The ending of decades of conflict in the Northern and Eastern areas of Sri Lanka have paved the way for employment and growth to finally touch lives that have thus far been destroyed by war. The growth of the economy in these areas however, is hampered by the lack of proper educational facilities and the inability of immediate infrastructure implementation for the development of education. To counteract these issues, Microsoft Sri Lanka in Partnership with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) are implementing a project through the Sarvodaya-Fusion, the ICT for Development arm of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement to help educate the youth of the North and East and provide them with Information Technology skills; thereby enhancing their employability and bettering the chances that the lives once torn apart by conflict can find empowerment and stability.
Throughout the years of development Sri Lanka has seen, the Northern and Eastern areas have been neglected due to the war. With the dawn of peace, the possibilities for these areas are now boundless. The project will begin with 10 general awareness programmes to garner interest in the initiative and the appointment of 50 selected youth community leaders. 50 village information centers will then be set up, equipped with Tamil language learning material and Microsoft trained trainers to educate the residents of the area. Telecentre operatives in the area will also be provided additional training to upgrade their own knowledge and capacity.
Speaking on the future of the project Mr. Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka emphasized on the need for developed education in the newly liberated areas. “With businesses now moving to the North and East, the need for the youth of those areas to be employable is now higher than ever before. Without the proper skills, the employability of the residents of the North and East are dangerously low- stalling the development process. By providing these areas with ICT education, we believe that a vast area of untapped potential will be mobilized toward the development of themselves, the North and East as well as the country as a whole. Microsoft Unlimited Potential can create the greatest possible impact in building a virtuous cycle of sustained social and economic development. This cycle drives communities; helps build connections to form new communities; is fueled by local and global partnerships; and, most importantly, ultimately becomes locally sustainable. Sustainability is a key indicator of effective programs and activities, and is our long-term measure of success”.
Through the Sarvodaya-Fusion, Microsoft Sri Lanka and HSBC will directly touch the lives of 1950 youth through training and education on ICT. The ripple effect of this endeavor however is immeasurable. By training the youth of the villages in the previously war torn areas, Microsoft Sri Lanka and HSBC believe growth will occur in many ways; through increased employability, the application of technology to village based micro enterprises and implementing education gathered through the use of technology to better the productivity of small enterprises.
Mr. Nick Nicolaou, Chief Executive Officer of HSBC Sri Lanka and Maldives, spoke on the importance of educating and developing the employability of the youth of the North and East. “The lack of education prevents the youth of the North and East benefiting from the development taking place around them. The lack of facilities and trainers in the North and East is a factor that we aim to change through this initiative. We believe that providing the residents of these areas the means to help themselves will go a long way toward making them truly independent and giving them the power to better their own circumstances and develop their communities. This initiative will change lies in ways that we can only guess at; that change and the benefits that will come from it to the individual, the local community and the Sri Lankan community as a whole is what we believe will make a difference”
Information that was previously unavailable to residents in these areas, opportunities to bring in practices and systems that will enhance the productivity of local businesses and the overall output of the North and East which have been in use for years but were simply out of reach to these areas due to the war are now not simply a possibility but a probability. The fact that technology enhances lives is an established fact, the lives that the partnership will touch are lives that have been denied the opportunity to grow and benefit for decades – leaving a thirst for education and development that will benefit greatly though the opportunity the partnership provides.
Speaking at the launch event Mr. Tim Dubel, Director Community affairs, Microsoft Inc. was enthusiastic about the opportunities this tie up afforded the economy as a whole. “The conflict in Sri Lanka has held back the countries growth for decades. The liberating of the Northern and Eastern areas of the country affords many opportunities for both development of the community in that areas as well as affording the residents of the North and East the chance to contribute to the development of their community as well as the nation as a whole. We believe that the governments’ declaration of the year 209 as the Year of English and Information Technology is a far sighted step to enhancing the scope of development, resulting in rapid advancements in economic development”.
Additional factors of the partnership include HSBC’s planned provision of scholarships to students in the North and East, aimed at empowering them with the skills to take on the challenges that development of their community now afford them. The bank will also provide the necessary hardware to enable the learning process to be a success. Microsoft Sri Lanka, for their part will be providing expertise, software, curriculum and funds to enhance the longevity of the project, ensuring that the education provided will be passed on and not just a one off occurrence.
Speaking on the grant and scholarships Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, Executive Director, Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement emphasized on the need for projects to enhance the knowledge base of the Northern and Eastern Community. “For decades the only thing the youth in these areas knew was conflict, they have been denied basic education and the right to prosper due to circumstances not of their own making. Therefore the ability to learn and to benefit from the vast power of technology is bound to enhance their lives greatly. The increased business activities in the North and East have opened up opportunities that the youth in this area were unable to benefit from due to the lack of proper education and knowledge on technology. The training provided by Microsoft and HSBC as well as the scholarships and computers will enhance their skills, increasing their employability and affording them a chance to make the most of the development sweeping the nation”.
Sarvodaya, the largest Non Governmental Organization in Sri Lanka is committed to providing the northern and eastern communities of Sri Lanka with opportunities that have been denied throughout the long decades of conflict. In its 50 year history, the movement has brought about change in over 15,000 villages around the Island. Sarvodaya-Fusion, ICT for Development arm of Sarvodaya, would find this as an opportunity to extend their 10 years long experiences and expertise of introducing Information Technologies to the communities in North & East provinces. The benefits envisioned through the partnership between Microsoft Sri Lanka, HSBC and Sarvodaya will bring about a new future to the lives the project touches in the North and East.
This CSR project was not put together lightly; very clear goals of enhancing the number of individuals in the areas that are trained in the use of technology, enhancing the number of individuals employed because of the training and enhancing the perusal of additional education and training are some of the major factors. The partnering of two of the largest Multinational companies in Sri Lanka, both of whom have established a strong CSR background and have a history of projects aimed at bettering the lives of Sri Lankans everywhere, make a powerful statement; that the corporate giants have not grown complacent with the state of the local economy. Both Microsoft and HSBC believe in the potential for the North and East to contribute to the development of the Sri Lankan economy – a right that was denied throughout the long years of war. The project will ensure that the youth of the country are provided an opportunity to move past the past they have known, toward a better and more prosperous future with the use of technology.
Microsoft Unlimited Potential helps individuals and communities around the globe achieve their goals and dreams through relevant, accessible and affordable technologies. Its mission is to enable new avenues of social and economic opportunity extending particularly to the estimated 5 billion people who have yet to realize the benefits of technology. As a global technology leader, Microsoft Corp. is dedicated to serving communities around the world. Innovative technologies and local partnerships are transforming education, fostering local innovation, and enabling jobs and opportunities to help create a continuous cycle of sustained social and economic growth for everyone.