Youth Entrepreneurship Program

Compassion in Action

Youth Entrepreneurship Program


“Tharunodaya,” meaning ‘youth awakening’, is a youth entrepreneurship development project. Sarvodaya initiated the project in early 2019 to develop the capacities and increase the financing opportunities of unemployed youth so that they are able to engage in income generating activities. 

This project aims to encourage and empower youth to become independent, self-sufficient, enjoy financial autonomy, contribute to the development of the region, actively participate in the development of the nation, provide employment opportunities to others and to live with dignity as they expand their family.

Tharunodaya targets disadvantaged young men and women in rural areas who have a passion for entrepreneurship. It focuses on women-headed families, conflict-affected people, veterans and differently abled youth. 

Identifying different skills and training them to excel in them

The project introduces young people to ICT, Agriculture, Tourism and Cottage Industries as good employment opportunities. Upon identifying each person’s area of interest, strengths and skill levels, participants gain training and guidance to convert their interest into a sustainable income generating venture.  

Sarvodaya Development Finance (SDF) interviews applicants to review their individual business plans. A Resource Person is available on site to guide applicants and iron out any issues in their business plans before presenting them to the SDF officials. The SDF then short-lists potential businesses to fund.

Workshops held to train the applicants

The program provides workshops on:  

  • Vision & goal setting
  • Role of leadership for successful businesses
  • Effective communication skills
  • Problem solving/decision making/time management
  • Team / confidence building
  • Marketing Mix – 7P’s / 4P’s
  • Market planning/ assessing market opportunities
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Value addition & branding
  • Simple booking-keeping and accounts 

These bilingual workshops utilize role play and activity-based learning to increase impact and assimilation. To facilitate entrepreneurs with family obligations to attend workshops, the program allows chaperones and children to accompany participants. 

Bilingual workshops ensuring reach to all cultures across Sri Lanka

The SDF funds the first tranche of seed capital. A loan component is included to ensure financial discipline from the participant. A financial commitment from the participant prevents high failure rates, as opposed to just granting a non-repayable amount. Loans ranging from $200-600 are given at the rate of 15% per annum on a reducing balance basis for a period of 6-36 months. Two months after the loan is granted, the entrepreneurs are evaluated again to ascertain whether they are conducting their businesses satisfactorily before the grant is disbursed. The amount of the grant is equal to or less than the amount of the loan. 

Before a grant is issued, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is signed with the participant to ensure:

  • Funds are used for business purposes only, not personal consumption
  • Funds are recovered if the loan is used for anything other than business purposes
  • They attend and participate in all capacity building workshops held for their training
  • They give access to any information regarding their business upon request
  • Both parties had the right to revoke the MoU by giving 2 months’ notice

A consent form seeking permission for the posting of photographs and videos on social media is also obtained. While the MoU is mandatory, the consent form is optional.

With marginalized youth targeted for this project, there are numerous applicants in dire need of financial assistance who have no collateral to offer. Grants are offered to such applicants on a case by case basis. Sarvodaya conducts inspection visits to verify requirements and obtains quotations for the purchase of equipment, to confirm that participants are reliable and honest in their requests. 

As a result, 160 young entrepreneurs have benefited financially from Tharunodaya either by way of a loan and grant or grant only. Since capacity building goes hand in hand with the financial assistance, these youth benefit tremendously. Many were able to diversify and start another type of business that they now run in parallel to what they were engaged in initially. In several instances, the participants used the loan to expand an existing business and the grant to diversify into something totally new, but which could be run concurrently. For analytical purposes, those who diversify are considered as new businesses. 

Some of the participants and their chaperones/partners and children

The Tharunodaya Team visits participants for monitoring and evaluation purposes. Potential new participants are also visited, and requirements ascertained. Shortcomings observed during these visits are then incorporated into the next round of workshops. We see that the participants are able to stand up on their own and live with dignity as their businesses progress. The workshops give them the know-how to improve their businesses and opens their minds to endless possibilities. They learn how value-addition and diversification and bookkeeping are key survival tactics and adopt them with enthusiasm. 

We note that the participants’ standards of living and self-confidence have improved. Their gratitude towards the Tharunodaya project is tangible with several participants expressing their desire to help others, to pay it forward, to improve their businesses as they had been helped by Tharunodaya. Business Clubs are formed in all 8 districts. Presidents, Vice Presidents, Treasurers and Secretaries are elected by the participants themselves.

Target vs. achievement from the primary project: 

Establishment of 100 sustainable micro and small enterprises in selected districts 

Products displayed at a stall in a Sarvodaya District Center

160 participants were funded in the form of a loan plus grant or grant only. These entrepreneurs are doing very well after receiving financial assistance and their sustainability has been enhanced by the training given in several rounds of business workshops. Diversification of businesses has also contributed to improving sustainability. 

Minimum 320 employment opportunities to be generated 

300+ new jobs have been created including the new entrepreneurs themselves (where new businesses are concerned). This includes part-time, seasonal and casual employees as well as family members who supports the business. 

The Next Phase: 

Districts targetted in initial phase

As the saying goes, successful projects should become progressively unnecessary and so should Tharunodaya in the distant future. The successful completion of Phase 1 of the Tharunodaya Youth Entrepreneurship Project showcased the importance of youth entrepreneurship and paves the way for future endeavors. Hence, it is imperative that this project be replicated and similar youth in other districts be given business opportunities.

Entrepreneurship is of vital importance in the economy of any country, more so in developing country such as Sri Lanka, recovering from 30 years of civil unrest and war, and more recently, recovering from the 2019 Easter bombings and the still very current COVID-19 Pandemic. 

Economic justice for youth is of paramount importance. 

A comprehensive package containing financial assistance combined with capacity building is a sure-fire way of creating sustainable entrepreneurs. 


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