Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, members of the clergy , distinguish invitees and friends
This invitation to me to speak at the conference signifies the organization’s inclusiveness and respect for diversity, I am honored and privileged to say a few words.
My subject today is about‘digital and knowledge’ economy and its ramifications for usSri Lankans.
First, for the purpose of clarity, let me define both the Digital and Knowledge economy.
The “digital economy” is economic activities performed based on digital technologies such as the internet and Mobile networks to deliver e-commerce.
Knowledge Economy is where intellectually driven activities in production of good and services.
Potential of Digital Economy
The potential of the digital economy alone is massive.The true size of the digital economy in 2016 was US$11.5 trillion globally. That is, 15.5% of global GDP. The Asian and Chinese Digital economy are growing 3 times faster than the normal economy.Its predicted that by 2030, 50% of the world’s GDP will powered by the combined Digital and Knowledge Economy.
The fourth Industrial Revolution
They say we are at the beginning of the 4th Industrial revolution, with confluence of emerging technological breakthroughs, covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing, nanotechnology and more.
To put it simply, in the 4th Industrial era if an overseas customer wants to buy a Mask made in Ambalangoda download the mask’s design and print it with a custom-built 3D printer in home country.
Disruptive Technologies and unconventional business models will disrupt every sector in the world including our own Garment industry Manufacturing sector and Agriculture sectors.
Breakthrough nations such as Singapore, Korea and Israel, are racing to be a part of it to grab a big slice of the global Digital economy.
Singapore for instance is a leader in Digital infrastructure. A recent survey revealed that Singapore is ranked as Number One on the Index of the World’s Most Technology Ready Countries.
South Korea’s Per capita income was lower than Sri Lanka’s when we received independence. They currently hold 600,000 patents (third highest in the world), which is fuelingtheir Knowledge economy.
The UAE has also reportedly appointed its first Minister of Artificial Intelligence. His role is to help the country become more prepared for the challenges of artificial intelligence.
in relation to Sri Lanka:
I have given you a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in the world today.
With this backdrop, how can Sri Lanka by part of this Revolution , deliver economic dividends and reduce inequality.
We are a small country with a population of 21 million. We don’t have a large domestic population like India or China to drive economic growth by domestic consumption. Hence, we need to be an export-oriented country to drive our economic growth.
Taking a look at the current industries shows us that the biggest foreign exchange earner today are our Foreign remittance by domestic workers overseas(10 Bill USD). In terms of export earnings, the garment industry tops the list at 4 billion USD, followed by Tea at 1.5 billion and then Tourism.
If you analyze the top three industries in our country, to be employed in 90% of the combined workforce doesn’t really require a great deal of education, certainly not at a university or tertiary level. Our biggest revenue earners, essentially, are based on employing a semiskilled or unskilled workforce.
But as a nation, our people embrace completely different aspirations. For our people, education is a symbol of progress, social mobility, access to wealth, and in most cases elevation from poverty.
Any Sri Lankan parent, whether a three-wheel driver, a farmer or an executive, their greatest shared desire is for their children to be skilled, educated and hold white-collar jobs.
So we have a drastic mismatch in the aspirations of our people –and what our economy is currently able to offer them to actually fulfill their dreams.. no wonder every 20-25 year we have conflicts in SriLanka. (Southern insurgencies in 1971 and 1987-1990 and the northern Insurgency)
How can we bridge this gap, meeting the aspirations of our people and at the same time, driving our economic growth? What industry will it be, that will bridge this gap?
It’s time we focus heavily on one or two industries. We all need to support an industry, one that will take our people from a $4,000 per capita income to a $15,000 per capita income.
We need to identify the sector that will be the catalyst, which has the potential to elevate Sri Lanka to this paradigm. I believe that one of these is the knowledge industry.
Let me share an example to support this. In 2000 when the IT/BPM industry, in terms of export revenue, was bringing in just $50 million, we set ourselves the goal to become a billion-dollar industry.( I was the Chair,(SLASSCOM) an Industry leader, Just to the country in 2000) It took us 15 years to achieve this feat. Employing 80,000 people, we became a billion-dollar industry with a per capita income of figures ranging between $15,000-$20,000. Its 5th Largest export revenue earner,
It took the tea industry almost 150 years achieve the same feat, to become a billion-dollar industry, and to this day has a per capita income of less than $2,500.
What all this demonstrates is that it is possible, with the right vision and leadership, to extend the Knowledge sector to other industries as well, such as Medical, Engineering, Architecture, Agriculture Design etc.
This holds a massive opportunity for us as a nation to be a knowledge-based economy. Sri Lanka has always been known for our educated population. Despite our shortcomings, we have an efficient education system, that turns out proficient professionals.
Our knowledge economy is nothing new, we have doctors, teachers, IT professionals and more educated people making an impact across the world.
And that is what I wish to propagate. I believe we have a golden opportunity to build this new industry, which will not only meet the aspirations of our people but also reduce the rampant inequality.
What are the actionable initiatives we need to do to transform our economy, that will take our nation to the next level?
Increase relevant graduate and professionals out put(Human Capital)
We have 200,000 students qualifying for state universities but just 30,000 actually entering university. Some then attend private institutions, about 10,000 students go overseas, draining the country of foreign exchange, and finally a colossal 150,000 students every year do not have access to higher education. To me, this a great injustice, that even after 70 years of independence, we are still so far behind in meeting the aspirations of our people.
If we are to be part of the Digital and Knowledge economy , we are going to need a lot more professionals.
Every district will need a university governed by modern education systems. This is the number one priority to build a nation of educated people and the government must do this in order to quadruple our output of professionals and graduates.
That there can be an oversupply of an industry-ready workforce is a notion that does not exist. If we have 10 new medical universities island-wide and passing additional 5000 doctors annually, not only would we improve our health standards, we would also attract global healthcare and medical research companies to invest and set up centers in Sri Lanka.
Today’s global economy is such that investors follow talent, no matter where they may be, which is why countries like Israel and Singapore are so attractive to global high-tech organizations and research companies.
We need to change our system of Education
We have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, yet rank low on the Global Innovation Index, coming in at 90 out of 127 countries in the 2017 report.
Why is this? It’s because our education system is extremely efficient but it’s not at all effective. Which is something very important to balance out.
The roots of this are buried in the colonial British education system that we still follow. This system was created to bring about conformity and compliance, which was required by the colonialists to ensure people were groomed to be subservient and take orders, and to not challenge the status quo.
Similarly, the goal of our education system should be to enable our youth to excel in what they are good at, to be able to create a destiny for themselves as well as for the ecosystems they are a part of.
Makerspaces, incubators and innovation centers in every school for kids to come up with ideas and be able to disrupt is an absolute must, this will be one of the pillars in building up the youth of the future.
The future will be owned by the ones who create it. That makes innovation the driving force in all future economies.
So we need inventors and innovators coming out of our Universities, Research centers and Startup ecosystems.
We need Entrepreneurs, who will take on risk and disrupt industries, who will create the next wave of companies that will conquer the world. There is no shortage of entrepreneurship and innovators in our country, what we need is a vibrant ecosystem for them to thrive.
We need Government support, more importantly, we need in government Technocrats who will facilitate this and create the right environment.
To succeed we need all three – Scientist/Innovators, Entrepreneurship and Government Technocrats to work together and expand the Knowledge economy, and together be the driving economic force of our country.
Build Digital Infrastructure
The digital infrastructure is a vital enabler of the digital economy. You simply cannot create a digital economy without it It’s as important as building physical infrastructure such as Airports, Ports and highways.
As important asDelivering digital services to every citizen must be made a fundamental aspect of our digital strategy. The ICT Agency of Sri Lanka was set up for precisely this purpose and has done a tremendous job over the years. It should be further strengthened to be able to deliver on its mission.
And finally Position SriLanka as Knowledge HUB
Everything I’ve told you today about the Digital Revolution and Digital economy is public knowledge and is available on the web and in many publications.
What needs to be done in Sri Lanka is also known, the knowledge economy and most of the ideas I’ve propagated have been discussed in countless forums already.
So what’s the difference here? What do we need to focus on today?
To me just one thing makes a difference… Ideas are cheap, execution is everything
Thomas Edison said Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
The breakout nations Israel, Korea and Singapore, why do they stand out?
Because they have mastered the art of execution. Why we have failed as a nation is not because we don’t have ideas or talented people, it’s because we are unable to execute these ideas.
That’s why lee kuan yew was successful he was able to execute a vision fearlessly for the betterment of his people.
There are Sri Lankans there in the world changing the landscapes of other countries but not in their own. Why? Because we are unable to execute and follow up on ideas for the betterment of our people. We keep failing because everything is politicized and we always wait on someone else to make decisions
As Sri Lankans, we want everything for free – we don’t feel the urge to create our own destinies, we keep waiting for others to do it.
What we need is leadership that has courage to make a change and has the ability to execute great ideas, empowered by professionals and technocrats.
The time has come we as professionals, entrepreneurs for us to take lead and run this country … we have given our politicians enough time and they have not delivered ,it’s our time to lead this country.
I want leave you with is quote-
Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it. – Mark Twain
(Text Of Speech made by 99X Co-founder and CEO Mano Sekaram on the theme “Digital and knowledge economy” at the “Viyathmaga” Forum held at the Colombo Shangri-la Hotel where former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa unveiled his Vision 2030)