Innovating to improve export competitiveness in Sri Lanka
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 founded Rice & Carry in 2012. Not happy with large plastic sacks used in rice, sugar and turmeric packaging being thrown away, they got their small enterprise into the business of recycling these bags and turning them into handy and trendy satchels and accessories.
Located in Arugam Bay, in 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 and contribute to their household income.
Henry and Susi had a dream of sharing the creativity of their men and women 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 coaching programme for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) where he received advice to switch 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. 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 be able to ship a EUR 9,000 order soon. Rice & Carry are the first creators of products made from post-consumer waste plastic worldwide.
Working closely with a fair-trade distributor, the SME has already made several shipments by sea for the European market.
It is not just about a larger sales volume for Rice & Carry – it is also giving back to society by making its share of contribution to rural development, job creation, and improving livelihoods.
Within the framework of the International Trade Centre's EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance Project, similar training courses are helping SMEs in Sri Lanka improve their export competitiveness.
The four-year EU-funded project, worth EUR 8 million, contributes to inclusive trade-led growth and regional integration. It supports SME export competitiveness and value addition in sectors with high potential for economic growth and development.