‘We do what we have to do’: Cultures of indebtedness among women entrepreneurs in the east of Sri Lanka

Anupama Ranawana and Atarah Senn

Type: Sri Lanka, Theme 1: Livelihoods instability, Working Paper

Organisation: Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA)

Country: Sri Lanka

Date: 20/03/2019

Full summary

This paper questions the use of entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka as a means of boosting post-war growth and transitioning communities into secure livelihoods. It does so by studying the lives of women entrepreneurs in Trincomalee and a ‘micro’ community in Batticaloa.



The major findings of this study serve to reinforce much of the existing and emerging work that critiques ‘pro-poor’ strategies, including microfinance, and developmental ‘hope and growth’ post-war discourses around the dynamism of entrepreneurship. Our key findings can be broadly expressed as the following:


  1. Women often do ‘what they have to do’ in order to survive the material and spatial disruption they experienced both during and after war. Our findings underline the fact that the life that is lived in the postwar economy continues to be lived in relation to the war economy, in the sense that everyday life is rarely lived without a sense of the past or the intersections of religion, class, caste, place and education.
  2. A post-war financialisation drive to boost consumer culture has left many people working several jobs.
  3. A reliance on microfinancing, as well as a habit of serial and multiple loan-taking from a variety of sources has led to a culture of debt, normalised by the intense financialisation of the post-war years.
  4. Debt among women entrepreneurs is also driven by poor access to markets, skills deficits, unreliable payment and difficulty in negotiating due to gender-related social norms.