For a number of reasons, I’ve been thinking about Sri Lanka’s unusually low female participation in the labor force. As is common among policy people, I was emphasizing the benefits for households from having multiple incomes and to various sectors from having less constraints on labor inputs. Here, Janet Yellen talks about the macro-economic benefits directly: The sweeping movement of women from the home to the workplace during the mid-20th century, she said, was a “major factor in America’s prosperity.” But that progress has stalled in recent decades, leaving women less likely than men to hold paying jobs. Bringing more women into the work force with policies like expanding the availability of paid leave, affordable childcare and flexible work schedules, she said, could help to lift the American economy from a long stretch of slow growth.

On the field in Dambulla

Posted on May 3, 2017  /  0 Comments

For some, it’s something they are used to. But for others it’s a new experience. They carefully touch the icons on the smart phone with tentative fingers and say “Puthalata, duvalata nang meva pulavan” (Our sons and daughters can easily do this) The group of farmers who gathered last week in Dambulla came from different areas in the Matale and Anuradhapura districts. Some had travelled long distances. They were a diverse group – ranging in age from twenties to fifties.
It is increasingly common to read/hear references to the Big Five (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) as the entities shaping our virtual experiences, and perhaps the trajectory of human development. But why are Alibaba and Tencent not included in this conversation? This Digital Asia Hub piece provides a valuable corrective: The attributes, connections, and behaviors we capture in our data — and how we model them — shape what our AIs value, and how they behave, i.e., their culture.
On Thursday, 04th of May 2017, I will be speaking on the proposed Economic and Technological Cooperation Agreement between India and Sri Lanka at the invitation of the Jaffna Managers’ Forum. The talk will begin at 4.30 PM at the Euroville Conference Hall in Nallur. In addition to addressing the concerns of the opponents, I will be presenting ideas on why we need trade agreements to make it possible to participate in global production networks. The slides are here.
Sri Lanka’s unemployment rate is low (4.4 percent in 2016), yet its youth (15-24 yrs) unemployment rate is 22 percent. Unemployment among the more educated (above GCE AL) is 8.3 percent, almost double the overall rate. The participation of women in the labor force is 34.
Just yesterday, I wrote about the new regulation being rolled out by Facebook. Here is a description by Farhad Manjoo of the nuts and bolts of its operation. The people who work on News Feed aren’t making decisions that turn on fuzzy human ideas like ethics, judgment, intuition or seniority. They are concerned only with quantifiable outcomes about people’s actions on the site. That data, at Facebook, is the only real truth.
Appears Myanmar will have two mobile money services in operation by end 2017, raising interconnection issues for which there still is no regulatory mechanism in place. The new mobile money services, M-Pitesan, will enable the telco’s customers to send money instantly within the country. Customers will also be able to buy airtime for themselves or others, said Jacques Voogt, Chief M-Commerce officer for Ooredoo Myanmar. Since the entry of foreign telecom players in 2014, Myanmar has seen its mobile penetration cross 90 per cent. With about 77 per cent of the population lacking access to banking, mobile money services offer an opportunity to drive financial inclusion in the country.
We have been an open research organization from the outset. Now our funders have made it a requirement. The principal rationale is that we want our research to be used. The nationally representative survey referred to below, by the authors of a major Gates funded study on mobile financial services, is our 2016 survey. Our research team conducted a country-level diagnostic that leveraged data from the Central Bank, Ministry of Communications, the three telecommunication companies operating in Myanmar, Facebook, Viber, a nationally representative Information and Communication Technology survey of 7,500 households, and recent census data from the UNFPA.
Facebook has published a 13-page “white paper” on the ways by which its platform has been, and continues to be, used for information operations by various actors including state actors. The document presents certain remedial actions being taken by Facebook, most relying on anomaly detection techniques from data analytics and natural language processing. Providing a platform for diverse viewpoints while maintaining authentic debate and discussion is a key component of Facebook’s mission. We recognize that, in today’s information environment, social media plays a sizable role in facilitating communications — not only in times of civic events, such as elections, but in everyday expression. In some circumstances, however, we recognize that the risk of malicious actors seeking to use Facebook to mislead people or otherwise promote inauthentic communications can be higher.
Pathfinder Foundation and Carnegie India organized a conference on connectivity. I was asked to speak on air connectivity, which I was happy to do, it being a rather neglected subject. The paper is still not ready for prime time, some of the data not having yet been provided by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka. But here is the conclusion: There may be marginal possibilities for increasing passenger and freight movements between India and Sri Lanka through reforms in air travel and visa policies which could possibly be included in the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA). The construction of additional international airports, such as those in Jaffna and Trincomalee, where significant Sri Lankan Tamil populations live may also contribute.
Full video of the IDRC International Women's Day panel on "Is innovation sexist?" is now available online. Our CEO Helani Galpaya was part of this panel.

2016-2017 Annual Report

Posted on April 27, 2017  /  0 Comments

It’s been a few years since LIRNEasia had funded research on waste management. But that does not mean that the knowledge that was accumulated has gone away. In the context of increased salience of knowledge on waste management, Human Capital Research Team Leader Sujata Gamage has been much in demand. Here is a voice clip, in Sinhala, that was broadcast and is making the rounds in social media.
It’s not possible to give people what they want from ICTs (connectivity, quality, low price) without investment. So we are always happy when investment in telecom increases, especially in countries where the sector has been starved of investment for long like Myanmar. But we have to keep in mind that what the sector produces is not internationally tradeable (except for roaming services). The consumption occurs within the country. It contributes to the advancement of all other sectors, and thus indirectly to growing the entire economy including exports.
Professor Gregg Vanderheiden has a record of achievements in enabling the differently abled to use technology such as personal computers and automated teller machines. Through Raising the Floor, an international organization that he established, Professor Vanderheiden is working on an ambitious initiative to create a platform that will make it possible for various interfaces to “morph” into forms accessible to users with disabilities (which includes many people who are not so identified ordinarily). For the interfaces to be fully responsive to the unique needs of each of the users, the platform would have to know about their preferences and behaviors. Raising the Floor is taking the issues of putting in place strong safeguards for these data and to ensure that harms are avoided. For this purpose, they convened expert groups in Geneva and Washington DC.
We have argued that zero rated services that don’t discriminate against providers of similar content are less problematic than the ones that do. So, for example, a zero-rated service that allows users to stream music for free without discriminating based on who provides (produces, distributes or aggregates) the music is less problematic because music from any content provider has an equal chance of being streamed, as long as the users like it, without interference from a gatekeeper. The Netherlands courts appear to agree – today they ruled that T-Mobile’s zero rated music service is allowed, even though it is against the country’s net neutrality rulings.   More info at mobileworldlive.com