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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, June 30, 2007

SRI LANKA: Post-tsunami jobs increase, incomes decline

IRIN: 29/06/2007"

The Livelihoods Division at the Reconstruction and Development Agency (RADA) - the main government arm overseeing employment in the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka - is claiming great success.

“We have recorded a success rate of 90 per cent and soon all our work will finish,” Ranjith Abeyagunawardena, a RADA consultant said.

Nonetheless, many of those who have gone back to work are now earning far less than they did prior to the disaster, particularly in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

Recovery rates picked up rapidly in 2006 with better targeting of allocations and resources, according to the latest Needs Assessment Survey for Income Recovery, published by RADA and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in March 2007.

“There is an overall recovery rate of 90 per cent which means that 90 per cent of families who were earning an income before the tsunami are earning an income now,” according to the RADA/ILO survey. The remaining 10 percent of households rely on income from non-work sources, according to the report.

An estimated 200,000 jobs were lost to the tsunami and US$416 million had been pledged by the government and international and national agencies to restart livelihoods. All but seven of the 301 hotels damaged by the tsunami will be back in business this tourist season.

Commerce, agriculture, fishing on the rebound

Over 75 per cent of the 23,449 acres of agriculture land damaged by the tsunami has been desalinized, cleared of tsunami debris and is under cultivation again, according to the RADA report. In the commercial sector, a total of 57,862 loans and grants valued at $200 million were disbursed by the Central Bank and the National Development Trust Fund to 16,500 business enterprises.

The fishing sector, which accounted for most of the job losses, has rebounded and now the overall catch is back to 70 percent of pre-tsunami harvest levels. Most of the small boats that had been destroyed have now been replaced, although more than 120 large-tonnage, deep-fishing boats still need to be replaced.

“Overall the recovery has been a success story, that is what the data is suggesting,” Doekle Wielinga, Chief Technical Adviser of the Income Recovery Programme at ILO in Colombo told IRIN, “but there are disparities especially between the south and the north”.

Recovery slower in north and east

Due to the continuing conflict, full livelihood restoration is difficult in the north and east. “We could not even work in the northeast last year,” RADA’s Abeyagunawardena said. “It was impossible.”

The ILO/RADA survey reports that while in the south more than 80 per cent of all tsunami-affected households were back to their normal employment, in the north and east, the figures were somewhat lower. Projects to generate livelihoods have been disrupted, particularly in Jaffna District where only 38 percent of households were back to their pre-tsunami employment.

Like many other humanitarian agencies, the Australian Red Cross had to suspend six tsunami-related projects in Jaffna last year, including livelihoods assistance, when beneficiaries fled their homes and the security situation turned volatile. “The security situation in the north of Sri Lanka makes it impossible for our aid workers to visit the communities. Many people who were recipients of our projects have relocated,” Barry Armstrong, coordinator for the Australian Red Cross in Sri Lanka, said in a 25 June press release.

“Even now 45 per cent of the tsunami-affected rely on non-work income sources in Jaffna,” ILO’s Wielinga said. Restrictions placed on fishing and the lack of mobility has impacted the fishing sector, not just in Jaffna District, but all the way down to Batticaloa and Ampara districts.

A job, but simply not enough income

The RADA/ILO survey points out that even those who have regained some kind of income earning capacity in Jaffna and other areas of the north and east are simply not earning enough. It found that 73 percent of the families surveyed in Jaffna were earning less than $20 (Rs 2,000) per month.

Even in the rest of the country, earning capacities remain below pre-tsunami levels. “Eighty-one per cent of respondents said the income they earn now is less than the income they earned before the tsunami,” the survey stated.

Over 30 percent said they were now earning only between $20 and $50 (Rs 2,000 to 5,000) per month, while 41 percent said they earned over $50 per month. Most of those who said they were earning less were engaged in fisheries, small businesses or manual labour.

Some of the tsunami victims who were resettled to permanent housing projects some distance from the coast have found it particularly hard to regain their jobs - this includes fishermen and those who had other employment. Priyantha Hewage a 45-year-old, former grocer from Matara District in southern Sri Lanka is one such case. He moved to a permanent housing project in Miriswatte Division but has found it hard to find work in such a remote location.

“Today I survive doing odd jobs. Sometimes when I travel to Colombo, I earn Rs 300 to Rs 400 by doing gardening for the people living in big bungalows,” Hewage told IRIN.

The real challenge for job creation is in the north and east, however, because of the continuing conflict and because so many internally displaced people are now being resettled and have few immediate livelihood options. With RADA apparently downsizing, the effort to nurture job creation will lie increasingly with international and national agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). “At the moment,” laments RADA’s Ranjith Abeyagunawardena, “NGOs and other relief agencies still find it very hard to work in those regions.”

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Brain drain could wreck our economic potential

Daily Mirror: 28/06/2007" By Dinesh Weerakkody

The outspoken US Ambassador Robert Blake addressing the CIMA Business Leaders summit asserted that the education system in the country was not delivering the volume and quality desired. Highlighting the areas of growth in the Lankan economy Blake noted that in the new economy it was knowledge and training of the people that was imperative to build competitive advantage. Moreover Blake pointed out that most Sri Lankan graduates were unable to find jobs, as universities were not affiliating themselves with business establishments and the lack of knowledge and the fluency in the English language also contributed to this crisis. No doubt the Ambassador has done his homework and his comments are clinically focused. However, his comments are nothing new to many of us. We all know human resource managerial problems in the public sector and low productivity in the public and private sectors remains a priority concern for both the private sector and the public sector. But the real concern in the economy now is the movement of commercial savvy and skilled talent to developed markets like Canada, Australia, UK and South East Asia. Furthermore developed countries have progressed from simply relaxing their laws to actively luring highly qualified people. In addition many of them are using their universities as magnets for talent. As a result we do not have enough talent to go round, so to stop the drain and lure back some of our brightest people back, the private sector and the government needs to collectively address this issue before we totally lose the battle for brain power and wreck our future economic potential.

Employee Market

Today the Indian sub continent is becoming an employee market, with job seekers having the power of choice. Candidates are increasingly selective and know their market value. It is a candidates’ market as more of them are turning job offers or negotiating salaries aggressively. Take Sri Lanka, according to our research the quality of candidates applying for jobs have declined by over 20% and the time taken to fill vacancy has increased from around 40 days to about 90 days, this is despite the number of CVs being received having increased compared to five years ago. Good jobs are going begging and compensation skyrocketing due to the shortage of right people with the required financial sophistication. The brain drain and poor HRD strategies have contributed to this problem and made it difficult for companies to fill critical short-term talent gaps. The demand for vertical skills and companies looking for a closer fit is putting pressure on recruitment consultants to move the limited talent from one company to another at a much faster pace causing mush anxiety to HR managers. Companies are willing to pay big bucks to recruitment consultants to prevent their business growth languishing in the face of shortage of the right talent; these companies have thus been involuntary contributors to a big increase in salary levels. In today’s context a talented employee can be as valuable and hard to replace as a loyal customer. Even more so in companies where value is created by knowledge and information. In fact Lee Kuan Yew argued many years ago that “trained talent is the yeast that transforms a society and makes it rise.” Brainpower as we all know is today the foundation of value creation, therefore injecting an endless stream of good talent into the veins of the business and building the best team in the industry would become the key to ensure that organizations excel in the new global market place, deliver constantly superior products and services and set standards that others can follow.

Government’s role

Winston Churchill 43 years ago observed that ‘the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” In many developed world our immigrants tend to get criticized unfairly by the press. Many top economies of the world would be lost without our qualified professionals, and many governments would still be very happy to attract our best talent. The most mobile people are not political refugees, but the educated, and they are being sought after as never before. Most governments are easing restrictions on the entry of qualified people. One of the best programmes for drawing in good human capital was initiated in the 80s by the Singapore government. The initiative helped Singapore to attract some of our best brains and even today continues to go out of its way to attract and import foreign talent. For a start the government should focus on wooing our professionals working abroad by making it very attractive for them to come back. But the government’s effort will all depend on whether the country is backed up by a vibrant economy and also managed professionally. A combination of sensible government policies and economic liberalization could work wonders for us. Our best bet would therefore to woo back some of our top Sri Lankan expatriates who have gone abroad to make their money but still feel the tug of their home country. We need to introduce attractive incentives that can entice them to return and also to retain our existing talent. However, despite the incentives they will not return until and unless we improve our governance record and manage the economy professionally. In addition to this the government should initiate a program in consultation with the private sector to equip our university graduates with the required skills set to ensure that our graduates become employable to fill short-term skill gaps.

Business Leadership Challenges

In a recently concluded poll around three quarters of Senior Human Resource Managers interviewed said that attracting and retaining their key talent was their number one, two and three priority for their businesses. Some 60% worried about the company wide talent shortages. Often companies are fond of the maxim employees our most important asset, yet beneath the rhetoric too many CEOs still regard – and –manage – employees as costs. This is dangerous because for many companies the people are the only source of long- term competitive advantage. Therefore companies that fail to invest in employees jeopardize their own success and survival. If the CEO is expected to build and motivate talent it calls upon competencies of character more than technical expertise among CEOs. It relies upon on higher order abilities to create unity and harmony, to instill trust, to create hope and optimism and to work from a base of shared values and interdependence. Leadership of this type is often indirect and behind the scene vs. from the front and top down. Today Motivating people is very different to what it was some years ago, because nowadays, oversees assignments, stock options, casual dress and free gyms are just as important to attracting and retaining talented employees as salaries, job security and careers once were. A happy workforce can reward a company through better profits, better productivity and lower staff turnover. Also there is no special magic in being a good employer. It does not necessarily take money, size, or market to become an employer of choice. Rather, enlightened HR policy and leadership that is committed to its staff.. It is organizational capabilities that create products and services that result in a customer taking money out of their wallets and putting it into ours instead of giving it to their competitors. Therefore a Chief Executive should be committed to creating and sustaining value through people. Secondly he must have some understanding as to how HR can create and deliver value to the business. Thirdly he must get his HR teams to make a strong contribution to the share price and the development of the company. However, the real problem is that most CEOs still do not know how to increase their organization’s competence. As a result the HR managers influence in the organization tends to get marginalized. Furthermore there is so much evidence that good HR practices help to unlock the full value of people capability to deliver business results, and since CEOs are accountable for delivering the numbers they should champion good HR practices in their organization to provide the personal sense of passion that count so heavily for a meaningful work experience and for good business performance.


Globalization has left only one true path to profitability for firms operating in high wage markets, to base their competitive strategy on exceptional human resource management practices. Any benefits that historically have been associated with superior technology and access to capital are now too fleeting to provide sustainable advantage. As this former source of advantage become less relevant, managing human resources by instinct and intuition becomes not only inadequate but also dangerous. The most successful countries in the future will be those that manage their people like the assets they are. In the future the global demand for talent is only likely to intensify further, we are already struggling to find enough good quality engineers, technicians, doctors, HR, marketing and even English teachers. The talent shortage may seem like a crisis to many of us, but like any crisis it’s also an also an opportunity. So for a change the government and the private sector need to be more imaginative about attracting, developing and retaining our best talent in Sri Lanka and abroad. In the final analysis talent has become the world’s most sought after commodity and a growing number of companies outside the tech industries from hedge funds to consulting run on brainpower, therefore a shortage of it could and will cause serious problems to any economy.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kamala's wonder lace captivating overseas markets

Daily News: 26/06/2007" by Ruwanthi Abeyakoon

LACE AND BATIKS HER FORTE: Kamala Uyanage, the owner of 'Anuja lace and batik' tries to revive the Beeralu industry which is still the way of earning a living in some villages. Starting with rupees five hundred at present she provides employment for many." My grandmother was the start. She taught me to knit. At the beginning my sisters and father assisted me," she said.

"Mostly German tourists came to buy my products. So I learned German to make business easier. With that knowledge I was able to help the tour guides in the area. I knit table clothes, blouses, cushion covers, table mats and bed sheets. I can do any design. There are new designs that suits today's market," she explained.

In 1995 she went to Germany for three months. She took lace and batik works with her. At that time she had only two workers. "What I took there was not enough. There was a good demand. Germans liked the handmade things I took," she said.

She has won several awards including the President's Award and the Best Woman Entrepreneur Award (Southern Province) for her outstanding work. She also holds several posts in various societies and associations through which she does a lot of social work.

"Winning the Best entrepreneur Award in Galle District in 2001 from the Agro-mart Foundation was special. I got the opportunity to visit Thailand. There I participated in a women's development programme in which we were taught to make sweets and toffees without using artificial flavours," Kamala said.

However her local market is based in Colombo. She supplies several shops in and out of Colombo with her creations. She often participates in fairs as it enables her to develop her contacts. "Finding the local market is difficult because of the imported items. In India they manufacture lace just like the Sri Lankan one and they export it at a cheaper price. What we knit is durable but people buy the cheaper one," Kamala explained.

She did not have a smooth way towards success. Her small business could not escape the mighty tsunami. She lost most of her machines except hope and courage. After three months she received machines and started building her business again. "I believe in hard work. I don't want anybody to donate things for me. When I earn my living working hard and shedding sweat I find a lot of pleasure," she explained.

"At the moment around sixty people are involved in my business. I employ six workers. I buy lace and batik from producers in Beliaththa, Magalle and Tangalle areas. I take their products to the market so that they can earn a living through this industry," she said.

"I also can make jams, chutney, cordials, cakes and sweets. I do not want to do the same business. I want to experiment in other ways of doing business. I do cloth painting as well. When the business is diversified you can hold on to one way or other," Kamala added.

She is keen in sharing her knowledge with others. "I do classes for those who like to learn what I know. I want to share my knowledge with them. Sometimes people invite me to teach. I do it most willingly," she said.

"There is a good market in countries like Germany and Japan. I want to take the handcraft industry to the international level. There are many industries that fall under this. I want to reach the international market together with others. First I have to increase the quantity.
The production at the moment is not sufficient for exports," she pointed out. Kamala does a lot of social services. She has helped many tsunami victims to build houses. Children who lost their parents due to tsunami have also received her assistance. "In countries like Thailand and Germany women do any type of work.

They work in the markets and even in container yards. It is not a shame for them to sell vegetables or fish by the roadside. But in Sri Lanka women are shy. I hope to bring the women who are still trapped between the walls of kitchen out of it.

They can do a lot to improve their living standards and their contribution for the development of the economy is essential," Kamala revealed her plans.

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