Agriculture has always played a pivotal role in the development and economy of the little island of Sri Lanka. Its geographic location provides immense benefits in terms of the local climate and rich fertile soil. While crop species that provide the world with tea, rubber and spices have stolen the economic spotlight, the potential of many of Sri Lankan’s other native flora are yet to be explored. Recognizing this, Olai is a young local startup exploring this potential.
Primarily Olai is looking at the Asian Palmyrah – grown in abundance in northern parts of the island, this plant has provided a livelihood to many who live there. Various parts of the Palmyrah tree has been used by the locals for food, construction, handicrafts and even in the production of the native alcoholic delicacy – toddy. An integral part of the community, this towering fan leafed plant has been crowned the symbol of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.
Growing up in Killinochchi, young Yathusha Kulenthiran and her family underwent harsh living conditions as a result of the country’s infamous civil war. Palmyrah trees played an integral role in the family’s wellbeing and survival. “Palmyrah trees came to our rescue wherever I was displaced. My survival depended on the Palmyrah tree, its fruits and roots served as our source of sustenance, its trunks came in handy for building bunkers to shield from attacks.”
It was after the war was over, that Yathusha was able to properly focus on her education. Her interest was peaked in areas of Business and IT. Failing to enter local universities and unable to afford to attend a private one, she began her career in the IT industry by learning User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX) design from her brother.
Just as young Yathusha was unsure of where she was headed, she was accepted into the Uki Coding School by the Yarl IT Hub. It was here that she developed the skills needed for her entrepreneurship journey in a growing digital age.
Olai is born
The primitive concept of Olai began through one of Yathusha’s final projects at Uki. Olai.shop was launched in 2019 and now sells a collection of handicrafts ranging from coasters and tablemats to photograph frames and handbags. These products come from the leaves of Palmyrah trees – dried, woven and sometimes even coloured to create products of the highest quality.