To help meet demand for quality childcare services among employed parents in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), Commercial Bank of Ceylon (CBC) and Sarvodaya have joined forces to establish early childhood development centers in the area.
It’s an innovative move with the project developed under the Women in Work partnership between IFC and the government of Australia, after an IFC study last year showed strong demand by parents for childcare services and local business owners also had strong interest in subsidizing the childcare services for their workforce.
The first of the centers will be established in Batticaloa, with CBC providing the support on infrastructure development. The facility, which will provide day-care and pre-school services, will be extended to all parents in the locality who will be in need of such facilities and specially to all employees of companies/institutions in the area who will pledge to partner with this initiative.
“Childcare is one key challenge faced by working women, hindering and most of the time entirely stopping their positive contribution for the economy. As an organization that focuses on sustainability and inclusivity, Commercial Bank is glad to join hands with IFC and Sarvodaya to facilitate the inaugural early childhood center under this project. We are confident that in the current socio-economic environment, this will be an invaluable opportunity for families, specifically the working women to continue their economic activities with confidence,” said Sanath Manatunge, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of CBC.
The 2022 IFC study surveyed almost 1,000 employees from 37 companies across Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts. It found companies lost Rs. 99 million annually in productivity, due to employee absenteeism, distractions, and delays. Almost two-thirds of parents surveyed reported dissatisfaction, including safety concerns, with their existing childcare arrangements. Over half of parents said they would make use of a childcare service if one were available
“Access to quality, affordable childcare is a win-win situation for all, especially in making progress on advancing women’s participation in the workforce. This initiative is so welcome as we know when companies support their employees in meeting their childcare needs, it not only helps retain talent, but has significant business gains and productivity,” said Alejandro Alvarez de la Campa, Country Manager for IFC Sri Lanka and Maldives. “We also know that economic growth is more robust and sustainable when women and men alike participate fully in the workforce. For Sri Lanka, this is particularly crucial to achieve an inclusive, resilient recovery of the economy.”
As the local implementing partner, Sarvodaya, will help upgrade and fully equip the centers to provide children with the suitable setting to foster development. Each center aims to support 50 children, demonstrating a sustainable model for employer-supported childcare.
“Sarvodaya Movement which has played a pioneering role in early childhood development in Sri Lanka is extremely pleased to partner with IFC and Commercial Bank of Ceylon to take the childcare services in rural Sri Lanka to another level, particularly targeting working women,” said Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, President of Sarvodaya. “By adopting an entrepreneurial model with the active involvement of employers – the business community – this project demonstrates a novel approach towards provision of sustainable and quality childcare.”
Poor access to quality childcare poses a key constraint on labour force participation among Sri Lankan women. Many employable women either fail to enter the workforce or exit prematurely and fail to return. Through the newly established early childhood development centers, the participating companies can expect more women to return to work after having a child. It also aims to reduce turnover and absenteeism associated with childcare responsibilities among employees.
“High-quality childcare in the early years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, women’s continued participation in the labour force, economic productivity and strong communities globally. Availability of affordable and regulated childcare would encourage more families in the Eastern Province to continue working especially women,” said Lalita Kapur, Acting Australian High Commissioner for Sri Lanka and Maldives.
IFC also plans to develop and roll out an awareness campaign with the local communities to promote the uptake of the service, especially on the business opportunities it provides for women entrepreneurs.