LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Are co-working spaces “the solution” for innovation and job creation?

Social media, especially Twitter, is not optimal for nuanced discussion of policy options.

In the context of a talk I gave at the 2017 Sri Lanka Economic Summit on innovation, broadly defined, someone suggested co-working spaces as the priority. My response was:

For reasons unclear to me this is being interpreted as an outright rejection of co-working spaces

So I thought it would be good to look at what I had actually said at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit. True. I had not mentioned co-working spaces once, though there is no rejection. There is mention of the need to refocus Trace Expert City on its original mission of a park that was optimized for innovation. I do not believe governments are the best at running co-working spaces. If the government gives the land for something like Trace Expert City, there would of course be no objection to a private or non-profit entity running one in that park.

I also checked what I had written up for Jaffna (one can adapt to argument to other locations, including Colombo):

Potential exists for the development of Jaffna as a second tier IT city. Youth in Jaffna are tech savvy and highly enthusiastic about ICTs. Volunteer organizations are actively creating awareness and interest on IT entrepreneurship among Northern youth. The Budget Speech of 2017 has announced a 200 percent capital allowance for businesses starting up in the North. If the diaspora’s capacity is also effectively utilized at this stage, more start-ups such as the flourishing Extreme SEO are possible within the region.

Telecom connectivity is precondition for IT and ITES. The SLT fiber is running to Jaffna, though most likely overpriced and discriminatory. If the regulatory problems can be solved, telecom connectivity should not be a deal breaker except for BPOs where tasks are time critical. For them, the existence of a single supplier and a single “pipe” will be unacceptable. Unless that problem is addressed all that is likely to emerge in Jaffna are non-time-critical IT and ITES firms.

The other precondition for successful IT and ITES is ability for foreign principals to get to the location from the airport quickly. Jaffna at present cannot satisfy this condition. For this, Palaly has to be developed as an international airport, with scheduled domestic connections from Katunayake as an interim solution.

Reliable continuous power could be a problem in Jaffna, but it is solvable with 100 percent redundant generator backup. Transport for the employees will have to be addressed as well. Until Jaffna infrastructure comes up to required standards, there is a good case for a business park where companies can start operations with minimum hassle.

What this shows is the need to look at the complete picture and not get fixated on one element as the silver bullet that will solve all problems.

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