Rohan Samarajiva

Message from the Chair

Change is the only constant.

LIRNEasia marked its 15th anniversary in September 2019. LIRNEasia at 15 was very different from the little organization that started off in a single room, with the conference table under a tree and the financial files in Prashanthi’s house. Ways of working had changed for the better. But most significant was that our research and capacity building had also changed with the times.

Rohan Samarajiva

Helani Galpaya

Message from the CEO

This financial year ends and this message is being written as most of the world is going into COVID-19 shut down. Luckily, our staff, research and policy fellows who live in different countries have always worked and interacted remotely – using a range of communication tools to interact as if we were all present in the office at the same time. The early signs are that we are able to continue much of our routine research by working remotely, from our homes and as we did before. But what of our field research?

Helani Galpaya


About LIRNEasia

What we do

We want to see life improve for people in the emerging Asia Pacific.

We believe that one pathway is through better access to and use of knowledge, information and technology.

Our mandate is to help facilitate the use of hard and soft infrastructures in the region through research that catalyzes policy change.

People and Culture

LIRNEasia’s principal strength is its integrity. And integrity cannot be maintained without people who value it. The LIRNEasia family comes from different backgrounds and different arenas of practice and are connected by a few common tendencies.

We work in teams – flexibly, effectively – helping each person reach their full capacity, no matter where they come from, no matter their circumstances.

Our People

Helani Galpaya

Chief Executive Officer

Abu Saeed Khan

Senior Policy Fellow

Ashwini Natesan

Research Fellow

Ayesha Zainudeen

Senior Research Manager

Ayumi Arai

Research Fellow

Babu Ram Aryal

Policy Fellow

Christoph Stork

Senior Research Fellow

Danaja Maldeniya

Research Fellow

Dilshan Fernando

Research Fellow

Jagath Perera

Office Assistant

Erwin Alampay

Senior Research Fellow

Gabriel Kreindler

Research Fellow

Gayani Hurulle

Research Manager

Isuru Samaratunga

Senior Researcher

Lasantha Fernando

Research Fellow

M Parvati

Office Assistant

Namali Premawardhana

Communications Coordinator

Samali Perera

Research Manager

Tahani Iqbal

Senior Research Manager

Thavisha Perera

Research Manager

Nuwan Waidyanatha

Senior Research Fellow

Payal Malik

Senior Research Fellow

Phyu Phyu Thi

Research Fellow

Pradeepa Jayaratne

Research Fellow

Prashanthi Weragoda

Senior Manager, Finance

Rajat Kathuria

Senior Research Fellow

Shazna Zuhyle

Research Fellow

Srimantha Katukurunda

Task Manager (Operations & General Administration)

Sujata Gamage

Senior Research Fellow

Tharaka Amarasinghe

Project Manager - Statistician

Vigneswara Ilavarasan

Senior Research Fellow

Viren Dias


Yatanar Htun

Policy Fellow

Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Senior Researcher

Yuhei Miyauchi

Research Fellow

Board of Directors

LIRNEasia was incorporated under the Sri Lankan Companies Act as a non-profit organization in 2004. The company is governed by a Board of Directors that represents both the private and non-profit sectors.

Scientific Advisory Council

Our Scientific Advisory Council consists of international experts from a variety of domains. They help hone our research agenda and bring in new ideas. They provide important perspective to our ongoing work, strengthen our networks, and facilitate collaborations.

  • William H. Melody (Chair) | Managing Director, LIRNE.NET | Holte, Denmark
  • Alison Gillwald | Executive Director, Research ICT Africa | Cape Town, South Africa
  • Ashok Jhunjhunwala | Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras | Chennai, India
  • Hernan Galperin | Research Fellow, Annenberg School for Communications, University of Southern California | Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • Johannes M. Bauer | Professor, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media, Michigan State University | East Lansing, MI, USA
  • K. F. Lai | Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer, BuzzCity | Singapore
  • Partha Mukhopadhyay | Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Research |New Delhi, India
  • Randy Spence | Director, Economic and Social Development Affiliates (ESDA) | Toronto, Canada
  • Robin Mansell | Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science | London, UK
  • Sam Paltridge | Directorate – Science, Technology and Industry, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) | Paris, France
  • Shalini Kala | Independent Consultant | New Delhi, India
  • Sherille Ismail | Senior Counsel, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) | Washington DC, USA
  • Tim Kelly | Lead ICT Policy Specialist (Transport and ICT), World Bank Group | Washington DC, USA
  • Visoot Phongsathorn | Independent Regulatory Expert | Bangkok, Thailand


Rohan likes to remind us that he was surprised LIRNEasia lasted five years. In September 2019, we celebrated 15. Fifteen. What was five people jostling (literally) for space in a tiny room at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration, is now a 50-person team of researchers and subject experts in the digital arena, working on digital policy or infrastructure policy in the emerging Asia Pacific. We’ve not just impacted telecom policy in developing Asia, but become an integral part of global conversations on all things data and digital – infrastructure, policy, rights, inclusion, privacy.

We decided to celebrate. Sri Lanka, where we are based, was in the middle of proposing a number of laws and policies related to digital activity at the time, so we decided to locate our celebration here. The main event was a panel discussion on “Digital Policies for Sri Lanka: Doing better than cut and paste”.

Helani moderated the conversation between independent policy experts, representatives from government, civil society and the private sector, extracting views on what is needed to aid digital development in Sri Lanka, what has been done right, and what should be done and what should be avoided based on the learnings and experiences of other jurisdictions that have addressed these digital issues already. Panelists also debated the merits and demerits of adopting the National Digital Policy, the Strategic Roadmap on Internet of Things (IoT), and legislation related to cyber security and data protection in their current form.

The event coincided with the launch of our Annual Report for 2018-2019, and also a new logo for the organization. Afterwards, we partied. As many of LIRNEasia’s extended family as could attend spent an evening wining and dining, walking down memory lane and reminiscing the good old days.

A key reason we’ve managed to outlive our founder’s expectation is our ability to keep evolving. Through we have grown and formalized some of our processes, we remain a relatively small and versatile organization. We like this. The plan is to forge ahead into new territory, tackling new questions using new methods, with new partners, constantly. Not abandoning our core networks and competencies but building on them.

We look forward, to the next fifteen years.

At 15 years, we are almost reaching adulthood. We felt it was time to refresh our logo. After much debate, we came up with something new, but also rooted in things old. The new logo spells out L-I-R-N-E-a-s-i-a in the dots and dashes of Morse code - one of the oldest yet still most widely used forms of code. After all, our work is all about codifying information and knowledge. The stylised dots and dashes are arranged in the shape of a map of the South and South East Asian countries we work in. Red (in our previous logo) is now more prominent, as an auspicious color across the region we work in.


The Ocean of Change

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.

– Julius Ceasar, ACT III Scene IV

In 2019, LIRNEasia was commissioned by the UNDP Regional Innovation Center to perform a grounded work of speculation as to what the next decade might look like, especially for South and South East Asia. The resulting report - the Ocean of Change - examines policy documents and research to project a complex, intertwined tale of both the unavoidable and the weak signals - from megaslums, economic shifts, and AI to pandemics, resource wars and green cities.

Throughout history, there have been sequences of events that are absolutely inevitable, beyond the control of any emperor or tyrant. If we, like Shakespeare, insist on seeing them as tides, one could say that the task of historians is to study little wavelets from the past and try to piece together the biggest tides that shaped the day; and what we manage to cobble together we call history, as we know and study it.

These tides are not things relegated to retroactive wisdom and stage tragedy. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) – the forerunner of today’s CIA – and John Naisbitt – formerly of IBM and Eastman-Kodak, later heavily involved with the US administration in Washington – famously took to the analysis of content in order to influence both war and public policy. Naisbitt, in particular, brought together the word ‘megas’ (Greek: great) with Old English trendan, turning it into a word that captures these long-term shifts in our geopolitical, macroeconomic and environmental reality – a suitable word for describing future-facing tides of Shakespearean import. Today, the United States National Intelligence Council expends enormous effort on imputing the shape of these megatrends ahead; likewise, Europe has its own bodies, and Australia has CSIRO.

The problem is that most approach this question from the perspective of some first-world country or the other, and usually miss out on perspectives from the Asia-Pacific region that we play in. Which is, in our opinion, a mistake: not only does the APAC region host some 4 billion people, but from the story of China’s metamorphosis to become an economic powerhouse, to the evolution of Singapore as a lab, the APAC abounds with experiments that have led to significant social change. The development challenges that we face, ranging from inequality to climate change and global warming – are complex and devastating. The response from states ranges from laconic to full-on tactical combat with the beast at hand. There is a need for a much more nuanced conversation: for futurism that merges existing projections with deeper insights on the state (and nonstate actors) driving strategic innovation on our side of the pond; for scanning that sheds some light on under-the-radar players doing things that might lead to very different versions of our future.

What follows, then, is the result of our first attempt at mapping the tides of this full sea. As a think tank engaged in public policy, we have a particular narrative framing. Some element of rationalization has been performed; certain types of information privileged over others; therefore, we borrow from Alford Korzybski and advise caution: A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.

This is, therefore, a map of the future of the APAC region. We hope that it may be useful.

Of course, this kind of top-heavy analysis – especially with established gaps in information – comes with caveats. Of trade movements between the BIMSTEC countries, for example, we have little to say. Internal migration and rapid urbanization affect every country here, but we must focus on India and China, as the elephants in the room. Of indigenous movements, there is almost no mention, save for when something becomes large enough to be reflected in government policy.

And while hindsight is always 20/20, no act of foresight can be ever said to be completely accurate. As Thomasina, the child prodigy in Arcadia, notes: if you could stop every atom in its position and direction and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future. . . although nobody can be so clever as to do it. We have neither the skill to stop the universe nor the wisdom to compute such transcendent math.

But we hope that we may see the tide before it engulfs us. We believe that the continued exercise of such will lead not only to better futurism, but better lessons for policy change and governance models. After all, as the Mahabharata says:

Change is the law of the world.
In a moment you become the owner of millions,
In the other you become penniless.

This chapter is based on writing from a team of authors LIRNEasia, as part of work commissioned by the UNDP Regional Innovation Center (RIC) as an exploratory and intellectual analysis. The views and opinions published in this work are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect or represent the official position or policy of the RIC, United Nations Development Programme or any United Nations agency or UN Member States.

We would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, input from Samuel Peralta, Vandana Singh, Karl Vendell Satinitigan, Peggy Liu, David Galipeau, Tina Jabeen, Taimur Khilji, David Li, Peter Brimble, Anshul Sonak, Saif Kamal, Michell Zappa, Mike Rios, Roshan Paul, and Cecille Soria.

Research in Review