August 23, 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this morning. I want to thank WEConnect for not giving up on this event despite the many challenges of the past few months and being able to now hold this event in person. Resilience training is even more important during the current economic situation. Thanks also to AmCham and all of the corporate and multinational representatives who have joined. Thank you Eroshan, Vrai, and especially thanks to the amazing women entrepreneurs, for participating in today’s program. It’s so exciting to see so many women, so many great ideas, and so many businesses about to take off. Your energy, ideas and expertise give me great hope for the road ahead.
Sri Lanka is facing one of the most challenging moments in its history. We have all been affected by the foreign exchange crisis, power cuts, and higher prices for basic necessities, We have witnessed Sri Lankans voice their frustrations in peaceful protest and some even leaving for jobs in other countries. Every day, in every conversation I have, Sri Lankans share that they are worried about the future and the wellbeing of the next generation. Sri Lanka’s challenges are undoubtedly serious. But they are not insurmountable.
Every day, I see and hear examples about incredible ingenuity and inspirational efforts that are contributing to the well-being of every-day Sri Lankans. There is one thing I am certain about and that is the resilience of the Sri Lankan people. It will take creativity, leadership, determination, and compromise to resolve this economic crisis. Luckily, Sri Lanka is blessed with a serendipitous location at the heart of the most economically dynamic region in the world and maintains a highly educated workforce. Now more than ever, Sri Lanka must fully leverage all its resources especially an important but underutilized one, you all – its women.
This is something I heard last week when I met with Sri Lanka’s female MPs across political parties, numbering only 12 out of a total 225 in parliament, that their numbers may be small and their paths may have been difficult, but they stand tall in using their voice and position to advocate for a better Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka must invest in its people and create a more inclusive and sustainable economy. It is vital to have a workforce with gender parity, with women literally at the table and in leadership roles. At the U.S. embassy, besides myself, we have women heading sections on security, public diplomacy, political affairs, Peace Corps, Consular, and the construction of our new building. We are at the table! Women should enjoy equal access to funding for their small and medium-sized enterprises that operate in so many villages and towns across the island. It is imperative that all Sri Lankans have access to quality public primary, secondary, and tertiary education, and training so that Sri Lanka retains and builds on the rightly earned reputation of having a highly educated, creative, and skilled workforce.
This is why I am so happy to be here together with so many great Sri Lankan businesswomen today. The United States is a proud supporter of WEConnect International and its work in Sri Lanka. We are inspired by its mission to create a world in which women have the same opportunities as men to build and run a business, and to create wealth and sustainable prosperity for their communities and the country. The U.S. Department of State funds a 3-year regional project, implemented by WEConnect, on “Women’s Empowerment through Economic Inclusion.” Today’s event is a part of that program, and in fact is the direct result of discussions with women-owned businesses in Sri Lanka earlier this year. We know it has been a hard time for you and your businesses to manage the current economic crisis, so WEConnect organized sessions on topics responsive to you all. We will talk about investment readiness and business resilience. We will investigate supplier diversity and best practices on gender-inclusive sourcing. And critically, we’ll explore business matchmaking between large corporations and women-owned businesses. I hope today’s session will meet – even exceed – your expectations.
This is a defining moment in Sri Lankan history, and a time when inclusive economic growth is more important than ever. For seventy years, the United States has provided foreign assistance, loans, trade opportunities, and two-way educational exchange programs to help grow the Sri Lankan economy, increase domestic capacity, and support the prosperity and wellbeing of the Sri Lankan people. The U.S. continues to stand by Sri Lanka during these challenging times. Just recently, we announced $120 million in new financing for Sri Lankan small and medium-sized businesses, with money set aside specifically for women-owned companies. This is on top of the $265 million we provided to small- and medium-sized enterprises in 2021, $27 million for the Sri Lankan dairy industry, and over $30 million in new humanitarian, technical, and food security assistance to benefit Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable communities.
The United States is committed to supporting the Sri Lankan people to achieve a secure and prosperous future for all, and we are happy and honored to get to support the leaders of tomorrow, through U.S. assistance programs such as WEConnect’s. We remain a partner for Sri Lanka’s prosperity, and I look forward to our shared future and success in overcoming the present-day challenges. Best of luck with the amazing work you are doing building your business and your brands. I hope today is a tremendous success for you. So as I look at all the faces in this crowd – of the hard work, sweat, tears, and courage that must have gone towards the businesses you are developing, I am inspired. Now go inspire each other and many more others. Believe in yourself. And believe in Sri Lanka.