When Achala Samaradiwakara moved from her hometown of Kurunegala to Colombo for university, things were different. “Where I grew up, we were always in nature,” she reveals. “For food, we could pluck anything from anywhere, and everyone knew each other. When I came to Colombo, I realised the people here were very isolated, they weren’t connected to each other. There weren’t as many trees, and so many vehicles. You had to go to a supermarket to get food, and everything was packaged and processed.” Community was crucial to Achala growing up, and it’s that same feeling of collaboration and warmth that she strives to replicate at Good Market, a curated store, weekly marketplace and online platform that connects social entrepreneurs and responsible businesses with conscious consumers. Co-founded in 2012 by Achala and Dr. Amanda Kiessel, Good Market was conceptualised as a platform that makes it easier to find and connect with social enterprises, responsible businesses, and changemakers who are creating a better world.
Despite its ambitious ideals, Good Market’s inception was relatively simple. It began with the recognition of a gap—between consumers and producers, between rural entrepreneurs and urban markets—and the initiative to bridge it. “When I spoke to my friends who were from Colombo, they always told me how lucky I was to grow up in the village. We had fruits there that nobody here even knew about. So I got to thinking, can’t we bring them to Colombo? With the idea in the back of her mind, Achala graduated from university with a degree in Rural Management and Business Development and began working in the NGO sector, where she met Amanda. Amanda had a background in sustainable international development and biology, Achala says, and the like-minded pair decided to take the lead in creating a better world and economy.
They began with 32 vendors and rented out premises at Diyatha Uyana every Thursday. “It was really just risk management, you know,” Achala tells me. “We took baby steps, we never had enough resources to spend, and just tested things out.” And it worked — week after week new social enterprises, changemakers, responsible businesses and consumers came to participate in the market, and any advertising happened solely through word-of-mouth. “We never used any commercial market advertisements because we’re trying to change the whole system. We want to succeed with people’s trust and by building a community,” Achala says, noting that their first vendors and customers were instrumental to Good Market’s success.
Her NGO background helped her structure Good Market’s mission early on. “When you’re at an NGO, you gain knowledge around working with people, and understanding their problems and their emotions. You also learn how to streamline your concept — without a proper plan, it’s difficult to execute things.” Good Market, she continues, is a social enterprise, a business model that falls in-between a private company and an NGO — a hybrid of the private sector’s self-financing and NGOs’ mission-driven outcomes. “We earn, we cover our costs, and we invest it into the business to develop it for our bigger mission,” says Achala.
In the past 8 years, Good Market has grown from 32 to 1200+ vendors, as well as establishing a store and an online platform in addition to the weekly market, now held on Saturdays at Colombo Racecourse. It’s also growing as a franchise — a store recently opened in Battaramulla, and another will be opening in Negombo soon. Their standards, however, remain high. Good Market began using Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) in 2013 to verify their products as organic. The system was created by producers and consumers who want to make organic products more accessible and affordable in Sri Lanka, and is recognised by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
But when I ask about Good Market’s success, and about how many rural enterprises it has helped sustain and grow, Achala is modest. “The satisfaction for us is that we can see that things are changing,” she says. “The world is changing, and people do want to protect each other and the planet.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks