What does it mean to empower someone?


Empower targeting extreme poverty in their sight.

We like sharing good news at V Stars, and here’s another person doing some magic in the world.

Shanil Samarakoon is the founding director of Empower who loves to talk about the nature and importance of social entrepreneurship.

We love social entrepreneurs at V Stars! The world is changing; we are moving away from exploitation to more collaboration.
But if you really want to know the why, you’ll find it on this link in our member section.

Now, back to Shanil….

Donating to charities give us a real feel good moment. Many people less fortunate need a hand up.

However, when people grow up in a state of extreme poverty, it’s harder to climb out of this when there’s no vision to do so.

Shoestring Media did a lovely story on Shanil and Empower and we would like to share….

Samarakoon’s values have always been geared towards community empowerment. He believes this requires “a movement away from charitable handouts and towards synergistic, mutually beneficial value exchanges.”


Empower does just that. The sustainable development organisation based in Sydney aims to enable community self-reliance in rural, disenfranchised communities in Malawi and Sri Lanka.

What’s unique about this organisation is that it is a hybrid between a non-for-profit and social business.

“We have a mix of activities that are income generating and those that are philanthropic (capacity building) but deliver high social value. Empower’s investments into community banking and technology are handled as interest-free loans to communities that are in return reinvested into similar projects for greater financial efficiency,” says Samarakoon.

“The capacity building aspect of our model remains strictly non-profit at present due to us not wanting to place an undue financial burden on community and create barriers to wide participation.”

The organisation is currently working with 39 communities across Malawi and Sri Lanka, impacting the lives of over 5,600 people.Their mission is to provide access to affordable capital e.g. community banking; provide access to sustainable technologies e.g. renewable energy, water filtration, eco-sanitation; and build local capacity in leadership, entrepreneurship and permaculture.

As such, they ensure long-term self-reliance: “It is a lack of resources and opportunities that constrain these communities, not a lack of innate ability or motivation. We would like the communities we work with have the capacity to manage, action and review their own development journey beyond our involvement.”

“Development needs to come from community and be led by community for there to be ownership, dignity and longevity,” says Samarakoon.

Empower 1

A Malawian villager with the Solar Lantern he purchased through Empower

Since 2010, Empower has scaled up from one village in Malawi to the entire region of Kapita (38 villages) and is Samarakoon’s “proudest moment as leader of this organisation”.

“To us it is a testament to the attractiveness of a community-led initiative and marked a level of regional collaboration that never existed previously. Seeing 38 villages work together to overcome systemic poverty is incredibly moving and I am privileged to be a small part of that.”

So why is social entrepreneurship so important today?

Whether in our own backyards or in other nations, social entrepreneurship is what brings solutions to problems.

But as Samarakoon cogently points out, “[social entrepreneurship has] always been important…we’ve had social innovators and activists through the ages.”

“The term is what is new. I believe it is important today in light of the great challenges that humanity faces – global poverty and climate change being two of the most pressing.”

Are you an aspiring social entrepreneur? Do you want to do something spectacular in your life?

Shanil in Lanka

Shanil Samarakoon has three valuable tips:

 1. Follow your passion.

We all have areas or aspects of life that resonate with us more than others. It’s crucial that your contribution is in an area  that excites you personally! You need this passion to drive you through the long haul.

 2. Engage in some level of introspection with regard to your intentions.

I feel it is critical to understand the drivers behind you wanting to contribute and who you want to serve. I’m a big believer  in examining the “why” for it determines “who” you serve and “how”.

It is all too easy for contribution to become a tool of the ego. Keep in mind that contribution doesn’t have to be an  organisation or a project – it can take various forms such as a role or a conscious lifestyle!

 3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

If you have an idea or a curiosity, don’t let it gather dust and cynicism in your head or a notebook. In this age of Google,  social media, and smartphones – a conversation with a like-minded soul is just seconds away!

No idea grows in isolation and if you really want to make a contribution, you have to have a willingness to be vulnerable  and share your ideas/intentions openly. This act in itself, in my experience can open up many possibilities, likely ones you  never conceived of initially!

On his final note, Samarakoon stresses the importance of authenticity when being a leader.

 “Being yourself and keeping true to your values gives others the permission to do the same.”


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