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The SANASA movement in Sri Lanka represents one of the best examples of how co-operative development through micro-finance can work wonders. As a matter of fact, the movement has been profoundly influenced by the consistency and effectiveness of its leadership. While there have been several individuals who have contributed to its success, a key role has been played by SANASA’s Honorary President, Dr. P.A. Kiriwandeniya. Excerpts from his interview:


Q: Why co-operatives? What was your early motivation?

A: Growing up as a devout Buddhist, I was naturally drawn to finding a “middle way”; I always keen to find a practical but honourable method to accomplish what needs to be done. Before starting SANASA, I spent time studying and understanding both Marxism and Gandhian community programs, neither of which, in my view provided a satisfactory blend of ethical and economic dimensions. I found that mixture within the philosophy and methods of the co-operative community banking movement.


Q: Forty years back, did you know SANASA will be a household name in Sri Lanka?

A: I started SANASA with five people. Every day in the evenings, I vividly remember, we used to get together and discuss mundane, routine issues of the co-operative. In 1977, the government introduced a market economy for Sri Lanka. This was an era with emphasis on liberalization and a rapid move towards market economy reforms that aimed at facilitating the country to reap maximum benefits of globalization. Who are the victims here? Victims are the poor who have no access to capital, they can’t do business in market without capital. It was then that we started taking initiatives with the village leaders and Buddhist monks, and started mobilising capital through our credit society. When I started there were only 935 societies and total asset was 13.5% that’s about 13 million rupees. Now after 40 years, our total asset, total financial mobilisation, our total turnover is more than Rupees 150 billion! You need capital if you want to face the market economy, so we got together, formed groups, laid down the bye-laws and got our act together. Co-operative, my friend, is a sleeping elephant! (Smiles)


Q. What keeps you going at 76 of age?

A: Four sublime states of mind have been taught by the Buddha: metta (love or loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity). Whether you fail or succeed, don’t change your lifestyle, you keep as it is. Existing values and existing lifestyle are the key. We’ve been following these practices for 2,000 years, THESE ARE WHAT CO-OPERATIVES PREACH TOO - co-operative is home-grown. Why do we want to think it’s come from Manchester, Brussels or Geneva? It’s in our own culture! This keeps me on the move.


Q: What would be your one advice to the new generation co-operators?

A: You must have heard this quote by Bill Gates: “If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake”. So what does that mean if you are born poor it’s not your mistake? Really it’s not up to you which family you are born into. You could be born into a royal family and never work a day in your life, or you could be born into poverty. Either which way, it can never stop a truly motivated person in living their dream in being successful. Learning never stops, it goes on till the last breathe. I want my younger friends to keep learning, keep moving, keep growing.