Digitising the Economic Space: Enter, Entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka!
By Harini Weerasekera and Dinushka Paranavitana
IPS’ New Thinkers’ Symposium featured an Innovations Hub, a space for entrepreneurs and innovators to showcase their work. Citra Labs, SYNAPSYS, Dialog Digital Services, and Jigsaw Ensemble presented their work, in line with the Symposium’s overall theme of Technology and Economic Transformation. The discussion highlighted the manner in which innovative products and services address economic policy issues that are of interest to the research community.
SYNAPSYS provides solutions to issues faced in the tea industry, with a focus on integrated payment schemes and supply chain bottlenecks. The process is designed such that intermediaries between the supplier and the factory are given mobile devices enabled with a software that is linked to a weighing scale and a thermal printer. The tea plucking community can get their leaves weighed on this scale, which then transfers the information to the collector, factory, and the intermediary. This is done either using a specialised sticker printed or via SMS, enabling all parties to have precise weights of tea leaves and a record of the relevant payment information to be paid by each party.
SYNAPSYS identifies this as a solution to the rising debt burden and liquidity issues faced by the tea plantation workers. Previously, this segment of individuals was categorised as an underbanked community. However, this system has enabled individuals to have access to more credit facilities, as they are now able to provide proof of employment and daily/weekly income earned. IPS research has previously stressed the importance of improving access to finance in the tea sector in this manner.
In addition, factories benefit through this system, as corruption and manipulation of the weight of tea leaves are reduced. Factories are able to plan out the production schedules prior to receiving the tea leaves, improving efficiency and reducing waste. The system is currently being used in 20 factories across Sri Lanka and over 50,000 individuals have benefited from it.
Citra is Sri Lanka’s first social innovation lab, a joint initiative between the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), whose main aim is to support national development priorities through citizen-centered solutions. Many of the solutions that Citra provides are for issues that are brought to them by the public sector.
Citra’s key mandate is to generate innovative ideas that could enhance the services provided through public sector officials. One such programme was designed to equip public servants with the skills to design and plan future projects. Upon a request made by the Dehiwala – Mount Lavinia Municipal Commissioner, Citra designed a mobile application and web platform that encouraged the general public to identify dengue mosquito breeding sites. The platform is designed to alert the relevant authorities to high risk areas and provide users with alerts on inclement bad weather conditions and methods of eradicating dengue mosquito breeding sites. The platform also allows the community to collaborate and create event pages for small-scale community cleanup projects.
Citra has plans to move into providing solutions for solid waste management and developing an effective disaster response management system. IPS research has underscored the importance of providing such information and technology-led solutions in disaster management and agricultural spheres; hence it is encouraging to see practical applications being developed to address these pressing policy concerns.
Dialog Digital Services (DDS)
With the belief that any individual should have access to education, healthcare, and finance, DDS aims to provide entry points to those who cannot access these facilities by traditional means.
DDS has digitised the health care industry, moving away from traditional methods of channelling doctors to mobile based methods. The e-channelling process has been automated so that it is easily accessible by even those who are not tech-savvy. For example, the e-channelling process can be done either using a mobile app through a smart phone or by a simple phone call.
In addition, DDS provides micro insurance services that are aligned with government policies. These insurance policies create a platform where individuals do not have to pay large lump sum premiums but would have the option of paying a smaller, per day premiums. In the Fin-Tech space, they aim to provide micro finance services by providing a digital footprint/financial credit trail for individuals who do not have the necessary collateral to access finances. DDS has reinvented ways of measuring credit scores: by identifying the customer’s relationship and past payments or expenditure records with all Dialog services, and then using this information to give individuals a credit rating.
Jigsaw Ensemble (JE)
Jigsaw Ensemble is a boutique product development company that has developed digital solutions in transport, online payment processing/banking, food delivery, and legal services sectors.
One of the products in function is OGO Pay, an online payment platform which stores and processes credit card information. It is designed to work with apps and websites enabling subscriptions or recurring payments to be performed through credit cards. OGO Pay directly links the app users with local banks in order to make transactions faster, convenient, and highly secure.
Lawganizer is another creation of Jigsaw Ensemble, designed to digitise the legal system in Sri Lanka. This allows lawyers to store and organise information on legal cases, manage consultations and enable collaborative work with colleagues. The ongoing developments of the platform have a digitised document management system and a discussion forum for public legal issues. This forum allows individuals to directly access and cross reference legal information. It also allows retired lawyers/judges to contribute in terms of information sharing, providing advice and consultations as required.
It is encouraging to see the private sector providing practical and innovative tech-driven solutions to pressing policy issues often discussed in the research space, such as poor accessibility to finance, weak public sector capacity, solid-waste management and other health/environmental concerns.
Authors, Harini Weerasekera is a Research Officer and Dinushka Paranavitana is a Project Officer at IPS.