About Shoba


Tsunami memorial, Galle Sri Lanka

Tsunami memorial, Galle Sri Lanka

The Shoba Life to Hands Women’s Cooperative Society was founded in 2005 by Chamanthi Liyanage (the registration was official in 2008). She has owned the Shoba Display Gallery since 2002 in Galle Fort, southwest Sri Lanka and was running it together with her sister Anusha Liyanage. The combination of the residual impacts of the Great Tsunami of 26th December 2004, the downturn since 2008 and the impact on tourism of the internal conflict in the north have severely damaged rural livelihoods in the coastal areas. A lot of women from these areas came,  and continue to come, to the shop and home of the Society for all kinds of help. To uplift the livelihoods of these women and their families they decided to create a society. Nowadays there are 148 registered members, and this number is expected to continue growing. The Shoba Life to Hands Women’s Cooperative Society has the inspiration, commitment and potential to demonstrate how a modern-day social enterprise can make a difference.

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Shoba’ means ‘beauty that is created by love, peace and happiness’. This forms an inspiration for the Shoba Life to Hands Women’s Co-operative Society and is reflected in the designs and products. Shoba is about how you can become so bright and right in your impressions, and how you can deliver them into the outside world. We believe that everybody should have a chance in this world, and we carry this out in our Society.

From the humble inception to the increasing recognition that we enjoy, we strive to continuously raise standards and accomplishments in our work. We respect the norms of fair trade and our aim is to uplift the livelihoods of all of the women who are involved, and of their families. Our high quality and varied products reflect Sri Lanka’s colourful culture. We truly represent Sri Lankan identity and creativity, which allows you to absorb the nature and tranquility within it, while keeping the extensions for its universality.

Shoba Life to Hands is involved in a number of projects that aim to empower women in the coastal area of Sri Lanka, and deliver benefits to them. With help from Transrural Trust UK (www.transrural.org) and support from the BIG Lottery fund (that ended in June 2012), as well as the proceeds from sales at the Shoba Gallery, the Society is striving to build up really useful services to different groups of women, namely:

  • Help with marketing via the Shoba display gallery, such that the producer receives a fair return;
  • Promotion to attract visitors (and buyers!), including development of the Shoba website, posters, newspaper articles and radio interviews;
  • Supply of selected raw materials that women have difficulty in accessing on their own;
  • Design ideas;
  • Skill training;
  • Help with record-keeping;
  • Sponsoring the most gifted artists and craftswomen to pass on their high-level craft skills;
  • Help with fish-drying and “short eats” to provide some income when craft sales are low;
  • Assistance with savings and loans;
  • Mutual social support amongst group members to assist individuals facing special difficulties;

Guidance to the very poorest on how to secure fair access to government-backed food voucher or concessional loan schemes that should help poor people but that sometimes fail to do so, through lack of transparency and bureaucratic inefficiency.

Organisational Structure

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The Society aims to build up a Management Council to provide guidance and control, which reflects the basis of ownership and control by the producers. In addition to those who work full-time at Shoba (Chamanthi Liyanage and Anusha Liyanage), the Council will include five elected leader representatives of the main producer groups, an honorary treasurer, and a secretary each to serve for 2 year periods, with the possibility of being re-elected for a further 2-year term, should they wish to stand and be reconsidered by re-election. External advisers or volunteers may provide guidance to the Management Council, but have no voting rights. In addition to regular and ad hoc meetings, the Council holds an Annual General Meeting in January each year, to review the previous year’s accounts for the Society, to share the income and expenditure statement and balance sheet with the membership, to review reporting requirements to supporters and to the relevant governmental services, to review the plans and budget for the coming year, and to review the election and appointment of officers serving the Council. The AGM also provides a formal opportunity for group leaders to express their recommendations for the coming year.

President Chamanthi Liyanage is the founder of Shoba Life to Hands Women’s Co-operative Society. As president she has the task to oversee all the projects within the society, and to help build up high standards of governance and financial record-keeping by the Society. She is also the owner of the Shoba Display Gallery, where she designs clothes out of fabrics. Her motto is: “Qualifications are not needed to do social work and to serve human beings.”

Treasurer Anusha Liyanage is responsible for the financial affairs of the society. She is elected by the members for 2 years. She has been involved in the Shoba Life to Hands Women’s Co-operative Society from the beginning as she was also working in the Shoba Display Gallery with her sister, and she helps organise training and support services for the women members. Her motto: “If you don’t work, you can’t live.”

Secretary M.K. Kusumawathi is responsible for writing minutes, reports, members registrations and representing Shoba Life to Hands in all meetings regarding women societies. She is also a very skilled pillow lace maker and a tatter. Her motto is: “Don’t allow handicraft making to die away”.

Good governance and transparent accounting

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Shoba Life to Hands aims to provide open and clear accounting, so that all stakeholders (producers, buyers, sponsors, designers) can have full confidence in the integrity of the Society and the benefit flows to women and their households. Each member or associate of the Society is encouraged to maintain records of the sales of their items, the associated costs and the running balance of working capital. In cases where the group opts to handle this through a single group account, then a group account is maintained.
The Society itself maintains its accounting records using “Money Manager” software, with back-up training from Transrural Trust. This is a fairly easy-to-use accounting package. Data on every transaction is inputted every week, and accounts are reconciled with the bank statements monthly. Reports of income and expenditure, cash and bank account balances, and balance sheet showing assets and liabilities can be produced at any time. For security reasons, only a minimal cash balance is kept at Shoba, with funds held securely in current and savings accounts in the name of the Society at the National Development Bank.
Chamanthi Liyanage owns the Shoba shop, and so the accounts for the shop are maintained separately from the Society. The Shop pays a fair price to the Society’s members and a few other suppliers, less any agreed sales commission to reflect the investment in the buildings and related overheads.

Policies to help the poorest

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The Government of Sri Lanka has certain policy measures that are designed to help those who fall below the Government’s designated poverty line. Two key mechanisms are the provision of food vouchers and subsidized basic food items, and access to loan on concessional terms. While laudable, unfortunately many who are entitled to benefit do not, due to a lack of transparency and bureaucratic inefficiency. Shoba Life to Hands has started to identify the gaps between stated policy and implementation on the ground, initially in Galle district. In the future, the Society aims to assist those amongst its network who fall below the poverty line, not only to access their entitlements but also to discover new livelihood opportunities. Loans can be important for development, but the terms need to be fair, the administration non-bureaucratic, and the use of the loan money should be for productive activities that can generate income. Furthermore, by promoting access to loans through Government-backed schemes and via the Society itself, dependency on unscrupulous lenders can be minimized.