Mindfulness for corporate leaders

Mindfulness for corporate leaders

WHO has identified stress
as the “health epidemic
of the 21st century”

We spend more time working than doing anything else, and researchers have found that, on average, this results in the least happy hours of our lives. In knowledge-based industries, the stress in working life accounts for a hefty part of work-place absences and huge losses in productivity.

In the current economic climate, employees are under pressure to perform with limited resources. According to business insiders, companies in the USA lose over USD 300 billion every year due to workplace stress. The American Institute of Stress states that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and need help in learning how to cope with it. In the UK, Health and safety executives say, stress-related illnesses among employees cause businesses lose GBP 530 million a year. According to Medibank, research in Australia shows that employees are absent for 3.2 working days each year due to stress, costing the Australian economy about AUD 14.2 billion.

Effective working environment

Therefore, it is clear that employees’ mental health has a direct impact on the success and effectiveness of the company. Research into neuroscience and psychology shows the importance of “mental capital and wellbeing”. This new perspective is, increasingly, helping business leaders to see that the cognitive and emotional resources of organisational team members determine the health, resilience and future performance of their organisations.

One of the approaches that is used globally to overcome stress is mindfulness practice. Mindfulness training has been at the vanguard in organisations keen to experiment with innovations that develop the internal resources of individuals, and keep their minds healthy. As businesses invest in employees’ professional skills and physical health, mindfulness training as been at the forefront in benefitting all employees, across a broad spectrum of wellbeing.

Mindfulness is a natural capacity, present in all of us. It involves paying purposeful attention to our experience, with attitudes of openness and curiosity. We are all familiar with a distracted state of mind, often described as being on “autopilot”. This default inattentiveness from present experience can mean we react to life out of habit rather than care and consideration. When we spend more time alive to our experience, we unlock our potential for learning and growing to respond creatively to life and to corporate challenges.

With the speed of distraction today, our attention is under constant siege. We have entered the attention economy. Research shows that 47% of the time we are mentally off- task; said another way, we spend half of our time on autopilot. What if we could get a second ahead of distractions and avoid autopilot? What if we could overcome our addiction to action and multitasking? The good news is we can. The key is to train the mind to be more focused and clear. We do this through corporate mindfulness.

What is it?

Mindfulness originated in Buddhist meditation techniques, such as outlined in the Satipatthana Sutta (The discourse on establishing of mindfulness). Although it is a millennia-old idea, it has been re-invented in order to address present issues in our modern society. As mindfulness has reached most aspects of human life over the past decade, it has expended beyond its spiritual roots and, with its adoption into modern psychological theory, it has developed into a secular training method, subject to many scientific trials.

The mechanism behind mindfulness is based on how it changes your mind-set from a fixed mind-set to a growth mind set. A fixed mind-set is when an individual believes their qualities, talents or intelligence are simply fixed traits. Employees with a fixed mind-set tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, see efforts as fruitless or worse, ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result of a fixed mind-set, these individuals may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.

Leading researches into mindfulness have established that it enables employees to focus on what they experience in the moment, inside themselves, as well as their environment, with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and care. We are all mindful sometimes, but through mindfulness practice, we can cultivate this faculty and refine it so that we may harness it to a greater degree.

Apart from the benefit of reducing stress in the workplace, mindfulness provides many more advantages, such as reduced rumination, boosts to working memory, less emotional reactivity and even relationship satisfaction. As these benefits will certainly lead to a better quality of life, they will also improve our empathy, love and compassion. It is apparent that these benefits of mindfulness practice will provide the ultimate outcome of a peaceful mind and immense happiness. On the contrary, individuals who possess a growth mind-set will embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. These individuals will end up reaching ever-higher levels of achievement. Therefore, employing more individuals with a growth mind-set will lead to better achievement in organisations.

In the corporate world

There are numerous potential business benefits to mindfulness training. It is important to establish one or more key benefits that reflect your organisation. Mindfulness assists in three key areas of workplace functions: well-being, relationships and performance. It also helps to enhance working relationships become resilient, and improves performance through leadership, decision making, organisational transformation and creativity through innovation.

Mindful practice will also help an individual to choose between two paths, which are learner path and judger path. We tend to take the judger path naturally. This is due to lower awareness of our surrounding and to how our mind-set was moulded since childhood, to judge most of the things around us; which can be people, situations or even material objects. Mindfulness will help us to deviate from this common mind-set and perform well in our life.

Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective, in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Mindfulness can help to reduce stress anxiety and conflict, and increases salience and emotional intelligence, while improving communication in the work place.

As Janice Marturano, former vice president at General Mills, and founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership says in her book Finding the space to lead, “a mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others.”

An introduction to mindful activities

This is a simple exercise in mindfulness. take a piece of paper and write down all the thoughts came into your mind reading this article. if you don’t remember, it is better if you could go back and read it, and then notice the thoughts that came into your mind while reading this article.

Mark the thoughts relevant to the article and the irrelevant thoughts that came into your mind. You will be able to see that there are lot of thoughts irrelevant to the article or to the subject of mindfulness have come, as well as a lot of judgemental thoughts.

To get better understanding regarding the relationships of mind, external environment and mindfulness, let us do another simple activity. Choose a paragraph from the article and try to read it again. Then try to memorise the words in the paragraph. Afterwards, read it again word by word, well focused and you will realise there were words that you have missed. What you have done is to skim over the paragraph, rather than reading it properly, which is why you have missed out these words.

This is how your mind works. This is how your daily life works. You tend to skim through rather than attending to details. Therefore, there is a great tendency to miss out most important details. Mindful practice makes your mind slow down the process of skimming and makes it more attentive to details around you. Consequently, mindfulness practice will help individuals to be more productive and effective in their working environment as well as in their daily life.

Being a mindful practitioner, you will be able to understand what is occurring at the present situation and to attend effectively. A more unobstructed and calmer mind-set will allow the individuals to improve their creativity and critical thinking; we will be able to overcome the situation in the country.

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Solar power in Vavuniya

Solar power in Vavuniya

Vydexa (Lanka) Power Corporation Offers Environmentally Friendly
Energy Solutions

The Energy sector – especially its renewable energy components such as solar energy – is an important segment of investment for the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI). Energy is important for both the public and for economic and industrial development.

Vydexa (Lanka) Power Corporation (Pvt) Ltd has set up, under the BOI, a 10 MW solar photovoltaic power plant in Kaththansinnakulam, in Vavuniya. The facility consists of 35,721 numbers of 350 W solar photovoltaic (PV) modules established on a land of 54 acres (22 ha).

The PV modules are fixed on a single-axis tracking system, which is capable of tracking the path of the sun throughout the day. This is the first project of this nature established in Sri Lanka and it uses 100% labour from local villages. The facility has therefore played a key role in uplifting the living standard of the people of the region.

Another important factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that this renewable energy project is extremely environmentally friendly, and has resulted in saving 3,800 tonnes of diesel annually to generate the equivalent amount of energy from thermal sources. Furthermore 16,000 te of carbon dioxide emission have been reduced annually, as a result of the use of solar energy.

Opportunity

In addition, as a result of this project, the local infrastructure has also been upgraded, including improvements to the road network, street lighting, religious places and even new direct and indirect employment opportunities created.
The solar photovoltaic collectors are normally mounted on a fixed slope in large installations, or as individual collectors to track the sun throughout the day and year. Tracking of the sun is continuous.

Solar Farms are generally set up on barren or unutilised lands. This is an opportunity to put to productive use any excess lands by setting up on such lands, large solar energy facilities. In the Vavuniya facility, it was done on a land previously used for gravel excavation.

Solar power offers new options for energy needs for a nation such as Sri Lanka which needs to industrialise in order to develop and create new opportunities for its population without sacrificing its pristine natural environment which is also a national asset in achieving that endeavour.


Dilip S Samarasingha
Director(Media & Publicity)
Board of Investment of sri lanka

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THE ICE PACKS HEAT UP WILL “TECHNOLOGICAL FIXES” WORK?

THE ICE PACKS HEAT UP WILL “TECHNOLOGICAL FIXES” WORK?

The recent heat wave in the Northern Hemisphere has brought a foretaste of what global warming – the ongoing long-term increase in the Earth’s average temperature, an aspect of climate change – can be like in future.

A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, using 18 climate models to predict changes in heat and humidity across the contiguous USA, found that it will face a substantial rise in the number of extremely hot days. Even if something is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (blamed for climate change) this will occur, but if nothing is done, the impact could be far more harmful.

The heat wave engulfing Europe is heading north, which may have disastrous consequences. Unprecedented wildfires have been raging north of the Arctic Circle, so large that they are visible form space, causing climatic devastation.

“The northern part of the world is warming faster than the planet as a whole,” reported the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “That heat is drying out forests and making them more susceptible to burn.” The resultant wildfires, it said, released a minimum of 50 megatonnes of carbon dioxide, greater than Sweden’s annual emissions.

The heat wave could also speed up the melting of the Arctic ice cap, particularly the crucial ice sheet covering 80% of Greenland – if this were to melt, it could cause a cataclysmic rise in sea levels, effecting all the world’s coastal cities. The recurrent flooding of seaside roads along the southwest coast of Sri Lanka may be a consequence of this – with dire ramifications for Sri Lanka’s tourist trade.

Artificial snow

Climate scientists in Singapore warn that the city-state’s coastal defences should be strengthened as a measure against sea-level rise. An increase in global temperatures of 0.5°C may lead to a 10cm rise in sea level, according to a study by a team led by Professor Adam Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, which says that the West Antarctic ice sheet has begun a “self-sustaining ice discharge.” It says that the more than 3-metre concomitant sea level rise may cause severe problems in highly-populated coastal areas, including metropolitan cities – such as Colombo, Galle and Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

Melting of the sea ice in the Arctic can also accelerate climate change. A recent scientific paper indicates that the white surface of the Arctic ice pack is key to reflecting solar rays away from the Earth and reduce temperatures, preventing the faster heating up of the dark oceans. The shrinking of the polar ice cap, already at a record this year, may be worsened by the heat wave. Losing this ice cover would be the same as adding 1 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

The acceleration in the melting of the ice caps is causing scientists to study how to ameliorate the effects. Professor Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told Reuters news agency that “We are already at a point of no return if we don’t do anything.” Levermann’s team of climatic researchers has come up with a radical proposal to thicken the melting ice by creating a layer of snow artificially. They suggest using over 12,000 wind-powered pumps to spray cold sea water onto the surface of the West Antarctic ice sheet, to create snow.

However, they warn that carrying out their proposal practically “would mean an unprecedented effort for humankind in one of the harshest environments of the planet.”

Particulate mist

This is just one of the less extreme schemes for offsetting the effects of climate change, which underline the growing anxiety among scientists. Harvard University professors David Keith and Frank Keutsch hope to launch a small-scale atmospheric experiment to test the feasibility of geo-engineering, i.e. altering the climate deliberately. This would be the first such experiment outside the laboratory.

They expect to launch a balloon, equipped with propellers and sensors, to high altitude. There, it would spray a fine mist of sulphur dioxide, alumina or calcium carbonate into the upper atmosphere. The sensors aboard it would then measure how much the mist particles reflect, how they scatter or combine and how they react with atmospheric compounds. This could lead towards scattering particulate matter on a large scale, in critical areas of the atmosphere, to reflect the sun’s rays before they can heat up the lower atmosphere.

However, one section of the scientific community is apprehensive that such experiments can legitimise the idea that there can be a “technological fix” for the effects of global climate change and prevent meaningful action being taken to prevent it, or at least slow it down. There are also fears that these experiments could lead to other, unforeseen problems, or to their use as weapons for intimidating smaller nations.

Savithri Guruge

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Colombo  Tech City

Colombo Tech City

Colombo Tech City is a project that the government of Sri Lanka has formulated for the development of the country, with particular emphasis on the area of scientific and technological innovation. It is the government’s major concept for developing the “Western Megapolis”, its ongoing project to convert Colombo and its environs into a multi-million population conurbation – whereby it hopes to haul the rest of the country into the 21st century.Tech cities exist elsewhere, points out Rahula Senanayake, Deputy Director (Promotion) at the Tech City project, in China, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. “Even in India they have 100 tech cities, whereas we have only one.”

Policy framework

However, the going is slow. The project is a many-faceted one, requiring the participation of multiple parties, and a slew of preliminaries for it to get off the ground.
In the first place, there is the need for a policy to be hammered out for the development of this type of hypothesized city.

This is complicated by the division of responsibility between different ministries, departments and authorities. Senanayake says that the policy framework for the Colombo Tech City is in the process of formulation but it is delayed, “because in Sri Lanka it is connected to different ministries.”
“We are under the Megapolis Ministry,” he elaborates. “This is a ministry where some of the identified projects to be implemented are taken forward, whereas other ministries have their focus on the subject area. So, automatically science, technology and innovation goes directly to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

But the project itself continues with our ministry. So some policy matters, need to be discussed, we should not allow overlap. It is a problematic question.”
Another issue, which causes considerable delay, is procurement of land for locating the Tech City projects.
“You especially need land for the development of this project,” Senanayake explains. “Land area is a question at the moment, because many of lands on which we have planned on developing Tech City projects, belong to private stakeholders, it is private property, so the government needs to acquire these lands.”
The Land Acquisition Act gives the Urban Development Authority (UDA) the power to carry out the process of acquiring suitable lands. However, the procedure is time-consuming.

Universities

When the Colombo Tech City proposal first emerged, the Sri Lankan university system was not included in the concept. However, about six year ago, the idea of integrating university campuses came up. Accordingly, the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development included this notion, of universities connected to the Tech City Development Project, in the master plan.

“We have allocated a certain acreage, 15 or 20 acres,” says Senanayake, “for the Colombo, Sri Jayawardana Pura, and Moratuwa universities, so that they are directly connected. Now all the infrastructure facilities are being done. Other infrastructure services such as electricity, water and road networks are also now underway.”
Consequently, academia, and beyond, have linkages to Tech City, so that when a university comes up with research and development (R&D) concepts, they can be commercialised, associating with the process not only the younger generation, but also higher scholars at the universities – including the process of innovation and innovation within the entire Tech City programme.

It is an evolving programme. The new Technology Facility of the Sri Jayawardana Pura university took the first steps, and now Colombo and Moratuwa universities have developed their faculties dealing with research and innovations along the same lines.

Ecosystem

Research and development is not simply the purview of academia, however. For it to be vibrant, in needs to tie in with functioning areas of industry and services.
“We are also expecting research in the health care field. There are thousands of research institutes, whom we are inviting here. However, just a research institute on its own cannot survive, so we discussed the matter and decided on research based on a hospital. Patients using the hospital could be charged for the medical services they receive.

We think private parties would find this concept attractive.In order to attract vibrant start-ups, the business incubation system will be adopted – to facilitate small and medium enterprise development and innovation from among the younger generation. Senanayake expects this will enable knowledge acquisition and innovative product development.

“We are aware of other countries, who are very successfully doing this, so we are bringing academia into close proximity and making the required facilities available. Apart from the business incubation centre, we will, provide the commercialisation, linkages, and prototype production. We will provide the physical building for the incubation centre.”

Although there are several small business incubators in Colombo, this one will be larger. Tech City invites the small incubators to link up with them, so that they could also benefit. The business incubation centre will be linked to government agencies, but also to the private sector – “we realise that government institutions cannot do anything unless linked to the private sector,” adds Senanayake.

“So this would be Mahenwatte, in Homagama Tech City ” he explains. “The whole area will be one ecosystem, where your research institutions labs and academia universities and the students and the other SME support services, with a shared resource pool. That is what have made successes of Silicon Valley and other world famous tech cities.”

Iconic Building

The Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology, the NSBM Green University, the military research unit and Standards Institution are up and running at the Homagama Tech City. Apart from that, John Keells and several other private institutions are connecting up. ICT-related companies have requested facilities such as supermarkets, restaurants and coffee shops in the vicinity, to serve their staff.

“We have requested famous suppliers to go and see and open up even temporary facilities, we can provide accommodation. We are planning to have an iconic building, called the ‘Iconic Building’. It will be facilitating all shopping, restaurants, car park and leisure areas, and everything else required. Even housing will also be provided in that complex.” Senanayake stresses that, for the private sector to invest, they need profit margins, to achieve which they must be able to go to profitable or bankable projects, otherwise there would be no point their investing. “That is why we are carefully selecting some projects. Private sector investors, whether local parties or foreign, they need to get a return, so they need carefully designed projects, not on such the iconic building, If it is merely a symbol, it would not be bankable. In order to make it bankable, we added many components inside the building.

The Iconic Building is envisaged to contain vehicle parking, government or non-governmental office area, a shopping mall, and housing, on all of which of money can be made. The multi-faceted facilities are linked to the Iconic building to make it an economically feasible, bankable project.

“The staff of Jayawardana Pura, Colombo and Peradeniya universities may make new appointments to these faculties, at least 1,000. They need facilities. So we have an immediate need for 1,000 housing units.”
Scholars, workers other staff members, who settle with their families, need education for their children. Since ending their children all the way to Colombo is difficult, they need educational facilities in the area. A very good government school, Mahinda Rajapaksa College, is located there. “However, some people might prefer a private educational institution. We have identified this need.

We have identified the land, and we need investment to run a private school, even up to university level.”
The Tech City master plan calls for providing employment to150,000 people. At the first stage, Universities are expected to provide over 2,500 new jobs in the three faculties they will set up at Mahenwatte. Another 2,500 job opportunities are envisaged in the next four years, making a total of about 5,000 new jobs, in the near future.

Yasas Nainanayake

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Road to  convenience

Road to convenience

The Maga Neguma project uses optimal technologies for developing rural roads

The need for road construction arose as civilisation progressed from the tracks made by humans and beasts. Civilisation needed paved roads for trade and communications. Fear of invaders retarded road development in Sri Lanka, which only gained access to a proper network of roads with the advent of the colonial rulers, who required them to ship produce from the interior to the ports.

However, the roads were concentrated in plantation areas, and did not serve the needs of the general population. Hence, road construction became an ever-increasing concern for successive governments since Independence.

In the 21st century, road infrastructure has become a core element in the country’s development strategy. Maga Neguma was born as an optimum solution to the country’s need of a technically savvy, quality conscious and object-oriented force in the construction of roads, and the related supply chain management and consultancy services spheres. The project operates under the purview of the Highways and Road Development Ministry.

Rural roads

In an interview with OSL, Maga Neguma Project Director Mangala Gunaratne offered the basic classification of roads into three major classes: A, B and E. While the A and B class roads are directly maintained by the Road Development Authority, the E class remains under the Provincial Council. About 70 per cent of the roads run across the rural hamlets.

“The main issue was the rural roads. Neither methodology nor institutions had been established in a proper manner to look into these rural roads. We commenced this project 10 years ago, mainly with the focus on the rural roads. The Highways and Road Development Ministry has the powers vested in it to implement the project.”

The Maga Neguma Project looks into the roads that come under the direct purview of the Provincial Councils as well as those which are not. Thankfully, the budgetary allocations for the road construction keep on growing on an annual basis. The project banked on the primary methods for road construction during the initial phase and launched several methodologies later. Two major methodologies are concreting and interlocking (using interlocked paving blocks).

Gravelling is another methodology adopted in addition to concreting and interlocking. Though primary in purpose, the methodology is ideal for wide roads especially in areas such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The gravelling focuses on transportability more than durability. Interlocking or concreting could be introduced as the next improvement.

 

Interlocking

Interlocking is the ideal methodology for the flat surfaces common in the Western, Southern, Northern and Eastern provinces. Concreting is perfect for mountainous areas such as central, Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces.

The interlocking methodology is gradually gaining ground over concreting on several grounds. As Engineer Lasith Senaratne points out, “At a cost of LKR 1 m, the concrete can cover about 100 metres long and three metres wide. But at the same price, the interlocking will accommodate only 90 metres.”

However, in terms of maintenance, the interlocked road provides more benefits than its counterpart.

“Suppose you need to make a water tap line. You need to break up the concrete, whereas it is simply a matter of removing the stones if it is interlocked. You refix the stones after installing the pipeline. On the other hand, a concrete road cannot be used soon after being built [as the concrete needs to cure]. There is no such thing for interlocking roads. There are practical benefits,” Project Director Gunaratne explains. “

 

Durability

Yet, attitudes are an issue, according to Gunaratne. As the majority inhabiting the rural areas are used to the concrete, they have more faith in it. Attitudes, in fact, play a vital role in building public opinion, though it takes time. For instance, over time, the Maga Neguma project has earned a reputation in its own right, from the general public. As the years have gone by, the faith in Maga Neguma among the general public has grown.

“They believe in the durability of our road construction. We strive regularly to maintain that reputation. This is really important as most other projects are centred about money. Since we represent the government, we need to focus on all parties.”

As the government stakeholder, the project sources its labour from the villages. The very first aspect of the Maga Neguma is quality control, which is handled by the RDA. The contract will be offered following a strict selection procedure.

“We consult the local associations before hiring our recruits. That provides a conducive environment for most job-seekers.”

Quality control will be a long procedure if the provincial council permission is required. Following the executive engineer’s estimate, the testing will be performed by a government laboratory. Following the construction, the road will then be handed over to the relevant local authority for maintenance. As Engineer Senaratne notes, a repair will be likely only following a lapse of a minimum of 20 years.

Ran Mawath

Asked how much has been covered so far, Project Director Gunaratne observes that 50 % is complete. But the facts and figures may vary with the advent of new lands and new houses. The new lands and new houses mean new roads as well. It is a continuous process.

The new “Ran Mawath” Rural Road Maintenance and Construction Programme – a massive project of LKR 10 bn – is currently focusing on carpeting the roads, with special focus on the northern region. Only a few roads were constructed in the northern area owing to the practical difficulties stemmed from Provincial Council regulations.

The road construction has its own benefits for the people, especially those in the rural areas. Road construction may not pose much significance to the urban dwellers. But for distant rural villagers, it is a solution to a longstanding problem, often a question of life or death.

“I remember one road we constructed in Welimada. There was a hospital, but the road was dilapidated. Even a three-wheeler could not use the road. Once the road is built, the villagers were happy. They no longer have to lift the patients,” Gunaratne explains.

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An eco-friendly and  economical alternative

An eco-friendly and economical alternative

Electric trishaw

Sri Lankan engineer and University of Moratuwa lecturer Sasiranga de Silva’s name won much public attention recently. The buzz being that he had invented a trishaw (tuk tuk) driven by electricity. OSL-THE Investment Magazine interviewed him regarding this innovation.

De Silva had had a passion for sustainable energy systems and electrical vehicles since the days he was a university undergraduate. “After I joined the university of Moratuwa, I wanted to create electrical vehicles. We had an old [Austin Morris] Mini Minor in the automotive laboratory. I and three of our undergraduate students got together we converted this Mini Minor into an electric-driven vehicle, as a university final year project. We did a lot of research with that vehicle. We tried a range extender, apart from the electric drive. We installed a hybrid power-train where lithium-ion batteries connect with super-capacitors.”

There have been electric trishaws in Sri Lanka before [see box], but de Silva wanted to deliver a system to which could be retro-fitted to a vehicle previously fitted with a petrol or diesel engine.

Advantages

“After the experiments with the Mini Minor, we moved on to an old three-wheeler chassis, which was also at the automotive laboratory. I thought it would be a good candidate to be converted to electric driving, because three-wheeler chassis have very low weight compared to chassis of other vehicles. A car weighing 1500 kg can carry 5 passengers, while a trishaw weighing 350 kg can carry four passengers. If you compare the vehicle weight to the passenger carrying or the load carrying capacity ratio, the tuk tuk has a very high ratio.”

De Silva and his team tested the trishaw with different motor capacities. The last tested motor has a power of 5 kilowatts and it worked well. At present, the electric trishaw conversion kit uses Lithium-ion batteries for power as they have a longer lifespan and a balanced performance. The advantage of the electric motor is twofold: it delivers maximum torque, even at the minimum revolutions per minute (rpm) while not adding much weight to the vehicle.

“With fuel engines, you get low torque at low rpm. It gradually increases till reaching maximum torque at a particular rpm and drops down. With the electrical Motor, maximum torque can be achieved even at the lowest rpm. From lowest rpm to the maximum rpm, torque keeps at maximum” de Silva explains. “The weight of a fuel powered tuk tuk and this electrically driven one is quite similar.”

Lowering cost

The electric conversion kit costs LKR 350,000 at present, without government tax. De Silva is working on bringing the cost down, and plans to request a government tax concession. In his view, the possible final price would be between LKR 300,000 and LKR 400,000.

After conversion, the owner of an electric trishaw would see his fuel costs almost halving, according to de Silva. “With that saving, according to my my calculations, a driver who drives about 100 km a day can save around USD 1000 annually. The conversion would cost about USD 2000. So it would take around 2 years to recoup the investment.”

He and his team are trying different powertrains at the moment and conducting running tests within university premises. “Right now, we are trying to lower the cost of the kit, as tuk tuk buyers are price sensitive. The next step would be to get a testing licence from the department of motor traffic and do extensive road tests. I’ll have to drive this about 10,000 kilometres to see the robustness and the reliability of the components. Thereafter I can look into commercialisation.”

De Silva is confident that his brainchild would benefit the country. “Electric vehicles consume less energy and are more environment-friendly than fuel-driven vehicles, both in the long run and the short. There are over a million tuk tuks in Sri Lanka. The government itself has signed the Paris Agreement, promising to reduce harmful emissions. With this kit, we can not only reduce emissions but save money on fuel and crude oil imports as well.”

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The Lineja Vehicle-Washing Machine

The Lineja Vehicle-Washing Machine

The Lineja Vehicle-Washing Machine is mounted on a covered hand-cart. Opening the lids reveals a sink, into which wet washing-cloths are placed to drain them into the water tank, and a compartment in which washing tools and liquids can be stored. A photo-voltaic (PV) panel on one the inside of one of the lids charges the battery, which runs the pump. The pump runs water into a hose, at the end of which is a rose which emits a high-pressure near-mist, used to wash vehicles efficiently.

The machine can wash 7-8 vehicles before requiring its water tank to be refilled. It also has internet – linked camera for remote – monitoring.

OSL-THE Investment Magazine had one of its vehicles, which had acquired a coat of rural dust over the previous seven days, washed by a Lineja team. The operation took just 15 minutes to complete, and the run-off water only wet the forecourt paving below, insufficient to actually drain away – it simply dries off in a short time. The vehicle was cleaned most effectively.

At present, Lineja Enterprises is popularising the machine by deploying vehicle-washing teams to supermarket forecourts. CEO Thanuja Samarawickrama, however, hopes to find an export market as well, particularly in the Middle East.

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Thanuja Samarawickrama bears it all

Thanuja Samarawickrama bears it all

Water was the cornerstone of life in ancient Sri Lanka, and for that reason, water conservation remained, for a long, long time, what can today be referred to as a national priority. Because of its immense value in agricultural society, as the Mahavamsa-Tika records, the earliest Indo-Aryan speakers from India who migrated to the island settled in areas where water was available, close to the principal rivers. Taken together, these rivers became the bedrock of Asia’s greatest hydraulic civilisation, which led Emerson Tennent, centuries later, to remark that “[n]o people or country had so great practice and experience in the construction of works for irrigation.”

Today, in comparison, when it comes to water conservation we tend to rely on government initiatives and corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, even though, in reality, individual initiative is not lacking. The role of the State is thus only too clear: far from neglecting such initiative, it should be affirming it for what it is.

Non-assuming, ever smiling, Thanuja Samarawickrama strongly embodies that kind of go getting initiative. Today she is known as the founder and CEO of Lineja Enterprises. But, more importantly, she is also known for what she invented: a portable car washing machine that’s been installed in several supermarket chain outlets throughout the urban and suburban areas.

How such an enterprise can help us conserve water and at the same time make one of the more onerous routines of the middle class, vehicle owning population of Sri Lanka more convenient is summed up in the tagline for her product: “Save Water in the Earth and Save Time in your Life.” One caveat, though: given that vehicle growth has outstripped population growth, saving water and saving time appear to be two separate and mutually exclusive challenges.

Saving water

Samarawickrama’s achievement is that she’s met them both. OSL – The Investment Magazine sat down for an interview with her. As she told us her story, we noted one point: what she did was no small, mean feat: as a woman, and a Sri Lankan woman, her invention deserves much more than the investment she has been getting from those around her.

“I served as an accounts executive at several leading local companies, before I left for Dubai to take up a position in a multinational firm,” she told us. Apparently it was at Dubai that she came across, and came to admire, the inventiveness with which the people, including the immigrants, tackled a key problem: water scarcity. “I was struck by how much they valued water. In fact they value it to such an extent that they impute a price to its use, be it drinking water or water in the bathroom. That’s when I understood how wasteful we were in comparison.”

She was also fascinated by how people were getting around an issue which typically ails dust-choked countries: the washing of vehicles. “Sri Lankans require around three of four buckets of water; in Dubai, the ratio was about one bucket to three or four cars.”

She hadn’t planned on coming back home, but when circumstances beyond her choosing compelled her to return, she decided, once and for all, to teach her people how to save water. In a context where the vehicle growth rate had risen exponentially after the end of the war and a significant proportion of the country had risen to the ranks of a consumerist middle class among peripheral urban areas, Samarawickrama had to find a way to match her aspirations for saving water with changing, growing socio economic realities.

Challenges

She admitted straight away that it wasn’t easy. “I was pondering on what I could do, when I met a classmate who had been in touch with me for over 25 years. He was more aware of the latest strides in the field of technology. He proposed that we build a machine, and even drew the blueprint. We worked together, and came up with what she had designed.”

Predictably, the first prototype failed, being too cumbersome. “We had to dismantle and rebuild the machine three times. Each time, we made it more compact, more ‘mobile’ so to speak. It took several months for us to fine-tune it to our satisfaction.” Having perfected it, the two of them established a workshop in Meegoda to train workers on operating it, with the friend, befitting his expertise, working as Technical Manager.

However, this was the easy part. As Samarawickrama found out for herself, convincing her intended clientele of the benefits of their machine, the mobile car washer, was easier said than done. “We went to K-Zone in Ja-Ela. We talked with the managers there. They were interested in using our machine and in installing it for their customers. We explained that customers could have their vehicles washed while they were shopping. But despite their enthusiasm, the managers didn’t agree to our proposal immediately; they were worried, more than anything else, by the possibility of water leakages to neighbouring homes.”

To meet the issue, Samarawickrama pleaded passionately for a 14-day test run. To her relief, the managers agreed: the agreement was that if the machine became a success during the test run, they would take it in. “Those 14 days were among the busiest in my life. We had to be at K-Zone early every morning; we had to attend to every vehicle; we had to ensure that our staff knew what they were doing; more than anything else, we had to ensure there were no water leakages”. Needless to say their efforts paid off, and the sceptical managers, now convinced, “took it in.”

Investment

About three months later, Samarawickrama realised that, contrary to what she had once thought, “Our machine was becoming so popular that we needed a strong investment.”

That came around a year later, when Samarawickrama presented her machine to the judge panel at Ath Pavura, the first ever reality show in Sri Lanka for social entrepreneurs (similar to Manē no Tora or its spin-offs, such as Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank). Given that its scope went beyond the parameters of CSR projects and government initiatives, Ath Pavura instantly recognised and encouraged Thanuja’s novel, inventive attempt.

She got a standing ovation from the judge panel, which agreed to her request for an investment for LKR 20 million and in fact raised it to LKR 25 million. This was the publicity boost she had been waiting for, and it helped her so much that “we ended up installing the machine in several Keells outlets soon afterwards.” She has plans to expand it to other supermarket chains, and go beyond the country, though as she herself put it to us, “It’s only when my machine succeeds in my country that I will take it abroad.”

She is grateful to Messrs Ajit Gunawardena, Upul Deranagama, Suresh Ahangama, Chandula Abeywickrama and Gamini Saparamadu for believing in her, as well as to the K-Zone managers who helped her start operations, Dilanka Perera and Sumudu Karannagoda.

The significance of what Samarawickrama has done, and is doing, can’t be overemphasised. Water shortages in Sri Lanka may not be as acute as they are in certain other parts of the world, but in times of drought and high aridity, particularly in regions which centuries ago had flourished as agricultural and irrigational enclaves, the national conscience should be piqued by how much this resource is being taken for granted, and wasted, in the cities and suburban areas. We have a rich history of water and environmental conservation. Thanuja Samarawickrama, in that sense, has done her part. It’s time that we sat down and listened to her.

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Weapons system developed by CRD

Weapons system developed by CRD

This year, many people looked forward eagerly to the parade, held on 4 February,  for the 71st Independence Day – mainly because former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had announced that a newly-developed Sri Lankan rocket system would be on display. As expected, the Ministry of Defence revealed the weapons system, a multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) developed by its Centre for Research and Development (CRD). This, the first locally manufactured MBRL, is 100% locally developed and fires locally-developed 122mm rockets. The system, made to international standards, is also compatible with Chinese, Czech, Pakistani and Slovak rockets of this calibre. CRD scientists developed the chemical formulas for the rocket fuel.

Although the Soviet Union developed the first MBRL (the “Katyusha” or “Stalin Organ”) during the Second World War, this type of weapon arrived late to Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) first used 107 mm type 63 MBRLs as part of an artillery bombardment of the Army camp at Thallady, in Mannar, in 1999. These MBRLs had devastating effect during the LTTE’s Oyatha Alaigal (“Unceasing Waves”) III campaign in 2000, including the successful attack on Elephant Pass Camp and the subsequent offensive in the Jaffna peninsula.

The Sri Lanka Army hurriedly acquired Czech-built GRAD RM 70 MBRLs and deployed them in late May 2000. They played a crucial role in halting the LTTE’s advance on Jaffna. The RM70 can launch 40 rockets within the space of 30 seconds. A single, 3-metre-long rocket carries a warhead with 6.35 kg of explosives, giving a combined punch of 256 kg.

Self-sufficiency

The locally-developed rocket launcher (type-named CRD/18/MBRL10-G122mm) has 10 barrels and cost LKR 7 m to make. The locally-designed and manufactured rocket has similar characteristics to the Czech 122mmm rocket, with a range of 15-20km, Because the armed forces have only a limited area available to train their artillery personnel, the CRD made a very short range training option, with the range adjusted to 1 km. They are handing the weapons system to the Sri Lanka Artillery for evaluation.

Now the CRD, while it is able to develop a 40-barrelled system, is preparing to manufacture a 20-barrel system. It is making a marine version for naval applications. The centre has also developed and tested a short-range missile.

A research team of civilian scientists and engineers from the universities, as well as experts from the military, led by Dr Chandana Perera, developed the system. This exercise is not merely a military one, being part of an effort to achieve a degree of self sufficiency in supplying the needs of the armed forces. Since Sri Lanka needs to enhance her manufacturing capabilities and know-how, to expand the economy into the 21st century, local research and development (R&D) is of utmost importance. Currently, the country only spends about 0.16% of its gross domestic product on R&D, in comparison to South Korea’s more than 3%. 

Self-reliant technology

Dr. Chandana Perera

According to Dr Perera, the armed forces spend a lot of money to get products from overseas. Even though they might spend several billion rupees to get equipment, after a few years, they may find the manufacturers have changed their product policies, so they face a maintenance problem

“I did some modifications to keep the equipment operational,” he says. “I found that the problem is that we don’t produce our own technology, so I started doing that. I went through the systems available in the defence sector, and found there is a single core, from which we can derive any product.” 

Under Dr Perera, the CRD team developed such a core, and the technology, especially for simulators and control systems for missile and rocket systems.  Each and every sector, he explains, has a common core, and they tried to develop that core indigenously – the simulators for training, the fire-arms, the rocket and missile. Because of this approach, the armed forces can now derive their equipment from that core, which means techniques and processes developed during this programme can be adapted to other programmes with no technology-transfer fees.

“We don’t want to depend on other countries to develop the technology,” Dr Perera affirms. “We did not take the technology from outside. We just produced our own. So we have developed the technology and we can produce what we expect to use in future. We are now making several products successfully. You will be able to see many innovations in the future. We are now technologically on par with other countries.”

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NSBM developing synergy with industry

NSBM developing synergy with industry

Meeting the challenges of tomorrow’s technology

The National School of Business Administration’s NSBM Green University Town, at Pitipana, not far from Colombo, aims to develop a collaborative approach with commerce and industry, to produce the kind of graduates whom businesses need. This is especially true of the technology field.

“There are many engineering faculties in the country,” says Dr Chandana Perera, the head of the NSBM’s School of Engineering, “but we are still in the developing category.  The reason is that when we create graduates, they are not really ready for industry. Industry has a certain requirement, which the graduates developed by the universities do not match directly. The graduates go for engineering work which is not adapted to the development of the country.” 

He should know: a chartered physicist with specialised expertise in mathematical physics, acoustics and electromagnetism, Dr Perera has a broad array of knowledge in the field of technology, and has worked at or interacted with such institutions of international repute as Sweden’s Uppsala University, STRI high voltage laboratories and ABB. As consultant scientist and, later Chief Co-ordinator of the Nuclear Biological & Chemical Wing of the Centre for Research and Development (CRD) of the Ministry of Defence, and he has been involved actively in the field of defence research from 2005. There, he has been involved in the development of simulator systems for military training of arms, armoured vehicles and naval vessels at national level, as well as a rocket launcher and missiles. 

“What the foreign institutions I work with say is that there should be industry just outside the wall of the university. That doesn’t happen here, but we always try to stay in collaboration with industry, and send people to interact with industry and get feedback. At the same time, we modify our technology and the way we teach according to their requirements.” 

Collaborative science

For part of his work towards his PhD, he went to Uppsala University, where he worked in collaboration with industry. The University interacted with ABB (the most popular world-wide products related to electrical engineering and control engineering), Nokia (one of the biggest telecommunications, information technology, and consumer electronics companies), Ericsson (networking and telecommunications company), SAAB (cars, missiles, aerospace engineering) and (Bombardier train company). In this model, academia must work closely with industry.

“When I came back from Uppsala,” says Dr Perera, “I worked at the Universities of Colombo and Moratuwa, and I incorporated the knowledge from those universities in the defence industry. I took many people from there as interns and trainees, and made some products using that knowledge.”

At the same time, the know-how passed industry to the universities, which modified their curricula according industry requirements. Academics began collaborating with industry. The defence industry also solved another issue: students who have PhDs don’t have an advanced research industry to go to. “In Sri Lanka we are producing doctors and lawyers and engineers, but we are not producing scientists. That is the most difficult task.” Scientists in fields such as physics, chemistry, and biology, do not have any industry enabling higher level special degrees can be followed. A PhD, unlike an ordinary degree, is intended to solve a difficult problem. The CRD has enabled people who work with them to tackle problems and do their PhD that way. 

“I wanted to create that set-up. Now people who want to do the PhD here and solve a problem from which the country suffers, can engage and work with us. You would have seen the rocket launchers and missile systems the Independence Day parade [See box]. That is the scientific approach.” 

“Now people who want to do the PhD here and solve a problem from which the country suffers, can engage and work with us. You would have seen the rocket launchers and missile systems the Independence Day parade.”

Dr Perera thinks that the engineering and technological advances of tomorrow will stem from such collaborative scientific efforts. And that, he says, is why the NSBM has courses in computer science, management information systems and systems engineering – they are the cores of information technology, they produce the concepts.

Connectivity revolution

Many employers complain that the products of Sri Lankan universities are not good employee material. Most universities send their students into industry at the end of the degree, which means it will take at least three years to interact with the industry, so their education is purely academic. However, if they get hands-on experience of industry while still learning at the university, they will definitely be industry-ready by the time they graduate. This is what the NSBM, established by the Government to be at the cutting edge of modern education, hopes to accomplish. 

“On becoming head of engineering,” explains Dr Perera, “I began getting the students to produce something from the first year. We did this in the school of computing as well. We give assignments to create a small product, which they will be able to develop within two months. That will be brought back to industry for evaluation and feedback. Then we do modifications, combine the students with industry to develop their solution. I sent people who studied here to the industries I know, especially defence. There is a win-win situation for both parties.”

The world, he points out, is going through a “Connectivity Revolution”. In the future in Sri Lanka, as in developed countries today, products and systems will be integrated with network systems, the cloud or the internet. Production lines will be controlled from remote locations, from where you can monitor all the factors in the production line, even using a mobile phone. Educational curricula must match the global and national technological requirement, which includes this connectivity.

The NSBM studies the challenges of this connectivity revolution, inculcating its lessons into its students, whom it grooms to create new inventions and overcome those challenges, and become graduates suitable for the new world that is emerging.  To support these students, NSBM has modern laboratories with state-of-the-art, modern technologies.

“We had a meeting with another company,” he tells us, “which intends to introduce technology for production and design for engineering systems and other products, capable of handling the requirements of the next ten years.” At present, the output of the universities is insufficient to fulfil the requirement for graduates in the immediate future.

“The problem is the way that we are doing it,” Dr Perera explains. “In the Sri Lankan context, we do not have space. In the state universities, students are in the university throughout the degree. Because of that, the available space will be utilised by the students for four years. The NSBM has a model – we have space where they will spend the first two years, and the last two years, they will study while in industry.  Using that model, we can double the number of graduates we produce in a certain time.”

School leavers

Many male students, prefer to go into lower-level jobs in IT, without continuing their further education. School leavers can get employment as data entry operators, or work free-lance, because they interact with IT while in school. This does fulfil a low-skill part of the IT personnel requirement, although not at the vital developer’s or programmer’s level, although that is what is needed. The salary which they receive at that level, LKR 10,000-20,000 appears quite big to them, one on which they can survive at the age of 18-20. 

“A few years later, they will realise this is not a big salary, once they find that senior people get very much bigger salaries. They will realise that they need a degree. However, they have got used to a certain lifestyle, for which they need money, so they cannot leave the job.”

Dr Perera advances two possible solutions. The first is to encourage school leavers to go for further studies. “I have found that there is a lack of knowledge of how to select a path. We have to encourage our school teachers to give knowledge to the students to select their future path.” The other is to create a pathway for industry employees to take up tertiary education.

“Once they find they need a certain level of education to go further, they will definitely come from industry and take their education up to the graduate level. So we need to have another model, whereby they can come on weekends to do their part-time degree. I think we will be able to do that in the future.” The NSBM currently produces about 500 graduates in the information technology (IT) field. However, it plans an expansion, enabling the number of graduates to be increased. Additionally, if distance learning is embraced, and if industry enables its employees to do degrees, the requirement for IT graduates can be fulfilled.

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