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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. 

Monday, November 05, 2007

"e-Profiling" and "empowering youth through career skills"

The Island: 05/11/2007"

Two presentations will be made by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, on "E-profiling and empowering of youth through career skills" on Monday, November 5, 2007 in the Board Room of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

The presentation on E-profiling would describe an assessment tool that combines measuring the performance of a person by assessing his or her personality when solving work-place problems.

Since E-profiling does not use any language, it will not consider ethical background or cultural influences. E-profiling can be used at any PC in Sri Lanka and the results of the assessment will be produced within a server. The automatic production of reports saves time and assures highest quality. It also implies that observer mistakes will not appear and social adjustments cannot take place.

E-profiling can be used for pre-selection in:
Recruiting and development
Succession planning
Training and development
Career development

This presentation will be held by an official representative of e-profiling in Germany, Ms. Luise Schneider, Senior Consultant and will allow lively discussion and interesting insight into e-profiling. The presentation on E-profiling will be from 10.30 a.m. to 11.15 a.m.

The presentation will showcase an effort to build a favourable employment climate for Sri Lanka’s youth by strengthening job training centres’ capabilities to deliver demand driven skills courses that assure youth gain skills that will satisfy the employer’s needs.

Funded by the USAID under its Accelerated Skills Acquisition Project (ASAP), the Project will present how it aims for a shift in the way the youth see opportunities in the private sector, in improving their employment possibilities. This presentation will be held from 11.15 a.m. to 12 noon.

Please contact the Ceylon Chamber Secretariat for registration and further details.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Nanotechnology Conference: What was not said

Sunday Times: 04/11/2007" The Conference on Nanotechnology was held on 16 October, 2007, at the BMICH organized by IESL.

Enthusiastic participants from universities, industry and related institutions took their seats to listen to some most interesting and thought provoking speeches on nanotechnology. For most it was like being taken on a tour to another world where the rules are not the same as ours; that this world which is strange and different had lot of promise; that this world appeared, sometimes, like the wonderland where Alice was once.

Prof Tissa Vitharana, Minister of Science and Technology started the series of speeches. Unlike many ministers who grace the occasion and vanishes after delivering a prepared speech (prepared more often by the organizers themselves), he was present at the forum to cover a large part of the deliberations and even chaired the panel discussion, later in the day.

It raised many interesting issues about the development of technology and country in general and getting expatriate help, in the process. The conference also did justice to the topic by discussing nanotechnology, in particular, its scope, its potential and its future in Sri Lanka. Deliberations went into such details like identifying equipment necessary for a take off.
It was such an important event that normal reporting of an event will not do justice to the subject. Hence this account of the event covers not only what cropped up during the session but also what did not; what was said and what was not.

Speakers introduced nanotechnology and presented various possibilities that nanotechnology could bring in to improve the country; in terms of productivity (energy efficiency in particular), developing superior products, preserving its natural environment, etc. The promises were immense and possibilities, according to speakers, were unlimited.

The minister emphasized that we are currently far behind many countries in the world in the technology and development chase. One major reason was that developed countries started well ahead of us and they therefore were able to make a head start. But he also said we have been far better in the past than many other countries but then they too have surpassed us later. One classic country, he said, is Korea.

In our public mind “Korea” meant shanties as Korea was considered a very poor country once. But we cannot even imagine what Koreans have achieved over the last few decades.
There was general agreement in the audience that we “missed the bus” not once but several times, when looking back at the technological revolutions that swept the world.

This is said to be the fourth revolution. If we miss this time some other countries too will be overtaking us in the race soon. Already India and China has begun to run fast. During the discussions it appeared that the Ministry of Science and Technology is struggling to put things right even within the government. Convincing the people who allocate funds is not a small task, it was revealed. Things are moving though at a slower pace we were made to believe.

Focus of nanotechnology, it was said, should be on local industry development and value addition for our own raw material before leaving the shores. It remains a question whether such restrictions are necessary in undertaking a technology initiative of this nature, though the question was not raised in the forum. Nobody asked why this technology shouldn’t be used in other products.

The conference theme was nanotechnology for poverty alleviation. It was to be used to achieve sustainable development. This is probably why there were concerns about leaving nanotechnology revolution in the hands of developed countries, which will bring in products such as cosmetics, knee guards and stink resistant socks to our countries. The larger issues in energy, medical and environmental fields will get scant attention (especially those factors that will not have a direct commercial gain) and the country will not therefore be able to reap the actual benefits of the revolution.

There was no one to dispute the above position in the audience. No one asked, by getting into the commercial bandwagon itself, whether a country cannot become rich.

No one asked whether countries which later joined the rich world did it through concentrating merely on poverty alleviation initiatives or whether the poverty was alleviated by creating commercially facilitating environs. At least there was not enough debate on the issue. Even the industry participants did not make their presence felt in this part of the debate. Not a single person asked whether we need to keep our options open than restrict ourselves at this initial stage.

It was said that as our costs are less we would be in an advantageous position. No one dared to ask how our cost could be low, when there is red tape, indecision, a discouraging environment, etc. These hidden costs in most countries exceed the advantage of cheap labour and even the benefits of fewer taxes that they normally offer the investors.

It was said that our expatriates have the necessary expertise in nanotechnology which could be used as a potential resource in a nanotechnology initiative. Many asked how they could be used when the conditions that sent them offshore still remains and gets worse by the day.

Nobody asked whether the experts who are currently working inside the country (as exhibited by some of the contributions made in the forum) with so many odds against them are being looked after or facilitated by the authorities before inviting additional experts -- the expatriates.
There was also a concern about whether we are producing enough intellectuals in the field of nanotechnology. Though it was said that some universities are going to start B.Sc and M.Sc programmes, the necessity of updated foreign know-how was also emphasized.

It was deliberated that not only financial incentives need to be made available but also a facilitating environment has to be created for scientists to work.

Some raised doubts whether we will be able to do it given the mindset we have; not only the politicians and bureaucrats but our own engineers and scientists who hold positions. One example quoted was an incident what happened during the IT revolution. It was said that the first computers brought to one department was given to the top senior most individuals who did not know what to do with them, whereas there were engineers who could use those to do design, estimation, etc but were not allowed to.

The result was those machines were lying on the tables of the seniors covered tightly by dust covers and rarely saw sunlight. With such a mindset it was asked whether the microscopes that are to be brought for nanotechnology would also be end up in a senior’s custody without reasonable access to actual scientists.

The necessity of a team based research culture that encompasses more than one discipline was emphasized. Again with the current mindset and people whether that could be achieved, probably, needs to be questioned, which was not adequately done.

There was concern that like in the so called third revolution (IT and ICT), whether “icons” and “gurus” will take the stage and chase out many other small players. It was emphasized that this time, this field should be kept open for a larger number, allowing thousand “flowers to blossom”. Hence emphasis was made that this initiative should not end up “fertilizing” one or few individuals to become “hugely grown trees” that would create large shadows preventing any other plant to grow under those.

While scientists emphasized “experts, knowledge and resources” as key factors the audience was not sure whether they were sufficient. It was said that how we organise ourselves, how we create the environment, sometimes might be crucial than other factors and in spite of the availability of “experts, knowledge and resources” we might fail if we do not address those.
It was said that nanotechnology will come to the country whether we do anything about it or not. It will come in the form of products, sometimes replacing more of our conventional products that are in the local and even in the export markets. The opportunity we see today if not used will be transformed in to a threat soon.

But the panel discussion only revealed that “progressive elements” are weak inside the government and in the country. At the end of the day, the minister was expressing the same sentiments of the audience and the audience probably started sympathizing with the minister for not being able to push his agenda inside his own government and probably was at the receiving end like any one else in the audience.

That would have prevented people expressing additional concerns as the signal was that it is futile given the current context, where the minister was also seen as powerless. It appeared that we might even miss this fourth bus and go into history as a country with a history but without a future, unless we do something out of the box.

Mr. N. Kamaladasa

Related posts

Why Nanotechnolog ? and How ?

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Organic food for the world

Sunday Times: 04/11/2007" By Feizal Samath

A small village community in Matale produces tea packs made out of reed under a regular Rs 2 million monthly contract -- in a-too-good-to-be-true story -- thanks to the efforts of Bio Foods (Pvt) Ltd.

The Kandy-based company founded by former Tea Research Institute (TRI) Scientist Dr Sarath Ranaweera is Sri Lanka’s biggest organic food producer and amongst the best in the world with turnover this year likely to reach 5 million Euros (Rs 800 million).
“We have been in the 3-4 million Euros turnover region and want to top 5 million in 2007,” noted Ranaweera, at his hillside office in Kandy.

Ranaweera, who has opened the doors to the world for many small producers and budding entrepreneurs in Kandy and Matale districts, says the reed basket producers churn out some good quality products and “they get a decent income”. Almost all their products are purchased by Bio Foods, a company that has maintained a low profile here but is well known in Europe.

The company is the world’s 1st Fair Trade registered processor and exporter of organic spices and wants to be the best in its field in South East Asia. Its value-added products in green and black tea, spices, herbs, curry powder, desiccated coconut, cashew, treacle, juggery and coconut oil are snapped up by buyers across Europe and Asia, paying a premium with part of it going to farmers and producers in Kandy for their social welfare.

Bio Foods’ James Valley Organic Tea Factory has been recently awarded with the one star rating of the Ceylon Quality Certificate under the Quality Management System of the Sri Lanka Tea Board. “Organic farming provides better yields from virgin oil. But when converting from chemical filled soil to organic farming it takes time,” says Ranaweera.

Value addition at Bio Foods is 90 percent with raw material coming from nearby fields while Rs 2.3 million is spent annually on international certification, “very important if you want to sell to quality conscious consumers in Europe and Japan”, says Ranaweera.

The company spends Rs 12 million on social welfare per year and is planning to open Sri Lanka’s first organic food restaurant in Colombo shortly.

Ranaweera says the company is constantly developing new products and ploughs in a lot of money -- 35 percent of its annual profits – on research and development. Bio Foods teas are sold at US$20 per kg against the conventional $2.5 per kg at the Colombo tea auction.

A pioneer in organic farming, the Kandy scientist says he vowed to get into organic food after almost dying in 1983 – while at the IDB – following consumption of carbonated drinks.
“Doctors said there were chemicals in the drink and from that day onwards I wanted to know about chemicals in drinks,” he recalled.

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