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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND EMPLOYMENT

Good Life: supporting sustainable start-ups

Successful development programme for sustainable start-ups and small businesses in Sri Lanka provides a blueprint for Ethiopia.

© Thisal Gunarathna

Good Life X (GLX) is Sri Lanka’s first development programme for sustainable start-ups and small businesses. Its success in promoting sustainable entrepreneurship is also benefiting the local economy. The vision of improving life that gave the programme its name is also the driving force behind its approach, which is now being used as a blueprint in other countries, too.

The ingredients for drinks like fruit juices and teas mainly originate from countries with warm climates, and this includes Sri Lanka. The island nation lies to the south of India and is renowned the world over for its black Ceylon tea, Ceylon cinnamon and abundance of tropical fruits such as pineapple and papaya. The founders of Sri Lankan start-up SOZO recognised untapped potential here: to produce high-quality fruit juices, syrups and teas for the world using regional products from Sri Lanka, with a commitment to fair supply chains, plastic-free packaging and natural products. Their idea is proving popular – despite the coronavirus pandemic, sales have increased by 700 per cent since 2019. Last year, the company entered the Indian market, and now even supplies hotels in Switzerland. How did it achieve such rapid growth?  

A major factor in its success was the Good Life X (GLX) development programme. SOZO had already been operating as a company for three years, but it was GLX that gave the small start-up the boost it needed to thrive in the international market. It is one of six companies to complete the first GLX accelerator programme in Sri Lanka in 2019. The pilot programme was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) from 2018 to 2020 and designed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH together with the ESCP Business School and the Noah Foundation. Over a three-month period, GLX offers a comprehensive skills package that enables start-ups to take part in weekly sessions on all the essential aspects of setting up a company. ‘We are the first – and to date the only – accelerator programme in Sri Lanka that specialises in the development of sustainable businesses. We have connected energetic, experienced and talented people from Sri Lanka with the right partners all over the world,’ says Randhula de Silva of GLX’s unique approach. De Silva, who worked for GIZ until 2020, is now CEO at GLX. The programme has proved its worth. 

Applaudierende nigerianische Reisbäuerinnen vor dem Schild einer Frauenkooperative

© SOZO

GLX connects ideas with the right partners

Good Life X has supported a total of 40 companies in the past two years. It has fostered innovative approaches to urban agriculture (vertical farming), the closed-loop use of raw materials, and platform solutions for local arts and crafts, for example. A large network of experienced experts provides support on a one-to-one basis, whether on sales, financing, branding or human resources. 

‘GLX differs significantly from other start-up development programmes in Sri Lanka. For example, it gave us valuable insights into the European market right from the start,’ explains SOZO founder, Dushyantha De Silva. ‘It also helped us get started as exporters, improving our understanding of what would or wouldn’t work so that we could optimise our product range.’ This close collaboration with experts all over the world gives the start-ups direct access to potential investors, partners and customers. Alongside GIZ, the highly renowned Berlin-based ESCP Business School assisted in developing the programme and the Noah Foundation was involved as an implementation partner. ‘The thing that virtually all start-ups have in common is that they are constantly facing day-to-day challenges that previous generations have already figured out and worked their way through. As a mentor, you can support the start-ups in tackling these challenges in the best possible way,’ explains Peter Borchers, Affiliate Professor at ESCP Business School, who is one of the founding members of GLX. But it is not only local start-ups that benefit from the development programme. 

The GLX approach has become a viable catalyst for sustainable economic growth in Sri Lanka. And that’s important, says Randhula De Silva, as the Asian region needs strategies for coping after decades of growth overcoming social inequality and environmental challenges in the coming decades: ‘Innovative growth strategies from organisations like GIZ support Sri Lanka in harnessing its potential and providing impetus for growth.’

Nigerianischer Bauer bei der Arbeit auf dem Reisfeld

© Peter Borchers

Ethiopia next in line to benefit from the blueprint 

The German Government’s commitment to the pilot programme has brought sustainable rewards. This year, GLX has been standing on its own two feet in Sri Lanka and running as a self-supporting venture. With GIZ’s assistance, the ground was also laid for launching the successful approach in Ethiopia, where it will be known as ‘The Good Business’ (TGB) and implemented in cooperation with the Noah Foundation, Ethiopian innovation hub iceaddis and ECSP. This step is no coincidence, as the programme was designed from the outset to work in other countries with minimal adjustments. ‘We are already seeing the impact of synergies between GLX and TGB in designing and managing the programme and in the expanding networks. Of course, individual countries and economic structures need to be considered on an individual basis, but start-ups and young companies also face universal challenges,’ explains Katrin Oehlkers, GIZ project manager in Ethiopia. Borchers adds, ‘That’s why many modules can be used more-or-less universally. Modules that focus on country-specific, legal aspects of setting up a company or export-related questions are handled by local specialists. That makes the programme very easy to replicate internationally.’ 

No sooner said than done – in March, Good Life’s vision for the future was launched in Ethiopia with 18 businesses.

As at: April 2021

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