SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
AT THE CROSSROADS OF OPPORTUNITY
Dylan John encourages Sri Lankans to make the most of the post-war era
Q: How do your compatriots in the United States view Sri Lanka?
A: To be honest, not many people in Georgia know of Sri Lanka and some seem to think it is a state in India. The few who know of Sri Lanka either describe it as the paradise island they hope they’ll have an opportunity to visit or have negative views about its political environment.
Q: In your opinion, is Sri Lanka making progress in the post-war era?
A: I feel that the progress beingmade is phenomenal but with the acknowledgement that there’s much more work to be done.
Sri Lanka had its dark days during the war. To everyone my age, the Sri Lanka we were born into was torn apart by a scarring war that not only created a divide but also affected the growth and evolution of industry. Sri Lanka is now at the crossroads of opportunity to bring about healing and reconciliation while allowing for a strong forward march through societal advancement, economic growth, improvement of industry and a unified national vision.
Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit and how much has it changed from the past? Could you outline the pros and cons?
A: There are significant changes from the past. I see a hive of activity mainly due to construction work in Colombo. And it is encouraging to know that by around 2020, the skyline of Colombo would have completely changed with all the iconic buildings and projects coming up.
But I definitely felt the pinch of the increasing cost of living both through experience and conversations with those living in Sri Lanka.
I also observed that there seems to be a serious drawback in terms of a workforce that is ready for the challenges that will arise from growth and development. We may end up looking like a ‘quantity workforce’ as opposed to a ‘quality workforce’ and that needs to be addressed.
Q: How do you view the brain drain and why is there still no reversal of it, in your opinion?
A: There are two main reasons that would attract someone to return to Sri Lanka, and contribute towards its economic and social development aspirations. The desire to return has to be linked to a return on monetary investment or a sense of national pride, and the feeling of being valued and recognised for giving back to one’s country of birth.
Sri Lanka currently does not have the resources to offer a satisfactory monetary return on investment and nor does there seem to be a deliberate effort or programme to encourage Sri Lankans living abroad to return and serve the country.
Q: So what must be done to entice Sri Lankans living overseas to contribute or return to their country of birth?
A: I think that a deliberate effort should be made by the government to engage Sri Lankans living overseas. Many of us want to help in national efforts but may not necessarily be aware of how we can contribute.
If a strategic plan is laid out with goals and objectives, together with a plan of action to be implemented in coordination with the Sri Lankan embassies [and high commissions] across the world, I feel that efforts to entice Sri Lankans living overseas to return or contribute towards the growth and development of their motherland will succeed.
Q: In your opinion and based on where it stands right now, what should Sri Lanka focus on most in the coming decade?
A: I think that there are three essential things that Sri Lanka needs to focus on. Firstly, I feel that Sri Lanka needs to remain committed to the non-aligned foreign policies that it has upheld in the past. Over-alignment can affect Sri Lanka seriously.
Secondly, the country needs to take a long, hard look inward to assess the comparative positioning of local industries in the global context, and see how best it can shape training and education to cater to their growth and development – with a focus on establishing a workforce that is equipped to ensure that Sri Lanka is increasingly competitive.
Thirdly, the nation needs to establish a unified national vision that stands as a beacon of hope that all Sri Lankans from around the world can be proud of – one that is easily understood by the masses for greater buy-in.
Q: And lastly, what are your hopes for the country in the post-conflict era?
A: I hope that Sri Lanka will be able to make use of the great opportunity that it now has, in healing and reconciliation as a people; and that it will unify in pursuing a national vision while embracing and respecting the differences in ethnicity, religion, culture and personal experiences.
We would not be able to get valuable insights as this from a better person (who is qualified in construction management), about the ever changing skyline of Colombo, and how the ever changing lifestyle will realistically impact productivity, mobility and infrastructure in time to come, not excluding how to overcome drawbacks.
Well said, on the impacts highlighted on foreign policy which is proposed to be instituted by forming an integral unified vision for the country and the two much felt needs concerning the country’s competitiveness – developing skills to create a quality workforce and positioning our local industries in the international market, enabling continued economic growth.
A loud applause for being the first Asian representation of this type!
He has expressed his opinion in a patriotic and sensible way. Indeed, the country has missed many opportunities. Apart from cricket, there is a great potential for tourism which has not been positioned and strategised to capture untapped gaps with evolving global tourism concepts such as sports and spiritual tourism. Sri Lanka was the first developing country to defeat one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups.
We should work towards building Sri Lanka’s image and brand it as a distinctive island nation. Much needs to be done for image building, via a public-private collaborative approach. This requires commitment from our local representatives who are serving abroad. Moreover, it is how we can correct the mistakes or recover from falls.
The issue of brain drain should be resolved with a farsighted and systematic approach. It is vital that it should be comprehensive; it should not just be initiating, but there needs to be a clear cut process for evaluation with avenues for progress. A satisfactory economic growth, innovative best practices, recognition and rewards for the skilled workforce will enable us to win this segment back.
A unified vision can make wonders for the country in the above areas. Setbacks are short-lived if we act fast. Better late than never.