Supporting co-operatives in Sri Lanka

The Co-operative College recently returned to Sri Lanka for a second round of training as part of a project funded by Co-operatives UK on behalf of its members.

The training took the form of ‘train the trainers’ with co-operative development officers in Jaffna, in the north of Sri Lanka, and was undertaken by Vice Principal Dr Cilla Ross with College Associates Stirling Smith and Dr Linda Shaw.

The team also visited thrift and credit union SANASA to carry out a scoping visit around extending the training further. The trip involved visiting remote tea plantations and considering the logistics of supply chains in areas where the decline in the price of tea has caused social problems.

Despite the emergence of co-operatives to meet the challenges left by civil war and the 2004 tsunami, there are still difficulties facing co-operatives in the country, which is in a transitional phase and has been redefined as a middle-income economy. There are also logistical problems with accessing education for members of co-operatives.

It is hoped that the College can work with unions on capacity building and governance work. Another area of need is training on women’s leadership, engagement and co-operative business planning.

“It has been superb learning for us,” explained Cilla. “The war and the tsunami left a lot of widows who had to earn livelihoods. There are very impressive women’s groups already undertaking collective learning and who have a will to do it. The women’s groups are really articulate, lively and thoughtful. However, there is a massive gap between women’s aspirations and the reality of being an entrepreneur. There are also challenges arising from perceptions in the community about what it means to be an active co-operator as a woman. It is a very hierarchical society and it takes a lot of courage to be publicly engaged with co-operatives. Women need learning on leadership and how to be co-operative entrepreneurs.”

Dr Cilla Ross will return to Sri Lanka in June to wrap up train the trainers and meet ministers.

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