The Smart Future Forum features insights and thought leadership from our network of policy professionals and development practitioners on topics relating to CSF’s thematic areas. Here you will find articles, reports, essays, op-eds, interviews, and more.

Beyond Pomp and Pageantry: Looking at Public Markets as Lived Spaces

The reconfiguration of Colombo’s built environment and key infrastructure has lasting consequences for the city’s food environment and people’s access to affordable and nutritious fresh produce. Public markets are more than the building in which its activities take place. They are lived spaces for people of different walks of life and facilitate more than mere commercial activities. The conceptualisation and design of these markets must also consider the lived experiences of those that work and engage with the market, in order to make them sustainable in the long run.

New Platform Initiated for Young Professionals in Public Policy

Emerging Sri Lankan public policy leaders have come together to form the country’s first platform for professional development and networking towards advancing better public policy capabilities. The Young Professionals in Public Policy (YPPP) was launched recently, with Professor Matt Andrews of Harvard University speaking at the inauguration. Speaking virtually from the Harvard campus in Cambridge, USA, Matt Andrews (Edward S Mason Senior Lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government) congratulated the initiative and said, “These kind of initiatives - which we call communities of practice - are well recognized for their potential to build new capabilities and play a role in pushing forward new ideas. It is the ideal time for this in Sri Lanka, as new stakeholders must come together to build a new future”. The YPPP will function as an invitee-based learning and networking platform anchored by the CSF. Members will meet once in two months to hear from globally-leading public policy experts, to get new insights and inspiration. YPPP members will also engage in peer-learning, with each session featuring the work of a different member, and opportunities for knowledge sharing.

Breaking Point: Impact of Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis on Colombo’s Working Class Poor

The impact of the economic crisis on the working class poor of Colombo over the past year cannot be overstated. As we highlighted in our May 2022 policy brief, most of these households that were already affected by the pandemic due to a loss of daily wage work following the imposition of COVID-19 lockdowns, were cash-strapped and struggling to make ends meet when the economic crisis hit last year. The April 2023 policy brief gives an update on the current status of working class poor households and those working in the informal sector in Colombo. This includes the impact of the electricity tariff hikes on them, a commentary on the ongoing Welfare Benefits Board enumeration of households, and recommendations on how the State and policy makers can support these families in crisis. 

Valuing the Catch of the Day: Towards a more Humanised Food Value Chain

Even with limited understanding about how exactly they function, it is hard to not appreciate the capacity of markets to coordinate the movement of seafood from our oceans to our plates using the price mechanism and relationships. However, exploring upstream of the fish supply chains, does beg the question about what “relevant information” is lost when the value of fish is determined by the price mechanism. The distress of fishermen who are finding it increasingly harder afford their traditional livelihood, the plight of vendors of small fish markets where prices of fish are beyond the spending capacity of the immediate community, the loss of livelihoods of the most vulnerable of us who provide their labour at fish landing sites, and the impacts on marine life as fishermen may be forced to maximise catch to make each trip to sea economically efficient: How well does information about these aspects travel with price information? Or is this information not relevant?

New Publication: ‘Debt for Nature Swaps: A Primer for Interested Stakeholders’

There is increasing global pressure for economies to extend their investments in climate action due to the added and ever-increasing pressure on the environment. Various sovereign financing instruments linked to nature, like Debt for nature swaps (DFNS), provides developing economies under severe macroeconomic and public financial strain the opportunity to increase climate action and environmental outcomes, while taking new steps to tackle sovereign debt issues. There has been rising interest in debt for nature swaps in the recent years, especially in the post-pandemic era with increase in instances of sovereign debt crises in developing countries and emerging markets. With the help of various multilateral institutions, there has been an increase in traction and reports of debt for nature swap negotiations in process and of such deals that have already taken place. DFNS provide countries a means of tackling sovereign debt issues, and strengthen public finances, while simultaneously making investments in conservation and improving environment outcomes. As this paper notes, governments and country stakeholders must prepare their technical knowledge, and institutional and legal frameworks when embarking on instruments such as these for the first time. In Sri Lanka, some of these have already begun and are ongoing. Our paper argues that stakeholder collaboration in both the economics, finance, and public financial management fraternity as well as the environmental science, conservation and sustainability fraternity is key to ensuring that the right pathways are chosen, and good governance is embedded.

Is Gig Work in Sri Lanka Enabling Female Participation in the Workforce?

While gender was not the primary focus of our gig worker survey, it was interesting to find that relatively less women were engaged in gig economy activity (i.e., similar to what is seen in the traditional workforce) despite the relative flexibility of gig work, equal pay opportunities (in most cases) and low barriers to entry. In this context, platform companies have a role to play in facilitating the participation of more women in their workforce. If gig work is to attract more female participation in the future, platforms and other stakeholders in the gig economy must address issues specifically affecting women, and also initiate discourse on broader structural and cultural changes, including on the perception that women are the only primary caregivers or home-makers, especially in developing countries like Sri Lanka. 

Is Gig Work Really Part-time in Sri Lanka?: Findings from a Survey

A recent study of gig economy activity in Sri Lanka has emerged, suggesting that although gig work is generally perceived as being part-time work, in reality, gig workers actually work full-time. Despite the reputation gig work as attracted as being largely part-time work used to supplement existing income, the survey of drivers and riders in ride-hailing/ride-sharing and delivery platforms in Sri Lanka, has revealed that many workers actually work on the platform full-time. Yet, platform companies typically do not recognise such workers as ‘employees’ of the platform company and resulting low worker protection. The pandemic and economic crisis has affected these full-time workers to the extent that many were often left idle, with little to no hires and orders during the height of the pandemic and the crisis, despite engaging with the platform full-time.

Chasing Efficiency While Leaving the Vulnerable to Their Own Devices

Interventions to support people and communities who lack access to infrastructure need to consider solutions that stem from the question “what do their (collective or individual) capacities allow” rather than “what should they do”. When comparing the urban environment within high-rise apartments and tenement gardens such as Seevalipura, it is apparent that the urban environment people live in and their relationships with structures of power such as state institutions also have a bearing on their capacities to access infrastructure. Therefore, solving issues related to people’s capacities to access infrastructure requires a more grounded approach which is sensitive to understanding the variety of contexts in which people live, and not only counting and accounting revenue generated, costs incurred, and average monthly incomes.

Opinion: ‘Trimming the Fat’ in Sri Lanka’s Enterprise-support Institutions

The need of the hour is not generic SME development/support initiatives, but rather to quickly foster more export-ready or near export-ready firms, from among the SMEs in the country. Amidst the current forex crisis, boosting the cohort of exporting firms and expanding export-earning potential is a top priority. For this, there needs to be a closer link between GoSL institutions/programmes supporting export development and those supporting SME development. For a start, the Government should advise the consolidation of NEDA, IDB and EDB’s Regional Development Division. These entities should become a single agency, that is smaller, sharper, and with a clear and unambiguous mandate. That mandate must be to improve SME competitiveness towards creating more export-ready and near export-ready firms.

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”.