Innovation crucial for Sri Lanka’s future success: ex central banker

Nov 17, 2015 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s ability to invent and innovate will be vital for economic development and developed country status, a former central banker says.

“The future of Sri Lanka will depend on the development of science and technology and how we combine inventions with innovations;” W.A. Wijewardena, former deputy governor of the Central Bank said.

“This is the challenge that we have in Sri Lanka today.”

He was making the key note address at the biennial research symposium – 2015 themed science, technology and innovation for a knowledge based economy organized by the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) in Colombo, Monday.

Sri Lanka progressed from a low income to middle income country to a middle income country because of labour intensive mass products like garments and tea, rubber, coconut products that are sourced to the world market.

Wijewarena says that labour was cheap so it was easy for us to go from low income status to middle income status but now we are caught in a middle income trap and for us to move up and join the rich country status we need technology.

“Now we have two problems that is we are no longer competitive in the mass production because our salary levels have gone up and competing with countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia is a problem,” he said.

“And the other is that we can’t compete with the rich countries as we don’t have adequate technology base.”

Sri Lanka needs to connect inventions and innovations.

Invention means creating a product, service or a proto type machine but innovation is turning the invention into a commercially viable product. Out of the millions of inventions only a few will be commercially viable.

Wijewardena says that the inventions are done by scientists but the innovations are done by entrepreneurs, who will mobilize the resources and take the necessary risks and combine and produce this.

“So this is the challenge that we have today in Sri Lanka to combine and find a link between the two.”

Sri Lanka has many higher education institutions that have science faculties, the Moratuwa University has an engineering and technology faculty and researchers.

“These people come up with so many fundamental researches and they come up with the many inventions,”

“But unfortunately we don’t have a link for them with the industry so that they can become viable products.”

This is where the gap is, he pointed out.

Sri Lanka’s new government has pledged to spend a 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product on the education over the next five year period and a large segment of that will be spent on research, development and a new concept of marketing.

“These three have to come together because research has to be done by institutions, has to be developed by the private sector and it should be marketed.”

“This is why we will be gaining the prosperity because we cannot depend on agriculture anymore to bring prosperity to the country,” he said.