SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
COUNTRY BEFORE SELF
Prof. Ravi Silva urges good governance in his country of birth
Q: Do you see Sri Lanka having regained its stability following the Easter Sunday attacks?
A: A majority of Sri Lankans have risen to the challenge in the wake of 4/21. They’ve displayed a resilience and unity born of years past, having experienced a civil war and other disasters.
However, strong governance is required to address the negligence and oversights that led to this. A united and able political leadership can improve the international perception of Sri Lanka, and strengthen the economy. For Sri Lanka to be perceived as a safe and welcoming destination, it is necessary to implement fair political governance and security amid decisive steps to weed out extremism.
Q: So how do you perceive Sri Lanka today?
A: It’s a beautiful country whose greatest asset is its people. This nation can become a fast-growing economy if it embraces technological innovation. With suitable training and development of the scientific curriculum in education, Sri Lanka can implement innovation more widely with a better trained workforce.
Q: And how do your compatriots in the UK view Sri Lanka?
A: The country and its people are viewed as articulate and friendly in a beautiful environment. The UK has always considered Sri Lanka with much affection as a vibrant member of the Commonwealth although requiring guidance due to unpredictable governance.
Britain has supported Sri Lanka and its people through terrorism and more recently, the Easter Sunday atrocities. The UK could be a positive partner in many ways from supporting tourism to knowledge sharing in science and skills training including the Newton Mobility Grants programme.
Q: Have your impressions of Sri Lanka changed compared to the past?
A: I’ve been a regular visitor, and taken an active interest in promoting science and technology, having been involved in the launch of the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) from 2008.
As a founder director and board member of this public-private partnership, I’ve witnessed notable developments in tech based sectors, and a real interest and effort on the part of academics and private sector firms to support innovation. Technology experts and local companies can work together to create promising outputs including world-class research activities.
Recent opportunities in education provided by foreign partners have helped expand and diversify the education sector. People are able to travel and train abroad, and bring knowledge and experiences back, compared to some years ago when opportunities were limited.
Q: From afar, how do you perceive news about Sri Lanka?
A: I have stayed abreast of Sri Lankan news, and am well-informed due to academic activities and involvements with the National Science Foundation, SLINTEC partners and the National Academy of Sciences. I view such news in an unbiased manner. With internet updates and access to digital information, we’re able to gain many insights, which help educate others abroad.
Q: How do you view the brain drain – and why hasn’t there been a reversal of it?
A: The most important factors affecting the brain drain are a lack of stability and a relatively opaque higher education sector, which limits opportunities to develop knowledge and training.
This has been mitigated somewhat in recent years with the establishment of international academic institutions providing distance learning through Sri Lankan partners along with the launch of private sector training schemes, and institutes such as SLINTEC providing postgraduate schemes and research jobs.
Q: What should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: Building effective partnerships with those who can help develop areas of the economy to help industry flourish, and work to create a stable environment for tourism and investment.
This was achieved to some extent after the war with tourism and business doing well. If there is stable governance and confidence, with effective promotion of the country’s prospects, it can attract more investment and tourism.
Q: And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade?
A: I hope for the Sri Lankan political situation to stabilise with improved governance and unity, and a consistent policy for technology development and tourism, thereby drawing more investment and visitors to the country.
If there is political stability, economic stability would ensue and result in investment, education and skills development. Sri Lankans everywhere must realise that by putting country before self, they can help this nation remain the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean.’