Despite the decades of violence, Sri Lankans remain optimistic. Since the end of the war, a spirit of entrepreneurial enterprise has lent itself to new development. In an effort to stimulate new industry—beyond the historical contract textile business—entrepreneurs are thinking up and investing in promising new projects, says the World Policy blog.
At a recent gathering of Sri Lankan business leaders in New York, the belief in the country’s ability to become a powerful player in the Southeast Asian economy was palpable. “The war is over,” the businessmen, all CEOs and directors of their companies, agreed, “The whole country is safe and totally open. No one wants to see the war start again. It is time to start looking to the future.”
Building a New Future
Mr. Niro Cooke, director of Kings Investments Ltd., a private firm developing renewable energy projects, embodies the new breed of Sri Lankan entrepreneur, forward-looking and socially aware.
When the war ended in 2009, Mr. Cooke saw an opportunity to help people transition to a peacetime economy and began developing a hybrid wind-solar power project in Jaffna, the former capital of the rebels. The former conflict zones “cannot be left fallow” Mr. Cooke said, “metaphorically and literally…We need to give them the tools and the alternatives to live a peaceful life.” By developing renewable energy projects, Mr. Cooke is helping his country move towards a sustainable, environmentally-friendly economy, while providing jobs in former conflict zones.
Peace Through Investment
The desire to help Sri Lanka prosper, which Mr. Cooke refers to as “peace through investment,” is shared with another Sri Lankan entrepreneur, Dr. Lawrence Perera, founder and CEO of Micro Cars Ltd. & Micro Holdings.
Now, Dr. Perera sees a greater opportunity for the expansion of the automobile industry. Parts of the country formerly held by rebels are now safe — once again open to travel and trade. Roads are being built to connect those parts of the island that were off limits during the quarter century of war, bringing with them the opportunity for industry and development.
Looking towards the future
Shared among the assembled businessmen in New York was a sense that they are part of a vanguard to modernize Sri Lanka and usher the country into an age of post-war development. “The war was caused by economic hardship. If we take hardship off the table, it can’t be an option. We are developing the Island and giving people a purpose in life beyond the war,” said Mr. Ajit Gunewardene, Deputy Chairman of John Keells Holding PLC, which is in the process of developing an $850 million gaming complex and resort in Colombo.
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