The road map to move forward: Finding the Sri Lankan equation

Somewhere on a bridge in the Chilaw area, there are a couple of fishermen selling their catch of wewa maalu (tank fish). At around four or five in the evening, passersby can see them at the roadside, pulling out small black fish from a net. The fish are so alive that some even escape from the basket to do a last ditch leap along the side of the road. The fishermen meanwhile conduct brisk business, as passing motorists stop to buy their fresh catch.

24 Feb 2012 0 comment

They are on the bridge every evening around the same time, each armed with a catch of around five to six kilos. Considering how fast they sell it, this writer asked them why they don’t bring in a bigger catch and the answer was extraordinary, especially in today’s context of ‘more is always better’. They said, “This is enough for the day”, a simple thought that has some deep fundamentals in running a sustainable business - these fishermen will not over fish to exhaust the stock in the wewa.

Inapt foreign scales
Currently, there is a lot of talk about Sri Lanka becoming the Wonder of Asia. This writer has nothing against such aspirations; in fact, it is good to have such goals. But, along with all this infrastructure development that is on-going in the hopes of getting us there, we also need to look at a workable formula that can be used to get the entire country on this road to success. There have been many formulas presented to us in theory, the foremost among them being the Singapore equation. Singapore’s success has been attributed to the public/private cooperation they have. The two things that underpin this cooperation is their excellent model on labour relations and the way the civil service operates.

If that were the case, can a pluralistic Sri Lanka follow an operating formula similar to that of Singapore? Rather doubtful, but on the other hand, we don’t have to emulate anything Singapore has done in order to become successful. Instead, we need to investigate what our home grown formula needs. In this writer’s opinion, a Sri Lankan formula is not about making poor people rich, rich people less rich or creating some kind of egalitarian society in the hopes of growing a large middle class. These types of aspirations are attuned to western democracies, which believe that a growing middle class is a sign of fair play; but a level playing field is not the need of the hour.

For example, here in Sri Lanka one might employ a driver or a maid who will be serving their employer hand and foot at all odd hours. But when it comes to looking at real wealth, who has more or who has less is questionable i.e. the employer of this maid or driver might be living in a rented home, driving an official car; whereas the employees and their families might own acres of land in their respective villages. This is why Sri Lanka cannot measure wealth, happiness and the quality of life based on a western scale. Solutions to our problems, the way we move ahead and how we find a road map has to have our own local flavour.

There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we look at wealth creation and how we nurture it. Sri Lankan culture in itself is a melting pot of different ideas, aspirations, hopes and fears, all of which need to be considered in finding answers to our issues. Many of the solutions to our nagging problems have not been understood by the world at large. However, do we need a UN Global Compact to teach us about sustainability in business? Not, when the fishermen in Chilaw can easily teach us that.

In a previous column, this writer talked of how wildlife conservation cannot be developed in isolation and how it needed to move with the other development projects in the country. Most often, these projects, which might be in shipping, oil drilling, port development or other may overlap in some areas of their operations. For example, the routes of ships moving around the Hambantota harbour and migratory whales and dolphins might be the same. But we need to find solutions around them so that both can exist in harmony. It is not that Sri Lanka as a majority don’t understand conservation. This is a country that respects life, through some of its religious philosophy, and not harming even an ant is a part of local belief. But on the other hand, we have also had one of the bloodiest wars, and stand accused of atrocities. Therefore, in finding the right solutions, there are many things that need to be considered i.e. do we need to be aligned to consumerism, the belief that the buying and selling of large quantities of consumer goods is a sign of economic strength; do we encourage thrift or risk?

Medium of strategy development
There is also another factor; what medium do we use to develop our strategies. It is a fact that the world encourages us to expand our knowledge of English, saying that a universal language is one way of flattening it. But can we explore the possibility of developing home grown ideas in the vernacular? Do we have an effective model to manage public opinion for and against us? Are we creating synergies with the west or just trying to ape them? A good example of moving into the vernacular is this new marketing programme, ‘Marketing Sinhalen’ introduced to Sri Lankan students by the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM). They recently signed an MOU with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) to promote and deliver this programme in Sinhala throughout the country.

Both FCCISL and SLIM are of the view that the demand for teaching marketing in Sinhala is steadily growing. They say that there is a huge necessity for it, as the middleincome basket expands. Marketing in Sinhala is launched with the objective of providing marketing knowledge to all segments of society to promote, upgrade and exchange marketing knowledge and encourage entrepreneurs, SME business owners, state sector employees and school leavers who are keen to get an exposure in marketing to develop their businesses, careers or professions.

However, if we are doing marketing in Sinhala, we have to make sure that a British syllabus is not translated into Sinhala and taught. Although the principles of marketing can be got from these syllabuses, the value systems that are intrinsic to this country must also be incorporated if we are to make that Sri Lankan equation. Another example is the launch of the first trilingual small and medium enterprise guide book published by the National Enterprise Development Authority. This book is the operational manual for SMES to source information.

All of these are small steppingstones towards making that indigenous equation, which is vital for our development. But what is surprising is that it has been so long in coming. One can only hope that others would follow this trend and come up with winning formulas that will take us closer to being the Wonder of Asia. (Picture courtesy: Associated Press)

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Source : Daily Mirror   
Article: Paradigm Shift

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