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A comprehensive brain-gain initiative for Sri Lanka launched amidst wide public and private sector support


WorkInSriLanka, a volunteer-led initiative to advocate Sri Lanka as an attractive destination for highly skilled individuals and high calibre businesses was launched at a forum comprising key public sector officials, industry leaders, heads of international non-government organisations, representatives of all major industries and relevant government institutions, and civil society experts held at the Taj Samudra, Colombo, on 14 of May 2013 with Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal as the Chief Guest.

In the initial phase, WorkInSriLanka has developed a web portal, that provides comprehensive information needed for relocation and links users with key industry bodies. WorkInSriLanka is actively engaged in building partnerships with key industries in Sri Lanka, while concurrently building a worldwide network to create awareness of the site and its services amongst educated professionals, mainly Sri Lankans, abroad. Beyond the information portal, future plans include the following:

* Become a channel for executive level job placement - provide networking and connectivity to high level positions which are often not openly advertised;

* Showcase Sri Lanka as a preferred investment destination - optimising the five hub strategy, especially the knowledge hub focusing on ITES industries; and

* Become an advocacy organisation - work with the government and others to further improve Sri Lanka’s attractiveness as the preferred relocation destination for experienced professionals.

Governor Cabraal making the keynote address at the launch highlighted the paradigm shift in the mind-set of Sri Lankans as more are considering work in Sri Lanka rather than work outside Sri Lanka. He added that many are convinced that Sri Lanka has immense opportunities for both Sri Lankans abroad as well as foreigners with a wide range of skills, especially to fill the growing demand for highly skilled labour driven by the national five-hub strategy for economic development.

Furthermore, the Governor pointed out that while people may have left Sri Lanka for different reasons, the country must now welcome them back and create new spaces for them in the growing economy as Sri Lanka already has many highly qualified professionals who have remained in the country through difficult times. He also stressed on the significance of returning Sri Lankans integrating themselves into Sri Lankan society and their local communities in order to make brain gain meaningful. Cabraal also encouraged Sri Lankans seeking international exposure and returning to Sri Lanka as it broadened their knowledge and understanding, resulting in increased productivity and competitiveness.

A panel discussion on the topic of Sri Lanka’s need and readiness for brain gain was also held with Dr. Ranee Jayamaha (Chairperson, HNB), Sujiva Dewaraja (Chairman, SLASSCOM), Prof. Ajith de Alwis (Science Lead, SLINTEC) and Prof.H.D Karunaratne (Dean, faculty of Management and Finance, University of Colombo), Dulith Herath (CEO,, Shantha Kulasekara, (Head - Immigration / Border Management and Labour Migration, International Organisation for Migration, Sri Lanka) and Ms. Kanchana Ambagahawita (Chairperson, WorkInSriLanka) as panellists.

The panel discussion was moderated by Mano Sekaram (CEO, 99X Technologies).The panel discussion which had very high participation from a cross section of the audience brought out several factors involving the attractiveness and ability to bring globally demanded skilled labour and Sri Lankan expatriates back to Sri Lanka. It was noted that as Sri Lanka is progressing into becoming a knowledge based economy there is a need for all sectors adapt to changing demands and provide technology based solutions and that there are many vacancies in such emerging areas that the industries are finding it difficult to fill with locally available skills at present.

Further, it was noted that there was greater potential in attracting expatriates back to Sri Lanka as they already have family ties and a sense of attachment to Sri Lanka. On the issue of whether encouraging highly skilled labour to return would undermine opportunities of Sri Lankans who are already in the country, it was noted by educationists who were present that

the Sri Lankan students’, especially graduates and professionals, aptitude was very high and that exposure to new skills and competition will enhance the value of the local graduates. Further, it was also discussed that Sri Lanka has room to improve its social infrastructure, such as public transport, lifestyle activities and organisational culture in some instances to make Sri Lanka more welcoming to highly skilled professionals. Several panellists highlighted the need for a concerted effort between organisations, private sector, national level policy-makers and the government to solve the macro impediments that may act as barriers to entry and create a strong foundation to encourage brain gain in Sri Lanka that will help economic growth as well increase the value of Sri Lankan human capital.

Ms. Kanchana Ambagahawita, (Chairperson, WorkInSriLanka and Senior Economist, Central Bank of Sri Lanka) stressed that this volunteer initiative was to address a growing need for highly skilled professionals in fast growing industries and it is vital that WorkInSriLanka is a concerted effort of the entire country. She highlighted that it is a dynamic process and a learning experience and invited all stakeholders to contribute to the development of the initiative and make a constructive effort to operationalise these goals.

In addition to this, Imran Furkan (Executive Director, SLASSCOM and Team Member WorkInSriLanka) outlined the criteria for partnerships with WorkInSriLanka, where the initiative focused on values based on patriotism, value for human capital, an interest beyond financial assistance and a drive for mutually beneficial long term partnerships. WorkInSriLanka invites any industry or civil society body to partner with the initiative and work towards the common goal of improving Sri Lanka’s human capital.

WorkInSriLanka is a project by SL2College which is a non-profit volunteer based organisation with a vast global outreach for building Sri Lanka’s human capital by assisting students to find world-class universities and career opportunities free of charge. Mr Nayana Samaranayake, (Founder & Director, SL2College and Senior Engineer, Google) stated that WorkInSriLanka was an initiative attracting world class professionals, especially Sri Lankans, to return and become a part of Sri Lanka’s economic development.

Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana, (Chairman, SL2College and CEO of WSO2) making the closing remarks at the event highlighted the unquestioned and unanimous interest and support the

WorkInSriLanka initiative received from a vast cross section of industries, the public sector and civil society organisations.

The WorkInSriLanka initiative is a volunteer-based initiative that has been planned and implemented by a team of twelve volunteers with varied skills, knowledge and backgrounds.

The team comprises Ms. Kanchana Ambagahawita (Chairperson, WorkInSriLanka and Senior Economist, Central Bank of Sri Lanka), Dr. Sanjiva Weerawarana, (Chairman, SL2College and CEO of WSO2), Nayana Samaranayake, (Founder & Director, SL2College and Senior Engineer, Google), Chamil Hathurusinghe (Finance Manager, Ceylon Tea Services - Dilmah), Kirthevasan Kandasamy ( Undergraduate Student, University of Moratuwa), Ms. Nadeesha Nanayakkara ( Senior Engineer, Virtusa) Madhura Mendis (Software Engineer, WSO2), Praveena Sarathchandra (Software Engineer, WSO2), Pamod Sylvester (Software Engineer, WSO2), Harindu Alwis (Marketing Officer, WSO2), Ms Gillian Dass, Senior Associate Product Manager, WSO2) and Imran Furkan (Executive Director, SLASSCOM ) and assisted by Ms Marlene Machado.

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