Academics / Researchers / SciDev.Net / Scientists

Ajit De Alwis, Anushka Wijesinha, Gehan Amaratunga: Sri Lanka launches office to foster innovation

[COLOMBO] Sri Lanka plans to boost its science, technology and innovation (STI) strategy through a newly created, state-funded organisation that is dedicated to building a conducive atmosphere among all stakeholders.

Ajit De Alwis, project director at the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation launched last month (1 February), told SciDev.Net that the organisation’s mandate was to “ensure effective coordination and monitoring of the STI strategy in an inclusive, transparent, accountable and outcome-oriented framework.”

Sri Lanka adopted a national science and technology policy only in 2009 but it has ambitious targets to increase investment in S&T by up to 1.5 per cent of GDP by 2016.

According to a paper published by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), an economic think tank, in December 2012 only 1.8 per cent of Sri Lanka’s manufactured exports qualify as high-tech, on annual average. In comparison, the figure for South Korea was 75 per cent while Thailand has 27 per cent.

“For Sri Lanka to remain competitive, innovation is going to have to be a priority,” opined Anushka Wijesinha, a research economist at IPS and author of the paper titled ‘Fostering Innovation to Fast-Forward Growth in Sri Lanka.’

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Wijesinha identifies Sri Lanka’s “weak innovation inputs” as part of the problem. The report said poor access to science education has resulted in the country recording 237 researchers per million people — well below the developing country average of 374 per million people.

According to the IPS report, low levels of national R&D investment (only 0.11 per cent of GDP in 2008) coupled with a risk-averse private sector appear to have crippled innovation.

“It’s clear that the required talent for being innovative is there,” Gehan Amaratunga, chief of research and technology at the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC), told SciDev.Net. “But, there are very few sources where people can raise the required money to progress ideas in a timely manner.”

A public-private joint venture between government and private partners, SLINTEC has scored  successes in  nanotechnology and secured several patents in products such as nano tubes, nano fertilisers and nano rubber.

In 2012, tax breaks for individuals and institutions engaged in research and technology announced in the budget also presented incentives to private parties to use government research facilities. “Incentives change behaviour,” said Wijesinha.

According to De Silva advanced materials technology and biotechnology are fields in which Sri Lanka could replicate its success with nanotechnology.

Link to abstract of IPS paper, ‘Fostering Innovation to Fast-Forward Growth in Sri Lanka’:

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