4IR, a tremendous opportunity for Lanka | Sunday Observer

4IR, a tremendous opportunity for Lanka

15 March, 2020

Sri Lanka needs to capitalise on the opportunities provided by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and make it a stepping stone to leap frog into the modern world. This opportunity will raise the bar for the country by harnessing potential offered by emerging technologies should not be missed, Chief Executive Officer, BoardPAC, Lakmini Wijesundera said.

“ICT is a profession where more females can benefit. Therefore, it is necessary for them to engage in the ICT sector in a big way for the country to progress rapidly. As there is a dearth in the ICT workforce, females can play a significant role in bridging this gap and contribute to increase foreign exchange generation,” she said.

The fourth Industrial Revolution is a tremendous opportunity that the Sri Lankan ICT sector needs to embrace. 4IR includes a key set of emerging technologies such as AI, Bigdata, Blockchain, Drones, Robotics and IOT.

ICT is a thrust area for business in many ways. Therefore, for the young generation, my advice is to use ICT as an enabler for global opportunities and to engage in and create compelling global businesses while also taking the opportunity of 4IR technologies which is a great equaliser across the globe. Recently at the Disrupt Asia, the keynote speaker Casey Lau raised the topic that it is critical for all countries to have a significant startup ecosystem to compete and be ahead economically. This applies to Sri Lanka too. The existing number of companies will not suffice to grow the country’s economy. New technology will wipe us out if we do not continue to innovate with 4IR at our doorstep. My message is for the youth to consider the startup eco system if you have a dream and a vision, to try it. This is especially for the females since there needs to be more participation in this ecosystem.

The ICT female workforce needs to increase and I see such a trend taking place. The workforce has two key categories – founders and entrepreneurs who establish startups and the workforce from senior to junior who are employed in ICT companies.

ICT workforce survey shows that the number of females in the ICT workforce is 20-30%. Therefore, there is a lot of potential to improve these numbers. ICT and specially the field of software is a suitable career for females. Software companies usually have comfortable environments and standard hours and do not have shift work or night work. These jobs will allow young people to progress.

The number of females entering Maths A-level stream and thereafter, continuing into computer related engineering undergraduate courses continues to increase in Sri Lanka and this is one reason for the lower numbers seen in ICT.

Therefore, there are many programs by SLAADCOM, FITIS, ICTA Sri Lanka and other bodies related to ICT to encourage and create awareness in communities for more females to join ICT. For females who studied outside the Maths stream to participate in bridge programs to move from other fields such as Arts, Commerce, Science to ICT.

In terms of entrepeneurship for founders of startups, support structures in general which also benefit startups launched by women are needed.There are very few females who even try to come forward while there are many males who do, who I personally see first failing and getting advice on how to improve and keep on returning until they get the funding or the mentorship. Most of the Spiralation by ICTA sponsored companies or startups are emerging in this manner. It is dominated by men. This is mainly because women have not even pitched or very few have pitched.

A startup is defined in the Sri Lanka startup report by SLAASCOM 2019 - According to Steve Blank, the ‘Father of Innovation’ in Silicon Valley, “A start-up is a temporary organisation designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

Startups are known to disrupt markets with new products and services, or come up with radical changes to existing products. Most startups are technology driven, and are not restricted by geography as they aim for rapid growth.

Therefore, this is a calling to females who have dreams of starting a company and possibly making it globally compelling by scaling.

Those who have an idea to startup, should take the time and courage to pitch at even spiralation or Disrupt Asia provided by the government for startups. It is important to take the opportunities provided by the government. Men are doing so and the women are not coming forward in the required numbers.

Apart from the government initiatives for startups, private corporations too have several accelerators with companies such as John Keells Holdings PLC and Dialog Axiata PLC launching accelerators and innovation funds.

Support from companies of this scale portrays confidence in the potential of the startup ecosystem. These would welcome female founders and the domination by male founders is due to females not coming forward.

It is seen that although women have a high percentage of participation in undergraduate studies, the numbers continue to decrease when considering working (specially in ICT). These generally reduce with marriage and children.

Therefore, to continue to encourage women with children to continue their careers certain support structures from the company and also mostly from society and family environment is needed. From a company perspective, the IFC and certain private corporations have started initiatives to have child care services in proximity to offices. Maternity and paternity leave policies allowing a higher role for fathers too to participate in parenting are needed.

ICT education needs to be more mainstream in education. There is also the need for laboratory and access to devices for such education to be truly practical and useful. There are programs being taken up for government schools to be equipped with computer labs for hands on access to computing. There is STEM education being incorporated. School infrastructure is important as a basis. The curriculum being delivered electronically thereafter. As a whole, the globe is getting equipped with digitalisation, it is important for the education system to expose children to it to have an equal opportunity to the world’s opportunities.