Prof. Sudatta Ranasinghe
Two years have passed since the demise of Prof. Sudatta Ranasinghe. I felt the loss dearly and I greatly missing this inspirational icon. It is a tale of a ‘tall’ teacher. I mean ‘tall’ in terms of academic achievements, while also being a genuine human being. Today’s column is an effort to recap memories of Professor Ranasinghe.
Demise of a prolific author
I wrote several columns in the past highlighting two publications of Prof. Ranasinghe’s. One was ‘Research Methods in Management’, which he co-authored with Prof. Mangala Fonseka, the other was ‘Managing in the Developing Context’.
The last book he co-edited with me was ‘HR Challenge’. I had a stressful time in finishing it and publishing it after his untimely departure.
“Our experience as teachers of management as well as supervisors and examiners of research undertaken by postgraduate students in management is that the quality of research can be improved substantially by providing a simple, yet comprehensive guide to research in management, particularly for the student engaged in postgraduate studies in management.” That was Prof. Ranasinghe’s intention for writing such a vital book.
In his next book, he drew our attention to the problems and prospects of managing in a developing context.
“The managerial capacity of a nation is a critical factor that affects the quality of life of the people as well as the freedom of choice they enjoy as citizens,” said Prof. Ranasinghe.
“How a nation manages its resources is a factor that determines its ability to be competitive in a sustainable manner in the global market. In a broader sense, the quality of governance at the national as well as corporate levels influences the choices made with regard to resource allocation and utilisation, which impacts the level of growth, productivity and distribution of income, having implications over the extent of self-reliance achieved by a nation.”
Prof. Ranasinghe was of the view that though socio-political and economic issues of development had been addressed in contemporary literature, the managerial issues of development had not been addressed sufficiently in Sri Lankan development discourses.
“Hence our capacity to address critical issues of management in a proactive manner has been limited. In this setting, the present volume intends to make a modest contribution towards addressing selected issues of management from the perspective of a developing country that has been going through a process of transition economically, socially and politically during the past three decades.
“Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage spanning over 2,500 years that has been nurtured largely by the teachings of the Buddha, a great philosopher and a social reformer,” observed Prof. Ranasinghe.
“The Buddhist values of management such as commitment to a cause, autonomy and responsibility, mutual respect and tolerance have had a profound effect on the way of life of our people. Over generations, these values have influenced the thinking and actions of the people and their participation in collective efforts,” he stated.
Starting his career as a research officer at the Marga Institute in 1972, he reached the position of Senior Professor of Management (OUSL), working for over 30 years in the university system in Sri Lanka. I first met him as a beloved teacher of the MBA program of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. His insightful and thought-provoking sessions kept us passionate and informed in our pursuit of an MBA.
He was a former Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Open University of Sri Lanka from October 2004 to October 2007. In this position, his main responsibilities involved providing academic and administrative leadership to the faculty comprising four academic departments and assisting the Vice Chancellor in the management of the university. It was a period of renewal with ample use of his refreshing insight.
He served as a Senior Lecturer Grade 1 at the Postgraduate Institute of Management of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura from 1 October 1992 to 1 June 2004. As a regular lecturer for the business and public administration programs, he got heavily involved in curriculum development, teaching and student assessment in the MBA/MPA programs, research supervision and evaluation and assisted the institute in the conduct of management development programs for the private sector.
Another role he excelled at was as the Coordinating Consultant in Public Administration at the Postgraduate Institute of Management of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura from 1 August 1988 to 1 October 1992. He was instrumental in program coordination, developing the curriculum of the MPA program, conducting lectures, student assessments, research supervision and evaluation.
Among the other jobs Prof. Ranasinghe handled were training planner, Janatha Estates Development Board, Colombo, from 1 July 1986 to 31 July 1988, Senior Training Specialist in Management, National Institute of Plantation Management, from 1 March 1984 to 30 June 1986 and Senior Lecturer, Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, from 1 June 1979 to 1 March 1984.
As Prof. Ranasinghe opined in his usual lucid style, the colonial legacy of the dual economy, characterised by an export-oriented plantation sector and subsistence-oriented indigenous agricultural sector, had continued for generations despite changes in the political system brought about by constitutional changes in 1972 and 1978 respectively.
These changes paved the way for the establishment of the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972 and the executive presidential system of governance in 1978. Notwithstanding the changes in the politico-administrative system, the national economy continued to be dependent on imports of food, medicine, intermediate goods and capital goods and the export of commodities and non-competitive manufactured items such as readymade garments. At the same time the unprecedented growth in domestic and foreign debt had made the country’s economy more vulnerable to external shocks.
Since gaining political independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had treaded on a path of development following the welfare state model which lasted for several decades. According to Prof. Ranasinghe, a paradigm shift in the policy regime that took place in the late 1970s marked the end of the welfare state model of governance and the birth of the market-led growth model. This important policy shift also posed the managerial challenge of balancing welfare and growth in an economy that had been exposed to the winds of globalisation.
In the post-liberalisation era, the state assumed the role a facilitator of development while the private sector had been assigned the role of the ‘engine of growth’. Against this backdrop, it would be important to probe whether Sri Lanka had been able to deal with the managerial challenge of balancing welfare and growth to the satisfaction of all stakeholders, of a facilitator of development while the private sector had been assigned the role of being the ‘engine of growth’.
Against this backdrop, it would be important to probe whether Sri Lanka had been able to deal with the managerial challenge of balancing welfare and growth to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
After a lapse of one decade of the new millennium, a significant proportion of the country’s population continues to live in a state of poverty and shares less than five percent of the national income, Prof. Ranasinghe observed. This reflects social inequalities and poor human development, which is no doubt an indicator of the poor state of management of national resources. The persistence of poverty in the rural and estate sectors and the wide disparities in the quality of life of the people seem to suggest that development policies have not brought about the desired results. Thus, it reinforces the need for good governance and effective management practices.
Despite battling cancer he was the true embodiment of optimism and was looking forward to doing much more writing. His last words to me were,” I will give you detailed feedback on your Introduction to the book once I can do some work.” He was not complaining but was committing himself to the tasks ahead despite the difficulties he faced.
In writing on ”HR Challenge” , he stated:
“The students as well as practitioners of HR are convinced that there is a dearth of research-based literature on theory and practice of HR in the context of development challenges faced by Sri Lanka. In particular, issues pertaining to performance management and rewards, employer- employee relations, attraction and retention of competent people, carrier opportunities for women, employee motivation and commitment etc. which affect peoples’ productivity and organizational performance are not sufficiently researched and discussed. “
In ‘The HR Challenge’ he further discusses key people challenges faced by Sri Lankan business organisations in the post-war economic reconstruction phase. Several challenges of HR based on seven case studies have been elaborated whilst identifying the multiple roles HR professionals are expected to play in order to handle the key HR challenges effectively in the present context.
Life is not only about living but about leaving a legacy. Prof. Ranasinghe has aptly done this through his knowledge-creating and knowledge-sharing life.
“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life,” Albert Bandura, the most admired living psychologist of our times once said. This was very true of Prof. Ranasinghe.
He had a purpose to live and it was indeed a purpose-driven life. His thoughts will spark our minds for a long time. I am proud to have been one of his management students. Even after two years, his worthy contribution continues to aid countless learners. Goodbye my dear teacher.