Every Sunday I spend two hours of my time to write a key thought for Sri Lanka that might be of benefit to different stakeholders. A key happening last weekend was the opening of Arcade Independence Square. In my view it was one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that has been restored in the recent past. It is very iconic and has the potential to be positioned globally on the lines of Orchard Street of Singapore or the Times Square in New York in the years to come.
Colombo vs Monaragala
Whilst I did enjoy the opening of the Arcade on Sunday, my mind went out to the poor in the Colombo District who might not have the luxury to patronise the top-end restaurants in the vicinity.
If we analyse the numbers, even though Colombo District depicts a commanding 1.4% poverty level and one of the most lagging districts like Monaragala is at 20.8%, in absolute numbers Colombo has 32,564 poor people whilst in Monaragala this is at 94,848, which indicates how close this gap is. This means that just 60,000 people separate the two districts, even though Colombo contributes 45% of the GDP to the country.
Gampaha vs. Jaffna
If we take do a similar analysis between a commanding region like Gampaha which is at 2.1% poverty level and Jaffna which is at 8.3%, in absolute numbers the people below poverty level is the same at around 48,000 people. It is a very interesting fact, given that we are talking of two districts which are at very diverse economic development agendas and geographical terrains.
A point to note is that that a district like Gampaha had a poverty level on 14.7% around 15 years back and today it is at a commanding 2.1% which is an economic development model that must be studied and replicated across the country. Let me try to capture the essence of these two economies.
Gampaha: Representative cross section of Sri Lanka
If we look at Gampaha from a population perspective below 14 years there is 23% of the population, which is very close to the national number of 26%. Between the age group of 15-59 years once again the number is very close at 63.6% as against the 61.8% national value whilst in the over 60 age group it is at 13.3% as against the national number of 12.3%.
I guess if one can do a deeper analysis on the Socio Economic Classification (SEC) it will further validate the representativeness of the Gampaha District to the national picture so that it can be useful information for test marketing operations. Maybe the private sector can be charged a nominal value to test market a new product that includes key hoardings, access to a particular place in the Sunday Pola for display and trial purposes so that the uniqueness of this district can be marketed in a suitable manner.
Gampaha: Education insight
On education, Gampaha scores the best on those who have not had schooling at a mere 1.8% whilst those who have been educated up to A/L is above the national average but against other urban cities it is below in schooling up to Grade 5 and also in the passed A/L segment. Maybe an evaluation must be done why those who passed A/Ls are below the urban number of 18.7%. It could be that many get educated in Colombo schools due to proximity and this is a practical error of collecting data.
Perhaps it would be worth tabulating why only 13.3% are at up to Grade 5 as it may mean that families are getting smaller and is reflective in urbanised districts of Sri Lanka and we see this trend in Gampaha in this case of point, which is very interesting. The setting of the first international campus in Meerigama will be another interesting project given the lower number following A/Ls in Gampaha at 14.3%.
Gampaha: Vehicle ownership insight
The ownership of motor cycles, three wheelers and buses in the Gampaha District have a higher percentage as against the rest of the country as well as against other urban markets which may be reflective of the lifestyle of the households and occupation. The families that have no vehicles is significantly lower at 33.5% which is indicative of the district registering the second position in the average mean income at Rs. 48,870.
Marketers who are targeting the Gampaha District will have to take these insights into account when developing brand marketing campaigns. For instance a hoarding being designed for the Gampaha District must show motorcycles rather than a motor car as this number is way above the national average. On the other hand it also indicates the opportunity that exists for motor car marketers.
Gampaha: Ownership of household items insight
The penetration of washing machines to be the highest at 22.3% is interesting and I guess marketers must see what key strategies helped the company get there. Maybe it is reflective of the lifestyle they lead, which makes them want such products and it not being a luxury. However, it’s strange that the ownership of refrigerators, cookers and electric fans is below the national average in urban markets.
I would argue that the urban number might be skewed due to the Colombo District and maybe it’s not reflective of a normal average. The data clearly indicates the market opportunity for manufacturers of electric fans, cookers and refrigerators. Maybe stronger links with the housewife associations in Gampaha District might give better insights to the reasons behind these numbers.
Jaffna: School attendance
On the other hand if we do a deep dive on Jaffna, the district depicts the lowest on those who have not attended school at just 0.9% as against the national average of 4.6%. Even on the segment of those who attend school up to Grade 5 and on the segment Grade 6-10, we see that Jaffna scores way above the national average. To be specific on the latter segment, the national average is 16.1% but the Jaffna number shoots to 52.9% on those attending school.
This clearly signifies the strong and disciplined approach of thinking that one gets exposed to and is inculcated from the early age of life. But the scores on the O/Ls and A/Ls are below the national average and this will naturally increase given the recent investment by the private sector with programs like CIMA and degrees. After all, the best brains on accountancy originated from Jaffna in the yesteryear. This will sure become the trend in the near future, experts opine.
Jaffna: Citizen break-up
The detailed architecture of Jaffna is very interesting if one goes into the brass tacks. The senior citizens constitute 11.5% of the population which is below the national average of 12.3%. It is also fair to say the population of Jaffna is young in nature and it gives a vibe of the new investments and opportunities that the peninsula can absorb with strong drive.
The reason for the strong drive can be justified by the fact that the poorest 40% account for 18.3% of the population, which is way above the national average of 13.3%. Even if one looks at the richest 20% of the population of Jaffna, it is at a low ebb of 44.1% as against the national average of 54.1%. However, within the next three years there will be strong shift in this data given the new businesses that have come to play post 17 May 2009.
This is actually one reason for my argument th
at Jaffna can be the Bali of Sri Lanka in the future. The beautiful Casuarina beach can be strategically developed to blend with the culture of Jaffna which can be seen different from the rest of the country, be it Pasikudah, Kalpitiya or Bentota.
From a marketing point of view, apart from the distinctive culture of Jaffna and its famous Nallur festival that attracts over a million people a year into the peninsula, almost 92% of the people being Hindus adds to the rituals and norms that goes with regard to art, music, dance, painting, leather work and the overall feel of the city.
However, unless this uniqueness is preserved, it cannot be cut out globally like Bali given that in most families one member is living overseas or has been residing in a developed country, which means there can be fusion that takes place with social media vehicles like YouTube, Facebook, Skype, Twitter and basic email access. But the concept of uniqueness must be driven by the people of Jaffna rather than policy is what I see from my travels to exotic Central and South American cities, be it Mexico, Aruba, Ecuador or Brazil.
Given the uniqueness of the Jaffna that stems from the colonial past and the culture that it is embedded in, the beautiful landscape like travelling from the Palaly airport to the city, the Karainagar road that leads up to the famous Casuarina beach, the hot wells, the Nallur festival and of course the strong reliance of the economy on the agriculture and dairy industry makes it easy for developing a strong marketing campaign in the global tourism agenda.
I guess when KKS is cleared and developed, cruise tourism can be targeted given the small proximity that one can enjoy such beauty in landscape and culture. Maybe discussions with cruise liners like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise liners and even global niche yacht service providers can commence given that they already operate in the Maldives Islands.
I have tried to capture the essence of the two districts that I focused on, Gampaha and Jaffna, and what can be done to drive down poverty levels and market each of these districts in its unique identities. Maybe the next steps from a national point of view can be as follows:
1) The overall developmental agenda must be done on each district with a clear mission like what we see in Gampaha which has successfully reduced the poverty level from 14.7% to 2.1% in 15 years.
2) This bottom-up game plan must be linked to the National Budget.
3) GDP growth must be tracked at district level if possible so that national level planning can be targeted.
[The author is a corporate personality, sought-after business speaker and respected marketer in brand marketing and national campaigns. The thoughts expressed are the author’s own ideas, and do not reflect the offices he hold in Sri Lanka or internationally. He is an alumnus of the University of Harvard (Boston).]