Have you heard of Sri Lanka? With its range of breathtaking landscapes and ancient Buddhist ruins, it’s unlikely anyone is totally unaware of this beautiful Asian island.

What perhaps we don’t all see is that this country has suffered long years of civil bloodshed and social unrest, especially due to ethnic tensions between its tribes, with estimated losses of 80,000-100,000 citizens.

But, thankfully all is not lost for the hundreds of thousands forced to relocate: thanks to an invisible (yet perceptible) thread of altruism, some of them have hope for a much better future.

And Abi Ramanan was, and still is, the spinner.

An incredible lady: winner of the New Radicals, Abi is a young activist with a focus on food.

She is the founder of two food-family-run social enterprises in London. One of them is Papi’s Pickles, an excellent catering startup begun in 2014, which combines profit-making and solidarity towards the weak.

The cooking staff employed are made up of (so far, eight) women who have relocated to the UK during and after (because of) the conflict in Sri Lanka. They are offered training, support, a living wage and all those benefits that come from meaningful employment, including flexible hours if they have children.

The aim of Papi’s Pickles is to provide fresh and tasty South Indian and Sri Lankan food for events, pop ups and street markets, and to reinvest all profits toward creating new jobs for the community. As Abi says: “For a business of our size, if it weren’t a social enterprise, typically we would have three staff, not eight. But employment is the purpose of our business”.

But there’s even more: as the trigger and creative mind of the project, Abi is aware that what they offer is  goes beyond a simple salary and training. Relocated Sri Lankan women also face a challenging road in terms of integration.

Moving to a new country implies adjustment to a new culture and a new language and these often act as impediments to finding good employment.

And even when they have a job, it’s not all plain-sailing. They are often forced into illegal employment arrangements where salaries go unpaid and employment protections simply aren’t there.

Papi’s Pickles:

  • helps to ease new employees into the world of work, for Abi and her head chefs know the Tamil language and culture
  • it formalises staff work with letters that acknowledge employment, giving employed women access to council housing
  • it fosters integration; it makes jobs for the community and is planning to offer English language lessons to its workers.
  • Papi’s Pickles wants to think big: they want to create jobs for even more relocated women and aim to add a restaurant space, commercial kitchen and maybe even a communal area to host English lessons – Abi is still sorting it out.

Abi is firmly convinced that other companies should help communities in difficulty like those in Sri Lanka. Following Papi’s Pickles model, they could have “a transformational impact [and create businesses which are]more than just work”. And when it comes making, not only jobs, but also transforming lives, we cannot help but agree with her.

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