The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 24

Page 8 Sunday, October 20, 2013 gain
opinion
Printed and published by Rivira Media Corporation (Pvt) Ltd. on Sunday October 20, 2013 at 249/2, Sri Saddharma Mawatha, Maligawatta, Colombo 10.
Mohamed Hisham
It was with great interest I
have been following some of
the recent developments in the
Entrepreneurship landscape in
Sri Lanka including the startup
pitching sessions to the increas-
ing frequency of entrepreneur-
ship related forums being held
to facilitate a long-due interven-
tion required for Sri Lanka to
leap forward. I believe its oppor-
tune time to reflect on where we
have been as a Sri Lankan na-
tion so far and to critically look
at what more needs to be done
to facilitate an environment of
risk taking, innovation, creativ-
ity, passion driven drive and
fearless perseverance which are
inherent characteristics for an
Entrepreneurial ecosystem to
flourish going beyond symbolic
gestures.
I am no veteran in being an
Entrepreneurship per-se though
I have been fortunate enough to
be part, as a minor stakeholder
of a startup of our own in a
sense with two other colleagues
having taken that all important
decision to venture in to our
own business in the Business
Processing Outsourcing indus-
try from being a mere corpo-
rate employee for close to the
better side of a decade. And in
this backdrop, I consider myself
to have been fortunate enough
to be one of the handful of Sri
Lankan delegates among 4,700
policy makers, young entrepre-
neurs, venture capitalists, inves-
tors and industry leaders from
123 countries at the 4th Global
Entrepreneurship Summit (GES
2013) help in Kuala Lumpur last
week.
Government policy
On a personal note, I was
looking forward to the keynote
speech which was to be deliv-
ered by the US President Barack
Obama in person at the summit
and US Secretary of State John
Kerry had to represent him as
Obama was compelled to be in
US due to the congressional par-
tisan political blockade which
has resulted in what is called as
a government “shutdown” in the
USA. Most of my thoughts from
the interactions and reflections
during the sessions throughout
the GES 2013 were on the rela-
tive comparison of Sri Lankan
Entrepreneurial landscape with
of Malaysia, which is fast be-
coming a technology and entre-
preneurial hub of its own in the
Asian region with a visionary
plan for facilitating innovation,
research and young entrepre-
neurship.
Couple of striking strategic
moves I was impressed about Ma-
laysia were the facts that more
than 10,000 schools are being
connected on a country-wide 4G
network with Chrome-books be-
ing given to students to comple-
ment their school curricula the
high-level inter-agency top-driv-
en government policy to have
achieved what is claimed to be
the “most entrepreneur-friendly
ecosystem in the ASEAN re-
gion” which includes startup
loans with relaxed conditions,
mentoring for young entrepre-
neurs, multiple incubation and
acceleration centers, country-
wide boot camps and a newly an-
nounced Malaysian Global Inno-
vation Center (MAGIC) which is
expected to be the regional hub
for technology, research and
knowledge processing industry.
While the former plays a key
role in shaping the future gener-
ation to be tech-savvy, up to date
and allows access to information
from across the globe at their
fingertips from the early stages
of their lives; the latter sets in
motion the required infrastruc-
ture and strategic landscape for
the youth in the present day to
push beyond their comfort zones
in making their startup ideas in
to great entrepreneurial ven-
tures. It is important to note
that these developments are in
the backdrop of how Malaysia
has already setup Cyber Jaya, a
city which is called as an “intel-
ligent city” due to its high-tech
nature and the ambitious Mul-
timedia Super Highway project
Malaysia has implemented over
a decade by now in making con-
nectivity across communities a
priority.
Knowledge hub
I believe there lies in very im-
portant lessons for Sri Lankan
policy makers to create such an
eco-system in a country where
there is a perception that policy
decisions are more short-term
stop-gap moves rather than well-
thought, coordinated blueprints
which will have short and long
term tangible gains to move for-
ward as a knowledge hub.
Though this in no way belittles
some of the initiatives by certain
universities and private ventures
to attempt creating an entrepre-
neurial eco system, a set of state
policies with defined milestones
and a clearly coordinated impact
based approach would no doubt
allow a smaller island nation
with lots of talents and skills like
ours to be able to differentiate
as a hub for innovation, creativ-
ity and entrepreneurial ventures
which can evolve to be globally
known business ventures or so-
cial game-changers in years to
come.
Though in no way I am propa-
gating the creation of completely
state-dependent entrepreneurial
landscape in Sri Lanka, it is im-
portant to facilitate the backdrop
for an enabling environment from
a multitude of perspectives by
going beyond fashionable state-
ments alone. The state policies
need to evolve and go through a
change of reality check in line
with the dynamic and increas-
ingly connected nature of the
world.
This should cover a whole
range from infrastructure to so-
cial sensitizing to research and
development, inter-agency frame-
work with a clear vision and en-
courage young people to believe
that failure is not something to
be feared of rather it’s part of
the path to success in being inno-
vative, creative, passionate and
respected entrepreneurs who can
fly Sri Lankan flag higher across
the globe.
Jaffna development
In this light it was a welcome
note to read a statement recent-
ly on the ambitious yet sensible
plans to make Jaffna the ‘next
Silicon Valley’ by promoting tech
startups and innovation among
the youth. But questions need to
be asked about how practically
such a plan can be envisaged by
facilitating the required infra-
structure, conducive environ-
ment, social background and
civic freedom in a region which
is still afresh with bitter experi-
ences of a decades-long ethnic
conflict.
Then comes the national psyche
both in North and the South with
a competitive education system
starting from Grade 5 examina-
tions all the way up to university
selections through A/L’s where
fear of failure is “nurtured” from
early ages in the mindset and
plays a major role in the society.
And then comes the social norm
of sorts which had been coming
through generations about a cul-
ture of comfort and dependabil-
ity by giving an unequal priority
to public sector jobs where a ma-
jority of the times the motivation
for such a priority, despite the
relatively lower salaries, is the
job security, pensions and related
perks rather than a spirit of pub-
lic service.
This unfortunate culture has
seen some of the very bright,
smart and talented Sri Lankan
youth taking up jobs in the pri-
vate sector as a short-termmeans
till they secure a public sector
job or else to migrate overseas in
search of “greener pastures”.
But how can we blame the so-
ciety and the attitudes of these
young people alone when there
are more than enough justifica-
tion for them to turn back and
ask if there is a favorable envi-
ronment and an entrepreneurial
ecosystem in the country where
they can follow their passions,
dream ventures and to try to
“stand up on their own” without
being looked down by anyone in
case they fail in one venture cur-
tailing their chances of taking
risks in life ever again?
(The writer is the Director – Op-
erations of Tellida, a Knowledge
Process Outsourcing company in
Sri Lanka. He tweets as @mhm-
hisham and can be reached on
email:
)
Sri Lanka’s
entrepreneurial
landscape
A reflection from the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit
Ananda Ariyarathne
Maps of the World Population
and of ‘Rice growing areas in the
world’ or world’s highest populated
regions and also the ‘Largest Rice
Producers in the World’ would tell
us the symbiotic relationship rice
has with people. A historian will
track rice to China as the place
where rice cultivation became one
of the oldest organized human ac-
tivities ever.
The plant that belongs to grass
family could have been originally
growing in the marshy areas as a
wild plant. Man’s ability to simu-
late its background could have end-
ed up in having man-made marshy
patches where the rice plant could
grow. As the cereal, which gives
the highest yield per area culti-
vated, naturally became the food
crop that could sustain the highest
number of people. Compared to the
simplicity of rice as a wild plant,
it is unique in being cultivated as
a domesticated crop-plant we can
notice when it comes to pre-culti-
vation, cultivation and harvesting
practices followed.
It cannot be called a simple culti-
vation anymore as it is the most ‘In-
tensive Cultivation’ when it comes
to cereal crop farming. After man
went a step further from collecting
and gathering wild rice, he simply
followed the rain water and the dry
seasons that came in. As long as the
populations were small and man-
ageable, rice farmers depended
on rain water. The reasons linked
to matter of Food Security and to
be able to feed more people, man
started thinking about two cultiva-
tion cycles in one year so that there
could be two harvests that doubled
the productivity.
Storage tanks
If the man could control water,
he could make more and more arti-
ficial marshy conditions to suit the
needs of the rice plants. Rain wa-
ter or man-made water storage de-
pended on rains and if they came
as expected, crops would have been
more productive and people would
have been more affluent.
The early kings of Sri Lanka first
concentrated on harnessing rivers
to divert the water to the rice fields
and reaped the benefits of having
peaceful kingdoms with contented
people. The first storage tanks of
the dry zone in Sri Lanka were evi-
dently a development of a natural
potential. During the rains, rivers
became swollen and the result was
the floods that made a lot of low-ly-
ing land inundated. When such a
river was blocked at one place, the
volume of water that caused the
floods got contained within a large
area.
Higher the dam, the water level
also rose due to the volume of wa-
ter that got collected. During the
rainy period, the farmers could cul-
tivate their rice fields with rain wa-
ter and during the dry season, they
could do their second crop with the
help of the saved water.
The land became more organized
and during the dry season, when
the water level went down, the
people removed the mud at the bot-
tom of those lakes and that became
bricks used in various buildings,
especially in constructing large re-
ligious monuments. All such works
needed large forces of manpower
and rice was there to feed them
all. The symbiotic relationship be-
tween rice and the population in
Sri Lanka evolved like that.
Productivity improvement
The Western type of commer-
cialization caused urban develop-
ment and a large consumer base
also developed that way but the
staple food did not change. The
prime concern of the governments
became the ‘necessity to improve
productivity’ in rice cultivation.
On one hand, the productivity was
linked to pest control while on the
other it was linked to artificial fer-
tilizers.
No one was bothered about the
after effects of the heavy use of
chemicals that quietly started
changing the balance of ecosys-
tems. All are now talking about the
marketing problems as the farmers
have a problem of getting a better
price for their paddy as the specu-
lating rice merchants who have en-
croached mills as well as the ware-
houses hate abundance as they
cannot fleece the producers and the
consumers.
When the paddy in the ware-
house does not get milled to create
shortages to keep the rice prices
high, there shall not be space to
take in the new harvests. In other
words, farmers cannot sell their
paddy. Paddy in stores can rot and
become weevil infested so that it
becomes not suitable for human
consumption.
In the meantime, all have woken
up from a dream of indifference
and have become suddenly worried
about the pollution in the soil and
water with highly toxic matter and
have started wondering how much
of that pollution contaminated the
rice produced.
The balancing our ancient kings
used by using the nature and the
human factor in a very logical way.
They held the Community Spirit at
the highest possible esteem. Now
we have deviated from such and in
a race where the blind led the blind
we inherited enough problems.
Now, the time has come to lament,
and that, we are doing very well
and busy looking for those who
could have been responsible.
Innovative ideas
If the labor problemcan be solved
at the locality levels and new re-
sources are organized to revive the
traditional farming practices with
innovative ideas while enhancing
storage and milling facilities, the
story of rice can become more so-
ciety friendly.
But only if all of us, regardless of
one’s background or positions, be-
come conscious of the fact that we
cannot play games with the truth,
and take our first steps towards
becoming patriotic not by words
but by deeds, our attitudes shall
change. Then we will have no prob-
lems in thinking with open minds
and recognizing the most logically
suitable solutions, so that we shall
be able to overcome the problems.
Mistakes are the best teachers. If
we can be humble enough to accept
mistakes, we shall avoid the same
in the future. Action with such
knowledge shall bring down the
possibilities of further mistakes. If
we can understand that, what shall
prevent us from achieving at least a
status of near perfection?
Rice – Taking stock
A crosssection of participants at the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2013 held in Kuala Lumpur
I believe there lies in very important lessons for Sri Lankan
policy makers to create such an eco-system in a country where
there is a perception that policy decisions are more short-
term stop-gap moves rather than well-thought, coordinated
blueprints which will have short and long terms tangible gains
to move forward as a knowledge hub
No one was bothered about the after
effects of the heavy use of chemicals
that quietly started changing the
balance of ecosystems
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