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SPONSORED CONTENT – In the heart of Sri Lanka’s thriving apparel industry, is a story of women who went beyond the social and circumstantial limits that held them back. Theirs is a story that has unfolded over two transformative decades of the apparel industry; and providing the space for growth and opportunity for these women is South Asia’s largest apparel tech company, MAS Holdings. 

From its inception, women have been at the centre of the work MAS does. Sewing together world-class apparel one garment at a time, they are the backbone of the apparel and fashion industry. And in November 2023, MAS commemorated 20 years of the pioneering ‘Women Go Beyond’ (WGB) programme which has touched the lives of countless such women. 

While MAS’ work to support and empower women began when the company was set up all the way back in 1987, WGB was its first effort to formalise a structured empowerment programme by amalgamating all the best practices it had developed over time into a single initiative. This was not only a first for MAS, but exemplary in an industry discredited for being a ‘sweat shop’.  

Operating on the premise of putting people first, MAS was pivotal in transforming this perception, in setting a framework that raised the bar for the industry as a whole. Grown into a comprehensive programme, WGB today addresses gender-based violence (GBV), sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and economic empowerment, building infrastructure within the organisation and in its communities to provide women a fair and equal platform.  

At the heart of WGB are stories of growth and transformation.  

Isanka Ranathunge, is a technician at MAS Ayathi. In 2021, her life took an unexpected turn when she received the ‘Abhimani Empowered Woman of the Year Award’. The Abhimani mentorship programme motivated her to get the qualifications she needed to become a technician, something she hadn’t even considered before. Brushing aside her regret of not completing her studies, she took on the challenge years later as a working woman. “What I valued most was the mindset change I experienced,” says Isanka, reflecting on the way her life has changed over the past two years. “I, who did not know a word of English, am in a position where I can present an idea in English in front of a group,” she adds.

Isanka used the skills she learned through the programme to build her business of making and selling baby clothes. Inspired by MAS’ commitment to sustainability, Isanka decided to ditch the use of plastic bags, packaging her products in cloth bags instead. This has created employment for her colleague who now earns an additional income making these bags.  

MAS has often seen the effects of its programme inspire a chain of women.  

Through the WGB programme Isanka was trained in how to run her own business from registration, taxes, accounting and creating trade logos to promoting her products on social media.  

As part of the WGB programme, Isanka also participated in breast cancer awareness trainings and incredibly, recognised her mother’s symptoms. After sending her for testing, her mother was diagnosed early and was able to receive the treatment she needed. For Isanka, the programme has been life changing.  

These are not isolated incidents but threads in a larger tapestry of change within MAS Holdings. 

Thileepan Kayalvily, working at MAS Kreeda – Vaanivil, felt having a baby would mean giving up on her work at Vaanavil because she did not have the necessary childcare support at home. Determined to support mothers like Kayalvily, MAS Kreeda set up an in-house crèche facility within the factory premises. This was a weight off the shoulders for Kayalvily and her husband, who works away from home, knowing not only that their child is in safe hands, but also learning and developing with qualified teachers at the creche.

Vaanavil is one of MAS’ on site creche facilities, together with external partnered facilities, housing 270 children. The facilities combined have the capacity to care for over 1000 children. This initiative underscores MAS’ genuine commitment to the well-being of its employees, especially parents of young children. 

W.A Nilmini, from Unichela (Koggala), stands as an entrepreneurial role model. Recognised as the Abhimani Empowered Woman of the Year in 2015, her life took a transformative turn through the Abhimani leadership training. From a shy, timid girl, Nilmini emerged as a confident leader. Her vision of producing an ayurvedic hair oil became a reality through the WGB entrepreneurial training she received. Now in the process of business registration for island-wide distribution, Nilmini’s achievement is one she would not have dreamed was possible.  

Inspirational stories like those of Isanka, Kayalvily and Nilmini are countless. The WGB programme reflects MAS’ organisational ethos and is testament to the company’s goal of fostering inclusivity and mutual respect. With initiatives like unconscious bias training, mentorship programmes, and infrastructure support such as lactation rooms, MAS has sparked a monumental shift in mindset. Progressive policies like parental leave and flexible work arrangements contribute to a more inclusive environment, setting the standard for women’s empowerment in the industry.   

The Women Go Beyond programme is conducted by MAS on a global scale, implemented in many of the MAS locations. The WGB programme has been pivotal in reshaping the industry into one that offers a space of empowerment and transformation for its majority workforce, women. As the programme embarks on its third decade, the company proudly celebrates the remarkable 20 years of Women Go Beyond, anticipating the countless more lives that will be touched by this initiative in the years to come.  

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