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Sri Lanka’s frontrunner in empowering women to emerge leaders in the male dominant corporate sphere of the country, Women In Management (WIM) is set to yet again award top 50 women leaders – from managers to entrepreneurs and other shapers and trailblazers – in a bid to honour, recognize and celebrate their achievements and thereby produce better female role models for the younger generations of women to look up to. One of the country’s first and only awards ceremonies dedicated to women, WIM this year has partnered with International Finance Corporation (IFC) which is member of the world bank group and has opened the seventh installation of ‘Top 50 Professional and Career Women Awards’ to deserving applicants from other countries in the region like Indian and the Maldives. The awards will also feature a sub-category to recognize rural women who have been empowered through WIM’s programmes and have emerged as successful entrepreneurs through dedication and hard work.

Nation spoke to three officials involved with WIM on how women can benefit from awards ceremonies of this nature and WIM’s other projects carried out to empower Sri Lankan women in the corporate sector and rural areas alike.


Archana Law

Archana Law who is an Indian national brings to the table her expertise in training to build EMPOWERING CITY AND VILLAGE (1)interpersonal skills among women and has been actively involved with WIM over the last 6 years, giving the organization her insights and perspectives in carrying out fruitful and effective training programs for women especially in the corporate sector. Archana is an ex-Chairperson of WIM awards. Excerpts of her interview are below:

Q: Give us a little background as to what WIM is trying to achieve with ‘Top 50 Professional and Career Women’ awards.

The purpose of this exercise is to recognize and celebrate women who have done exceptionally well in their careers. Also, WIM awards has a unique format where prospective candidates can nominate themselves as opposed to waiting to be nominated by an employer or such. The reason for having such a format is because we believe that it is high time women started taking initiative and in that regard first realizing self-worth is imperative. The awards serve to recognize women entrepreneurs as well as those in managerial position and women across different fields and industries with a view to grooming role models that younger generations could look up to and aspire to be like.

Q: Despite many efforts from different organizations, stakeholders etc such as WIM, don’t you think women  are still lagging behind in terms of coming to the forefront and taking charge in the corporate world? If you take the formal sector itself the participation of women in the labour force is below 35% — what are we doing wrong?

There could be multiple reasons why we see lesser women in higher positions compared to men. Typical patriarchal thinking of women not prioritizing their careers could be one of them for which we won’t blame them because it all boils down to personal preferences and choice. We don’t so much analyze as to what the issues are. What we do is motivate and take onboard whoever is willing to make a positive change and progress in their careers and motivate them to achieve their goals.


Dulari Fernando

Dulari Fernando is a former winner of the award who says that winning the award has played a pivotal role in her career as it gave her recognition and a degree of pride which EMPOWERING CITY AND VILLAGE (3)now in her capacity as a trainer, she is striving to pass on to other up and coming career women in the corporate sector as well as in rural areas. She says the journey has been a transforming one and takes immense pride in being a part of WIM and its efforts to spearhead a revolution in regards to women’s participation in the labour force – both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Dulari Fernando is a former winner of the award who says that winning the award has played a pivotal role in her career as it gave her recognition and a degree of pride which now in her capacity as a trainer, she is striving to pass on to other up and coming career women in the corporate sector as well as in rural areas. She says the journey has been a transforming one and takes immense pride in being a part of WIM and its efforts to spearhead a revolution in regards to women’s participation in the labour force – both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Q: You said winning the award changed your life. How?

I was working in sales attached to an insurance company when I won the award in 2009. I was among the very first women to win. Thereafter I joined WIM and started working with them. While making other women better by way of training them, I realized my true calling was to become a trainer and I took the leap from sales and marketing to training; a potential that I had within myself which I only realized after starting to work with WIM. It is very true – at least in my case – that the more you give, the more you receive. I have given and I have received a degree of satisfaction that money couldn’t buy. Knowing that I am fulfilling my duty towards the society in the little way I can is an amazing feeling.

Q: What do you think about working women in Sri Lanka in general?

We settle too easily and we don’t plan our careers out well. Or at all. We just get out of school, take up whatever job that gets thrown our way, marry, have children and then forget about our careers altogether. This can change. This happens because women don’t believe enough in themselves to make long-term plans, to dream big. The very reason why we encourage applicants to nominate themselves is because nobody is going to respect and value you unless you do realize your worth and respect yourself. This could be a start.

Q: Politics is also technically a career. Hasn’t WIM done anything to make representation of women in parliament any better? Or in relation to empowering women to pursue careers in politics?

That is not an area we have looked at but we believe in due course we can address the deficit of quality representation in parliament as well.  But a lot needs to be changed in terms of attitude – are women ready to vote for a woman is also a question.  Women need to start supporting other women and if this happens be it in the workplace, even society at large, my opinion is that women can achieve so much more than they do currently.

Q: have you considered taking to politics and becoming the change you want to see?

Yes. I’d be happy to.
The WIM Top 50 Professional and Career Women Awards will be held on July 14, 2017 from 6.00pm onwards at Cinnamon Grand, Colombo.


Vijitha Samarakkodige EMPOWERING CITY AND VILLAGE (2)

Vijitha Samarakkodige is an EXCO member who is involved with rural women and their empowerment primarily through WIM. This year, the awards ceremony will feature a separate category of awards for rural women. An insurance professional by day, Vijitha is a passionate social worker  who has conducted women’s workshops throughout the country from Ampara to Medawachchiya and virtually every nook and corner of the country.

Q: WIM Awards is more known among the business fraternity as an event to honour outstanding female career women. You deal with the informal sector. How has your experience been working with them and what do you do exactly?

We have been working with the rural sector from 2009 and all our programmes have been conducted in partnership with the relevant government authorities. We aim to empower women so they will be able to emerge self-sufficient especially in the rural sector which is predominantly male-dominant. In that regard we have also worked with a lot of war widows in the North and South alike to empower them and to give them a means to live.
We conduct 3 day workshops in rural areas of which the first day is normally dedicated to making women understand the importance of being self-sufficient in this day and age. Sometimes even for our workshops, women are not allowed to come by themselves so the husbands tag along. Which we think is a good thing because then we get to speak to them also and encourage them to in turn encourage their wives. We have reached over 100,000 women over the years and at least 10% of them we like to believe have started their own businesses and have made of something of themselves which is our vision.
We had a fashion show at Kingsbury in 2013 called ‘Booming for the Cause’ where we brought women from rural parts of the country, some who have never been to a city in their entire lives, to completely dress and do makeup on professional models and host a full-blown fashion show. They were trained in this regard by a team of Malaysian makeup artists who volunteered for the cause through NAWEM.

Q: How has the response been from rural women for WIM’s programmes? What has their feedback been so far?

We’re very happy to say that women have told us they have started their own businesses and have started to stand up on their own two feet thanks to the little push we gave them. One lady from Medawachchiya running a small boutique just last week told me how she has managed to save 25,000 rupees over the last three months just by managing her business properly the way WIM trained her to. This is simply why we do what we do.
This year we are bringing the women entrepreneurs from the rural areas to the city and enabling them to meet and mingle with their corporate counterparts
in the city.