As suppliers of public goods (policy relevant research), we at LIRNEasia know the importance of taxes. If there were no taxes, there would be no Internet. Much of the research being done today on multiple aspects of the response to COVID-19 is funded by taxes, including the flood of scientific articles that we are struggling to keep up with. The problem is that taxes have traditionally been levied on businesses located within the boundaries of the nation state. Tax is coercive, so in essence tax collection requires the ability of the state to audit tax declarations and to throw people into jail if they lie to the state or if they fail to pay taxes that are due.
The ITU’s ICT Price Trends 2019 report was just published. Below is an excerpt from an op-ed published today in the Daily FT: One cannot use data without 3G and 4G coverage. This is not available in all localities. Coverage is the necessary condition for data use. Content is the sufficient condition.
LIRNEasia has partnered with Vihara Innovation Network to set up a Disability Innovation Pre-Accelerator Lab from 10th August – 26th August 2020.  Distilling the learnings from phase I research, LIRNEasia and Vihara collectively conceptualized the need for organizing an innovation lab that facilitates a platform for innovating contextual solutions catering to the emerging challenges in the disability segment.  Disability Pre-Acceleration Labs has been visioned to act as a precursor to a disability innovation accelerator—a collaborative to accelerate the development of and access to assistive social and technological solutions that enable disabled people to achieve their human potential. The pre-acceleration lab will bring together innovators, disability, technology, and behaviour change experts, impact investors, and people with disabilities to develop and fulfill the vision of creating context-specific, usable solutions to address human potential barriers faced by people with disabilities. We are inviting a diverse set of participants from different segments of disability to participate in this virtual workshop.
A research brief which explores the key data sources, algorithmic techniques and roadblocks in applying remote sensing techniques for development.
A white paper exploring how bias in algorithms and data affect development problems, especially when they interact with socio-legal systems
COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown found educators in Sri Lanka scrambling to connect with their students, and hence the state of internet connectivity of families with children was a crucial piece of data that policymakers needed. In response, LIRNEasia’s survey research team re-analyzed their  2018 AfterAccess dataset with a focus on households with children under 18. Ayesha Zainudeen and Tharaka Amarasinghe presented their analysis at a policy dialogue by the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) on “Access to distance education for children Lanka”.  EFSL is the advocacy partner in LIRNEasia’s Education for the Future themed research. As Ayesha and Tharaka note, results for families with children parallel the results for all households, with 48% of households with children owning a smartphone or other device for accessing the Internet, but only 34% could access the internet.
Today I participated in a Zoom meeting organized by the Nightwatchman Society attended by around 200 participants where the above question was discussed by a panel of four, including myself. The recording of the discussion is here. I talked about COVID-19 as having offered us an opportunity to appreciate the importance of building resilient food supply chains. There will be more epidemics and pandemics. There will also be shocks caused by climate change.
The reality of online learning / e-learning in the Asian Global South is far from ideal, even in Sri Lanka, which is classed as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank and, as the AfterAccess data has shown, has high level of mobile phone ownership. AfterAccess also shows us that internet use was still less than half the population by the start of 2019, and most of the internet use was through smartphones. In Sri Lanka, where schools have been shut down from mid-March, ways of ensuring continuity of education for all are being examined. In this context, two key pieces of data from the AfterAccess nationally representative surveys become important: 1. 34% of Sri Lankan households that contain children (18 or below) had some type of internet connection by the start of 2019 (this includes connections via mobile phones, dongles, fiber connections, etc.
Now is the right time to rethink food-supply chains. As the expected shocks from climate change (longer droughts, more floods, etc.) we need to place greater weight on resilience. The question is whether we build resilience through decentralized market mechanisms or by command. In both cases credible real-time data are needed for decisions by all actors in supply chains.
Presented by Ayesha Zainudeen and Tharaka Amarasinghe at 3rd EDUCATION POLICY DIALOGUE hosted by the Education Forum Sri Lanka on the 16th of May 2020.
ICT access and use by Persons with Disabilities (PWD) in Sri Lanka
Slightly malfunctional signaling system can cause a train wreck. And it is no different with telecoms policy. Bangladesh enacted the International Long Distance Telecommunication Service (ILDTS) Policy in 2007. As opposed to fast convergence at technology front, this policy has savagely diverged wholesale supply chain of broadband followed by tagging licenses to each fragment of service. My article on the devastating consequences of this policy.
Senior Research Fellow Sujata Gamage‘s op-ed in today’s Daily FT concludes thus: Sri Lanka and most developing countries have come a long way from a situation where owning a phone was a luxury to where, for example in Sri Lanka, 97% of households have access to a mobile phone. However, access to the internet is available for less than 50% of households in Sri Lanka. If parents see the benefits of their children learning to learn using supplementary content and note that children with better access to the internet have more and better content, those parents will go the extra mile to secure internet access for their children. According to the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey of Sri Lanka, parents in Sri Lanka already spend 50% of their education expenditure on tuition. If the need for tuition is reduced through fewer number of examinations to be faced by children and students are required to learn on their own supplementing textbooks with e-content, it could well be that education will be the driver of digitalisation of Sri Lanka.

Happy 50th, IDRC

Posted by on May 13, 2020  /  1 Comments

Today is the 50th anniversary of the legislation that created the pioneering development research organization that is known as the International Development Research Centre of Canada. On behalf of all at LIRNEasia, warm good wishes and thank you for the productive partnership. LIRNEasia would not exist if not for IDRC, which made it possible for a sui generis entity like it to emerge and find its feet. But I like to think we have also contributed to achieving the objectives IDRC was created to advance. In the words of David Hopper, the first President of IDRC: “For years the West thought all it had to do was to pass out its agricultural technology.
In previous research going back to 2006, LIRNEasia has studied food supply chains, including, but not limited to, fruit and vegetable supply chains in Sri Lanka centered on Sri Lanka’s largest wholesale market in Dambulla which was recently shut down by the government along with several other wholesale markets. The closures were preceded by scenes of massive over supply, frustrated farmers throwing away unsold produce in large quantities, claims that the traditional traders were exploitative “middlemen,” and counterclaims that politicians were seeking to replace them, etc. On the other end, consumers confined to their homes under COVID-19 preventive measures were complaining not only of difficulties in getting adequate supplies but also in some cases of low quality and high prices. The government’s response included efforts to purchase unsaleable produce directly from farmers and to redistribute through government channels. Some may argue that COVID-19 is a black-swan event which is impossible to prepare for.
When teaching the “low politics” of international relations, I used to begin with infectious diseases and the need for the WHO. Diseases do not respect borders; their control therefore cannot be limited to what goes on within national borders. Nation states need to cooperate. Therefore the justification for WHO. In its peculiar way, COVID-19 highlighted how connected the world has become.