The alleviation of poverty was and continues to be one of the prime objectives of the Government of Sri Lanka. However, the Government faces challenges regarding the creation of appropriate and profitable employment opportunities for the growing labor force in the rural part of the country. Since it has been demonstrated over and over again, and is now nearly universally accepted, that micro-financing is an effective tool in creating employment opportunities, CERI set out to establish its own Micro-Enterprise Development (MED) loan program in Sri Lanka.
Program implementation started in 2008. CERI provided micro-loans to foster parents seeking to start or improve their own entrepreneurship activities. A subsidiary group of the MED program aimed primarily at female beneficiaries was named the “Women’s Small Group” and set out to empower foster mothers with the financial means to produce a sustainable income that would help them care for foster children. This was particularly beneficial for rural Sri Lankan widows, who are often the sole providers of income for their foster children. The main goal of the MED program was to increase foster families’ incomes and allow the opportunity for sustainable self-employment. Through the MED program, individuals would get loans with small interest rates that they would then pay back in installments in accordance to the initial loan amount. These funds enabled many individuals to expand their self-employment opportunities, grow their own enterprises, and increase their incomes. A total of 60 Sri Lankan families received micro-loans and benefitted greatly from these small investments.
Loans offered through MED ranged from 3,000 LKR (Sri Lankan rupees) to 150,000 LKR, approximately $20 to $1,000. Through this system, many foster families developed their own sets of skills and were able to making a living out of various activities, including fishing, poultry farming, piggery, pottery-making, sewing, cooking food, starting and running small grocery shops, rice paddy cultivating, vegetable cultivation, tailoring, and packing food items like chili powder. CERI provided its MED beneficiaries with various resources, including training in self-employment skills, guidance on loan utilization, and links to support groups amongst foster parents. Oftentimes loans went towards improving the foster parents’ skills related to their own enterprises, or they were invested in equipment that made their small businesses more efficient and more profitable. The Women’s Small Group program changed many foster mothers’ lives for the better by not only helping to cover basic needs but also for providing these women with the means for sustainable self-sufficiency.