Meet the Coordinator: Farzana, Sri Lanka

10th July, 2020

Our ‘Meet the Coordinator’ series provides a glimpse into what inspires, motivates and challenges our SBN country coordinators. Our coordinators are at the heart of the SBN, as they engage business, government and other stakeholders within their SUN Country to provide support to SMEs to act, invest and innovate in improved nutrition.

Farzana Khan is the coordinator of SBN Sri Lanka.

What inspired you to work with the SUN Business Network? 

I have over 20 years’ experience working with the private sector and 4 years with UNICEF where I focused on nutrition related projects. Through my role at UNICEF I became aware of the nutrition situation in Sri Lanka and I was involved in the development of the first multi-sectoral action plan for nutrition. When I came across the opportunity with the SUN Business Network, I thought it was the perfect platform to combine my contacts and knowledge of the private sector with my awareness of nutrition issues in the country.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work? 

I think one of the most rewarding aspects of my work is that all the members of SBN Sri Lanka are so keen to support in some way or another. For most of the private sector it has definitely been an eye-opener to understand the extent of the nutrition issues that Sri Lanka is facing. Many were aware of the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – which account for 75% of deaths in the country – but not of their link to lifestyle choices and poor nutrition. It has been very rewarding to see how cooperative the members are, and how engaged they are to work together to support the initiatives of the SBN.

What is your greatest achievement in this role? 

I would say that my two main achievements since joining the SUN Business Network in September 2018 have been:

  1. Being able to launch the network in March 2019 – six months from the day I was inducted. When I look at case studies from other countries, I think it is quite an impressive achievement that I was able to get the network up and running so quickly, although I have to acknowledge the support of the SUN Government Focal Point at the time, WFP and other UN organisations, along with the willingness of the business community.
  1. Encouraging the business members to drive the priorities of the network over the next two years by leading the activities of the three workstreams – Workplace Nutrition and Well-being; Production of Nutritious Food; and Creating Awareness on Nutrition and Healthy Eating Habits

Which partners/stakeholders are you looking to engage with to achieve the SUN Business Network Sri Lanka’s objectives this year?

Over the next year I want to focus more on targeting SMEs to join the network, because most of my current members are larger corporations. The next step in SBN Sri Lanka’s strategy is to reach out to at least 25-50 food sector SMEs at the subnational level. I aim to reach these SMEs through the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry which has links with almost 25,000 SMEs. As I shift my focus, I need to assess the potential needs of SMEs – e.g. supporting route to market, improving packaging, providing linkages with investors. I am also thinking through how the existing members (larger corporations) may be able to provide support to SMEs through technical assistance or access to new markets.

Nominate a local business within your network that has showcased great commitment to sustainability and addressing malnutrition

Jetwing Hotels is premier hospitality brand with hotels in 7 locations across Sri Lanka, committed to the sustainability of the environment and the local community. They have recently launched the Thrive programme to empower small-scale business owners in the supply chain. The aim of their project is to trigger growth through the provision of training and financial assistance. For example, the company has provided support to local farming families in Wellawaya by repurposing 50 acres of paddy land surrounding their resort and assisting the farmers with seed money for small-scale paddy cultivation. An equal portion of the resulting harvest is then shared between the farmer and the hotel, with excess stocks of rice being sold to other hotels in the Jetwing family to provide a steady income to the local community so that they can afford healthy and nutritious foods.

How have your business members been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

All our SBN Members have adapted to the new normal. COVID-19 Guidelines have been followed by all and those in the food sector have further strengthened their online presence and door to door delivery excellence. In early May 2020, we undertook a survey of food system SMEs in Sri Lanka, aiming to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated control measures on their businesses and their support needs. 91% of the surveyed firms recorded that the pandemic had an immediate impact on their business, mainly via decreased sales. One of the main challenges facing businesses in Sri Lanka during the pandemic has been the impact on supply chains, and their urgent need for financial support.

In addition, WFP carried out a digital campaign to  encourage Sri Lanka to express their gratitude to food industry personnel. Food industry personnel, do not have the opportunity to work from home and are required to continue to work in their usual workplaces. Keeping all workers in the food production and supply chains healthy and safe is critical to surviving the current pandemic. Maintaining the movement of food along the food chain is an essential function to which all stakeholders along the food chain need to contribute. This is also required to maintain trust and consumer confidence in the safety and availability of food. Hence the #HumansofHopeSL Campaign was launched. We sourced stories from SBN Members and others as well.

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