March 22, 2023
Aspiring entrepreneurs and colleagues,
What an awesome event this is! I know one of the go-to topics when we talk about Sri Lanka is the economic crisis, but the reason I love events like this is because I get to meet and learn from people like you: entrepreneurs who turn challenges into opportunities. Thank you to the startup colleagues for the chance to learn about your work.
And thank you, colleagues from EKVA, for inviting me to this event. When I spoke with Amith and his team recently, I found out how much Amith and I have in common. We both moved to the United States as kids. We both grew up in California. We’re both hip-hop fans, and Amith has worked with some of the hip-hop artists I listen to! And most importantly, we share a common purpose to make a difference.
This accelerator program run by him and his talented team symbolizes another common point: the value we place on entrepreneurship and innovation. The United States has a proud tradition in innovation. Having spent over a year in Sri Lanka, I have found that even through the historic economic crisis, the spirit of innovation is just as alive here as it is back home. For example, look around us! Look at how these entrepreneurs are pursuing creative ideas across different industries.
In my travels throughout Sri Lanka, I’ve met such inspiring youth and entrepreneurs-to- be, whether it’s at Dreamspace in Batticaloa or Youth Forum members at our American Corners around the country. Despite the current challenges, many are determined to stay here and help build up their country. They have not given up. It’s in this spirit of resilience and optimism that I am so grateful to EKVA for providing the spark and opportunity to grow their dreams, and during this Women’s History Month, to make sure that young women have the same opportunity as young men in this country.
Because the United States believes that supporting entrepreneurs – especially those who may be marginalized from society – leads to a healthy and vibrant society, we have done our part to help empower the aspiring businessmen and women of Sri Lanka.
In fact, our investments in entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka date back to the 1970s, when USAID began providing training to rural women in agro-business. Since then, we have continued to provide our steadfast support to Sri Lanka’s aspiring entrepreneurs. We provided financial support to our colleagues at Hatch Works to launch AccelerateHer, which is the first female-focused business accelerator in Sri Lanka. Last year, through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, we provided 100 million dollars in new loans to the Commercial Bank of Ceylon, specifically to expand financial access for micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises, many for women-owned businesses. Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we also partnered with an NGO in a $27.5 million project that helps Sri Lankan dairy farmers through technical training and financial access – so far, the farmers we helped increased their milk production by over 50 percent!
During our conversation, Amith told me that EKVA supports entrepreneurs regardless of their color, gender, or language from all parts of the country. I believe that in many ways, Amith himself is a living example of how anyone, regardless of their background, can become a successful entrepreneur. Amith arrived in the United States as an immigrant kid, found success, and is now here to support other aspiring entrepreneurs. As a fellow immigrant kid and now a U.S. Ambassador, I want to let you know that the United States also stands with you as a steadfast partner. That partnership has stood strong for the 75 years of our bilateral relationship – and it will continue to stand strong. For the aspiring entrepreneurs here, I am excited to hear about what you will accomplish. And I hope projects like these by Ekva will propel more interest and financing to come take a chance on Sri Lanka’s creative talent and entrepreneurs to help rebuild this country. Good luck. Thank you everyone.