From left: SLASSCOM Chairman Jeevan Gnanam, SimCentric Technologies General Manager Haridhu Abeygoonaratne,
EDB Chairperson Indira Malwatte, Federation of IT Industry Sri Lanka Chairman Dr. Kithsiri Manchanayakke and ICTA Project Manager Sachindra Samararatne
By Charumini de Silva
Rolling out the first initiative under the National Export Strategy (NES) to develop regional tech entrepreneurs, Government partners with private sector ICT/BPM stakeholders to encourage and empower over 500 undergraduates and entrepreneurs in Southern province, next week.
The Export Development Board (EDB) in collaboration with Sri Lanka Association of Software and Services Companies (SLASSCOM) yesterday announced the ‘Southern IT/BPM Week 2018’ titled ‘Nurturing Regional Entrepreneurship’ to educate and mentor 350 university undergraduates and 150 local entrepreneurs at a two-day workshop in Matara.
The workshop for the entrepreneurs will be held on 4 September at Hotel Grand Navro in Matara, while the program for IT undergraduates will be held on 5 September at the University of Ruhuna. The initiative is supported by Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), Federation of Information Technology Industry Sri Lanka (FITIS) and Development Strategies and International Trade Ministry. Commenting on the initiative, EDB Chairperson Indira Malwatte expressed confidence that this will help Sri Lanka’s IT/BPM sector to reach $5 billion in export revenue, create 200,000 direct jobs and encompass 1,000 start-ups by 2022.
The Government allocated Rs. 300 million for this year to implement various activities to promote ICT development through the EDB.
She said that IT/BPM sector during past decade has grown by 300%, reaching $ 1.2 billion in revenue last year and has provided jobs to over 80,000 professionals to become Sri Lanka’s fifth largest export earner.
“Another objective of this initiative is to establish 1,000 start-ups. Last year’s Budget allocated money under the ‘Arambuma’ credit scheme for young university students and for people with diplomas to encourage entrepreneurship amongst the youth. At present we have received over 400 applications and the EDB is now in the process of evaluating them. We hope to grant at least 25 or more applications by end of the year,” Malwatte added.
According to her majority of the applications received thus far are for IT start-ups. The applicants can obtain up to a maximum of Rs.1.5 million credit, with no collateral, no interest under the ‘Arambuma’ credit scheme, which is backed by the two-State banks.
She also said that similar awareness programs has been conducted in Jaffna, Kurunegala and Kandy to empower IT professionals and entrepreneurs in the regions, while supporting the existing businesses in Colombo towards a higher growth trajectory.
Identifying three priority areas for the sector, SLASSCOM Chairman Jeevan Gnanam stressed on the need to include data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the next big pillar to double the export earnings by end of this year, focus more on knowledge innovation and the need to build bridges to international markets.
“We are focusing on moving away from just focusing on IT/BPM to more knowledge innovation chamber. It is also important to teach our kids about AI, robotics rather than what is traditionally being taught in textbooks because today’s teachings are not good enough for tomorrow’s jobs. We need to build skillsets needed for the industry,” he added.
Gnanam also expressed confidence in achieving $1.8 billion export revenue target this year.
FITIS Chairman Dr. Kithsiri Manchanayakke said it was important to reach out to the regions in identifying new talent required for the IT/BPM sector, to expand the industry and develop the skills of the IT professionals.
He emphasised that around 13,000 IT professionals are required per annum to cater to the demand in the IT/BPM sector at present. However, Dr. Manchanayake also acknowledge there is a significant brain drain in the sector.
SLASSCOM Board Member Haridhu Abeygoonaratne outlining the key objectives of the Southern IT/BPM Week 2018 said they hope to encourage undergraduates to select IT and entrepreneurship as a career in future.
“We want to build awareness on emerging technology and mentor home-grown start-ups and SME owners. The key objective is to build export oriented entrepreneurs,” he stressed.
Noting that ICT is an enabler to many of the new enterprises ICTA Project Manager Sachindra Samararatne highlighted the importance of inculcating the entrepreneurial and innovation thinking at an early age to build a steady skilled workforce for the digital age.
“We observe that the exposure to new technology, trends and career opportunities are limited to Western province and this is one of addressing the matter with the experts in the field,” he noted.
Industry champions including Madu Rathnayake, Ruwindu Peiris, Jeevan Gnanam and Mangala Karunaratne are some of the facilitators who have committed to drive the program towards its objectives.
Pic by Ruwan Walpola