Business graduate recognised for outstanding PhD thesis

Business graduate recognised for outstanding PhD thesis

Dr Nadeera Ranabahu’s research focused on helping female entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka

University of Wollongong PhD graduate Dr Nadeera Ranabahu has received international recognition for her research, which has examined how female entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka use microfinance to get their ideas off the ground and acquire business expertise during the process.

The Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management awarded Dr Ranabahu Best Doctoral Dissertation for 2018, which was presented during the organisation’s annual conference in Auckland, New Zealand, last December.

Dr Ranabahu, who was based in the School of Operations, Marketing and Management in the Faculty of Business, was inspired to pursue the PhD after drawing on her own experiences in Sri Lanka.

“Before I began my PhD, I worked in the microfinance sector in Sri Lanka in various capacities, including in a microfinance institute, for about seven years,” Dr Ranabahu said.

“This research allowed me to explore something I am passionate about, in detail, by combining it with my professional background.”

Microfinance provides small loans to people who might not have access to traditional banking credit or loan services.

Dr Ranabahu spent some of her PhD on the ground in Sri Lanka, observing and researching how microfinance works among women in rural communities.

The women borrow micro amounts of money using a group guarantee system – that is, three or so of their friends or community members act as guarantors on their loans. This creates a larger system in which the women, who all live close by and trust each other, guarantee each other’s loans. Microfinance institutions, using this system, provide loans to women.

“In countries like Sri Lanka, micro-entrepreneurs have trouble accessing credit from the formal banking sector due a lack of collateral, the cost involved in obtaining loans, and the lack of reliable service providers at rural areas,” Dr Ranabahu explained.

“Microfinance institutions provide an option, using this peer guarantee system. Unlike in traditional banking, microfinance institutes visit the villages for loan distribution and instalment collection.”

The women involved in Dr Ranabahu’s research used their loans to get their entrepreneurial ideas off the ground, creating a growing network of small businesses in the village.

The entrepreneurs were focused on dressmaking, agriculture, confectionary making, and running grocery shops.

Dr Nadeera Ranabahu receives the award at the conference in Auckland. Photo: Associate Professor Lee Moerman


Dr Ranabahu said the women were mostly the sole owners of their enterprises but had the support of their family in the day to day running of the business.

“I found in my research that the entrepreneurs are motivated by the prospect of social loss and that influences their business thinking. They don’t want to lose their reputation and their social contacts” Dr Ranabahu said.

“The research also showed the different formal and informal ways that microfinance entrepreneurs repetitively conduct activities, and reflect and learn from those, to become experts in their community.”

Dr Ranabahu is now based at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, where she is a lecturer in the College of Business and Law.

She said her PhD journey gave her the research skills, the tools and techniques in writing and critical thinking, to become an independent researcher.

“This PhD was the basis for securing a career I love in academia. This is also due to the supervision I received from Professor Mary Barrett and Associate Professor Lee Moerman, who were focused on developing an independent researcher and encouraged me to pursue opportunities.”

Professor Moerman said Dr Ranabahu was an exceptional PhD student, who demonstrated her passion for research and for finding ways to improve entrepreneurship among female borrowers in Sri Lanka during the long study process.

“Nadeera was a one in a million student. She was an absolute delight to supervise,” Professor Moerman said.

“Her thesis received an ‘examiners’ commendation for outstanding thesis’, which was well deserved. We are incredibly proud of her for receiving this award, which recognises her hard work and dedication to her research.”