Global reach in knowledge economy milieu
Ashan Kumar met Excelsior Research Private Limited Founder and Managing Director Prageeth Sandakalum to understand how IT can change rural livelihood. Connect with the columnist on www.prwiresl.com/blog
Excelsior Research Founder and Managing Director Prageeth Sandakalum
According to Wikipedia Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4Dev) is a general term referring to the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) within the field of socioeconomic development, international development and human rights.
ICT4Dev concerns itself with directly applying information technology approaches to poverty reduction.
ICTs can be applied either in the direct sense, wherein their use directly benefits the disadvantaged population, or in an indirect sense, wherein the ICTs assist aid organisations or non-governmental organizations or governments or businesses in order to improve general socio-economic conditions.
In many impoverished regions of the world, legislative and political measures are required to facilitate or enable application of ICTs, especially with respect to monopolistic communications structures and censorship laws.
The concept of ICT4Dev can be interpreted as dealing with disadvantaged populations anywhere in the world, but is more typically associated with applications in developing countries. The field is becoming recognized as an interdisciplinary research area as can be noted by the growing number of conferences, workshops and publications.
Such research have been spurred on in part by the need for scientifically validated benchmarks and results, which can be used to measure the efficacy of current projects. Many international development agencies recognize the importance of ICT4Dev. For example the World Bank’s GICT section has a dedicated team of some 200 staff working on these issues.
A good example of the impact of ICTs on development are farmers getting better market price information and thus boosting their income. Community center in the Philippines developed a website to promote its local products worldwide. Another example includes mobile telecommunications and radio broadcasting fighting political corruption in Burundi.
Locally the Information and Communication Technology Agency has done a notable amount of work in promoting ICT throughout the country.
According to a recent report the country’s IT literacy level has reached 30 percent, from a 15 percent a couple of years back.
The resurgence through the introduction and declaring 2009 as the Year of English and IT by the Government has paid off.
According to Thyra Riley and Chulie de Silva, E-Society and reaching the rural poor through Tele and Knowledge Centres Nenasalas, E-Government, E-Knowledge and job creation, introduction of a government information centre are some of the major projects compiled by the ICTA.
A visionary young leader
Prageeth Sandakalum, Excelsior Research Private Limited Founder and Managing Director strikes as a talent Sri Lanka can look forward to. You might be surprised to hear that my interviewee is still an undergraduate at the Information Technology Faculty of the Moratuwa University. He is a firm believer that if you feel that you have the strength to go on a quest, you can achieve your goals even being a student.
That was the main motivation behind the emergence of Excelsior Research Private Limited about couple of months back. Both his parents are teachers. His father is as the Vice Principal of St. Andrew College, Colombo 15. Prageeth believes he was privileged to comprise solid education in childhood with the direction of his parents.
My hometown is Matugama and I obtained my primary education from the C.W.W. Kannangara Central College, Matugama. Then I got through from my grade 5 scholarship and I was able to join Ananda College, Colombo 10. In 2006 I faced the Advanced Level Examination and then got selected to the Moratuwa University. Upto that point nothing special happened. But my life at University changed me entirely. One of the milestones in my university life is becoming the batch top at the first year final semester examination which is the first time I ever became first in a class which I can call that as the turning point in my life.
And today I’m the overall highest GPA holder for my batch. But I believe that the knowledge itself is not enough to survive in this competition. So I was looking for opportunities to experience different avenues in this ICT world. Because of that reason today, I’m a member of Toastmasters International and also a Microsoft Student Ambassador a special title given by Microsoft Sri Lanka.
I have built very strong relationships with various professionals including Ridgecrest Financial CEO Sanath Fernando who later joined with me to form the Excelsior Research Private Limited, a company dedicated to build ICT Driven Rural Development Platforms.
In Excelsior we are building products that are mainly targeting the rural and semi urban areas.
The main product of Excelsior called “Project Ideal Lanka”, has won the second runners-up in Microsoft Imagine Cup 2010 as it has been selected to be published in the Information Technology Research Unit (ITRU) Symposium in November 2010. Apart from that there are more than 30 undergraduates contributing to develop several products under the company, Sandakalum said.
His childhood dream was to serve his parents and the country. He says Whatever the success that I gained in my life, it was purely due to the support that my parents gave me. Talking about a profession, I didn’t have a specific one in my mind, but later in my A/L period, where I could touch my own computer for the first time, I wanted to do something related to computing”. He chose Information Technology as a profession purely because of the opportunities available globally. Meanwhile Information Technology itself is a platform to practise ones thinking power. Whether you like music or whether you like agriculture still ICT provides you loads of opportunities to find new paths to observe different worlds.
Impact of IT
He describes the impact IT made on him ‘It is obvious that because of IT today I have become a totally different man. Because of IT, especially internet, I could see the world through out, I could build relationships with people from one corner to another, from students to company owners especially with the help of social networking platforms. On the other hand as an IT professional, today I have laid a strong foundation to achieve my dreams. I always had the ability to dream well. But because of IT I could add some practical values to those dreams.
What Sandakalum is interested is to take IT into a different area or a different paradigm where you can practise your ideas, Give some value to your thoughts. That’s why I selected an area like rural development. I have never been a good reader but I always benefited from dreaming. I use that power to dream the world I wish, and then create plans to build that world. Still there is large number of untouched areas exist specially in the 3rd world country.
But unfortunately the numbers of people who are trying out these things are less. Talking about the evolving technology, yet it’s essential to cope with them. If you work with mobile marketing and you cannot write software for iPhone, its useless. On the other hand it’s always easy to find good people to work with you as well as compete in the global markets if you can use the current standards and the cutting edge technologies.
Knowledge economy and the youth
Building a knowledge based economy is essential for any country. It is the only economy which put more value on the human brain. He believes proper childhood education is the key factor to build a solid foundation to a knowledge economy, and Sri Lanka is famous for its education standards. “
Since most of the people who are coming out of the Sri Lankan educational system are naturally powerful in analyzing and conceptualizing ideas, it’s always easy to move towards knowledge based economy and build innovators. Describing further Each one of us have our own thinking model. Each one of us has a built-in tacit knowledge and the ability to think which will direct us to find new ways of enabling the development of this country.
Because of that I believe the key contribution that the youth can do to build us the knowledge economy is to innovate. On the other hand the younger generation can spend more time on knowledge seeking and adapting this knowledge to the suitable level that is practically applicable in Sri Lankan Society. When I talked about myself as a youngster, I never wanted to be the best nor the first.
I tried to do something different. I believe that whenever some person tries to do something different he can ultimately become the first and the best in his domain. When talking about collective efforts towards building knowledge economy, the first step must be to make people aware about it.
Especially each undergraduate has a huge responsibility on taking these subjects in to the villages, to the next generation. When talking about my faculty, we have done a large number of workshops and seminars in different schools just to show them the available opportunities. Our next plan is to organize an exhibition under the theme of “Development of Knowledge Workers towards making Sri Lanka, the knowledge hub of Asia. I think we will have much broader discussions on this subject later.
How can Sri Lanka benefit?
There are lots of ways a country can be developed using IT. Most countries are using e-Governance to help their government activities which is suitable for Sri Lanka as well. Also it’s essential for an urban child to communicate with the rural children to understand the different needs of the people in the same country.
According to young energetic Prageeth, since we have an after-war situation, we can use IT to optimize training and development of the people in the IDP camps for various occupations. However if Sri Lanka needs to be benefitted from Information Technology, it is essential to enhance the IT consumption of the country. Proper e-Learning systems can be introduced to the children so that they grow up with up to the date knowledge and their IT and English literacy will also grow up. A large internet based occupations can be introduced.