Lankan Angel Network Launches #IAMHER Program to Empower Women Entrepreneurs

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The Lankan Angel Network (LAN) recently launched the #IAMHER 2021 program, aimed at empowering women entrepreneurs and developing the landscape for women-led startups via a multi-pronged strategy. The program was launched at the LAN-hosted, “Beyond the Cape” event held at Hatch and supported by ecosystem partner Ford Foundation. The event also brought together women leaders across several sectors to discuss their journey and discuss how communities and corporates can be better at empowering women and bring us closer to gender parity in Sri Lanka.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day 2021, women have been at the forefront in managing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic as employees, healthcare workers, business leaders, and homemakers. Yet, emerging data has shown that women have also borne the brunt of the effects of this crisis.

The #IAMHER program will focus on addressing key challenges faced by women entrepreneurs through a multi-pronged strategy revolving around creating awareness about women entrepreneurs and women-led startups, helping develop core business knowledge (e.g., financial literacy), and boosting the use of technology to improve day-to-day operations. The first initiative of the #IAMHER 2021 program – Her Brand – was launched at the event. This initiative seeks to bring together three different communities to collaborate and co-create, leveraging each segment’s strengths to address several challenges.

For this initiative, female-led startups and emerging videographers will be selected via an application and evaluation process. Videographers can apply through the Avocado App, while startups can apply through an application available on the Lankan Angel Network Facebook page. Ten selected startups will be paired with ten emerging videographers who will capture the brand’s story to create a video on their startup partner. Each startup will be required to pay a nominal fee of Rs. 5,000 for their video, and the fees collected will go towards the creation of a mini-documentary video for Women in Need (WiN), a non-profit organization that helps women and girls address gender-based violence, which has been selected by LAN as the Impact Partner of this initiative. The deadline for applications is the 15th of April 2021.

“We want to empower more girls through LAN’s #IAMHER initiative by showcasing their talents as videographers and entrepreneurs, as well as the range of activities that WIN does as an organization. Through this initiative, we want to create awareness, build engagement while celebrating some tremendous entrepreneurial success stories,” said Kavindi Wijesekera, Head of Social Enterprise at Women in Need.

The panel at the #IAMHER 2021 online discussion comprised Zahra Cader, Director of International Development Assistance at PwC, Sharmila Ragunathan, Executive Director and Director of Engineering at Haycarb PLC, Kavindi Wijesekera, Head of Social Enterprise at Women in Need, Dr. Sulochana Segera, Chairperson of Women In Management, and was moderated by LAN Board Member Anarkali Moonesinghe.

While speaking on her journey, Sharmila Ragunathan, Executive Director and Director of Engineering at Haycarb Plc., touched on the importance of looking beyond hiring to simply fill quota systems to build more diverse teams. “I do not believe in quota systems. When looking to hire someone to do a job, you have to look at the individual’s qualifications and their fit within the role you’ve envisioned. It’s not about hiring someone to fill a quota or tick a checkbox. Fresh thinking can make for a stronger team.”

Global research shows that companies with at least one female director have better share price performance and return on equity, and companies with more than one woman on the board returning as much as 3.7% a year over those that have none. “Diversity and inclusion isn’t simply a program or a label – it’s about creating a sense of belonging within an organization. Where you feel that everyone has a voice, that what you do is valued and different opinions are respected. This requires a change in culture and mindset at every level along the corporate ladder, and at every stage in the corporate process, from hiring to retaining to promoting,” said Zahra Cader, Director of International Development Assistance at PwC.

Women In Management Chairperson Dr. Sulochana Segera echoed these sentiments and spoke more about why empowerment needs to be better defined. “Too often empowerment is seen in terms of charity. Empowerment has nothing to do with charity, it’s a responsibility, it’s about finding your path and your vision. We believe that empowerment has to happen very early on – both within family life and at school, where girls are empowered and encouraged to be confident in their skills and abilities.”

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