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COVID-19 diaries: Sri Lanka needs a resilient logistics system



By Winnie Wang , Senior Transport Specialist, World Bank

Logistics carry dreams. Back in 2007, when I applied to graduate schools in the United States, nothing could beat the excitement of handing over my applications to FedEx, clinging to the receipts with precious tracking numbers, and checking them a hundred times a day until I got confirmation that the packages had indeed arrived at my dream schools—all within the three business days they had promised.

A few months later, it was UPS that brought me the offer letter from MIT, transforming my destiny from a rural girl in China into a truly global citizen. I had never been on an airplane or anywhere out of my homeland before my flight to Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Two years ago in 2019, life brought me to the World Bank office in Sri Lanka, near the Port of Colombo, one of the 20 most well-connected ports in the world.

Watching a busy port at work can be endlessly fascinating. It still gives me a thrill to see the giant ships glide by, laden with containers carrying cargo from halfway across the world, including, recently, all our household goods, especially boxes upon boxes of my children’s favorite toys.

It’s logistics that made it all happen.

COVID-19 Rocks the Logistics Boat

As effective as logistics may seem at facilitating the transport of college applications and children’s toys, the COVID-19 pandemic has unveiled significant vulnerabilities in that sector. 

In the initial weeks of the lockdown last year, I remember struggling to put together a meal with only rice and milk powder left in my kitchen. While most other residents of Colombo must have endured similar experiences, Sri Lanka’s farmers were left with no option but to throw away their fruits and vegetables since there was no safe and efficient way to store and transport them. Meanwhile, consumers in the city had to wait for several days before they could buy fresh produce and pay a much higher price when they were finally able to do so. It was a lose-lose situation for everyone—consumers, producers, and the myriad others in the supply chain.

COVID-19 had underscored how fragmented Sri Lanka’s domestic supply chains were—particularly those related to agricultural products—leading to inefficiencies throughout the logistics sector. 

Initially, online delivery systems also crashed as the country had very limited experience with digital platforms and paperless transactions. However, they picked up quickly, and small and medium enterprises were quick to utilize social media and smartphone apps to deliver goods to customers.

Even so, the pandemic brought the fundamental challenges that confront Sri Lanka’s transportation network into stark relief. The vital sinews, which keep the island nation’s freight and cargo moving, were unduly dependent on road transport. Around 97 percent of the country’s domestic freight is transported by road—with half the trucks returning empty—causing unnecessary congestion in the road network and increasing transportation costs. 

The pandemic also highlighted the inadequacies in the warehousing infrastructure. According to the National Export Strategy (NES), only 138 customs-bonded warehouses exist throughout Sri Lanka, with around 80 percent of them located in the Western Province.

Besides, cold storage facilities are insufficient for storing fisheries products, a key commodity, and no major facilities exist for the safe storage of perishables at important locations. This shortfall is likely to hinder the country’s planned expansion of agricultural exports.

At the broader level, Sri Lanka’s exports, particularly the key export commodities such as tea and garments, have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. For example, according to Sri Lanka Export Development Board data, garment exports recorded an 82 percent decline, falling from $333 million in April 2019 to just $58 million in April 2020. 

In a recent survey by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, 63 percent of Sri Lanka’s firms exporting goods and services reported significant disruption in their overall business operations due to COVID-19. 

Hitting the Road Ahead with Operational Efficiency

The Government of Sri Lanka is taking action to improve the country’s logistics system.  In addition to providing financial support and adopting many other initiatives, digitalization has been recognized as a key priority to improve the efficiency of the logistics sector and ensure contactless transactions for long-term sustainability. For instance, a few years ago, the blueprint for a National Single Window system was prepared jointly with the Government of Sri Lanka to facilitate efficient and paperless trade.

The private industry is also taking initiatives to improve the efficiency of the country’s logistics sector. In 2019, a private firm launched the Smart Truck Initiative via the SyTrans platform, making it easier for industry to book and schedule trucks through a mobile app. The initiative can yield even greater benefits if scaled up nationwide.

COVID-19 has taught us a valuable lesson—a national logistics system that is efficient and resilient is more important now than ever, as this sector provides the backbone for a functioning economy. 

Solutions such as digitalization, improved transport connectivity, multimodal transport operations, and better coordination between various stakeholders will go a long way in strengthening domestic supply chains  and maximizing the benefits that the Port of Colombo and others can bring to the country.

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Dulux colours Architect 2023 exhibition with vibrant and engaging presence



Dulux -Sri Lanka’s, a leading manufacturer of paints and coatings – is celebrating the successful close of its participation at Architect 2023, also taking home an award for the ‘Best Trade Stall with Innovative Use of Colour’.

Organised by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects -and now in its 41st year- this year’s edition of the Architect 2023 annual trade fair took place from February 24-26 at the BMICH, and witnessed greater participation from leading companies and entrepreneurs actively involved in the various construction and architecture sectors; both locally and internationally, a company news release said.

“Dulux established a strong presence at the event with a spectacular exhibit themed Colour Futures ’23, featuring its 2023 Colour of the Year: Wild Wonder. Visitors to the stand were able to explore the four colour palettes, Lush, Buzz, Raw and Flow, inspired by the nature-influenced theme, with Dulux colour experts on hand providing unique trade insight, and also advising visitors on how best the shades can be implemented into their own work and living spaces,” it said.

“The popular mascot, “Dulux Dog” was also present to playfully engage with exhibition attendees and brighten up the vibrant Dulux stall even further. The Dulux exhibit proved widely popular among attendees to Architect 2023, due to its powerful display of colour in both interior & Exterior spaces. “

“Architect 2023 was a great opportunity for Dulux to learn from fellow trade professionals, and also to introduce visitors to the latest trends and insights from the global paints and coatings landscape,” said Upendra Gunawardhana, Head of Marketing at AkzoNobel Paints Sri Lanka. “We’ve maintained a strong long-standing relationship with the SLIA, and have every intention of being back again next year as well.”

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ACCA reaffirms ComBank as Best among Sri Lankan banks for Sustainable Reporting



Commercial Bank’s Chief Operating Officer Mr S. Prabagar (third from left) receives the ACCA award. The Bank’s Deputy General Manager – Retail Banking & Marketing Mr Hasrath Munasinghe (second from right) and Senior Manager – Sustainability, Women’s Banking & CSR Mrs Kamalini Ellawala (extreme right) are also in the picture

The Commercial Bank of Ceylon was declared the best among all Sri Lankan banks in sustainability reporting at the Sri Lanka Sustainability Reporting Awards for 2022 presented by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Sri Lanka.

As the winner in the ‘Banking’ category Commercial Bank was recognised for being one of the most transparent, accountable, and responsible entities in the country. The award was presented for the Bank’s 2021 Annual Report titled ‘Beyond a shape, beyond a colour’ which among other aspects, explores the Bank’s evolving operating context in which social and environmental concerns are brought to the centre of its corporate agenda.

Prepared in line with the International <IR> framework, this Annual Report also presents the Bank’s social and environmental impacts as per the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards: Core option. Additionally, it reports on the Bank’s contribution towards the UNDP Sustainable Development Goals.

The Report also features a dedicated section on ‘Business model for sustainable value creation’ and discloses information on loans screened through the Bank’s Social and Environmental Management System (SEMS), paper reduction and recycling initiatives, increased usage of renewable energy, and switching to energy-efficient appliances under the section on ‘Natural Capital.’ Indicators of value derived in this category include reduced energy consumption in gigajoules, number of facilities subjected to SEMS screening, number of new solar panel installation locations, number of internet banking and mobile banking users, and solar power generated as a percentage of energy consumption.

Commercial Bank’s high standards in comprehensive reporting area result of the Bank’s commitment to being a responsible financial entity and shaping its work ethics around sustainable business practices, the Bank said. Last year too, Commercial Bank topped the ACCA awards in the Banking category, in addition to winning the overall award for the Best Sustainability Report of 2020.

Notably, Commercial Bank’s 2021 Annual Report also won four awards including a Gold for ‘Interior Design,’ and a Bronze for ‘Interactive Annual Report’ at the 2022 edition of the MerComm ARC Awards which is the world’s largest annual report competition.

The Bank’s sustainability initiatives include lending to support sustainable and green operations, migrating customers to paperless banking, improving efficiency in the use of energy, water and other resources in its own operations and supporting community initiatives that help conserve habitats and the environment. Its support to a mangrove restoration project in Koggala and marine turtle conservation initiative in Panama are examples of its commitment to environmental conservation.

The Bank pioneered a mandatory social and environmental screening process for its project lending activities and was the first bank in Sri Lanka to venture into Green Financing. It also revolutionised digital banking by introducing features in its ‘Flash’ mobile application to measure and offset customer impact on the environment.

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Ex-Pack Corrugated Cartons PLC prioritizes psychological wellbeing in view of Women’s Day



Seen here are a few women at Ex-Pack cutting the cake

In view of the marking the International Women’s Day, Ex-Pack Corrugated Cartons PLC held an insightful event at their state-of-the-art factory premises in Kelaniya, highlighting the importance of psychological wellbeing and how Ex-Pack is taking up measures in ensuring an enabling environment for its 300 strong workforce, based on its wider DEI policies.

Various global studies have shown that women are impacted at much higher rates than men when it comes to mental illnesses. The session celebrated their achievements and life stories, and shared some eye-opening tips, facts, know how’s, to-dos, and various other influential factors including the dire need to change our perspectives on women’s roles, health and wellness. This also touched upon the emotional and social aspects of wellbeing too.

This year’s theme is centered on #EmbraceEquity, and Ex-Pack is no stranger when it comes to pursuing gender equality in an industry that has been traditionally dominated by male. As one of leading corrugated cartons manufacturer in Sri Lanka delivering end-to-end packaging solutions to both local and international clientele, and a subsidiary of Aberdeen Holdings (Pvt) Ltd, Ex-Pack actively encourages more female participation.

‘With this year’s theme being #EmbraceEquity, we take great pride in being an ambassador and role model in our industry. We go beyond just equal opportunities to pro-actively collaborate with everyone, to ensure that our talented women have every possible resource at their disposal and are given all the required support to succeed both professionally and personally,’ said M. Zulficar Ghouse, Managing Director- Ex-Pack Corrugated Cartons PLC

Ex-Pack has long been engaged with providing equal career opportunities, and both men and women

are respected, rewarded and compensated equally. The company also has an open-door policy for all employees. Women empowerment stems directly from the top leadership, recognizing that women and their strengths are crucial to both the company and the overall economy.

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