A snapshot of my work in Sri Lanka

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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About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In the past two years, my work in Nepal has expanded to the Bo M. Karlsson Foundation www.bomkarlsson.com and the Spinal Cord Injured Network Nepal. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in the north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to A snapshot of my work in Sri Lanka

  1. Mick Canning says:

    That’s a great article!

  2. Kitty says:

    That’s fantastic Kate! Well done!

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