Bridging the Digital Divide: e-Business and Globalization

Keynote Speech
Chamber of Commerce Annual Convention
October 5, 2001, Colombo Sri Lanka.

by
M.V.Muhsin


Muhsin had commenced his speech while he recollected the deep sadness shared by friends and families who were affected by the Sept 11 attack in US. Muhsin states that this incident gave the World Bank and many others around the world a time for reflection, and recommitment where one needed not be deterred by their vision for world peace and prosperity.

The Sri Lankan Chamber of Commerce has a 160 year history and remains an enduring legacy of the great pioneering captains of commerce and industry. They envisioned a key role for business community in the promotion of economic development in Sri Lanka. They brought along a tradition that challenged misguided policies, supported policies that are progressive and promote economic and social development and looked at taking the country ahead.

He explained through an illustration the importance of tapping into the network knowledge where there are both receivers and givers of knowledge.

The digital divide arose between the connected and those not connected.Muhsin pointed out the stark reality of where between a third and a half of the world’s population has never exchanged information through a phone call. He mentioned few pointers which would prove to be necessary to navigate through the issue.

First – Networks are not hierarchical.

Second – Networks are dynamic

Third – One cannot control participation in electronic networks.

Hence he pointed out that a new awareness needed to be brought about and a force that transcends all boundaries and he called that force Globalization.

It was learnt that Globalization drove integration and hence it was important to know how to harness it for development.

He pointed how Sri Lanka had advantages in moving ahead and also accentuated the need to harness this advantage.

He distinctly pointed out the need for a stable secure political environment in a Sri Lanka where half the population lived on less than Rs. 180 a day. Muhsin considered that Peace was not only a moral imperative but also an economic necessity and hence the conquest of poverty is the quest for peace.

Muhsin spoke of investing in communication connectivity and information technology as a national priority. He investigated the high literacy rate and no benefits despite it and stated the reason to be lack of broad access to information and ideas that stimulated creativity and entrepreneurship.

He also called to attention the need of sophisticated skills for information and technology literacy which was relatively low as compared to India and Malaysia. He mentioned that in order to be benefitted from globalization there had to be a need to create highly skilled IT workers working globally but living locally.

He even stressed on the challenge of higher education and stated that Sri Lanka had to stay connected with online education. He quoted the words of the CEO of Cisco Systems “the two great equalizers in life today are the internet and education”

He mentioned that providing IT literacy and information access was the basic right for every Sri Lankan. This gave birth to a Distance Learning Centre in November which gave Sri Lanka the potential to expand and provide an interesting business model for strong private sector participation and management. Then the Sri Lanka Development Gateway embarked on a journey as a partner of the Global Development Gateway which was a joint World Bank, private sector and multi door venture. Through which Sri Lanka would be linked to the Country Gateways and would foster the use of internet and other information technologies among development stakeholders worldwide. The Development Gateway Foundation promoted the use of information and communication technologies in less privileged areas.

He quoted the words of late Sir Arthur Clarkes who was awarded Sri Lanka’s highest civil honor, Sri Lankabhimanya, in 2005 “ It is time to exploit the inevitable.”

He stated the importance of the government’s role in enabling policies and provision of freedom and incentives to the private sector that in turn would help in navigating the digital world. He saw tremendous opportunities of improving the quality of government services and information and communication technology.

He pointed out through examples that countries and governments like India, Brazil, Singapore had got into the e-Government space to become more efficient, provide services for the common man and business commodity, address issues of corruption and non transparency and also to trim bureaucracy. He added that Sri Lanka had the largest bureaucracy per capita in Asia.

Muhsin also spoke on the importance of e-business and pointed out that it is not a substitute for business strategy but had proven to be a useful tool. He emphasized the need to have the foundation of internal systems, payment systems and end to end logistics right.

He also cautioned on the customer interface front where it was important in an e business enterprise to truly distinguish oneself from the competitors – to create not just satisfied buyers, but enthusiastic ones.

He shared that Sustainability in e-business strategies could be brought about by relevant customer centric information.

He reiterated the need for globalization in Sri Lanka and plan a course of action which is important to make in making a better community.