By Deepal Sooriyaarachchi. Management Consultant, Author, Speaker, and Executive Coach.Former Managing Director of AVIVA NDB Insurance and a Former Commissioner of Sri Lanka Inventors Commission.
The current crisis compels us to review all our operations from a ground zero position without taking knee jerk reactions. Experts who have examined many organizations that have survived major crisis whether they are internal or external driven, tell us one of the most important things is to consider what is the core purpose of the organization, what are the core capabilities of the organizations, and what are the strategic steps that must be taken leveraging them. In that situation what is equally important is asking the question of whether the same strengths will be relevant in the emerging new scenario. In our economy, the public sector plays a significant role. With 1.5 million public servants, more than 600, 0000 pensioners, and all the politicians accounts for at least 40% of the national expenditure.
There had been a number of efforts to rationalize and improve the public sector with various
initiatives. I myself was once volunteered to serve on one such initiative called the National
Administrative Reforms Commission ( NARC). But they were not done at times when the need
is so compelling. In management, we talk of showing the elephant in the room to make change relevant.
The present situation is an ideal moment to approach to Rationalize, Right Size, and Improve
the productivity of the public sector organizations because of a number of reasons.
1. The Current Financial Situation in the country is one of the worst we have been so the need to rationalize expenses is seen as one of the topmost tasks. 2. The last two months gave us ample opportunities to try newer ways of working and service delivery and people have experienced the efficiency and effectiveness of those so we will be able to sell the change. 3. There is a leadership that is visionary and willing to move the change agenda forward.
In order to develop a discussion and to move towards a national action plan the writer wishes to make a few proposals that can have far-reaching consequences. These are written not as an expert on public policy and administration but as a concerned citizen with some knowledge and experience in management.
1. CENTRALIZE VEHICLE OWNERSHIP
Most service organizations even in the public sector employee cost and transportation-related costs account for a high proportion of the overall cost. One can assume the same with the government agencies. I was trying to find out the latest statistics pertaining to the number of vehicles and associated costs but was not possible. But having led a government agency for a short period of three years I have made the following observations.
– Most government vehicles are overused and due to lack of cash flow reasons they are not maintained at optimum levels.
– Due to the very laborious process involved with selling off an old vehicle in many organizations, there are vehicles just left to decay. There are many such yards.
– Vehicle usage is not optimum. Every organization will have a number of vehicles.
– There is a lot of management time spent to ensure the governance processes involved with using these vehicles yet misuses are very common.
– Every institution is duty-bound to maintain detailed running charts and these have to be sent to the AGs department for scrutiny.
Rather than allowing every single organization to own vehicles, re-acquire all the non-strategic vehicles to a central transport service corporation that can be operated as a fully pledged cab company using an ICT platform such as Uber or Pick Me. Preauthorize the Type of vehicle that can be used by different grades of officers and encourage ride-shares by giving bonus points. This will cut down waste, improve efficiency, and be able to provide better quality vehicles for the officers to travel as well. Because this institution’s core responsibility is vehicle fleet management it will ensure proper maintenance and upkeep of vehicles. This kind of arrangement will provide valuable data to manage vehicle usage and resource planning. I am sure this is not a new suggestion.
2. MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
In order to optimize the scarce resources suggest organizations that have similar mandates and those that can produce better results through synergy be merged into single entities. To do this meaningfully a high powered cross-functional team must be appointed with Legal, Financial, ICT, Human Resources, and Public Administration experience and expertise. More importantly, those individuals must be those capable of thinking out of the box.
Eg all trading organizations such as state trading Corporations, etc can be brought under LANKA SATOSA.
The businesses that are better done by the private sector the government can exit ie. Salusala and Laksala etc. All research institutes must be brought under a central authority to ensure proper coordination where resource allocation must be done based on the short to medium term needs of the country. This can avoid duplication of limited resources.
There can be many other departments and agencies that do overlapping functions while there are no organizations to address newer issues. These are made more complex of the Provincial Council structure and the plethora of ministries created to accommodate politicians to ensure power consolidation in the parliament. These structural changes will require changes in respective acts and comprehensive M&A work. Before embarking on detailed work a preliminary study should be done to reveal the financial and social impact. However, the starting points could be restructuring commercial organizations.
2. CREATE CENTRALIZED SUPPORT SERVICES.
Centralize all the support services such as Human Resources, Administrative, Procurement, and Finance functions of those clustered entities so they can focus on core delivery function. This model should be tried at least for different institutions under a single ministry.
3. WORK FROM HOME (WFH) and Provide end to end service online.
Identify functions that can be done remotely in as many organizations as possible and create
infrastructure, and work norms for the state employees to work from home, take files home
complete, and deliver on given deadlines. They will have to be monitored not by the number of
hours they work but by the delivery of outputs. This will ease off the pressure on transport, operational costs of offices, and the personal costs of employees. Some institutions can work for less than five days a week without affecting delivery to the public. Encourage the public also to visit the government offices by making prior appointments. There can be some other organizations whose work can be done significantly online ie obtaining ISBN numbers by authors and facilitate online payments and credit card payments.
4. STRENGTHEN THE GRAMA SEVAKA OFFICE
Strengthen the GS office by converting it to the GS division based government contact center by attaching at least one of the newly recruited graduates. His/her job should act as a facilitator between the citizens and different government institutions. He or she should read and explain all the requirements to citizens, certify and upload applications and supporting documents, give clear instructions as to how to approach requirements needed by the government. This should ease the work of service providers, reduce repetitive visits by the citizens. The GS office should be equipped with Internet Connections, Video Conferencing facility, and high speed or at least
a flatbed scanning facility.
5. STRENGTHEN THE POSTAL DEPARTMENT AS THE LAST LEG DELIVERY PARTNER FOR E-COMMERCE.
Allow the post offices to hire three-wheelers so the postman’s delivery area can be increased
and what can be carried too will be enhanced. This way they can specialize in delivering
pensions and such needs of the elderly, thus creating a very powerful user-friendly customer
service. Eventually, the profits can lead the postman to use their own Three Wheelers. POST is
the largest distribution network in the country. It might make sense for the Postal Department to
be converted to a commercial establishment fully owned or as a Joint Venture with a Logistics
company so Sri Lanka Post can be a fully pledged modern distribution network. If not, the
department will continue to be a major cost center without even being able to pay salaries of the
7. DISTRIBUTION OF PHARMACEUTICAL ITEMS.
Leverage the experiences of the recent medicine distribution through post offices and build a centralized platform that can be used by private as well as public pharmacies to distribute
medicine and dispense them to patients. Doctors should send the prescription to the preferred
pharmacy of the customer. They can either collect or get them delivered. This will improve the
regulated medicine consumption. There may be some legislative changes needed to make
8. A PLATFORM TO BOOK GOVERNMENT SPACES
Create a platform such as booking.com where every single meeting room is listed, so they can
be used and shared by different government users and if available even by private sector
organizations. This will generate new income for those institutions.
These are just a few simple ideas that can propel changes in the system if implemented.
The Econsult Asia research team visited Cubby Wijetunge at his residence at Charles Avenue where in retirement he enjoys a simple yet elegant life style in a pristine environment. We were anxious to learn about his journey toward a Corporate Leadership in his stellar career whilst speaks for itself and the wealth of knowledge and experience gleaned during this time.
It is important to mention that during a career spanning over 50 years where he interacted socially and intellectually with top corporates and foreigners alike, Mr. Wijetunge remained true to his Sri Lankan roots. His home and his life style boasts of a simple elegance with a local flavor, inclusive of traditional furniture. Cubby sat with our team and talked freely, imparting a deep reservoir of knowledge and experience whilst allowing us insights of his views on many subjects proving to us Sri Lankans as to why he remains a Giant in the Industry.
Cubby Wijetunge known by his friends as Cubby – is a proud product of one of the country’s leading school’s St. Thomas’s College, Mt. Lavinia. Growing up his only ambition was to join the Sri Lankan Army upon leaving school. However heading the advice given by his parents he abandoned the idea and pursued a career as a Tea cum Rubber Plantation Manager in the areas of Uva, Kandy and Sabaragamuwa. His plantation career began in the year 1958 and spanned over a period of 16 until 1974 when he retired from the plantation sector as a Visiting Agent of over 15,000 acres managed by George Steuart & Co. In 1973, Mr. Wijetunge was appointed Director of Whittalls Estates & Agencies Ltd. becoming the youngest director to be appointed to the Board. However, in late 1974, Ceylon Cold Stores Ltd. was in need of a dynamic Leadership and Cubby was appointed as Chief Executive Officer representing Whittall Boustead’s. He proudly speaks how ‘Elephant House’ manufactured the bulk of the food and beverages locally due to the then import restriction systems prevalent in the country, and of how Elephant House became the much sort after household brand ranging from fresh milk and ice creams to a vast range of frozen foods such as their famous sausages as well as the Elephant House Ginger Beer. Thereafter, in 1983 Cubby joined the world renowned multinational food and beverage company Nestle as food and beverage corporate affairs and recently retired with an honorific title Chairman emeritus of Nestle Lanka PLC.
‘’How do we get out of the box’’
In 1994, Cubby headed the Industrial Association of Sri Lanka i.e. the Industrial arm of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. His main task here was to ensure that the Government sought a degree of protectionism and support for local manufacturers with a view of ensuring that the local products retained their ability to complete in both the local and international markets.With a view of achieving this insisted the Government introduce and implement policies that would support the local entrepreneurs subject to them maximizing the use of local resources in national interest for economic and social progress. He spoke of few names such as his guru the late Mallory Wijesinghe and giants like Sohli Captain, Ken Balendra, the late D.S. Jayasundera, the late Michael Mack, the Akbar Brothers, the Gnanam family, Micky Wickremasinghe, Merrill J. Fernando and late Edgar Gunathunga who were corporate personalities, their achievements and their contribution towards the development of our island nation. How they were instrumental in scouting out those from rural schools and developing local talents and grooming the new generation Corporate Leaders to take over the private sector for the future. He went on to say that whilst working in the Private Sector and the Multi-National Sector he was also well exposed to the public sector. He voiced his belief in the role the public sector has to play as facilitator, promoter, regulator, financier and navigator in the development of Sri Lanka and its need for honest technocrats and support staff following best practices and maintains their integrity at all times. He emphasized on the need for ‘profit motive’ sustaining private enterprises and a balance sheet free of barnacles.
Whilst reminiscing, Cubby fondly remembers, how the late President J.R. Jayawardena suggested that he should give something back to his country by managing some State owned enterprises. This resulted in Cubby taking up the challenge as Managing Director of the Fisheries Corporation. He was involved in the Central Bank reform process with the IMF Resident Head, Dr. Nadeem Ul-Haque. He also spoke of having a few interesting arguments with former Governor, the late Mr. A.S. Jayawardena regarding dollarization. Cubby was also involved in the Tax and Financial Sector Reforms. He also spearheaded the famous De-regulation Committee. He has served as a Board Member of many State enterprises, including the Bank of Ceylon and Securities & Exchange Commission. He strongly feels the way forward is impeded as Sri Lanka is over regulated in all aspects and far too bureaucratic. He explained that we need much simpler and less cumbersome procedures and less Government involvement in order to install a highly efficient economy.
However, he stated that he believed that certain enterprises can play a lead role in the development of our country. “When I was highly involved in the private sector, I saw potential in some of these Organizations, and personally think, in my considered opinion, that the Bank of Ceylon, Peoples Bank, Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation should not be privatized”. The Water Board, in his view, should be a regulator, but the generation of water and its distribution has to be privatized to develop that industry which has a huge potential. He was strong in expressing his views on rail transport stating that “privatizing the management of railways was vital, whilst the Government retained ownership. Such a policy is worth pursuing”. “The Government requires, to a point, competent and responsible people to manage enterprises, accountable to the shareholders – a leaf they can borrow from the private sector corporate culture. This thought is applicable to all Boards of Directors and the managements that run those enterprises, and it is their responsibility not to burden shareholders.
He was quite radical in his view on taxation, which he argued that only the Western Province should be liable to modest taxes, and the rest of the country dependent on a low VAT regime, thus making Sri Lanka a new haven to attract worldwide investors with no strings attached. Quoting his own exposure to the Central Bank, he says the Central Bank must have confidence in the market. Our well known entrepreneur took this opportunity to send a message to political leaders and the public service. ‘THINK OUT OF THE BOX AND BE BOLD AND HAVE THE GUTS TO IMPLEMENT REFORMS’. There is no other way by which Sri Lanka can be made progressive – a country that is a better place to invest, a better place to live and a safe country for our tourists as well as our citizens. Let us make Sri Lanka a proud place in the world.
‘’Think local – Act global’’
I do not believe in ad hoc Public Sector Reforms – suggest to the Private Sector to re-evaluate their concept of Corporate Social Responsibility. The current Interest Rates are far too high. It should be and can be lowered by arresting waste. Cost of power/electricity should be lowered. We need to pursue obtaining power from garbage.
Such a policy will be a better one, and sustainable in the long term, rather than power generated from coal. We have so many other safe options, but despite issues, we may need to explore nuclear power as a last resort. With regard to foreign policy after 1948, Sri Lanka as a Nation has not been able to manage its affairs. History, unfortunately, proves to be so. For example – Do other countries trust us? Sri Lanka must be in a position to tell other countries that we are a trusted partner. We need to lead from the front, and we need to unite within the country as a priority. Thinking out of the box, why can’t we re-examine a way for Casinos to be established in Sri Lanka, and ways and means of giving other employment to our people.
‘’I am, you are, we are, SRI LANKAN’’
By: BiZnomics Special Economic Correspondent Photography by: Chameera Dasun
The current pandemic is an unprecedented crucial episode in the modern world, in the developed and developing nations, with so many dead, infected, out of work, businesses closing their doors, brought the affected nations in a downward spiral to an economic standstill or even significant economic downtown. Most nations that depend significantly on imports for their daily needs as well as those nations that depend significantly on export markets to support the country’s liquidity and foreign exchange reserves are the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is time for these nations take a hard look at the dependence of imports and exports in light of external factors such as the current pandemic, wars, destabilization of global commerce, energy and food security and other factors that affect the normal daily lives of its citizens.
The current pandemic is a grim reminder and has given the opportunity for policymakers in each country to assess the vulnerability of the country’s economic stability to the various external and internal factors that contribute significantly to the everyday life of its populous. Most countries in Asia with an abundance of high-quality labor pool had historically concentrated in such industries with opportune markets in the west. Often these opportunities have been mostly in the low-tech manufacturing with only marginal value-added benefits. It is time to rethink the class of goods and services, Asian countries should provide in the global marketplace.
The concept of globalization should work in both directions. Nations can and should trade with each other yet there needs to be an understanding between trading partners for equitable transactions. It is easier to establish equitable transactions for these value-added products and services when these come from being innovative, IP protected or proprietary, having an edge thereof, and thereby providing an exclusive market opportunity for the exporter.
Innovations need two basic components, capital, and skill.
The developing countries, in general, are short in both these components. Along with these two basic parameters, the other key ingredient for innovation is the universal “innovative mindset”. That means, “let’s not do what others have done” mindset, but do things that are new, disruptive, and innovative. If a nation gets used to following the products and services of other nations, who create destructive commercially viable concepts, it is unlikely that the nation will build a disruptive workforce capable of innovation and will learn to depend on developed and innovative third parties. Often it is easier money-making trap to import and sell the products after adding a profit margin. If the product or service is essential, there is a very low risk to the trader. This behavior works totally counter to true economic growth, innovation-based, or otherwise and traps the country into foreign dependency. Although in some instances the dependence of products from other nations is because of the cost-effectiveness due to low labor costs in those countries, the long-term crystallization of this mindset will lead to hampering innovation. Especially for the developing countries innovation is essential and will be the savior and the driving force of economic activity and would be especially true in the post-pandemic era.
When I describe a new concept to my friends and colleagues, I am often asked whether this idea is in practice in the United States. While I answer their questions politely, I feel sad to see the mindset of the person asking this question. During the pandemic, the normal life in many countries was disrupted dramatically in the world including the western countries, due to the lack of locally produced food and medicine, including the much needed, personal protective equipment.
Policymakers should take bold steps to encourage and facilitate local production of essentials, such as food, medicines, hospital supplies, and energy. In doing so, the local manufacturers and producers need to have enough profits to counter the desire for low-cost imports. A system should be established for the buyer, and in some cases – the government, to purchase the farmers or local producers’ production before the farmer plants his seeds or the producer buys his raw material. This is known as the futures market place, where the farmer has a
guaranteed buyer and a purchase contract for his future production. He can then optimize his costs accordingly and produce it with certainty, rather than uncertainty while barring any unforeseen weather or disruption, for which he can purchase insurance.
In this article, I use agriculture products and farmers as an example to illustrate the concepts. However, these concepts are equally applicable to other areas as well. As most farmers are relatively small entities, unlike in the United States, farmers often do not possess resources for mechanized and scientifically managed farming. With the help of the government, farmers should organize into cooperatives so that they can receive the services of the farming machines, fertilizer, water, technology, and other necessities without having to pay a premium to intermediaries for these services to minimize their production expenses. University students should be encouraged with course credits to spend time in small farms, working with and educating the small farmer on scientific methodologies, while been exposed to the hardships and problems the small farmer encounters. Policymakers and government bodies have to play an integral role in helping the farmers in their needs such as giving them tax incentives. Most countries have incentives in place to promote export-oriented businesses, both in manufacturing as well as in the service industry. Such incentives should also be granted to businesses that can replace the import of high value-added products, such as food items, medicines, and hospital supplies, electronic devices, etc. Whenever products are imported, and when such imported items can be replaced with locally manufactured products, providing tax incentives for such activity, tax-free importation of raw materials and machinery required to manufacture those products should also be the government’s policy. Governments should establish and publish the quality and quantity requirements for those import substitutes in order to produce these products meeting international standards. Countries should adopt the concept of Notified Bodies as they have specialized skills in approving the product as well as its processes used in manufacturing those products. Most countries often evaluate the finished product in the approval process and such evaluations are totally inadequate in determining the fit for use of the product.
Government-approved Notified Bodies should be receiving the authority to approve the sale of these products, meeting quality standards, along with oversight of their manufacturing process. Notified Bodies are independent agencies that evaluate the usability of the product for the intended use and this process is referred to as CE marking in the European product approval system. It would even be advantageous to use existing European Notified Bodies limiting local representation for this process, so as to avoid bias or influence in the product approval process.
The skill base:
To enable local production of goods, both import substitutes, as well as export-oriented goods, requires an able and substantial skill base in the country. This is even more significant for the development and production of disruptive concepts. Therefore, although it cannot be achieved instantly, a plan and conscientious process should be established to develop those skills in the nation’s workforce.
Skills development in science, technology, engineering, and medicine (STEM) require serious consideration and obviously will be extensively debated due to the entrenched cultural believes in education. Education, artificially limited in numbers unfortunately has gotten into an exclusive status. The policymakers should ignore such bias and should be bold and face such opposition for the overall benefit of its citizens. The percentage of the workforce educated in STEM subjects is in single digits and cannot provide the driving force for innovative technologies. Build the base to develop the country by promoting STEM education, producing the necessary workforce with useful skills. What would even be interesting for us would be to examine the type of education in countries of equal size such as Israel, Taiwan, and South Korea, to learn about those policies, that have allowed these countries, not only to establish a strong manufacturing base but also how they have greatly enhanced their ability to innovate.
When it comes to innovation there is no argument that the United States has led the world in innovations since the end of World War II. What can we learn from this system? While the United States does not rank high in mass education, including STEM subjects, compared to countries like South Korea Singapore, or Taiwan, the US system continues to provide a healthy stream of destructive thinkers year after year.And why is that? is the question I have asked myself over the many years I have lived and worked in the United States. In over four decades of working with my employees, colleagues, and also interacting with students as an educator in the United States, I find that the innovative skills of the US worker are directly related to their education culture focused on critical thinking and their ability to ask questions. Unfortunately, I have not found this character in the students and workers, in many other countries, that I had the opportunity to work with, such as, while working as President of a medical device company in the UK and later as the president of a medical device company in China. Questions always stimulate the discussion, there are no bad questions and there are no stupid questions as such questions should be encouraged to stimulate the discussion. As one of the two primary ingredients to kick start an innovation-based post COVID economy, policymakers should look carefully into skills-based education, at all levels – from the kindergarten to university.
While creating a skills-based education cannot be done instantly, actions need to be initiated in a top-down manner by preparing the skill-base graduates who can be skillful in their chosen field and be disruptive in their thinking. The top-down approach will provide faster results and can be achieved by making the necessary changes to the university level and progressing down to the kindergarten.What I have noticed during my visits to the country during the past 10 years is that there is a huge short supply of educators in STEM subjects at the local universities, especially those with some overseas education. I have also noticed that in universities, just about all of the university educators are of local origin. If one would look at the science, engineering, medicine departments of a university in the United States, or even in a university in Singapore or Hong Kong, the constitution of the faculty is a mixture of local and international educators. This blend of educators undoubtedly enriches the learning process of the students as they get exposed to multiple problem-solving cultures. Education from kindergarten to the University should be a “learning process” rather than a “teaching process”. This can be accomplished by student-centric engagement in the learning process through problem-solving, teamwork, and incentivizing questioning while encouraging research. The responsibility of learning should be transferred from the teacher “teaching” to the student “learning” the material. Education should be broad. Countries should get away from the two-three subject, concentrated and narrow curriculums and encourage a broad base curriculum that consists of science, mathematics, technology, commerce, and humanities throughout their formative and university education.
In educating the nation, the division of students into various streams such as arts, commerce, biological and physical sciences in the 9th or 10th grade is counter to the best interest of the student as well as the nation. Most students excel only after high school and in some instances only after completing university education and therefore early division into streams is counter to the development of their innate skills. Even where such divisions are entrenched, the study curriculums should include a verity of subjects outside their major. Free education should be the gold standard in any nation developed or developing. In some countries, education is free throughout the student’s education process, while is some others it is free until high school such as in the United States, and in some, even primary and secondary education is not free. But in most progressive countries, students receive either free education or education loans to supplement their education.
Although people know and understand that free education is essential in elevating the livelihood of the populous, it is plagued and have a “closed eye” by the back door paid-education as in the excessive and destructive process of tuition in preparing the student for public selective examinations. In other words, while education is free on face value, in reality, it is not so as the wealthy families and urban population has an undue advantage to higher education through the tuition pathway. The tuition system prepares the student to artificially score high in selective examinations without actually determining his true skills in the subject which is totally counterproductive for the student as well as for national progress. In many countries, the examination process has not evolved with the advancements in education delivery and evaluations. Often questions are simply based on testing students’ knowledge of “facts” rather than his ability for “critical thinking”. Examination papers to determine student skill sets based on ten or so questions and a few multiple-choice questions is hardly an indicator of the student’s skills in solving problems or for admission to universities.
It is high time to abandon this process. A consorted effort to rework the selection of students and promote in the learning process is absolutely the underpinning criteria for the technological progress of the nation and will help to
cultivate a workforce that is used in problem-solving and therefore help develop a progressive disruptive mindset in university graduates. When such practice is in place, university students following this concept will learn the necessary skills to innovate and become entrepreneurs providing economic growth and employment for the nation.
Branding the Country in Technological Leadership:
Global Standing in a few Mastered Technologies
In order to make a mark in the global technology space weather in IT, biology, engineering or medicine, it is absolutely necessary to pick a few fields that the workforce has the right skill set to lead the world in those chosen fields. Focus and excel in these areas to become global technological leaders in those fields in the world.
While some areas of technology such as IT, manufacturing, electronics have been carved out by countries like India, China, Taiwan, and South Korea, there are still many fields, the country can focus on, that can provide goods and services to other nations, starting with products in the “low hanging fruits” ( such as in healthcare) opportunities to more challenging objectives as the country builds the confidence level in the innovation ecosystem. Disruptive and innovative businesses require funding and talent pool to get these ideas off the ground. Based on the local raw materials and the skill base, the country should prioritize the areas that would provide the biggest bang for the buck. Policymakers and technologists should come together to formulate these plans and layout the pathways for such efforts, which may include, training and education, start-up space, funding sources, and foreign collaborations so as to give a head start to the entrepreneurs in these chosen ventures. In this process, the government should play a major role in promoting such efforts by bringing in legislation to help advance such activities. Make importation of raw materials, machines, and foreign collaborations easier, with lower import tax rates and income tax holidays for such activities, providing tax incentives for established larger companies for them to invest in the start-up companies. Provide a clean and efficient legal basis to protect both the investor and the innovator. In my opinion, the fields of education and medicine and all the different components of it can be a very lucrative field for the country to specialize in. The government and the private sector can establish STEM universities and hospitals and other medical services for foreign patients, even to attract students and patients from the western world. Many Asian countries such as India and Thailand have very established medical care systems to provide such services in many elective procedures, famously know as medical tourism.
Additionally, areas like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, molecular medicine, drug development, hospital and medical supplies, require considerably low investments for achieving the “proof of concept” stage compared to robust areas like energy, aerospace, shipbuilding or communications, and therefore will provide good opportunities to bring the country into the Global Standing, in those areas. While providing excellent health care to foreign patients, another area the country can master very quickly is in health delivery to its own citizens. With an outstanding medical care system in the country, with well trained and capable physicians and nurses, the opportunity exists in bringing medical care to the masses by using the Internet of Things (IoT), using machine learning and AI in diagnosis, by installing Intelligent Patient Care (IPC) and using a Universal Electronic Medical Record systems. Such developments will be more useful than telemedicine alone. The patient care is presently heavily focused in major cities, with patients flocking into out-patient clinics in those national-level hospitals. The travel and wait time can be eliminated by modernizing this by developing a system based on machine learning and AI, whereby when the remote patient has convenient access to the specialized doctors in the national hospitals without leaving their village.
It is absolutely critical that a consorted effort is made to develop an innovative mindset in the young in achieving these goals. From the lower grades in the school to the university education, the education system must make a conscious effort to drill this into the student’s mind by energizing the student through mandatory practical development projects, enticing the character of questioning, encouraging the desire to learn outside the textbooks and syllabus, broad-based learning, throughout the learning process.
One way to create room for such efforts is to provide all the content for subjects online and in a web-based learning environment. Various subjects at the “O” level and “A” level and university level, from anatomy to zoology can be presented online by a few acclaimed educators using the latest technology for the entire nation. Students can go over the material multiple times in this process as against face to face class settings and then effectively using the face to face classes to discuss the key points of the subject. This will simply make the tuition process unattractive, as the information is freely available on the web. Furthermore, the goal of any nation should be to educate it’s populous and is not to test and eliminate the student from higher education. Education should be inclusive, and not exclusive. Every child has a specific skill. Educator’s responsibility is to help the child mature his areas of strength, and is not to test the child on irrelevant matters, he or she has no inclination of success, and eliminate him or her from higher education. If we accept this policy, it is relevant that all possible questions in the examinations for a given subject be shared with the student and let the student practice these problems which will help him or her to learn the material, and shouldn’t that should be the goal of the country?
Online education should be complemented with face-to-face classroom dialogue, yes, a dialogue. Because for the most part education in the face-to-face classroom setting, unfortunately, is a monologue and doesn’t promote the character of questioning. All qualifying examinations throughout the country should be common irrespective of which university the student attends. For example, in basic subjects like anatomy, physiology, calculus, economics, etc., students from all different universities in the country should take the same examination. This is a fair system without bias and is easy to establish using a computer-based testing system.
This system exists in the United States and in some other countries. In medical education, students take several tests (USMLE- United States Medical Licensing Examination) administered throughout the country irrespective of which university they attend. The same is true in engineering where students take a common examination, after completing their degree, in the state he or she is working, known as EIT and PE (Engineer in Training and Professional Engineer) thereby bringing everybody to be measured by the same measuring stick. In its fairness, even any foreign graduates in medicine or engineering also are allowed to take the same examination removing any bias or discrimination against foreign-educated graduates. This is a very fair system and the country should adopt a similar system to help to fulfill the inadequacy in the numbers of professionals skilled in science, engineering, and medicine regardless of the university they graduated from.
Start-up culture and innovation ecosystem:
Along with reformulating education, another ingredient to building a foundation for innovation basic economy is the need for start-up culture. The start-up culture involves people working together in close proximity to each other, commonly known as incubators, which helps in building the “innovation energy”, a phrase we use to mean “charged-up” by each other, for a synergistic development climate. It is a great incentive for each other to work together building the innovation energy either in separate groups or in teamed-up groups at incubators where the entrepreneurs can share ideas, skills, contacts, and methods.
If at least 10 incubators can be built with relevant infrastructure in the country either within or near universities, yet independent of the university system, then the entrepreneurs would benefit from the academic knowledge accessibility while also keeping the initial development cost low due to affordable pre-existing infrastructure. Such incubators should entice the larger companies to bring their technical problems to be solved by the entrepreneurs due to the ready access to the knowledge base and facilities normally readily available in the university environment. University academics should be allowed to participate in these start-up ventures without having any obligations to the university, when such is carried out in their own time. Such incubators should be promoting participation not only by the students from the university but also those entrepreneurs outside the university system, as it would add immensely to any project carried out in the incubator by bringing forks from all different educational backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks under one roof. This is very common in the United States, where a number of incubators, specializing in different fields are available both within and outside the university campuses where participants come from all different educational backgrounds, both national and international.
As mentioned earlier, innovation-based economic development needs two key ingredients skills and capital. So far, we have discussed the importance of the need for appropriate skills and skillsets and how such skills can be developed in the country through appropriate education and cultural development. Funding is the other challenge. Typically, most start-up investments are risky and therefore the traditional investors, looking for high returns for their investments, are quite shy to invest in high-risk ventures. While the government can play a significant role in the funding process, by providing a guaranteed purchase agreement for any items that are currently imported in volume as long as the local products meet the same quality standards, consuming significant drain in foreign exchange, the private sector should also readily participate in funding these start-up companies.These governmental collaborations will significantly reduce the risks associated with establishing the new venture. The best and least painful way to fund start-up companies is to develop private funds that are left in private equity portfolios or even traded in the marketplace. The advantage of these funds is that the public can invest in these funds with only a few thousand and therefore has very minimum exposure while benefiting the diversity of the companies within the portfolio. As such, the investor minimizes his risk by investing in a mutual fund without having the exposure to one type of technology or one company. These funds eventually should provide high returns, and therefore the success depends on the judgment of the portfolio managers who invest in the technology of the start-up. This activity should be under governmental supervision meeting the normal reporting criteria of a publicly-traded funds and managed by professional fund managers. Therefore, it is quite important, that the country provides the environment for many different types of funds, governmental, public and private, or even funds that are public-private partnerships as well as government bonds in certain areas that directly contribute to the public interest. These and other means should be established to provide an injection of capital to qualified start-up companies.
The country should seriously examine the ingredients needed to kick start the economy in the post-pandemic era. There are two basic requirements, capital, and skill. Proper education with practical engagements during the matriculation of the populous will reshape the mindset to make the workforce practical and skillful. The government should layout plans to promote the development of disruptive technologies locally in order to develop branded products while providing guarantees when imported high value-added items are produced locally. In addition, a simple and efficient legal system must be established to promote investments without having to go over long and dragged on conflict resolution.
It would be an opportune time to assemble a key group of local and expatriate scientists, engineers, physicians, academics, business leaders, and entrepreneurs to assess, formulate and set in motion ways and means to lead in innovative and disruptive areas to brand the country to global leadership.