse tapestry of social enterprises.
What did you learn in the past five years?
Reflecting on the past five years as Country Manager, the learning curve has been steep and enriching. One of the foremost lessons I've gained is the importance of adaptability in a dynamic and ever-changing business landscape. Navigating through economic uncertainties, regulatory shifts, and technological advancements has underscored the need to stay agile and responsive.
Leadership, too, emerged as a focal point of my learning journey. Managing diverse teams and navigating through complex challenges emphasized the significance of effective leadership. Building and nurturing relationships emerged as a key aspect, be it with internal teams, external partners, or local communities. The challenges encountered in supporting diverse social enterprises underscored the importance of empathy and a nuanced approach to problem-solving. Each interaction became an opportunity to learn about unique business models, social impact dynamics, and the diverse needs of the communities we served.
Additionally, the past five years taught me the importance of continuous learning and staying informed about industry trends. Finally, the journey reinforced the idea that success is a collective effort. It's not just about individual accomplishments but about fostering a collaborative environment where everyone feels valued and contributes to the shared vision.
In essence, the past five years as Country Manager have been a transformative period marked by adaptability, leadership evolution, strategic acumen, relationship-building, a commitment to social impact, a dedication to continuous learning, and an appreciation for collective success.
What are you up to now?
Following the decision to close the country organization, I seized the opportunity to embark on a new and impactful journey. Embracing the role of a community hero once again, I set out to establish my own social enterprise with a specific focus on addressing unemployment issues within the country.
My vision for this venture is rooted in the belief that sustainable solutions to unemployment lie in empowering individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the startup ecosystem. As a result, the core mission of my social enterprise is twofold: providing comprehensive training for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to kickstart their own ventures and delivering skill development programs that align with the evolving needs of the job market.
Through tailored training programs, budding entrepreneurs will gain the essential tools, insights, and mentorship needed to navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship and establish successful ventures.
Simultaneously, I am committed to addressing broader skill gaps prevalent in the workforce. By offering skills training programs, my social enterprise aims to equip individuals with the competencies demanded by various industries.
In essence, my transition from the country organization to launching my own social enterprise represents a commitment to positive change and a proactive response to a shifting landscape. I aspire to play a crucial role in fostering economic empowerment, creating employment opportunities, and contributing to the overall prosperity of the community.