There was a feature done on me and my work in Sri Lanka recently, which I have been meaning to share but kept forgetting to do so! Here you go, enjoy.
A Business Savvy Global Citizen Volunteers in Sri Lanka
Kate Coffey takes 25 years of business acumen to Sri Lanka
Growing up in a small town in southern Ireland, Kate Coffey dreamed of visiting far off places. These big dreams, along with Kate’s intellect, business acumen and passion for volunteering are what led Kate from Ireland to Canada to Nepal and to Sri Lanka, where she volunteered with USAID’s VEGA/BIZ+ program.
An impressive financial career used for good
Kate spent 25+ years working as a senior business strategist for large investment management firms. Kate credits her success to having common sense, being a quick learner and having an ability to work with all kinds of people. Though her career was demanding, she still found time to pursue other passions like supporting the arts and her local community, volunteering and traveling. In 2012, she was able to do both at the same time.
“After I got back from my first trip to Nepal, I knew I wanted to find a way back. I put in my one year notice,” says Kate.
In 2013, Kate resigned from her permanent corporate position for a new adventure. She matched with a volunteer opportunity at the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Center (SIRC) in Nepal, where she helped coordinate fundraising efforts, coaching and mentoring staff as well as creating a staff response process to spinal cord injuries after the 2015 earthquakes.
Business development support in Sri Lanka
Kate’s most recent stint has been nine months spent volunteering in Sri Lanka with the VEGA/BIZ+ program. Funded by USAID and implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, this program provides matching grants to small businesses looking to increase productivity and create job opportunities and incomes for people in their communities.
BIZ+ not only supports these businesses with financial support, but also with technical and business assistance to set them up for long-term success. This is where Kate comes in. With many years of experience analyzing and coaching businesses, Kate uses her expertise to support four BIZ+ businesses in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces: a rice flour mill, a polybag manufacturer, an heirloom rice producer and a garment factory.
A day in Kate’s Sri Lanka life
When Kate first arrives at the Agash Garment Factory for the day, she is all smiles. She points to neatly stacked and labeled boxes in the corner. “Look how organized they are!” Kate exclaims in her Irish Canadian accent. “It’s things like that that help me see that the trainings are being used.”
Agash is located in Jaffna, the main city in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, many business owners like Agash’s Muruganantham lost their jobs, businesses, home and more due to the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war. Getting reestablished wasn’t easy. Muruganantham, who designs and sews men’s clothing, got his garment factory back on its feet in 2010, but he struggled to grow his business. Shortly after opening, VEGA BIZ+ provided a matching grant to Agash to purchase sewing machines, solar panels, materials and labor to expand the factory.
During this time, Kate and BIZ+ staff regularly provided in person coaching, trainings and human resource guidance to Muruganantham. “He was a designer, an artist. He wasn’t a business owner by training. Equipping him with tools like this enables him to run his business more effectively,” says Kate.
While displaying some of his latest shirts, Muruganantham talks about his experience working with Kate, “She would spend a day with us, and then give us homework… like keeping records of sales… and she helped us understand inventory and how to get more profit from the raw materials,” he says. Trainings included sessions on how to manage employees, maximize inventory efficiency and keep track of financial records. “She also taught me to be more proactive and work together with my employees.”
Since BIZ+’s initial investment in 2013, Agash has expanded operations, created 32 new jobs and seen a 25 percent increase in profit for each shirt made.
“I am now able to do business in the proper manner and think about the future,” says Muruganantham.
So, what’s next for Kate?
As for Kate’s immediate future, she’s back in Vancouver returning to work as project manager for corporations and government institutions. She also plans to spend some time at home on Bowen Island, British Colombia. Though she’s not sure where or exactly when she’ll head back overseas for volunteering, she likes thinking about how many possibilities there are out there. Like majestic Mt. Everest, the sky is the limit for Kate.
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