ITC Shares

Giving back to society: A recycling business venture

14 abril 2020
Waqas Rafique and Suwendrani Jayaratne, International Trade Centre

Henry and Susi work together to improve the livelihoods of communities reeling from conflict

Henry and Susi belong to the new breed of entrepreneurs emerging all over the world. Like their counterparts elsewhere, they, too, have their cursor on the right spots: environmental, economic and social sustainability aspects of their business venture.

The couple – partners in life as well as business – founded Rice & Carry in Sri Lanka in 2012. Not happy with large plastic sacks used for rice, sugar and turmeric packaging being thrown away, their small enterprise got into the business of recycling these bags and turning them into handy, trendy satchels and accessories.

Located in Arugam Bay, on the sandy east coast of Sri Lanka – with its picturesque beaches and dreamy white sand – Rice & Carry employs women affected by conflicts and natural disasters that have hit the region.

‘We are a social enterprise that aims at empowering and improving the livelihoods of communities on Sri Lanka’s east coast,’ said Henry.

Rice & Carry is creating a space for women to overcome barriers in leaving home to work. All women employees of Rice & Carry can simply work on their sewing machines at home at flexible hours to contribute to their household income.

Henry and Susi had a dream of sharing the creativity of their workers with the rest of the world.

However, increasing exports was not an easy feat, they realized. With just 30% of their buyers from abroad, previous attempts at exporting to Australia, Germany and Spain had not been successful because of high logistics and transport costs.

Henry enrolled in a coaching programme for small enterprises where he received advice about switching from airfreight to sea freight for transporting and delivering products.
‘We learnt, for example, how to fill in the forms, and how to deal with insurance issues and shipping timetables to deliver to customers on time,’ he said. ‘As a result, we are much more confident in what we are doing. It would have taken at least two years on our own to get to the same level.’

Henry and Susi are now confident that reduced transport costs will boost their exports with competitive pricing, and will soon be able to ship a €9,000 ($9,700) order. The business has already made several shipments by sea for the European market after working closely with a fair trade distributor.

Similar training courses to the one Henry took are helping small businesses in Sri Lanka improve their export competitiveness as part of the International Trade Centre’s EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance Project.

The four-year EU-funded project, worth €8 million ($8.5 million), contributes to Sri Lanka’s inclusive trade-led growth and regional integration. It supports the export competitiveness of small firms and helps them move up the value chain in sectors with high potential for economic growth and development.

For Rice & Carry, it is not just about larger sales volumes – Henry and Susi are also motivated to give back to society by contributing to rural development, creating jobs, and improving livelihoods.