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Dilmah initiated Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards 2021 Unveils Winner



The Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards – ECOVATION – first took place in 2016, seeking to encourage practical or scientific innovation amongst youth, women and men in academia or any field, in designing creative and impactful solutions to our most urgent ecological issues. The award ceremony for Ecovation 2021 was held on March 31, 2022 at the Dilmah Tea head-office premises. The included an exhibition showcasing the Top 10 eco-innovations from the competition with the aim of motivating the innovators and inspiring patrons to think of sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to the problems we face today.

Representing the eminent panel of judges, the event was graced by Prof. Ilmi Hewajulige, Additional Director General of R&D at ITI, Ms. Pathma Abeykoon, Operational Focal Point Biodiversity Secretariat, Ministry of Environment, while Ms. Shiranee Yasaratne, Advisor, Biodiversity Sri Lanka joined the festivities via Zoom. Other members of the panel included, Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Moratuwa, Mr. Jeevan Gnanam, CEO of SAKS Global, and Ms. Savera Weerasinghe, Founder of Ananta Sustainables.

“Understanding that the traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ culture has had devastating impacts on people and planet; eco-innovations ideally address these environmental and social problems, among others, and upgrade the means used to tackle these issues. ECOVATION Awards 2021 sort out eco-innovative ideas and prototypes under the theme “Circular Economy for a Sustainable Future” and focused specifically on sustainable packaging, resource efficiency, and waste management,” a news release on the event said.

“The winner of ECOVATION 2021 was the innovator-duo Professor Rangika Halwatura and Himahansi Galkanda, affiliated to the University of Moratuwa, who created an eco-friendly wall-putty out of waste alum sludge. In addition to being honoured as winner of Ecovation 2021 with the Merrill J Fernando Innovation Awards 2021 trophy, the duo received a cash prize of Rs 750,000. “

In second place was Sudhara Jayakody, also affiliated to the University of Moratuwa, with his Eco Crumbler – “earthworm pet home” – a solution devised to help city dwellers deal with accumulating household food waste. Chosen in third place was Gamini Priyantha Alexander, from Nature’s Paper (Pvt) Ltd, a formidable eco-entrepreneur, who has been creating eco-friendly packaging alternatives out of paper waste and agricultural waste as well as invasive plants.

The second place and third place winners received cash prizes of Rs. 500,000 and Rs. 250,000 respectively. The remaining top 10 were also awarded with cash prizes of Rs 50,000 each towards their continuing eco innovation journey.

“The Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards aspires eco-innovators to showcase their product, and acts as space for knowledge-sharing and growth. Going beyond the boundaries of a traditional competition, ECOVATION seeks to work closely with the winning innovators to adapt and scale-up to suit the existing market needs. Furthermore, the winning innovators will be provided legal support to protect the intellectual property rights of the respective eco-innovators, the release said.

It explained that this edition of the awards saw 64 aspiring eco-innovators sending in their eco-friendly ideas and prototypes. These eco-innovations were then scored on their innovativeness, but most importantly on adaptability, scalability and practicality. After thorough screening by the judges, the Top 16 eco-innovators were given the opportunity of interacting closely with the panel to improve their concepts and prototypes.

As the panel included groundbreakers from various disciplines and fields; these eco-innovators were provided with invaluable feedback, constructive criticism and insightful suggestions on how to better their eco-innovations, in the areas of material sourcing, production, design, marketing, budgeting, financing and scaling-up. The applicants were then allowed a period of two months to apply relevant suggestions and further strengthen their innovations, after which they made their final presentations to the same panel, the release said.

“Ecovation will evolve in 2022 into a component of Dilmah’s Genesis Project, an initiative to promote the importance of building back better with Nature-based Solutions (NbS), for the welfare of people, reducing inequality and strengthening climate resilience through sustainable agricultural entrepreneurship. Like ECOVATION, that is a platform for innovators to connect and interact with corporates and government institutions, the Genesis Project will act as a platform for various stakeholders and institutes to network and lobby for various purposes that benefit people and planet,” it concluded.

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Private Tutoring Amidst Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis: Issues Faced by Students



By Usha Perera

Sri Lanka’s education sector, still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, now faces acute challenges due to the current political and economic crises. The sudden imposition of curfews and the lack of transportation have resulted in school closures and students being deprived of structured and systematic in-school education. In Sri Lanka, closing schools for just one day causes a loss of 25 million learning hours and 1.4 million teaching hours. Alongside this, private tutoring has gained greater importance. This blog discusses the issues faced mainly by Ordinary Level (O/L) and Advanced Level (A/L) students in attending tuition classes based on an IPS study. The study findings are derived from a sample of about 340 students, and 16 teachers and tutors across Sri Lanka.

Affordability of Private Tuition Classes

The surge in the cost of living with wages failing to keep pace with inflation and loss of income generation channels have been unbearable for parents of school-going children. The IPS study found that students who belonged to family income levels below LKR 30,000 spend approximately LKR 3,000-Rs. 7,000 per month while students whose family income was above LKR 200,000 spend approximately LKR 18,000- LKR 20,000 per month on private tuition depending on the grade of the student. This scenario is illustrated in Figure 1.

Further, most O/L and A/L level students spend more than LKR 2,000 per month on data packages for both school and tuition online classes, while most students who spend more than LKR 2,000 per month are concentrated among the higher family income categories. If LKR 2,000 is spent on monthly data packages, it would approximately account for 1% of whose family income is above LKR 200,000, and more than 7% of whose family income is below LKR 30,000. All this highlights the perceived importance of private education, especially among O/L and A/L grades, and the financial burden it imposes on a family’s household income.

These affordability concerns were partly offset by the introduction of free online classes during the pandemic, which has provided considerable relief for financially vulnerable students according to students interviewed for the IPS study. Affordability concerns were further allayed by reduced class fees by some tutors. The fees reductions were made accounting for the structural changes of administrative and operating costs of an online setting applicable based on the scale and intensity of operations of tutors. Financial issues faced by the families experiencing household income losses during the pandemic were also considered in fees reduction.

Accessibility to Online Classes

Online platforms were the sole medium for conducting classes during the pandemic while it becomes an option in the current context considering the social unrest, curfews and travel constraints due to fuel shortages. However, many students faced accessibility issues in joining online classes. The issues faced were poor signal coverage, high data costs, lack of necessary devices, and affordability concerns in the context of lost household income during the pandemic. Most of the students who belonged to a family income level above LKR 200,000 used a laptop/tablet while most of the students who belonged to a family income level of below LKR 30,000 relied on a smartphone. Smartphones were found to be less user friendly for academic use. In addition to the above issues, the ongoing power outages also present impediments to online education.The accessibility issues are mainly experienced by students from families with comparatively lower income levels, and those who had to rely on a smartphone for academic purposes. This implies a close positive relationship between household income and the quality of the education received; financial strength being the primary determinant of accessibility.

Figure 1: Monthly Tuition Expenditure by Monthly Household Income
Source: Institute of PolicyStudies of Sri Lanka, 2021.

However, these accessibility issues were partly offset by the divergent opportunities experienced by students, especially in the context of online platforms. These prospects included the ability to join online classes conducted in distant locations that would otherwise have been restricted due to travel constraints and increased time available due to school closures. As a result, they increased the duration of tuition classes using the saved travel time.

Way Forward

While private tutoring became a way of bridging the gaps in the education system during the crisis, learning losses for the most vulnerable groups have further widened with accessibility and affordability issues. Since these issues were mainly observed among O/L and A/L student groups, there is a higher risk that vulnerable student groups would be highly challenged during their most decisive years leading to higher education and career development. Thus, it is necessary to address the affordability issues, focusing more on the vulnerable student groups. Financial assistance could be provided in terms of a certain number of free hours of teaching for selected financially vulnerable students and allocating a selected proportion of students to be taught at a concessionary rate.

To address the accessibility issues, recording the lessons and distributing the notes on different platforms will help to a certain extent. Providing digital equipment and networks for selected tuition centres and schools could also be considered since the lack of facilities and resources was identified as major accessibility issue for distance education. These would require collaborative efforts among the government, tutors, parents, non-government organisations and any other well-wishers.

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Allianz Divitharana: A new take on Life and Health Insurance



The world’s number one insurance brand Allianz has announced the launch of its new Divitharana Insurance product, which provides comprehensive life and health insurance for policyholders and their loved ones, at an easily accessible and affordable price. The product, which has been designed for the mass market, a segment that is highly price sensitive, comes with a host of benefits and features, making it a truly comprehensive insurance product, that covers all of life’s important bases, protecting life’s most precious things.Tailored for the mass market, which includes farmers, fisherfolk, technicians, teachers, executives and other members of the general public, Divitharana Insurance provides life insurance at a flexible and economic price point, with the option for policyholders to settle the premium in monthly, quarterly, biannual or annual instalments, while also providing the convenience of increasing the cover provided during the policy period, without having to go for a new policy. These are particularly important features amidst the present economic challenges the nation is facing, as it allows everyone to have access to good and reliable insurance, regardless of their income level and style.

A key differentiator of Divitharana insurance is that each policyholder will be entitled to an individual investment account, on which an annual dividend will be declared and the proceeds credited to the policyholder’s account. On top of this, policyholders will also be entitled to an additional loyalty bonus of 20%, which will be added to the maturity value for continued on-time premium settlements. other than the life cover provided by Divitharana, policyholders can also opt to include additional covers such as Disability Benefit, Critical Illness and Hospitalisation cover, while also enjoying the flexibility of extending the insurance cover to include their spouse & children.

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SLT-MOBITEL doubling the cloud with country’s first-ever VMware Cloud Foundation deployment



Understanding the importance of breaking new ground to reap the benefits of Enterprise premium cloud services, SLT-MOBITEL, the National ICT Solutions Provider, has become the country’s first-ever service provider to enable VMware Cloud Foundation (VCF) deployment in the island and importantly the first telco provider to have two clouds. Amidst the changing dynamics, the deployment milestones are supporting SLT-MOBITEL’s Cloud programme in accelerating digital transformation.SLT-MOBITEL Enterprise premium cloud was launched in 2018. Having a successful journey for over three years, the new mobilization now elevates and transforms the premium cloud through VMWare Cloud Foundation. Importantly, SLT-MOBITEL is the first local organisation to partner VMWare as a Business Continuity Certified Planner (BCCP) and initiate VMWare Cloud Foundation in Sri Lanka.

VMware Cloud Foundation is a suite of VMware products that provide building blocks necessary to implement an integrated software-defined data center platform. Its components combine to automate deployment and lifecycle management, helping to simplify IT operations and reduce administrative overheads for enterprises.With its Cloud Verified Status and as a VCF Enabled Partner, SLT-MOBITEL is now in the forefront as the only service provider in the country offering a range of new differentiated services such as automate infrastructure and application delivery with self service capabilities to help organizations plan, manage and scale their data center operations especially dramatically reduce provisioning times and cut operational costs.

The SLT-MOBITEL VMware VCF deployment ensures customers transition to the industry’s most advanced cloud platform with a complete set of software-defined services for compute, storage, networking, security and cloud management to run enterprise apps in private or public environments.By doubling the cloud SLT-MOBITEL establishes customers have both production and disaster recovery sites with different scales, located at two different Data centres with required ROP and RTO. The Disaster recovery site can be deployed at any scale with respect to production sites according to the enterprise customer’s requirement. SLT-MOBITEL also provides migration as a service with the features from NSX –T.

Through VCF, SLT-MOBITEL is offering customers the benefit of real disaster recovering services, a Software-defined Data Center (SDDC) and monitoring services, latest networking enablers with NSX – T up-to-date versions of VMware software vSphere, vSAN and intelligent, advanced VMware capabilities including ESXI and VSAN and efficient and effective migration services. SLT-MOBITEL also provides IaaS services, Virtual Machines, and Virtual Data Centers along with a range of other support facilities such as Disaster avoidance with Stretch Cluster (RPO 5 minutes), Disaster Recovery as a Service, and Backup as a service.Above VCF deployment is directly done by Vmware Professional Service team to ensure the highest quality deployment .

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