Going global

Sanjaya Mohottala

Sanjaya Mohottala is the Chairman of the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI)

With the global economy in tatters owing to COVID-19, in addition to challenges posed by climate change, and inequitable wealth and developmental distribution, the role organisations can play in economies by adopting a national perspective and aligning corporate goals to the economic agenda must be considered seriously.

Sanjaya Mohottala weighs in: “Wider social responsibilities should be at the heart of operations of all organisations. By generating shared value creation among an organisation’s ecosystem and practising sound corporate citizenry, one also furthers the national agenda in a sense.”

One way to do this is to work with social communities that need assistance to nurture their capabilities, enhance supplier infrastructure and develop competencies to reach world-­class standards, and even expose an organisation’s human resource pool to international standard training and developmental needs.

These factors have the potential to uplift standards and drive the country forward.

In Mohottala’s view, companies can take the country’s flag to the world: “Take Dilmah, which is a socially responsible global brand and ticks many boxes for furthering ‘Brand Sri Lanka.’ As a flag bearer for the nation, it is an ideal corporate citizen and reflects our potential.”

When it comes to apparel, Sri Lanka is considered to be one of the most ethical sourcing destinations. This branding should be extended to the nation.

“The ‘Made in Japan’ tag has strong connotations of quality and meticulous attention to detail. In the same way, we need to build ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ to be synonymous with quality. We need to weave this identity across all businesses and make it a goal for all,” he urges.

Mohottala believes that more companies would adhere to a national perspective if they choose to play leading roles in the country’s deve­lopment, helping formulate policies and growth plans for the greater good in partnership with the gover­nment while simultaneously addres­sing business goals.

“For that matter, even those in the private sector can work together to identify how they can have a meaningful impact to further the national agenda. The government will support and play a facilitating role,” he assures.

Companies wanting to fulfil broad national agendas can employ and train rural youth, and uplift their job prospects by providing vocational training and even higher education opportunities, Mohottala suggests. Even enhancing school and university syllabi to make graduates more employable in line with workplace needs is an area that companies can invest in.

“Many of the most admired companies in the country are fulfilling some elements of the national perspective. I believe the private sector should play a larger role in development – especially in a developing country like Sri Lanka,” he stresses.

Mohottala elaborates: “When the Board of Investment (BOI) invites investors, we always evaluate investments that will develop from a national perspective and help build strong verticals. When you’re trying to double GDP from US$ 4,000 to 8,000 dollars to usher in inclusive growth, it’s critical that organisations help by playing a major role.”

He believes it is also critical to foresee opportunities. For instance, when the economy opened in 1978, had the pharmaceutical industry been developed, Sri Lanka would be recognised as a hub today.

Mohottala believes the island’s future lies in being a knowledge-based service oriented country: “As for the technology pyramid, Sri Lanka can become a niche player on several rungs. Our solutions and products power many Fortune 500 companies and leading financial markets. Given the rise in digital nomads, there are opportunities to be explored.”

He is optimistic about the prospects for economic growth given the Port City (a.k.a. Colombo International Financial City or CIFC) being poised for development and the recent visits of prominent global investors.

“I believe the Port City commission and BOI can work hand-in-hand to benefit the new city, as well as Colombo,” Mohottala says, in conclusion.