Setting up and running your own social enterprise is certainly no mean feat. Even more so in a land far far away from home, Sri Lanka. But that's just what founders of Amma Sri Lanka, Warren + Josie have done. We caught up with them to hear about their journey and how they achieve their very own golden balance whilst running a deeply nurturing, community-driven initiative.
Hi Warren + Josie. We would love you to tell us little about the story behind Amma Sri Lanka.
The idea of AMMA first came to us a year and a half ago when we were working for a local charity in Sri Lanka. We were told about the high levels of unemployment amongst women living on the tea estates in the central province. We felt like there should be an alternative for these women other than poorly paid tea picking. It also became obvious that mothers were not working because the option for flexible convenient employment wasn’t available in the area.
Josie’s background is in textile design and her interest in using natural dyes felt like a good area to explore considering the abundance of plant matter that could be used to harness colour in Sri Lanka. So after a few trial workshops, we went back to the UK with an idea and a rough plan to start a social enterprise. It took a lot of fundraising but in November 2016 we moved to Sri Lanka and in May 2017 we opened our first AMMA workshop welcoming two mothers who live on the local tea estate.
For ‘P’ it was her first job. At 23, she had moved into the area once she got married and had her daughter shortly after. Recently, we held our 6-month reviews and P told us that nobody believed she could sew, and it wasn’t until the preschool teachers told the other mothers at a parent meeting that people in her community started to believe her. Women overcoming the low expectations that are placed on them is key to what we stand for at AMMA.
AMMA has had to be sustainable from the start, we arrived with a small grant for equipment and funding to cover our living costs and 3 months of initial mothers wages, but not much else. We were lucky enough to have the interest and small orders from the start, this meant the mothers learnt on the job and although this meant we had a lot to overcome it moved us forward quickly, giving confidence to the mothers knowing that what they were making was good enough that someone wanted to buy it.
Our hope for next year is that we can move into a bigger workshop which would give us the opportunity to employ more mothers and increase our productivity in mastering the sometimes unreliable art of natural dyeing.
How do you find your daily source of golden balance?
I'm so privileged to spend my days making, which has always been for me the most calming and focusing act I could do. Without being able to work with my hands and see an idea come to fruition I think I would find it difficult to feel myself.
How important is self-care to you, and do you often implement it into your regular rituals?
It has become more important especially since moving to Sri Lanka, you are much more aware of yourself here. We notice what we eat and cook a lot more - you can’t just grab a snack like you would in the UK. There are also fewer distractions being so isolated and not having unlimited internet, so we spend more time outdoors. We play tennis which I think is more beneficial to my mental health than my physical!
Share with us a quote that gives you daily inspiration.
Currently, the words of Mahatma Gandhi have been on my mind “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” I feel like this is so relevant to us starting AMMA, and why it's important to try something even if you risk failure in the process.
We know nourishment from the inside out is fundamental to you. How do you practice this every day?
I try not to beat myself up if something doesn’t go to plan. Starting a business in Sri Lanka has taught me a lot about patience and resilience, it's not been easy! I try to stay peaceful. I meditate & if I feel myself getting anxious or stressed I try to practice stillness - I would love to do this more. An aim for 2018.
What are some of your favourite ways to wind down?
We don’t have loads of options living in a rural town. Along with playing tennis when we can, food is always important we like to cook and there are some incredibly cheap local restaurants close by. Podcasts have been a lifesaver. It can be hard to find silence - so on go the headphones and we zone out for an hour.
Ingredients-wise, what are your three non-negotiables in the kitchen?
We have to make all our meals from scratch and tomatoes form the base of most of them. Chickpeas are a current favourite that we can get locally and maybe its the Sri Lankan influence but chilli powder always makes an appearance.
Now tell us, do you have a guilty pleasure?
Um, doughnuts! There is a bakery in town which we fail at resisting to often.
What is your favourite way to use turmeric, be it in your beauty regime or recipes?
I use an Ayurvedic soap that I love which has turmeric in, its made locally and apparently is a sworn by a recipe in Sri Lanka. I often use turmeric in a carrot and pumpkin soup that I make - and of course, we use turmeric as a dye to brighten any dull-looking yellows in the AMMA workshop.
Coffee or turmeric latte?
I haven’t yet tried a turmeric latte, tea is the king of drinks around here. But it sounds amazing and I’m looking forward to trying one when I’m back in the UK over Christmas.