Safeguarding lives and livelihood of Sri Lankans
Pandemics and Disruptions:
by Suresh Ranasinghe
The impact of COVID-19 on Sri Lanka’s labour market, education, migration, and health sectors were discussed at the second webinar panel discussion held on October 13, to mark the release of the ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2021’ report, the flagship report of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS).
The event saw presentations by Dr Nisha Arunatilake and Dr Bilesha Weeraratne from IPS, with expert insights from Ms Madhavie Gunawardena, Director of TRCSL and Former Commissioner of Labour and Dr Kolitha Wickramage, Global Migration Health Research and Epidemiology Coordinator, Migration Health Division, International Organization for Migration (IOM). Ashani Abayasekera from IPS moderated the discussion.
Key highlights of the discussion are presented in this blog.
Presentation: Labour Markets and Education
Dr Nisha Arunatilake
An estimated 225 million people lost their jobs globally in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Sri Lanka’s labour market was also severely affected, with 150,000 people losing jobs and the quality of available jobs deteriorated with many workers taking on more vulnerable forms of employment (eg. agriculture, self-employment) that have low social security. The unemployment rate rose by 0.7% in 2020. The most affected were youth, low and medium-skilled individuals, and males, while several women left the labour market altogether.
The pandemic affected different types of workers differently. Frontline workers were the most vulnerable, and a large share of frontline workers are females. The ILO has classified industries according to their COVID-19-related economic output risk. This calculation was used to see how COVID-19 has affected different types of workers, and it shows that 39% of workers are in high-risk industries in Sri Lanka. Further, medium-skilled workers and women are more likely to be in high-risk industries.
The government took various measures to provide relief to workers, but the relief packages were given is not as sizeable as the types of relief provided in other countries. IPS research shows that the perception of employees, employers, and trade union leaders is that the government could have done better by providing financial support through the EPF/ETF funds, as done in other countries like India.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of providing pre-retirement social protection such as unemployment benefits and wage support during illnesses in addition to current post-retirement social protection measures. Therefore, it is necessary to create a separate fund to provide pre-retirement social protection as practised in Nepal, Malaysia, and Singapore.
A recent IPS study finds that, Sri Lanka’s ETF funds are sufficient to cover sickness and unemployment benefits to workers and provide wage support to retain jobs. In summary, the government must improve and expand access to social security for employees and firms, support firms to offer flexible work arrangements for higher labour participation and develop better labour market institutions that have the capacity to collect timely data and are prepared to address disaster risks.
Since March 2020, schools across Sri Lanka were closed other than for few brief periods of operation and the total number of school days missed are significantly higher in Sri Lanka compared to other countries. Even though the Ministry of Education and associated organisations provided lessons online and via TV, less than 50% of the students were reached online and in smaller schools, only 30% were reached by both online and TV. There needs to be an assessment done about the learning losses, and adjust the curricular, so that schools can focus on the most needed competencies to streamline and speed up the recovery.
Migration and Health
Dr Bilesha Weeraratne
A large number of migrant workers were forced to return much earlier than they planned due to the pandemic, and it affected earnings and their capacity to return. Notably, most of the returnees were either self-financed or their employer paid for their return air ticket. Limitations in Sri Lanka’s return and repatriation efforts were not able to bring a wide cross-section of returnees back to Sri Lanka from the onset itself. On average, there was a 4.5-month delay between the decision to return and the actual date of return. This was also because of the lack of proper information. Sri Lanka has a return and reintegration sub policy, and the issue was that it was not implemented.
Returning migrant workers require economic, social and psychosocial reintegration support but reintegration support was largely limited to immediate health support (testing, quarantine, treatment). Also, issues associated with the vaccination process in Sri Lanka such as irregular and inconsistent supply, delays in NMRA approvals, disorganised deployment etc. caused the delays in vaccinating potential migrant workers as well. However, the vaccination process for migrant workers was much better organised than the overall vaccination process in the country.
Sri Lanka sends 225,000 workers abroad while foreign annual exchange earnings is USD7 billion. Although in 2020 there were just 53,713 registered departures, remittances increased grew by 5.8%. They began declining since the beginning of 2021. There were many reasons for the growth last year like informal remittance channels being closed due to the lockdown and workers increasing their remittances through formal channels. Further, workers who were terminated would have got lump sums as terminal benefits which were remitted, while another reason would have been the reluctance of returnees to carry cash as they had to be quarantined on arrival.
Commentary: Labour Markets and Education
Ms Madhavie Gunawardena
The COVID-19 pandemic has flagged the need for Sri Lanka to revisit its labour laws and regulations. Since the labour market was forced to accept work from home (WFH), accommodating flexibility in labour legislation and other legislation governing the workplace is essential. Accommodating flexible working practices is important, especially for women, as this allows them to balance their family and work responsibilities, thus retaining them in the labour force. With prolonged school closures, there is currently no way of improving the students’ soft skills as extra-curricular and co-curricular activities were halted. This will affect their employability in the future.
Commentary: Migration and Health
Dr Kolitha Wickramage
In the migration sector, future policy decisions should take into consideration factors such as the gender dimension of returnees and skills requirements of migrant workers as well. Psychosocial health and mental health are extremely important for the reintegration package since this is still an unmet agenda. Even though the overall vaccination process including vaccination for migrant workers in Sri Lanka is appreciable, the number of deaths and serious cases can be averted if a more systematic strategy such as those provided by WHO Sage recommendations were followed. The IPS State of the Economy report must be commended for recognising the need to address psychosocial issues of migrants, in addition to their social and economic issues.
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.
Unlocking New Possibilities: The impact of deep fake technology on brand storytelling
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.
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)
IronOne Technologies appoints former Sri Lankan ambassador Manori Unambuwe as vice president to drive global expansion
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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