Nuwan Gamage, Vice President of Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing
Sri Lanka is currently facing several economic challenges and in order to steer the country out of this difficult situation, it is imperative that Sri Lanka takes bold steps that will make the country ‘future ready’. Among them, Nation Branding is an approach that can pay rich dividends if carried out properly.
Nation Branding is an exercise where a country aims to build, enhance and manage its reputation on the global stage. It presents the country with the opportunity to be better positioned to deal with foreign nations and build stronger relationships which in turn would benefit the nation economically by means of greater investments, more tourism, higher value and demand for its products and services, attract talented, creative workforce and enhance its influence on the world stage.
As a nation, Sri Lanka requires a greater focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, and startups where a culture that can support such initiatives is nurtured. Although these areas are widely spoken of and several initiatives have already been implemented, there is still room for improvement in terms of consistent national policies or platforms that can take them to the next level. The creation of a common platform should also include fostering closer partnerships between Sri Lankan universities, organizations operating across various industries, and research agencies. The ongoing ‘Future Ready Sri Lanka’ which focuses on encouraging entrepreneurship, innovation, skills, and knowledge-based industries and society – all of which are vital components as we embrace this new normal and prepare for economic recovery – is an encouraging sign in terms of a common platform for the betterment of the nation.
Over the years, some developed and developing nations have adopted a collaborative approach to successfully market their countries and increase revenue through multiple streams whether it’s via foreign direct investment, tourism, logistics, manufacturing, or any other industry. Sri Lanka has not been able to follow in their footsteps which has resulted in limited success on this front as a nation. There is no doubt that Sri Lanka is blessed to be centrally located on the world map as a maritime hub with our ports such as Colombo, Hambanthota, and Trincomalee all strategically positioned. Given our strategic maritime location, we are ideally positioned to take advantage of a semi-lockdown assembly operation to transform Sri Lanka into a hub for assembling and re-export. We must encourage global giants to invest in large-scale assembling plants in Sri Lanka where they can utilize our skilled yet cost-effective labour force thereby making the country a hub that can challenge regional players in this space.
Education has always been one of the strong points of Sri Lanka where our literacy rate has been one of the highest in the continent. However, today’s technology-driven world requires more than mere literacy as what is more important these days is digital literacy. Today we learn, live, and work in a world where accessing information and communicating with others is increasingly through digital devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones that have access to the Internet, social media platforms, and different types of software. Therefore, increasing digital literacy is of paramount importance to help the country compete against regional rivals. Fortunately, Sri Lanka is witnessing an increase in computer literacy, digital literacy, and Internet penetration with technologies such as 5G also available in the island. Along with this, we also see the mega-development projects such as Port City which will undoubtedly elevate Sri Lanka’s infrastructure and bring the country on par with regional cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Together, these attributes will provide the country with the perfect foundation to become a service hotspot and attract global giants to setup operations in the country.
However, to maximise the utilization of our limited funds and resources across all these key areas it is imperative that the relevant organisations in charge of each area collaborate and adopt a Nation Branding approach. This will ensure that as a brand Sri Lanka will have a far greater impact on the global stage which in turn will certainly translate into greater, long-term revenues and a much-needed boost to the country’s struggling economy.
This Nation Branding should take a three-pronged approach – Export Branding, Generic Nation Branding, and Internal Nation Branding. Export Branding will help to create a positive halo effect on products manufactured in Sri Lanka driven by a “Country-of-Origin” effect and resulting in an increased ability to export and greater acknowledgment and acceptance of Sri Lankan products in the global market. Generic Nation Branding will enhance the country’s ability to attract tourists and skilled workers and foreign direct investments. It will provide us the opportunity to reduce incentives for investors, sustain higher prices and also increase cost pressure on competing nations. As a nation, we will be more resilient to current or future global or regional financial meltdowns. Internal Nation Branding is also an important component as it will help us to curb the “brain drain” of losing skilled workers to developed nations while also increasing overall productivity driven by better morale among the workforce of the country.