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Bhagya Iddamalgoda: Supporting women in vulnerable communities with her entrepreneurial venture

Posted: 6 March 2023

Sri Lanka, Alumni, Experience, Gender Equality, Impact,

A passion for entrepreneurship and philanthropy has led to Australia Awards alumna and entrepreneur Bhagya Iddamalgoda having an impact in business and in the community. Bhagya wants to continue to use innovative tools, technologies and frameworks to drive change and development in Sri Lanka, consistent with the theme of International Women’s Day 2023.

Bhagya first discovered her passion for business after working as an employee in the private sector. Combined with a zeal for empowering local communities, this drove her to start her own venture in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Today, she runs Candle House Ceylon, a self-funded business specialising in artisanal scented candles, which employs and empowers women from vulnerable communities. While being hands-on with the day-to-day operations of her business and overseeing production, Bhagya also has the marketing savvy of the true entrepreneur. She embraces diverse opportunities to promote her products, from a strong social media presence to collaborations with bricks-and-mortar retailers and word-of-mouth initiatives. She is always on the lookout for the latest global trends and makes sure to keep abreast of regional market demands.

Bhagya at Candle House Ceylon preparing an order

“My entrepreneurial journey has opened doors to many opportunities but the one that I cherish the most is the ability I get to connect and network with people from different walks of life,” Bhagya says. “This has led me to be able to support and empower people with the work that I do, and to develop shared narratives and successes that work for all of us collectively. One of the areas I’m most proud of is an initiative where I conduct skills-based workshops in under-served areas of the country, in partnership with various local authorities.”

When Bhagya heard about the Australia Awards Short Course on Women Trading Globally, delivered by the Export Council of Australia, in 2019, she thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about expanding her business globally and overcoming the associated challenges. She was thrilled when her application was successful, not only about the opportunity to learn with a cohort of like-minded entrepreneurs but also about the chance to visit Australia. Through the course, participants learnt about different approaches to sustainable design, planning and collaborating to create change in business. The course also involved visits to relevant factories and workplaces in Western Australia; Bhagya was fascinated to observe their everyday operations. Bhagya’s proudest moment during the Short Course came when a guest lecturer complimented her ability to build her social media presence and brand.

Using some of the course teachings, Bhagya has been able to refine her own approach to the design and outreach of her business, increasing engagement and impact metrics over time. She also enjoyed networking with the rest of the cohort while doing group projects, visiting various landmarks and enjoying meals together. “Australia is such a beautiful country! The cherry on top for me was getting to see kangaroos and koalas for the first time. We only managed to explore so much during our short stay there, but it has left a deep impression on me,” says Bhagya.

In 2022, Sri Lanka faced the worst economic crisis in its history. As a result, the country faced power cuts every day for up to 12 hours. This adversity prompted a turning point in Bhagya’s business: she began to integrate philanthropy and support under-resourced Sri Lankan communities. She initiated a donation campaign to give candles to low-income families, using excess candle wax from production. Bhagya was motivated to conduct this campaign after witnessing how many families from impoverished communities suffered without electricity in their homes, especially children, who were unable to do their homework in the evenings. Bhagya and her team of women employees worked tirelessly to design a process using surplus wax to quickly produce enough candles to distribute in the campaign. Following the initial donation drive, she was happy to see many people suggest more families in need and volunteer to help conduct another campaign.

“My business comprises a small team of women who come from low-income households and, to me, this makes it even more important to empower, encourage and nurture their growth and our communities,” says Bhagya.

Employees of Candle House Ceylon

Following the completion of the Short Course, Bhagya has remained in contact with the Export Council of Australia as well as her fellow Short Course participants. In 2020, she was invited to share her knowledge and personal experience in building a brand online, taking Candle House Ceylon as a case study for the 2020 delivery of the Women Trading Globally course. She was further honoured to be a featured entrepreneur in the Export Council of Australia’s newsletter that same year.

As a woman entrepreneur, Bhagya’s vision is to continue to build her business and brand with conscience and sustainability, balancing her core values and business metrics to achieve her future goals. She also hopes to continue to engage with and empower communities through the use of innovative tools, technologies and frameworks to drive change and development in Sri Lanka.

Bhagya (far right) with the group of participants at a capacity building workshop in Kandy

This year, Bhagya is helping support efforts to train more women in how to develop a business using e-commerce and digital marketing and business tools. “We hope to participate in more outreach programs that would help spread the knowledge and make women be a part of an inclusive community to bring about much-needed change in the digital economy in Sri Lanka,” she says.

Bhagya is also pleased to take part in alumni engagement initiatives and has remained in close contact with the Australia Awards team. “It is wonderful to see that Australia Awards is not just about the study programs but makes a tremendous effort to keep all alumni connected and supported well after the completion of the course,” she says.