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Sri Lanka’s future is decidedly female: banking on empowered women for economic rejuvenation

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By Hatton National Bank Chairperson Aruni Goonetilleke

One of the most famous women in history once said: “Within crisis, are the seeds of opportunity”. The source of such a powerful truism? Marilyn Monroe, a woman who clearly possessed great wisdom, but is unfortunately remembered for her physical beauty than her intellectual and emotional strength.

While it may be hard to focus on growth during times of turbulence, those that are able to find those seeds of opportunity ultimately receive disproportionate benefits. Today Sri Lanka is in the middle of just such a moment. There is of course unanimous consensus that our nation needs to urgently identify and utilize every available opportunity to help revive and rejuvenate our economy. But the devil is in the details.

Therefore, in weighing our options, we should consider a few essential details. First, we must acknowledge that is a compelling reason why women’s empowerment is often raised in tandem with economic development. Globally, countries are estimated to lose US$160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. This amounts to an average of US $23,620 for each person in the 141 countries studied by the World Bank.

Secondly, despite Sri Lanka’s rich history of female leadership at the top and outstanding female education rates – including near parity between men and women in higher education, Sri Lanka’s female labour force participation (FLFP) rate has been persistently entrenched at a dismal 32%; the same as it was a decade ago, and falling among the lowest in South Asia.

Most importantly, research has shown that Sri Lanka can increase our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by as much as US$ 20 billion each year up to 2025, simply by advancing the cause of gender equality1. The question we must collectively ask ourselves this year is simple; can we afford to neglect this potential any longer?

Our hope this International Women’s Day is that in responding to Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic challenges, we also take the time to reflect on the significant contribution that women have made to the development of our nation and reach a firm consensus on the extensive measures we need to take to empower many more Sri Lankan women to reach their full potential.

Clearing a path to progress

Many of the obstacles faced by Sri Lankan women today are the product of generations of regressive attitudes and ideologies that have become entrenched to the point where today, they have created systemic failures. While these issues are certainly not unique to Sri Lanka, the solutions we create to address these issues will have to be.

One area that has the potential to have the highest impact is encouraging and supporting more women to become entrepreneurs. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s directive to the domestic banking sector to allocate 5% of its loan portfolio specifically for women-led enterprises was certainly a positive step in the right direction. The onus is now on our industry to carry forward this initiative with greater enthusiasm.

So far, approximately 3% of our total SME portfolio comprising 126,216 clients in total, has been channeled towards women-led enterprises. This means that in total, we have supported over 3,000 women-led SMEs to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams and gain an unprecedented level of control over their own finances. These businesses span diverse areas including everything home gardening, agriculture, food, fashion, packaging, and stationery.

In 2022, we aim to expand our SME lending by 20% Year-on-Year (YoY). In the process, we hope to further expand access to finance and opportunity for more women entrepreneurs. Capacity building will be another essential focus area, with a total of 40 structured capacity building programs already arranged over the course of the year, across the island.

HNB is also partnered with USAID for selected short-term SME development programs. Similarly, we partnered with ITC and the Sri Lankan Export Development Board to provide focused capacity building and financial literacy training to 100 women to support their aspirations to compete in international markets.

We are also partnering CIMA Sri Lanka to train and mentor women entrepreneurs, to help them unlock disproportionate growth potential in the SME space and leverage that growth to create more employment opportunities for women.

Over the year, HNB hopes to drive greater awareness and focus on these programs to ensure that funds and training are channeled to where they are most needed. However, while Sri Lankan women, on average, are better educated than their South Asian counterparts, they are less likely to use that education to secure economic advantages. Part of the problem is that our education system itself requires reform so that our next generation is better prepared with the hard and soft skills necessary to enter the workforce.

Similarly, we need to focus on expanding technical and vocational training to more women while simultaneously dispelling myths and biases against women taking up some jobs and not others.

Moving forward, Sri Lankans must join in creating a nurturing environment that is conducive for women entrepreneurs and address the specific pain-points that are most responsible for keeping women out of the workforce. These include practical investments in systems to ensure safe childcare, and transport.

Legal reforms are an important component, such as the domestic ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 190, which enshrines the right of everyone to a world of work, free from violence and harassment. However legal reform will only take us so far.

True progress requires that we also address the cultural dysfunction at the root of all gender-based discrimination. Because ultimately, change must start with each of us. In our homes, our schools, and our communities. Given that the stakes for economic development have never been higher, we must make sure that we get this right, to build a better, more equitable future that serves all Sri Lankans, regardless of their gender.



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

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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

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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

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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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