Case study

Measured Intervention for Economic Justice

GCRF workshop holding certificate

What is your research project about?

I was interested in studying an association of female village entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka to test a new methodological approach that I term ‘Measured intervention.’  Focusing on Sri Lanka’s former global factory workers who are now village entrepreneurs, and their robust subversions within and against global capitalist production networks, this research proposed to investigate how a national association of village subcontractors may be developing into a meaningful economic justice movement. 

Sandya Hewamanne portrait
"I am investigating how a national association of village subcontractors may be developing into a meaningful economic justice movement."
Dr. Sandya Hewamanne Principle Investigator

What activities did your GCRF@Essex funding support?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was unable to visit Sri Lanka in June-July 2020 for fieldwork.  Instead the funds were re-purposed to hold two field research training workshops and one leadership training and occupational health workshop. All three were held in July 2020.  The first two workshops trained 16 women workers in field research techniques. These workers were drawn from two local NGOs and the National association of village entrepreneurs. This training focused on developing local skills and capacities an objective of the GCRF. The trained workers will also assist me in collecting participant observation and interview data for my originally planned research as I am unable to conduct field research at this time. The third workshop focused on women’s entrepreneurship and leadership as well as occupational health during the pandemic. It benefitted from an external leadership trainer and an occupational health expert. Some of the workers who had the research skills training have already helped me with participant observation of their association meetings. The data is crucial for me to get a good picture of the association’s progress.  The research experience will further build their own skill base and promote self-sufficiency. 

I was unable to visit Sri Lanka in December due to a vicious second wave of the pandemic.  Thus, I again repurposed the GCRF funds to conduct 4 workshops in Sri Lanka.  The first one was for 25 village entrepreneurs from different parts of the country and was conducted over two days due to difficulties associated with getting people together for group zooms.  This workshop together with the July workshop has helped these women make some big decisions (i.e. create a marketing web page and to provide the government with 1000 plants). The other three workshops were conducted in Katunayake, Biyagama and Kandy and focused on field research training. 

You have been aiming to study the effect of a recently established female village entrepreneur’s association on poverty reduction in village communities by applying ethnographic and qualitative methods. How is your project benefitting Sri Lanka and which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being addressed?

It was going to benefit Sri Lanka through gendered economic empowerment. The pandemic rearrangement trained 16 workers who are now capable of gathering data (with my supervision and support) for their own grassroots organisations.  This important capacity will empower rural female entrepreneurs in that they can now design and execute short studies of their association as well as their village operations. This would allow them to get a clear picture of broad market forces and other social, political circumstances that affect their economic activities.  They also managed to develop informal networks with other women and NGO officials through the workshops and this supportive community will be an asset as they individually develop their enterprises.  Thus, this project has supported several Sustainable Development Goals including poverty eradication, reducing inequality, decent work and economic growth, gender equality and achieving sustainable communities.

You are closely collaborating with colleagues at the University of Colombo, the University of Peradeniya and the NGO SAFE. How did you find your collaborators?

My collaboration with the NGO SAFE (.doc) was very useful and productive.  The relative strengths we bring to the project are mutually appreciated and resulted in well organised, targeted and informative workshops.  The University of Colombo colleague was very helpful in doing the external evaluations of the workshops.  The colleague from the University of Peradeniya, however, could not join the activities due to unavoidable circumstances. I got to know both these colleagues via two research organisations in Sri Lanka; ICES Kandy and Centre for Development Research and Interventions (CDRI).

Are there any challenges when pursuing this international and collaborative project?

Yes.  The pandemic resulted in the proposed project being repurposed and curtailed. In July 2020 we were able to conduct two research training workshops face to face which I attended via zoom.  But in November, all workshops had to run via zoom due to the increased numbers of COVID-19 cases in the district of Gampaha and Colombo. Also, some women were not familiar with technology and thus the local partners had to organize few central places where women were able to join group zooms. It was a challenge to work only with one organisation due to complexities with getting the other local partner organisations registered with the university.

What tips would you give to other people applying for Global Challenge Research Funding?

Focus on one or maximum two ODA countries to see tangible positive changes in a short period of time. Although the system is not set up to work in collaboration with small, grassroots activist groups, my advice is not to take the easier route in collaborating with established, commercially oriented, large NGOs, but try to somehow work with the grassroots organisations. The latter organisations have lower overhead costs and use more participatory approaches.  Thus, the funds can be stretched to include more grassroots participants/activities. Also, in my opinion, they allow for the funds to reach GCRF’s intended target populations and initiate meaningful changes.

How do your GCRF@Essex funded projects support your wider research plans?

If I would have been able to conduct the proposed field research on the village entrepreneur association, it would have worked as a pilot for a larger research proposal on ‘measured intervention.’ However, the field research training for women workers has already proved useful in getting participant observation done at three association meetings.   This data will be later analysed to determine whether the association is becoming an economic justice movement.  So, the capacity building work is supporting my broader research plans in this time of the pandemic.