Imran Furkan

Sri Lankans have come far and will achieve immense success

Q: As far as perceptions go, is Sri Lanka capable of regaining its composure following the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Absolutely! We are a resilient nation, which has met every single challenge that’s been thrown at us.

Unlike after the war, physical infrastructure will be in place post-COVID, our digital backbone is being set up at an unprecedented pace and ambitious projects such as the Port City (a.k.a. Colombo International Financial City or CIFC) that can transform the economy reasonably quickly are taking shape.

Q: How do you perceive Sri Lanka today?
A: I believe we have come very far and have the potential to reach unprecedented heights of success.

Many Sri Lankans in the developed world perceive Sri Lanka in their own context without truly appreciating the struggles such countries underwent before getting to where they are today.

I view Sri Lanka in the context of its neighbours from a nonpolitical and unemotional standpoint. Political stability has returned and quick decisions are being made even if some are reversed – though that’s not ideal.

We have good structures in place originating from British colonial times for the public service, administration of justice and healthcare; and many services are being digitalised although the pace needs to pick up.

The rote-based education system needs to change. Our kids have good primary skills in maths and other subjects but those too need upgrading.

Meanwhile, the healthcare system is structured and produces world-class doctors but requires more investment. The IT and business process management (BPM) industry is also world-class but needs scaling.

We have the ingredients for a great country; all we need to do is upgrade everything since the base is already there.

Q:And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: Many Australians view Sri Lanka as a lovely and friendly tourist destination. A few keep up to date with developments on the ground, and many enjoy our cuisine, tea and cricket.

However, most aren’t interested as Australians are mainly focussed on their own country.

Q: Likewise, how do other Sri Lankans living in Australia view our country?
A: Many recent migrants seem to have their hearts in Sri Lanka and bodies in Australia based on their social media posts. They would love to live in Sri Lanka but for the sake of their careers and kids’ futures, they felt they needed to migrate.

Older migrants have a more nuanced view. They aren’t fully aware of recent development efforts but have a nostalgic view of a time gone by. However, they too have a strong interest in the country though it’s more of a passing nature as their lives are mainly in Australia.

Q: What were your impressions of Sri Lanka on your last visit and how much has it changed from the past?
A: I visited Sri Lanka this year. I travel to the island regularly, and am always impressed by the continuous improvements in physical infrastructure and thriving tech ecosystem.

Q:From afar, how do you perceive news about Sri Lanka and what mediums do you rely on to stay connected especially during times of crisis?
A: I have developed a filter to tune out the emotion and fake news, and usually cross-check everything on social media and in the mainstream media with family and contacts in Sri Lanka.

There’s too much biased political and emotional coverage that drowns out gains and amplifies the negatives.

Q: How do you view the brain drain and why is there still no reversal of it, in your opinion?
A: There is a reversal but it’s a trickle and not the flood we need. The pandemic has effectively reduced the brain drain and I doubt the flood will resume for some time because of increasing protectionism in receiving countries.

In the post-COVID world where job automation will accelerate, I believe that the children of former migrants and even some recent migrants will see more opportunities in Sri Lanka, and return. Projects like the Port City can hopefully create the kind of jobs that trigger a brain gain.

Q:And what are your hopes for the country in the next decade or so?
A: The decade ahead will see us enjoying consistently high economic growth that permanently lifts millions from poverty into the middle class.