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Managing investor perception of business confidence seen as vital for Sri Lanka



Interview with Dr. Parakrama Dissanayake, Deputy Chairman and Managing Director Aitken Spence PLC

By Lynn Ockersz

A priority for the Sri Lankan economy is to gain monetary, financial and fiscal stability and to gradually implement policy changes rather than to expect swift changes overnight, especially for key export industries that bring forex earnings into the country. Going forward, a concerted effort should be made to improve our ranking on the Ease of Doing Business and the Logistics Performance Index (LPI). What matters in the short term is to manage investor perception of business confidence, Deputy Chairman and Managing Director, Aitken Spence PLC Dr. Parakrama Dissanayake told The Island Financial Review in the course of an interview.

The Aitken Spence Group has performed remarkably well in the 1st Quarter of this year. What are the main keys to your success?

Aitken Spence PLC made an impressive comeback in the first quarter by recording a 145% increase in Profit Before Tax (PBT) and it was driven by the non-tourism companies of the Group that includes maritime and freight logistics, renewable energy, elevator agency, money transfer services, printing and packaging, plantations, apparel, insurance and maritime education and management. The diversification of business and our international presence in eight countries, has been a main contributing factor to achieve a compelling performance amidst many setbacks particularly impacting the tourism sector.

From the onset, we have demonstrated purposeful leadership through team effort, we have relied on our collective knowledge, innovation and insight which has helped us to navigate and will continue to rise above this tumultuous environment.

Going forward, what would you recommend as the main ways in which the Sri Lankan economy could be revived?

A priority for the Sri Lankan economy is to regain the monetary, financial, fiscal stability and gradually implementing policy changes than expecting swift changes overnight especially for key export industries that bring forex earnings into the country.

In addition, to expand our export products and services. When we look at the past two decades, we notice that Sri Lanka has a low growth of exports and lack of export-oriented investment, particularly FDI when compared to other countries in the region. We must reduce red-tape, build our infrastructure, innovativeness and make crucial technology transitions as these will determine our ability to compete with other countries in the region. The success of this will also depend on proper educational and training efforts.

A concerted effort should be made to improve our ranking on Ease of Doing Business and the Logistics Performance Index (LPI). What matters in the short term is to manage investor perception on business confidence.

From a private sectors perspective, Aitken Spence is embracing business transformation and upgrading skills of our employees to better equip them for the future.

What is the current status of your palm oil sector? Have the issues surrounding this sector been cleared up?

The issues remain unresolved. We are confident that the Government will find a pragmatic solution.

What are the keys to the success of your Strategic Investments sector?

The key success has been our strategy to cautiously diversify and balance investments to be less dependent on one or few businesses which has proven to be successful especially when facing the ongoing pandemic.

Our significant investments in renewable energy which were recent additions to the portfolio has been a key success to the Group’s strategic investments sector. We introduced Sri Lanka’s first waste to energy plant that was launched this year. This project came about with a sustainable solution to the waste management problem which is a complex and long-running issue in the Colombo city. Further investments were made this year to expand our portfolio in hydropower and in line with the collective efforts of the Government and the private sector to produce clean energy sustainably.

The printing arm of Aitken Spence was the first green printing facility in South Asia and continues to raise the benchmark in the industry.

Moreover, the plantations segment provided a substantial boost to the Group’s strategic investments sector by recording its highest ever profit from inception due to its balanced portfolio of diversification. The segment commenced commercial production of four varieties of berries under the brand “Berry Much”. Another first in Sri Lanka to cultivate and market the full range of berries. The plantations segment also entered into a shareholder agreement with SIM Leisure Group to develop and operate a world-class ESCAPE adventure theme park.

What would be your main priorities in your Tourism Sector once a degree of normality has been established in the country?

To improve resilience in Sri Lanka Tourism, priority should be given to urgent matters such as working towards a recovery plan and better coordinated efforts between all stakeholders to achieve this common goal. With this in mind, a main priority for us is to ensure that our employees across four countries in the Group’s tourism sector have completed the inoculation (both doses) and even those indirectly linked to the industry. This is critical and one of the ways to restore traveller confidence.

We are also revisiting our product offerings in line with the changing thinking pattern of international tourists centred on their safety and well-being. We will focus on a more differentiated, experiential product offering and direct engagement for customers as compared to the traditional accommodation offering. In this business transformation process, we are embracing technology that captures customer needs that would further elevate customer experience and support destination Sri Lanka.

With our hotels presence not just in Sri Lanka but in the Maldives, Oman and India; we will continue to strengthen our operations in those countries and look for greater opportunities. Our hotels in the Maldives did relatively well and has certainly cushioned the blow on the Group’s tourism sector.

We are also concerned with sustaining the trained human resources within the tourism industry as with the current situation many are moving out of the industry and new entrants to the industry have substantially dropped. When the situation has improved, our concerted efforts would be to attract people into the tourism industry.


ADB partners academia to leverage Environmental Finance for Sri Lanka



‘Bio-diversity prospecting is a very risky area, and therefore, it has to be done right’

‘Many good consultations needed before Sri Lanka can go for climate bonds’

Forum aims at combining profitability with ecosystem conservation and regeneration

by Sanath Nanayakkare

Bringing together a collection of global good practices in investing in natural capital, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently held its Serendipity Knowledge Program (SKOP) at the University of Peradeniya on a hybrid platform.

Several high-profile officials and academics from around the world and panelists and participants at the physical forum with specialized knowledge in Bio-Diversity and the Natural Capital Asset Class shared their insights on the topic in a no-holds-barred full-day session on May 31, at the picturesque garden university.

The forum held a lot of relevance to the local audience as Sri Lanka is facing a significant challenge in managing its natural assets not only because of the growing demand for natural resources and the environment’s ability to restore these resources, but also the country’s limited public funds to invest in its natural capital for a sustainable future.

Andreas Thermann, Environmental Finance and Partnerships Specialist at ADB addressing the forum said,” We decided to contribute our expertise and experience by designing natural capital investment strategies for institutional investors, aiming at combining profitability and ecosystem conservation and regeneration. There is increasing interest for blue bonds from investors and potential issuers. However, the lack of universal standards creates risks and slows blue economy growth. In this context, a Global Blue Bond Guidance is to be published in June 2023. This new collaboration is building on: ICMA Green, Social, and Sustainability-Linked Bond Principles, UNEP FI Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Principles and Guidance, ADB Green and Blue Bond Framework, UN Global Compact Sustainable Ocean Principles/Practical Guidance, Blue Bond Reference Papers and International Finance Corporation (IFC) Guidelines for Blue Finance.”

Andreas made a presentation of ADB Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economy covering pollution control, sustainable coastal and marine development, ecosystem and natural resource management and ocean and climate finance.

He explained ADB’s frameworks for supporting governments to issue blue bonds and supporting the corporate sector to do same, providing them with training, outreach events, technical services and financial services.

Sanath Ranawana, Water Resources Specialist, South Asia Department ADB said,” There are opportunities for investment in Sri Lanka’s environmental resources. These investments may come from the public sector as well as the private sector. In order for these investments to really take place, there is a need for more in-depth assessments. There needs to be monitoring of our basic benchmarks; what Natural Capital do we have at the moment, what is their current status etc. Along with advocacy we need additional monitoring and assessments. As we are all aware, it is very relevant to this topic how the private sector can invest in Natural Capital. There is a general belief that bio-diversity prospecting for commercial purpose is a very risky area, and therefore, it has to be done right. There is a responsibility for the government side in this respect because together we have to undertake bio-prospecting in an organized, controlled and a regulated way. There is a lack of perception about the role the private sector can play in bio-prospecting. So, it is important to make sure that bio-prospecting is done right- that means that it is sustainable, ethical, and results in benefits for the country and the local people. It emerged during our discussion that in terms of environmental financing, there would have to be certain legal provisions that allow the government to make eco-system services payable or not. Such valid concerns may present policy barriers that require policy action. So, engaging relevant stakeholders, in-depth assessments, establishing bond frameworks, arranging independent external reviews etc., will lead to the final desirable objective of climate investment action.”

In addition to ADB, the following global institutes pledged support to provide global guidance to Sri Lanka’s journey in assessing and monitoring its natural capital with the objective of raising long-term environmental financing: The Research Centre for Eco- Environmental Sciences – Chinese Academy of Sciences, People’s Republic of China, Stanford University USA, Sovereign Debt Department Office of the Ministry of Economy and Finance Uruguay and the Government of Belize.

ADB established this new knowledge program in 2021 in line with its vision as a knowledge solutions bank.

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Unlocking New Possibilities: The impact of deep fake technology on brand storytelling



Kavi Rajapaksha

By Kavi Rajapaksha

By now, marketers know that they need to work hand in hand with artificial intelligence (AI) to be successful in this era driven by technological advancements. According to the most recent data, more than 650 million unique branded content pieces are posted every day but 87% of them fail in achieving any significant engagement. So brands continually search for innovative ways to engage audiences and captivate their attention.

One such technological marvel that has emerged in recent years is deep fake technology. This cutting-edge AI-driven technique, with its ability to manipulate and recreate images and videos, is revolutionizing brand storytelling. As we explore the potential of deep fake technology, we uncover a new dimension of creativity and narrative possibilities for brands to produce more emotionally captivating and relevant content.

Breaking the boundaries of imagination

Deep fake technology has the power to blur the lines between fiction and reality, allowing brands to push the boundaries of imagination. By seamlessly blending the real and the surreal, brands can transport audiences into immersive storytelling experiences that captivate and leave a lasting impact. Whether it’s bringing historical figures back to life, resurrecting beloved characters, or merging multiple personalities, deep fake technology unlocks a world of limitless possibilities.

With the introduction of ChatGPT, Canva and various other AI platforms that has transformed how the creative industry does things, many have started to question if AI can indeed replace marketers and creatives. AI can automate basic and repetitive tasks and work efficiently to find the best, published information available. However, whether or not Ai can be programmed to emulate human emotions and think like a human is an answer only the future holds. But, the one thing that holds true is that all brands must adapt right now to stay ahead of the curve.

Also, deep fake technology disrupts conventional notions of authenticity and challenges the way we perceive truth in storytelling. With the power to recreate personalities, brands are now faced with the responsibility of navigating the ethical landscape surrounding this technology. Transparency and clear communication are crucial to ensure audiences understand the creative intent and the boundaries between reality and fiction. As brands venture into this realm, it becomes essential to strike a delicate balance between the captivating allure of deep fake technology and the need for honesty and integrity in brand storytelling.

Empowering creativity and collaboration

The most common jokes in the industry are revolved around how small the client budgets are versus the very inspiring briefs that are received. Often, marketers and creative teams come up with great ideas that require a lot in terms of the budgets which prevents them from executing them. In a way, its fair to say that the strength of the ideas is parallel and even better than some of those in the world right now, but not many organizations can afford to spend the required amount to make those a reality. But now with AI, many of those boundaries can be easily crossed and a lot of video and static content can be created within seconds.

Now is the time to leave hygiene content to AI and focus on really breaking the clutter with unimaginable things that collaborations between human intelligence and creativity can achieve in partnership with AI.

In conclusion

Deep fake technology is transforming brand storytelling by unlocking new realms of creativity and narrative possibilities. It empowers brands to establish emotional connections, challenge the status quo, and collaborate with technology experts to create captivating campaigns. However, as brands explore this innovative technology, they must prioritize transparency, ethics, and authenticity to maintain the trust of their audiences. Ai is unlocking the possibility of pursuing larger than life campaigns that previously was not a possibility due to budgetary restrictions and now more than ever, marketers need to really adapt and work hand in hand with Ai and all forms of technology to stay relevant.

(The writer is the Senior Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer at Softlogic Life Insurance PLC)

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IronOne Technologies appoints former Sri Lankan ambassador Manori Unambuwe as vice president to drive global expansion



Left to right: Manori Unambuwe - Vice President of Strategy and International Markets at IronOne Technologies, Lakmini Wijesundera - Founder and Executive Director at IronOne Technologies and BoardPAC, Buddhika Abeygooneratne - Head of Operations at BoardPAC.

IronOne Technologies is pleased to announce the appointment of Manori as Vice President of Strategy and International Markets. In this role, Manori will lead IronOne’s global strategy, overseeing the company’s expansion into new markets and driving growth in existing ones. She will also be responsible for IronOne’s business development efforts, identifying new opportunities to bring innovative IT solutions to clients worldwide.

Manori brings to IronOne over 20 years of experience in Information Technology, having held senior leadership positions in three global technology giants. Prior to her appointment as Ambassador, she served as the Sri Lankan Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federal Republic of Germany with concurrent accreditation to Switzerland, Croatia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro. She has also served on the Boards of the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) and the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT).

“We are delighted to welcome Manori to the IronOne team,” said Lakmini Wijesundera, Co-founder and Executive Director of IronOne Technologies. “Her extensive experience in information technology and her track record of success in business development and market expansion will be invaluable as we continue to grow and expand our global reach.”

The appointment plays a crucial role in IronOne’s strategic vision to position the company as the foremost IT solution provider in the field of artificial intelligence across Asia and expand its global business presence.

Manori said, “I am excited to join IronOne Technologies and to work with the talented team to drive the company’s growth and success. I look forward to contributing to the company’s vision of bringing innovative IT solutions to clients worldwide.”

IronOne Technologies is an IT solutions provider to many clients worldwide, including some listed in the Fortune 500. Its AI labs division, consisting of a highly skilled team of AI engineers with experience in Data Science and Machine Learning, can deliver state-of-the-art solutions to various industries. Atrad, a multi-disciplinary financial trading platform with over 80% of the market share in Sri Lanka, and the Mobile web solutions, with unique apps provided to renowned global brands, are the other business solutions the company provides.

Manori currently serves as an Ambassador for AsiaBerlin Forum, an initiative by the Berlin Senate to support Asian tech startups to access the German market. Her experience and knowledge will be instrumental in guiding IronOne Technologies’ strategic decisions and expanding its global footprint.

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