Helping small businesses grow

World Vision's ARISE project supports small businesses in developing countries so they can help drive their local economies.


This project funded by the Australian Government through


The role of small businesses

In high-income economies like Australia’s, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a significant role. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, they account for 95 percent of Australia’s trading businesses. They employ 70 percent of our workforce and account for almost half of GDP (gross domestic product).

The picture is very different in developing countries. Research by Harvard University’s Centre for International Development shows that SMEs in low-income countries employ on average only 30 percent of the workforce and contribute approximately 17 percent to GDP.

A major factor restricting these SMEs is lack of access to suitable finance. Many have outgrown microfinance but are unable to get loans from traditional banks. The credit gap in this “missing middle” is estimated at over one trillion US dollars (International Finance Corporation, 2011). 

Ultimately, this reduces their considerable potential to drive economic development and help their communities overcome poverty. 

World Vision's ARISE project

Our ARISE (Agricultural and Rural Investments in Social Enterprises) project helps fill the credit gap by giving loans to SMEs that couldn’t otherwise access finance.

As well as providing loans through VisionFund, World Vision’s microfinance arm, it offers ongoing support from locally-based business advisors. All interest earned on the loans is reinvested into the project to assist more businesses.

Supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, we’re currently piloting the project in Sri Lanka and looking to expand into South East Asia. We’re targeting agricultural SMEs with potential to grow – particularly those led by or employing women, youth and other marginalised people living in poverty.  

The ARISE project – Janaki's story

See how World Vision's ARISE project in Sri Lanka is helping entrepreneurs who have outgrown microfinance, but can't yet access loans from traditional finance institutions. For businesswoman Janaki, ARISE gave her the opportunity to continue expanding her brush-making business, with positive flow-on effects for the rest of her community.

Read the transcript

How ARISE boosted Janaki’s business

Janaki had several failed ventures in the past. But with support from the ARISE project, she now runs a successful business employing 35 people.

From a factory in her parents’ backyard, Janaki and her staff make brushes from coconut husks. She started with one supplier, but he could only give her a limited amount to work with each week.

“I realised if I bought the materials on my own I would make a much better profit,” she said. “So I needed to take a loan to continue my business forward.”

But without formal credit history, most banks would view her as too high risk.

In June 2016, Janaki received an ARISE loan of Rs$600,000 (AUD$5,400). She used it to buy a cutting machine and a brush polishing machine. The rest she used as operating capital, buying a large stock of husk from local producers and employing 10 more people.

Now, Janaki’s brushes are exported internationally. And the project’s ongoing business coaching has encouraged her to expand even further. This includes into value-adding activities like fitting the brush handles, which is currently done elsewhere, and making other products like doormats.

Janaki's business in numbers: before and after the loan


new employees

with all staff receiving higher wages compared to before Janaki's loan.


brushes every month

compared to a previous monthly production of 40,000.


monthly profit

compared to US$172 previously.

Small businesses benefit the wider community

By helping Janaki expand her business, ARISE has had positive flow-on effects for the rest of her community.

Because Janaki pays her employees for the number of brushes they make, the large rise in monthly output has increased their incomes.

Of the 35 employees, 25 are local women. A single woman herself, Janaki strongly believes that women should be able to earn their own incomes.

She also offers her employees work flexibility and training. Last year, as a reward for good work, she took them all on a day trip to the beach.

Janaki is proud of her achievements and the fact that her family and neighbours don’t have to look elsewhere for work – in neighbouring countries or even further afield. “Knowing that people in my community can earn something and provide for their families makes me very happy,” she says. 

Her vision to continue expanding should provide the community with more job opportunities. And even beyond her own staff, Janaki’s business raises incomes by increasing demand for local materials from coconut producers.  

“Some people look at me as a woman and think I’m too small to do something like this,” Janaki says. “But no matter what I will continue with this business.”

The ARISE project's impact so far



like Janaki have received loans totalling US$251,724, and 970 jobs have been supported.


of all loan recipients

are women, helping to improve their socio-economic standing.



have received business training, helping them lead their communities out of poverty.