Editor - Smart Future Forum

CSF partners with LSE’s International Inequalities Institute for a Research Project

The Centre for a Smart Future is collaborating with the International Inequalities Institute (III) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on a new project that explores how small and informal entrepreneurs access and use business advice to improve their incomes. CSF is a partner on the project ‘Ethnographic Solutions to Inequalities in South Asian Advicescapes’ which seeks to understand the channels of entrepreneurial advice to youth in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The project maps networks of advice for business development in comparative focus, and aims to generate new practical insights. It is funded by the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity Programme at the LSE. The project is a collaboration with BRAC in Bangladesh and the Centre for a Smart Future in Sri Lanka. CSF researchers supported the project through identifying existing advicescapes for informal sector entrepreneurs and small businesses in Sri Lanka (mainly in the Western Province) and conducted research to develop an understanding of the current state of play among different types/groups of entrepreneurs. Nimaya Dahanayake, Research Assistant who contributed to the project from CSF observed that, “Our field work so far, has focused on understanding existing channels of business advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners in Urban Colombo and has revealed interesting insights on the nature of their business activities and reasons for reliance on such channels of advice for business decisions”. Anushka Wijesinha, Co-Founder/Director of CSF said, “We are very happy to partner with the Dr Luke Heslop and the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity Programme at the International Inequalities Institute (III) at the LSE on this project, and particularly keen to support the uptake of the findings. CSF is always interested in solutions-oriented research, and so we hope this work will help inform key stakeholders in the business and entrepreneur advisory landscape in Sri Lanka, to get better at the services they provide, and become more considerate, meaningful and impactful”.

LSE Event on ‘Looking Ahead in Sri Lanka’: Four Priorities for the Near-term

CSF Co-founder Anushka Wijesinha was recently invited by the London School of Economics South Asia Centre to speak at a forum on 'Looking Ahead in Sri Lanka', alongside four eminent panelists. This article recaps the key points made in the opening intervention at this event. Wijesinha pointed to four key priorities for the near-term: 1) Looking beyond the macro, to real lives; 2) Looking beyond taxation in fixing the fiscal mess; 3) Looking to build public confidence and trust; 4) Looking at quick wins in trade and exports

New Working Paper Released: ‘Sri Lanka – Singapore FTA Four Years On’

In May 2022, the Sri Lanka – Singapore Free Trade Agreement (SLSFTA) marked four years since coming into force - an FTA that was a landmark one for Sri Lanka in many respects. It was the country’s first bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in over a decade, the first FTA with an ASEAN country, and the first ‘comprehensive FTA’ in the country’s history, which meant that it went beyond goods, to include services, investment, and economic and technology cooperation. This Working Paper reviews bilateral trade performance, explains some of the key domestic economic policy contexts during and after the FTA was signed, discusses some of the key issues that emerged, and takes an initial look at prospects. Research for the paper was drawn not only from published grey material but also from extensive primary interviews with key informants. Insights shared in this paper would be of particular relevance now, following the bilateral meeting between the Sri Lankan President and the Singaporean Prime Minister (on the sidelines of the former's visit to Japan), during which the two leaders recommitted to benefiting from the SLSFTA and advancing its implementation. This Working Paper is produced under the 'Trade and Economic Competitiveness' thematic pillar of CSF, and is co-authored by Anushka Wijesinha (Co-founder, CSF) and Janaka Wijayasiri (Visiting Fellow, CSF).

Should Civil Service Reform and Public Finance Reform Go Together?

Sri Lanka has let public financial management slip dramatically over the last couple of decades, resulting in weak government finances and the lack of fiscal space to support the economy during times of economic downturns and distress. As the ongoing public protests have also shown, people have lost confidence in the ability of successive governments to effectively manage people's money collected via taxes. As an IMF programme agreement draws closer, tax increases and spending cuts have already been implemented, and ad hoc changes to public sector work (like cutting down the working week by 1 day, with no change in pay) are tried out, more sustained and urgent reforms to public finance remain unfinished. In this discussion, an international public financial management (PFM) expert - who has worked in Sri Lanka and in over 14 other countries around the world - shares some insights on the challenge of PFM reform, the imperatives in doing it, and the need to couple it with meaningful civil service reform.

Austerity and Vulnerability: Better Solutions to Support the Poor During Economic Crises

As Sri Lanka's economic crisis worsens and tax increases, utility price hikes and budget cuts begin, the need for a meaningful social safety net for the poor has become a key public policy focus. Yet, Sri Lanka has a bad track record of properly identifying, and providing support to, vulnerable population groups. Current approaches to welfare design risk replicating existing problems. In this in-depth interview, featuring key data points, Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike (a former senior Central Banker, and poverty data expert), speaks about the problems with our current approaches and ideas for better solutions. It is essentially viewing for anyone interested in this topic - whether you are a researcher, public policy professional, or civil society organization leader.

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New Working Paper Released: ‘Governance of Digital Technologies in South Asia’

Across the world, the rise of digital technologies has been accompanied by attempts to regulate the use of these applications and their impact on society. The growing salience of cybersecurity and data privacy, alongside concerns over content moderation and facial recognition, have highlighted the need for governments and businesses to adopt stricter regulations to address the ethical, political, and legal issues related to the use of digital technologies, while simultaneously harnessing their social and economic potential. Regulating the digital domain is arguably one of the most important cross-cutting issues facing governments, with wide-ranging implications for businesses, civil society organisations, and the public. In this context, this paper seeks to understand the status of digital governance in South Asia, with a specific focus on Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, which are the key Indian Ocean rim countries in this region. To that end, the research explores four major thematic areas - cybersecurity, data protection, artificial intelligence, and mis/disinformation - the choice of which is informed by their significance for South Asian countries.

Sri Lanka needs a ‘sensible’ fiscal adjustment plan – CSF Co-Founder

CSF Co-Founder Anushka Wijesinha was interviewed by Andrea Sanke of the leading Turkish global news channel TRT World, on their show 'Newsmakers' to talk about the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, along with history researcher Shamara Wettimuny, and activist Ruki Fernando. During the panel, he recalled one of the turning points for the economy - the irresponsible tax cuts that led to the ratings downgrades and locking out of international capital markets - and the cascading policy errors and the false bravado that followed. He argued that while the structural problems with the economy will take longer to resolve, the immediate macroeconomic stabilisation needs to take centre stage and the IMF programme will be the first baby steps towards that, and avoid a sovereign debt default.

Credit lines would provide temporary respite but sustainable solutions needed

CSF Co-Founder Anushka Wijesinha was interviewed by Gargi Rawat of NDTV (India) to explain to an Indian audience the current economic crisis in Sri Lanka and what prospects in the near-term. He emphasised that while the Indian credit line recently signed would provide some temporary respite to the ongoing shortage of fuel and may see queues ease up in the short-term, it is far from a sustainable solution.

Introducing Sri Lankan corporates to climate risk disclosure standards

In mid-January 2022, the Centre for a Smart Future - under its 'Natural Capital Forum' initiative - collaborated with the Climate Disclosure Standards Board in the UK and the Colombo Stock Exchange to bring new accounting and analytical tools to Sri Lankan corporates. With practice facilitation and outreach by CSF to the CDSB, Sri Lankan listed and unlisted companies were able to learn about new accounting, reporting and disclosure standards relating to climate risks, for the first time in the country. The Colombo Stock Exchange(CSE) organized the training programme, which saw participation of nearly 200 participants. The programme was supported by the UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative(SSE)

Attracting Good FDI Starts with Designing Good Incentives Regimes

Sri Lanka is on a renewed push to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) following a poor performance in the last decade, post-war. Fiscal incentives regimes have changed from time to time, laws and regulations have been introduced, investment promotions missions have been held in major capitals. Yet, attracting FDI remains a struggle, amidst heightened competition from regional competitor locations. In this interview, former Deloitte consultant Danindu Udalamaththa outlines some key areas for Sri Lanka to focus on and learn from. He draws from his experience advising global clients on the investor side, and argues that to attract good investment, Sri Lanka needs to design good incentives frameworks.