Hassan Esufally – He has a story to tell! Comments Off on Hassan Esufally – He has a story to tell! 749

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‘’Running a marathon is all about perseverance, dedication and a healthy dose of motivation. ‘’

Running a marathon is a tough challenge. If it was your first marathon, then just getting to the start was an achievement, never mind the finish line. Completing a marathon – regardless of the time – should be considered an amazing achievement. 

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How many amazing sights they see – the scenery on an amazing trail run or the electric sights of a big city marathon. Did you hook up with any runners and make new friends? How did you feel? Did you get your nutrition and hydration right? Did you run strong and feel good? 

The adventure marathoner Hassan Esufally, the first Sri Lankan in history to run a marathon in all seven continents by completing the difficult Antarctic Ice Marathon with a time of 8 hours and 35 minutes, shared his stirring experience with us. 

The champion marathoner endured the 42.2km event under tough conditions with falling snow and poor visibility which required a phenomenal effort. Previous multiple times winners of both the Antarctic Ice Marathon and 100km events who participated in the event, were quoted as saying that this was one of the toughest years in the competition. 

Hassan Esufally, one of Sri Lanka’s leading marathoners recently took on the ambitious mission of earning the prestigious and highly sought-after Seven Continents Marathon Club Membership. The challenging endeavor required him to complete some of the world’s toughest and most exclusive marathons across all seven continents. Before the Antarctic Ice Marathon he was also the first Sri Lankan in history to complete the world’s hardest marathon, the Inca Trail Marathon. He has completed marathons in Europe (Stockholm Marathon in June 2017), Asia (Colombo Marathon in October 2017), Australia (Melbourne Marathon in 2014 and 2016), and Boston Marathon in USA (April 2018) and the Big Five Marathon in South Africa (June 2018) – putting Sri Lanka on the marathon map.

By: Chantal D 
Photography by: Eranga Pilimatalawwe

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Daraz: Changing the Way We Shop 0 372

E-commerce was an industry fairly unknown in Sri Lanka. But over time it has slowly made its
way into our houses, showing us the ease of life of ‘shopping online’. The lockdown may have
even channeled it into our front pocket. As crowned retail giants struggled to meet demands
while following COVID19 safety regulations, e-commerce platforms got their time in the
limelight. Online shopping has firmly secured 1 percent of the market share to date, and there is
no doubt it will continue to grow rapidly even as we enter the “new normal”. We spoke to the Managing Director of Daraz.lk, Rakhil Fernando to find out how the industry is evolving in the wake of the pandemic.

How did Daraz face Covid19?
Our first priority was to support the government and really help fight the virus itself. As a group
globally, we invested in deploying testing kits and masks and tried to get it to our respective
governments as soon as possible.We donated 20,000 test kits and 100,000 masks to the Sri Lankan government. Our next goal was to help the e-commerce ecosystem. We were relying on so many small entrepreneurs to build our platform and sell on our platform. The government also needed these kinds of enterprises to restart the economy and keep it from collapsing. So, we really felt this was the area we needed to focus on and invest in.That was the goal behind launching the Seller Stimulus program in May. To further subsidize sellers, we decided not to charge them a commission, while providing them free shipping, and free packaging to help them get their business up and running at no extra cost. We now have about 4,000 SME’s that have come on board the platform within the last 30 days.How is business after the pandemic?
Business is growing tremendously well. Between last year and this year, we grew about 200
percent and we’re looking to grow at least another 150 percent from this year to next year. We
are also looking to exceed our Rs.15 billion in sales this year. We are very excited about
the prospect; COVID19 has really changed the e-commerce landscape in Sri Lanka.

There’s been an increase in the number of people who are willing to shop online, some of whom had little choice but to shop online during the curfew. Initially, they were looking at buying groceries online but now they’ve started buying other things as well. Currently, we have around 100,000 people visiting our site every day as unique visitors and that number keeps growing.

What does Daraz bring to the table?
E-commerce in general has many interesting players. The local e-commerce platform
unfortunately hasn’t been able to expand as much within the past few years. We’re one of the
first companies that has the capacity to sell island-wide. In terms of the items we have on sale
and our reach in terms of where we can deliver, I think it’s really becoming the golden era for e-
commerce in Sri Lanka with regard to the efficiency of the platforms and delivery platforms.
During these times you also see third party logistic companies coming out to provide services to
e-commerce companies during this very critical period. “So it’s an interesting time”. I think it’s
the right time for Daraz to be here and invest in Sri Lanka.

Many new platforms have entered the e-commerce ecosystem, as a market leader do you
see this as a threat?
Not at all. I think, for us, our biggest competitors in the last couple of months in terms of what
has popped up would be the FMCG grocery segment; mainly the likes of Uber and PickMe.
They sell online and get people their groceries in a short period of time. Now what we see, is
that we can do what a lot of our competitors probably find difficult. For an example if you buy a
Rs.1,000 worth bundle, you get a fixed set of vegetables, a set of cooking items or
confectioneries. These platforms sell these bundles because it’s easy for sellers to have a
packed bundle ready to hand over to the Uber or PickMe rider to deliver to the customer. But it
becomes very complex when you want to have a mixed order. When you scale that to 15,000
orders that are very different it becomes very complex because it takes a long time to find the
items, put them together, and make sure the order has the correct items and they aren’t mixed
up. It’s the kind of scale we operate in. We project our orders to reach about 30,000 orders a
day in the next couple of months. So, in that sense, we think that we can provide a more
scalable solution to a vast number of customers looking for different types of products that exist
on e-commerce platforms. Now there’s room for us to exist along with new e-commerce groups
like UberEats and PickMe. But I think we fulfill two very different types of orders, not the type of
customers; the orders we get are actually very different.

Is e-commerce a Colombo based market or has it diversified around the island?
We do around 15,000 orders a day and most of those orders come from out of Colombo.
About 70 percent of the orders come from outside the Colombo district. That’s interesting
because most people think e-commerce is centralized to Colombo but in our experience, there’s
a lot of demand from outside Colombo. Cities like Jaffna, Kandy but also in rural provincial
areas as well. So that’s a good sign, it shows there’s an increasing demand and purchasing
power for people who are looking for the right items, at the best price and happy to use e-
commerce to get them.

What is Daraz doing to integrate e-commerce in rural communities?
We have a concept called “Daraz stores”. We have engaged with about 400 to 500 Branded Daraz stores. These local shopkeepers are our representatives. How this initiative works would be, the shop keeper a village or town level will encourage and get his local shoppers, local customers to order on Daraz. We want to introduce e-commerce to the local community. A lot of people don’t shop online because they’re afraid to give their credit card details or they fear they may not receive the item they purchased online. We look at Daraz stores, as having a local representative, somebody you trust, somebody you deal with every day, they can be the person you trust to help you order online for the first time, so we work with these stores that help us get local customers online. The goods also get delivered to the shop so they know there’s a physical place that they can go to, make a complaint, return the item, and collect it. The advantage is that essentially, right now, the shop is restricted to items they have in store to sell. We make available for the shop to have a million items they can sell and they get a commission of 10 to 15 percent for the sale which is a decent commission.

Do Sri Lankan buyers get internationally listed products?
About 30 percent of the products on our platform are foreign sellers. Daraz and Alibaba Express are connected to the same supply network. We list some of those sellers also on our platform. We’re looking to increase foreign goods to create a bit more variety, especially now that there’s the limitation of importation of goods and available products. We want to make sure that there’s a good assortment still available on the site. But overall the site now lists about a million products of about 700,000 local sellers.

Do Sri Lankan sellers get to list their products internationally?
Not at the moment. Sri Lankans can sell on Alibaba as a B2B platform. But direct customer, Daraz is still a local base. It’s mainly only local customers that can order and get products delivered. That’s something we’re looking to grow and maybe do in the next couple of years.

What is the future of e-commerce in Sri Lanka?
It’s an incredibly bright future for e-commerce in Sri Lanka. I think over these weeks e-
commerce has really evolved and people have looked to online channels get all their shopping
needs. Right now, the demand is there but the sellers are still catching up and it’s up to a
platform like Daraz to really come through in terms of offering products, in terms of the service
level, and in terms of the technology. Now we see e-commerce growing by 3 percent in the next
2 to 4 years. So the potential should be 4 times the size we see it right now in the next 2 years.
That’s encouraging, that’s a huge opportunity. But you need platforms like Daraz to really set
the standards and be able to sell to everyone in the country.

We are trying to reach all the customers in the country because everyone deserves to have any product they want, not just the products that are available on the high street. We want to reach out to the whole island and make e-commerce accessible to anyone, anywhere in the island”.

Crisis offers opportunities to Change 0 199

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
employees.

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
these possible.

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.