It is a pleasure to see a very full room here today, and I want to thank Minister Samaraweera for his kind remarks. Thank you for joining us Chamber President, members of the board, friends, and partners. It’s really a pleasure to help launch the American Corner today. As the Minister highlighted, this has been a work years in the making, and now we finally get to bring it to the people of the Southern District.
I’m really delighted in fact that this partnership can be realized in this tangible center here. The American Corner joins three others, ones in Colombo, Jaffna and Kandy, as you saw in the video, but really our efforts would not have been complete had we not been able to establish this center here in Matara. The city’s reputation in the Southern Province, and across Sri Lanka, is one of being a hub for commerce and entrepreneurship, and of course with the University of Ruhuna just down the street, it’s very appropriate that we set up this center to provide access to students here.
As the Minister highlighted, the United States is Sri Lanka’s largest export market. American consumers directly support tens of thousands of jobs here in Sri Lanka in agriculture, manufacturing, and services. Over the past ten years, our two-way trade has increased by 40 percent from 410 billion Sri Lankan Rupees in 2007 to more than 571 billion in 2017. I hope that relationship continues to expand, and we look at investment in both directions in the future.
Here today among you are many community leaders and business owners who contribute to these numbers, numbers that are going to grow. You are role models for the young Sri Lankans who are going to contribute to that prosperous future – people who are going seek to build Sri Lanka’s prosperity through innovation, hard work, and vision.
That’s where the American Corner can come in to help you in your efforts. Our free programs – and I want to underscore that, free – you become a member of the Center, but there is no charge for that membership. These programs are targeted to meet the needs of the local community here, and it is more than a physical space. It’s an idea incubator. It’s an opportunity for youth throughout the Southern Province to create a prototype with our 3D printer. You might have seen that as you came in – it was there behind the lamp. This is a place that would provide an opportunity to learn business English so that entrepreneurs can market their products to investors. They can discover how to code and use social media to build their brand and their business. These are just some of the types of skills and talents we would like to cultivate. The American Corner in Matara promotes entrepreneurship and provides Sri Lanka’s brightest young minds the space and resources to innovate and develop ideas from concept to reality.
Indeed, the U.S. Embassy supports a number of programs that help expand employment and business opportunities in Sri Lanka. The Minister outlined a few, and I just want to flag another one for you. We have representatives today from our Agency for International Development’s YouLead project. That project is revolutionizing Sri Lanka’s entrepreneurship curriculum and is providing vocational and technical educators with new tools to inspire young entrepreneurs. The combination of the Southern Province’s youth, the American Corner, and YouLead can help propel economic progress in the Southern Province.
Just as we saw in the touching video clip, the American Corner in Matara is the newest member of our American Corners in Sri Lanka, joining the Corners in Jaffna and Kandy. Our Corners offer many young Sri Lankans their first opportunity to meet and become friends with someone from a different religious or ethnic background, or from a different part of the island. Just like we Americans come from many corners of the world actually, this is a place where people can mingle and get to know one another. Through the American Corners, Sri Lankan youth are engaging with one another, learning about different traditions, and contributing to Sri Lanka’s development as a stable, peaceful and pluralistic democracy.
The opening of the American Corner here also symbolizes America’s desire to engage with all of Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans. I would offer up that just as Washington DC does not represent the entirety of the United States, Colombo is not all of Sri Lanka. We want to meet Sri Lankans throughout the country to talk about our shared interests and our values. We want to work together to create opportunity and equality everywhere.
I want to thank you again for joining us here today. I hope you are going to spread the word among your families, friends, and colleagues about the American Corner. This is your space, and we can’t wait to see what you are going to create in it. Thanks again to the Chamber for your eternal support in fact on this project and for that support in the future. We are really glad for your partnership and glad to connect with all of you from the community. Thank you!