Knowledge Remittance: Sri Lanka's most powerful resource

Kieran Arasaratnam

Knowledge Remittance: Sri Lanka's most powerful resource

When charities talk about making a difference, they are often speaking about money: “Donate X dollars and achieve Y”. Which is fine, because money is perhaps the most convenient and powerful tool we have for generating fast change. But it is not the only tool we have, and neither is it always the most effective or lasting.

Think of all the times somebody made a positive and lasting impact on your life. It didn’t always involve money, did it? For me, the most valuable encounters were not with my financiers but with my teachers or my mentors. If you can inspire a dream or a vision, the positive ripple effect can be awe-inspiring to behold.

The challenge I have always wanted to tackle is to ensure that people are given the chance to make lasting change in their own lives. This is more than just charity, this is about giving people control. Education is a powerful tool for achieving this goal.

The Digital Academy that we are launching in Sri Lanka is, of course, [https://uinspire.co.uk/motivation/technology-that-isn-t-just-for-the-privileged-few] is a big step in this direction. Its goal, however – providing training in order to create employment – is still a primarily economic one. It is creating opportunities, and that is an important piece of the puzzle, but we also need a more holistic approach to tackle the education deficit in Sri Lanka and the dearth of international expertise at home. To do this we need people more than we need capital, we need mentors.

Fortunately, Sri Lanka has a very rich source of knowledge and international expertise beyond its borders in the form of its diaspora – and it is diaspora is massive, 1.7 million according to the World Bank’s most recent migration study (2013), though this number has likely grown. That is 8.65 percent of the population, proportionately more than India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam Indonesia or Thailand.

Sri Lanka’s diaspora has shown significant economic clout – global remittances to Sri Lanka in 2016 totalled $7.2 billion – but it also has the ability to offer valuable skills and knowledge. We call this knowledge remittance. Sri Lanka’s diaspora is populated by remarkable men and women who have gained access to some of the top educational institutions in the world and honed their skills at various multinational companies. For us, this represents a rich opportunity for us to import ingenuity and talent that can work too the benefit of all in Sri Lanka.

This point was made by economist Professor Ricardo Hausmann of Harvard University when he visited Colombo last year. The diaspora, he said, has significant know-how and skills necessary to seed new industries in the country and diversify its exports. But bringing in this know-how, he added demands “creative” strategies.  But the opportunity is untapped. The process of linking the skills of overseas Sri Lankans to the needs of their compatriots at home has been ad hoc at best.

 

At Uinspire, our vision is to help create a platform that can tap into this resource effectively and kick-start a new wave of knowledge remittance. The aim is to provide a formal network that can streamline the ambitions, expertise, and availability of Sri Lankans abroad to support aspirations at home.