Working parents in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka can now access high-quality early childhood development and childcare options with the opening of St Mary’s Montessori House of Children and Day Care Center, supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), government of Australia, Commercial Bank of Ceylon (CBC) and Sarvodaya.

Developed under the Women in Work program, a partnership between IFC and the Australian government, this pilot project – initiated in response to an IFC study – is centered around designing a scalable business approach to childcare that can be replicated and adapted across the country. The 2022 IFC study among 1,000 employees from 37 companies across Ampara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts found that companies lost 99 million Sri Lankan Rupees annually in productivity due to employee absenteeism, distractions, and delays. Almost two-thirds of parents surveyed reported dissatisfaction with their existing childcare arrangements. Over half of parents said they would make use of a childcare service if one were available.

“Addressing childcare stands as a critical hurdle for working women, often impeding or halting their substantial contributions to the economy. As an organization dedicated to sustainability and inclusivity, Commercial Bank is proud to collaborate with IFC, DFAT, and Sarvodaya to establish the first early childhood center under this initiative,” said Sanath Manatunge, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of CBC. “In today’s socio-economic landscape, we firmly believe this initiative will serve as a crucial support system, empowering families—especially working women—to sustain their economic engagements with assurance.”

New Early Childhood Development Center Unveiled in Batticaloa, Signaling New Business Opportunities for Sri Lankan Women Entrepreneurs
New Early Childhood Development Center Unveiled in Batticaloa, Signaling New Business Opportunities for Sri Lankan Women Entrepreneurs

The opening of the center is a continuation of IFC’s work in advancing women’s employment opportunities in Sri Lanka by tackling childcare. This initiative also presents childcare sector as a significant untapped opportunity for women entrepreneurs to venture into, creating new jobs while also providing much needed options for childcare.

“Women’s economic empowerment goes beyond achieving economic growth for a country. When women are empowered, they make meaningful decisions that benefit themselves, their households and communities – a win-win for everyone. Expanding access to quality, affordable childcare means freeing up more mothers to enter or remain in the workforce. For Sri Lanka, this is crucial for an inclusive, resilient recovery,” said Alejandro Alvarez de la Campa, IFC Country Manager for Sri Lanka and Maldives. “The opening of the new early childhood development center not only symbolizes our collective commitment to creating a supportive environment for working parents, but also sends a strong signal to women entrepreneurs who can explore childcare as a thriving new business opportunity.”

The facility, which can accommodate up to 50 children from ages 6 months to 10 years, will provide infant care, early childhood education, pre-school and pre-kindergarten services as well as nutritious meals and after school care options. As the local implementing partner, Sarvodaya spearheaded the renovations of the facility to provide children with the suitable setting to foster growth and development.

“Child wellbeing and women empowerment have been core areas of Sarvodaya’s community development work for over six decades. We are very pleased to partner with IFC, DFAT, and CBC in this unique project which promotes an entrepreneurial approach to women empowerment by establishing modern childcare and development facilities in the Eastern Province. This project addresses a major impediment to women labor participation and Sarvodaya is committed to promote this model throughout the country,” said Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, President of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.

IFC’s study across the three Eastern districts in Sri Lanka highlights that women lose on average 30 working days per year compared to 27 days by men. Aside from its impacts on women’s labor force participation, the absence of accessible childcare has also created difficulties for Sri Lankan employers in recruiting and retaining skilled workers, along with high absenteeism, low maternity return rates and inadequate leadership diversity.

“Australia is proud to have supported the establishment of a new childcare centre in Batticaloa through our Women in Work Program,” said HE Paul Stephens, Australian High Commissioner for Sri Lanka. “We know Sri Lankan women, especially those residing outside of Colombo, need more support to encourage them back to the workforce after they start a family. We hope this pilot project will inspire other providers to invest in quality childcare services for women across the country.”

IFC plans to roll out the second phase of this initiative in Ampara and raise awareness among local communities to promote the uptake in investing in childcare, specifically on the business opportunities it provides for women entrepreneurs.