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In 1994, the Samurdhi (or Prosperity) Programme was launched by the newly elected Sri Lankan Government as a national strategy to alleviate poverty, and the Samurdhi Ministry was established. The present government is likewise committed to the ideals and goals of the programme and plans to further intensify and improve the approach based on its initial experiences are under way.

This programme covers one-third of the entire population of Sri Lanka, about 1.2 million poor families. It is funded in its entirety by the Government of Sri Lanka.

Objectives of the programme

The main thrust of the Samurdhi Programme is poverty reduction by ensuring participation of the poor in the production process. Implicit in the strategy is the enhancement of the health and nutritional status of the poor.

The stated main objectives of the programme are as follows:

Programme impact

Based on the programme design, the key components of the Samurdhi include compulsory and voluntary savings, human resource development (productivity development training, training in accounting functions, training of executive committees and material resource development), establishment of Samurdhi Bank societies (responsible for the provision of credit), a community development programme, labour-intensive peoples’ projects, small industries development and social development programmes. Thus, as part of its monitoring and evaluation, programme impact was assessed using output indicators for each of the above-mentioned components:

The programme can be commended for a number of notable achievements. However, no information was available to enable assessment of the social, health and nutrition impacts.

Community participation

Samurdhi as a programme is premised on participatory development principles. By design, all aspects of decision-making centre around the balakaya (village)51 and cluster levels where the programme is planned and implemented by the organizations set-up for this purpose.

With the help of Samurdhi animators, economic development activities based on specific family needs, skills, assets and other abilities of participating families, were identified. Families were encouraged to engage in developmental activities of their own choice from planning to monitoring of the programme implementation. However, after six years of implementation, communities vary substantially in the level of community participation. Participation of targeted households is equally variable. Broadly community participation ranges from the low level of passive participation to the higher levels of functional and interactive participation.

Lessons learned

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, constraints/threats (SWOC)






The programme has already demonstrated its sustainability with funding support provided solely by the Sri Lankan Government. It is a well-established programme with strong support structures from national to village levels, foremost of which is the Samurdhi Bank, which on a continuous basis, extends loans to individuals or groups. Communities have been empowered to seek whatever technical assistance they may need. The macropolicy environment is also supportive of Samurdhi.


Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean, covering an area of 65,610 sq km. Its land is generally flat except for a mountainous area in the central regions. It has three agricultural zones: dry, wet, and intermediate zones brought about by two monsoon seasons occurring in the period of June to August (southwest monsoon) and November to January (northeast monsoon). Environmental concerns in the country include soil erosion, deforestation and air pollution.

In 1999, Sri Lanka recorded a mid-year population estimate of 19 million, which makes it one of the most populated countries in the world. The country has a population growth of 1.4 percent and a population density of 304 persons per sq km. Approximately 70 percent live in the rural areas while the rest are in urban areas and on estates.

Sri Lanka is a multiethnic society composed mainly of the Sinhala, Tamils, and Moors. The Sinhala represent the largest ethnic group, about 74 percent of the population. The people are also of different religions: most (about 69 percent) are Buddhists, others are Hindus, Christians, and Muslims.

Before independence in 1972, Sri Lanka’s economy was mainly dependent on agriculture, but as economic liberalization progressed, dependence on agriculture declined. The manufacturing and service sectors led the improvement of the economy. The external trade sector also benefited from liberalization and, at the same time, contributed significantly to economic recovery. In 1996, the country’s economic resilience was seen: it achieved a growth rate of close to 4 percent despite experiencing the worst drought in the country’s history.

The country’s population below the poverty line declined with the gradual rise in the per capita GNP. Despite this, poverty remains a serious problem. The country still faces a range of economic problems, particularly unemployment and poverty. The number of poor families, which represented 19 percent of the population during the period 1978-1979, rose to 27 percent during 1986-1987. However, the proportion classified as low income declined from 40 percent in 1993 to 14.8 percent in 1997.

Deep concerns about the need to alleviate poverty and unemployment continue. The problem is compounded by the difficulty of distinguishing between and characterizing the unemployed, underemployed, and poverty stricken groups in the society. It was observed that many of the unemployed were not poor. Likewise, the poor may also be found among the employed. But in general, most of the poor are engaged in activities providing low marginal productivity. Thus, most of them do not receive sufficient income to meet their basic needs.

Just like other countries in Asia, Sri Lanka is still facing widespread health and nutrition problems. Malnutrition is prevalent among preschool children. The Demographic and Health Survey (Sri Lanka, DHS 2000) showed that in 2000, nearly 14 percent of the preschoolers were stunted with the 4-5 month old babies most affected. The highest prevalence was found in preschoolers living on the estates while the lowest was observed in the urban areas. In the same survey, it was reported that about 14 percent of preschoolers are wasted. Children aged between 12-23 months were most affected. The highest percentage (16 percent) of affected children was found in the rural areas while the lowest (6 percent) in the Colombo metropolitan area.

Five years before the survey, 17 percent of children were born with low birth weight, with the prevalence of low birth weight highest in the estate sector. Child mortality, on the other hand, has declined. The proportion of children surviving has risen from 94.8 percent to 95.2 percent in 1993.

Micronutrient deficiencies strike both children and women in Sri Lanka. No statistics were reported in the DHS 2000, however other surveys showed that deficiencies in iron, iodine, and vitamin A are the most damaging forms of micronutrient deficiencies. In 1999, FAO reported that the prevalence of anaemia was 40 percent among pregnant women and 45 percent among children under five years of age (FAO/RAP Working Paper, 1999). The prevalence of iodine disorders in schoolchildren was 18 percent, while for vitamin A deficiency in preschool children it was 0.6 percent.

The health system in Sri Lanka has a well-established network for delivering both preventive and curative services in the country. Public health services focus on family health, particularly maternal and child care. Antenatal care and assistance at delivery are provided to pregnant women. The DHS 2000 stated that 98 percent of women in the country received antenatal care, and 97 percent of women who had live births five years prior to the survey were assisted during delivery by trained personnel. Tetanus toxoid vaccination was routinely administered to pregnant women.

Information on children’s health and development is monitored through the Child Health Development Record, issued by the health authorities at the time of birth. The record includes the vaccinations received and other information regarding the child’s development. Universal BCG vaccination was achieved in 1993, while complete DPT immunization coverage was 87 percent in 1993 and for polio and measles, it stood at 86 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

In Sri Lanka, 51 percent of children are exclusively breastfed only during the first four months of their lives. The highest proportion is seen in the rural areas (53 percent) and the lowest on the estates (37 percent). Mean breastfeeding duration is 25.6 months. The promotion of exclusive breastfeeding in the first four months may have been one of the reasons for a decrease in the cases of diarrhoea in infants below six months.

With regard to other health indicators, three out of every four households in Sri Lanka have access to safe drinking water. Piped water is the main source of water in the urban area. In the rural areas, protected and unprotected wells are the main sources of water, while on the estates, drinking water is obtained from rivers, tanks, and streams. Of those surveyed 73 percent claim to have access to sanitary facilities. However, when disaggregated by location, the estates and Metro Colombo have the highest proportion of households with access to adequate sanitation.


Samurdhi, derived from a local term meaning prosperity, is a national programme launched by the new government in 1994, and is intended to alleviate poverty and unemployment among the youth. Its characteristic feature is entrusting leadership to younger men and women and encouraging them to have direct participation in the activities.

The main thrust of Samurdhi is to ensure the participation of the poor in the production process by increasing access to resources for self-employment, enhancing their health and nutritional status as well as improving rural infrastructure. Also, it attempts to enhance the capacity of the poor to take initiatives to improve the quality of life of the family through sustained provision of technical, managerial and financial support based on a consultative process. The main objectives of the Programme are as follows:

These objectives are translated into activities that involve people in development by exposing them to the empowerment process. Thus, the programme encompasses several important actions:

Groups at various levels are created by the programme to mobilize and encourage participation. The main components of Samurdhi are welfare, savings and credit programmes, and training and social development programmes as integral support activities. Several action groups are organized in each balakaya (i.e. village). One form is the five-member group, which is organized to consolidate and hone the member’s skills and abilities. Another is the Samurdhi task force consisting of young men and women aged 18-35 years who contribute to providing the necessary infrastructure to villages under the Community Development Project. Advisory councils are also formed to provide guidance and advice to the task forces. Councils are comprised of intellectuals, elders, and clergy residents in the area. Moreover, two types of committees are also organized, the divisional and the district Samurdhi committees. The first is responsible for the implementation of Samurdhi within the division. The Divisional Secretary is the chairman and all public officers and heads of government establishments are its members. The District Samurdhi Committee is comprised of all the heads of government establishments located in the district. Another group is the maha sangam 52, which is set up to cover 10,000 beneficiary families. It is administered by an executive committee comprised of 21 members, selected among the presidents of Samurdhi societies. Maha sangam is responsible for the coordination of all activities in the area of authority.

In 1998, the Samurdhi Programme covered one-third of Sri Lanka’s entire population, approximately 1,200,000 families estimated to be at the bottom of the income scale. About 100,000 of these families belong to the poorest of the poor category, and earn a monthly income of about Rs 700 while the remaining 1,100,000 families were estimated to earn an average of Rs 1,200. Through the Samurdhi welfare programme, each family income is increased to Rs 1,700 through direct income transfers, respectively. A family exits the programme if its income has exceeded Rs 2,000 per month for a continuous period of six months, or when at least one member of the family finds employment. As beneficiaries exit, new entrants are recruited. In 2000, the Samurdhi Authority of Sri Lanka reported that the welfare programme had already covered 21 administrative districts with 1,982,017 family beneficiaries. Families with a monthly income below Rs 1,000 are eligible for relief ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 100053.

In the savings and credit programme, poor households can choose to be borrowers (in groups) or savers. Compulsory savings of Rs 100 and Rs 200 per month from the savers accumulate in a group savings account at a selected State bank, and the interest is paid to the saver.

A Samurdhi niyamaka (SN) mobilizer 54 is tasked to define a target group of 45 to 50 households based on the survey they conducted. They are also required to initiate voluntary savings of Rs 25 per month aside from the Rs 100 and 200 compulsory monthly savings. At the end of the year, the SN mobilizer allows the households identify an income generating project. Loans for these projects can be accessed by individual participants on the basis of the collective guarantee of the group of five (each group is expected to employ a system of “sticks and carrots”, to ensure repayment). Small individual loans ranging from Rs 2,000 to 10,000 can be obtained when the first loan is repaid within 12 months and when that loan is of a higher value. Lending under Samurdhi follows established lending practices of successful non-governmental organizations. Samurdhi savings and credit societies joined established state banking institutions, such as the People’s Bank and Bank of Ceylon, to deposit the group’s savings fund. From these banks, loans can be accessed, initially drawing from the group’s savings and from other funding sources.


Samurdhi is based on participatory development principles. All aspects of decision-making are centred in the balakaya and cluster levels, where designated organizations plan and implement programmes under the Samurdhi. The Samurdhi Programme coordinates all programmes implemented by various government and non-government agencies at the village level while reducing unnecessary overlap.

The Samurdhi balakaya, also called the Samurdhi Task Force, is the grassroots level organization formed to implement the Samurdhi Programme. It is comprised of all youths in the village aged 18 to 35 years, and has an elected Executive Committee of seven persons, two animators, and seven other members representing government and non-government agencies engaged in youth, sports, and rural activities in the village. An advisory council whose members are appointed from non-youth residents provides advice and assistance to the Task Force.

The two animators or Samurdhi niyamakas (SNs) work full time and are trained to conduct surveys in the village using a structured questionnaire. The SN conducts family profile surveys, particularly about the socio-economic conditions of all the families in the village, to ascertain the income level of each family and identify beneficiaries for the welfare component of Samurdhi.

The Samurdhi Task Force is entrusted to undertake five clearly defined areas of activities:

A simple self-monitoring mechanism at the household level and a more complete data reporting system were designed for the programme to monitor the progress of household activities. This monitoring and evaluation scheme includes assessing the programme’s impact through indicators of its key components which include compulsory and voluntary savings, human resource development (productivity development training, training in accounting functions, training of the executive committee and material resource development), establishment of Samurdhi Bank societies, the community development programme, labour-intensive people’s projects, small industries development and social development programmes. The results are as follows:


Sri Lanka is one of the first developing countries to opt for economic liberalization (in 1977). However, it has not reaped the full benefits of global integration owing to lack of proper budgetary planning and weak macroeconomic conditions arising from successive high budget deficits. Initial reforms of removing trade and exchange controls and raising public investments failed to encourage private investments to improve the competitiveness of domestic industry and agriculture. It also failed to improve the education system sufficiently to meet the needs of the private sector. Broadly, economic fundamentals and development priorities were overlooked. Recognizing this, the new government in 1994 decided to address these issues as well as structural constraints in a planned policy framework with a clear strategy.

Underpinning this strategy is the targeting of priority sectors for incentives, tackling large scale corruption and waste, attracting long-term investments, reducing barriers to global trade, maintaining a flexible exchange rate policy, and widening financial and capital markets. A social safety net was established to protect sections of society vulnerable to the accelerated transformation. Sector specific policy strategies were promoted to hasten the development of agriculture, industry, services and vital infrastructure. Agricultural sector policies were also created to increase productivity and agricultural income, at the same time reducing costs to consumers. These policies also aimed to develop the quality of research and extension support and ensure the availability of seeds, materials and financial assistance in the form of loans. Among other priorities were the improvement of rural infrastructure, storage and marketing facilities and providing agricultural lands to both private and public sectors.

As early as 1940, the food ration system was adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka to assure the availability of a minimum quantity of food to households. Such a system is still used though with some modifications. Food subsidies and food stamps contributed much to improved food security in the country. The Janasaviya, Midday Meal and the Food Stamp Programmes were among those that offered such interventions. However, when the Samurdhi Programme was introduced, these three programmes were discontinued.

Nutrition programmes and activities are implemented by the Ministry of Plan Implementation and Parliamentary Affairs (MPIPA) through the National Nutrition Coordinating Committee (NNCC), chaired by the Secretary of MPIPA. NNCC became a venue for representatives of relevant agencies to discuss nutrition and the causes of malnutrition in Sri Lanka. After the International Conference on Nutrition (1992), a multisectoral National Nutrition Plan of Action (NNPA) was prepared by various sectors under the overall coordination of MPIPA. Officials from different ministries and UN agencies were involved from preparation to full development. The plan has already been reviewed, discussed and amended at two national workshops held in 1995. However, owing to institutional problems, finalization of the plan for submission to the Cabinet was delayed. In 1998, a subcommittee reviewed and updated the NNPA. Further, the President appointed a Committee on National Nutrition and Food Security, to prepare action plans for key sectors. When action plans are submitted, finalization of the NNPA will follow.

MPIPA is also in charge of reviewing and monitoring the following UNICEF-assisted nutrition activities and, to a certain extent, in programme development:

MPIPA also created several subcommittees to coordinate and supervise other nutrition activities, such as the Iodine Deficiency Control Programme and the Sri Lanka Breastfeeding Code. MPIPA is also responsible for monitoring the progress of national food security especially among the poor and other nutritionally vulnerable groups.


The Samurdhi Programme was initiated by the Government, and hence employed a top-down approach. However, given Sri Lanka’s long history of a welfare approach, and of perpetuating a culture of handouts resulting in a heavy financial burden, the government wants to use the Samurdhi as a transition programme to replace most of the welfare programmes and to promote self-reliance among the people, particularly the poor.

Social mobilization and training activities played important roles in bringing about community involvement and eventually people empowerment. As a programme anchored in participatory development principles, involvement of communities and beneficiaries in various aspects of programme management from planning to monitoring is encouraged. With most of the activities taking place at village and cluster levels, community workers work with beneficiaries and leaders to agree on the course of action, especially the type of developmental activities the households will engage in. With the assistance of Samurdhi animators, community elections are held to select the members of the Samurdhi Task Force, which is the developmental task force of the village. Emphasis is on building people’s capacities and on the use of indigenous resources. While most of the projects are predetermined by the government, deviations were later accommodated as the process of community participation was enhanced. Monitoring was actively carried out by all involved, although the system focused mainly on repayments and compulsory savings. This is understandable since future opportunities for loan availability (and its increase), relied on loan recovery by Samurdhi Banks.


The programme has already demonstrated its sustainability. Funding is provided solely by the government. Moreover, the scheme is sustainable because of the high rate of repayment of loans, compulsory and voluntary savings, and its focus on the use of local resources This is further reinforced by group structures and participation in the selection of beneficiaries, identification of projects to be undertaken, collection of repayments and savings and monitoring.

The programme is supported by an organizational infrastructure, including the establishment of its own Ministry, whose network extends to the village level where paid Samurdhi animators function. Though the salary is minimal for almost a full-time job (seven days a week on call with two days’ mandatory reporting to district level supervisors), the animators perform their roles with commitment and dedication. To most, it is an opportunity to work for the village and its most needy members.

Multisectoral involvement is also considered to be an important component to the successful implementation of the programme, although at present this is weak. Those involved, particularly at the district level, recognize that this should be pursued and encouraged. Linkages with other programmes such as nutrition and health programmes, whether implemented by government or non-governmental organizations, will likewise be established in the near future. Macropolicies in support of Samurdhi have long existed in the country since poverty alleviation always ranked high in the government’s priorities.

At the local level, communities have a sense of ownership of Samurdhi and, with their active involvement in decision-making, there is room for innovation and sustaining ongoing efforts. A crucial feature of the programme that may ensure sustainability is the establishment of Samurdhi Banks, perceived as people’s banks. These banks have increased their capital and investment portfolio through the years. With an easy lending scheme, beneficiaries are encouraged to save and access the banks’ services.


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Institutional and organizational structure for the
implementation of the Samurdhi Programme

51 Editor’s note: balakaya is a group. In Sanskrit, bala means strength.
52 Editor’s note: maha sangam is a group of people working together for a common goal.
53 The range was revised to Rs 125 – Rs 1000 in the year 2000.
54 The niyamaka mobilizer coordinates or handles activities and is responsible for conducting such activities.

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