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A loan officer somewhere in India. There are good outcomes when done right, but things have turned bad. 

Micro finance is not glorious as majority of the reports out there proclaim. There are many findings to the contrary, including this article of FT. 

Micro finance has been converted from a small enterprise creation help for poor people to a monster greedy business machine for finance institutes to exploit poor people. 

According to the Lanka Microfinance Practitioners’ Association (LMFPA), data gathered from 37 MFIs for from 2017 to 2018 shows that there are over 2.8 million active borrowers, of whom over 2.4 million are women, who have taken loans amounting to Rs. 94 billion. 

The micro finance sales people are dishing out loans ( very small loan at bizarre high interest rates as much as 40%) to poor people for consumption purposes. Sales people know it. They don’t care because  their commission is at play. The recipient ( Most of the time a woman) is not finance literate at all, and all they care is getting that money to get out of the trouble they are in for the moment. 

It was found that women are compelled to borrow to finance health emergencies, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings through microcredit facilities. “They give the loan for livelihood development, but we use the loan for other purposes. I showed tailoring and cattle rearing as reasons for getting the loan,” said a female from Batticaloa, while another from Monaragala said that she took the loan saying it was for cattle rearing. “I showed someone else’s cattle as my own since I don’t have my own. That is how people borrow. We show different means to borrow money,” she said

As the article mentions, there’s a direct link between women migrating to middle east countries as house maids to pay back the very small loans they received as micro finance, which have become un payable.  

The micro finance space is not regulated. This is sick.

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You are a female. Imagine a scenario where you get bullied, trolled or blackmailed on internet. Or that happens to someone you know, someone you care.

Ask them to call 0114216062.

Hithawathi is a timely initiative launched by LK domain to support the ones who get distressed on internet in Sri Lanka.

Hithawathi has a website ( www.hithawathi.lk)

You can email at help@hithawathi.lk

My life has changed 180 degrees, when I did the data science coursera course from Johns Hopkins University, . That new learning cannot be undone. My understanding of the new world has changed. I started conversations with few of my colleagues and mentors on how Data Science, Machine Learning and AI can make a real change for a country like Sri Lanka. How can it help the common man, Siripala and Sumanawathi who are left behind. It was a very limited niche conversation for me, until yesterday.

There were 350 people packed in to a hall in Kingsbury: developers, junior and senior Managers, CEOs, academics, and of course a fantastic lineup of speakers from across the world

Although it was a full day event, which most of us find impossible to commit in this age, I was glad to see most of the audience staying until 6 pm. Kudos to Jeevan and SLASSCOM team for making this happen.

I had a lively conversation with Yasantha Rajakarunanayake, who went viral in social media when Jeff Bezos introduced him to the world as the smartest guy at Princeton. Yasantha is back in the Sri Lanka after 30+ years and he’s excited to see the enthusiasm for AI , because he believes customised education is the only way forward for a sustainable world and that is only possible with AI.

It was good to catch up with Chrishantha Fernando, a Sri Lankan working as a Senior Research Scientist at Google Deepmind. Yes, you saw that right. I told him about the new digital aspirations of young people in Sri Lanka and also about the mental blocks that prevent rural Sri Lanka from reaping those opportunities. He listened carefully and said “Keep on doing what you guys are doing, because future waits for no one. It is here to be embraced. Do not be in the sidelines.”

Yep.

 

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Yesterday at the A&K literary festival, the ‘Koombiyo’ panel discussion was a revelation.

The panel had the 2 creators ( Lakmal and Dhamitha), 2 actors ( Thumindu and Yureni) and the official from ITN (Wimal) who made sure Koombiyo got the air time. Wimal has played a major role, because Koombiyo was refused by many parties, because it was not main stream.

They were brutally honest and candid with their responses. They appreciated the complex changes happening in society, attraction of online video streaming services and social media. Everyone could feel their energy resonate inside the dome of the Empire ballroom of Mount Lavinia hotel.

The creators mentioned the fuel for their creativity was never the money or the desire to get it aired on a TV channel. Rather they wanted to do something ultra fun (අපි ආතල් එකට මේක කලේ). Come to think of it, ‘Koombiyo’ is the only Sri Lankan teledrama I watched again and again since ‘Palingu manike’. Fun fact: ‘Palingu Manike’ was created in 1985.

I was particularly impressed with answers the creators gave to the question; “ When will we get to see Season 2?”

Dhamitha said “I don’t think we will do season 2. It is nearly impossible to do a sequel when this much fandom has been popped up. When we did season 1 we had nothing to lose. Back then we were kicked in ass and we could not even stand up. But now, we have everything to lose. If we do not do something better, we will lose all the hype we created.”

Lakmal said “I have to tell you something. I want to do season 2, but this guy ( Dhamitha) pushes me down.” ( Laughter from both)

I think what made ‘koombiyo’ that much entertaining with a script that is almost made in heaven is due to the creative dissonance, the tension the two creators have for almost anything that they say and do. In normal life, we think agreement is better. But I found out from them that healthy argument is what makes something beautiful.

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One last thing. The actors were humble and very approachable for the fans to get selfies and to do small talk. We never felt they were celebrities. Their individual brilliance have been collectively driven towards a dream that is “koombiyo”. No wonder they have created ripples in TV and social media.

I would like to see Season 2. But I am ok if they decide not to.

uber eats

Yesterday I ordered my first Uber Eats. A vege fried rice got delivered in 35 minutes. Very impressive service. What uber and pickme have done to taxis, was not a thing until it was introduced. Now it is the new normal. Uber Eats and Pickme food will change food industry with in 2 years, that we will not be able to think of a colombo with out 30 minute food delivery.

Right now, both are serving a very small area in Colombo. Testing times for both. Burning money for both, I guess. Because Uber eats did not charge me for delivery. Idea is to get more people try the service. These services need thousands of users to make it viable. Scale is the game.

While we customers enjoy the convenience, most of us have no idea what a rough sea this delivery business is. Pizza hut do 30 minute delivery with their own cadre of delivery army. They do pizza hut delivery only. They are fondly called ‘suicide squad’ by taxi drivers, obviously because of the way they drive to deliver with in 30 minutes.

In Uber Eats and Pickme Food, non-employee freelance riders are connecting multiple restaurants to hungry customers. It’s a rougher sea. Tech and People are needed to be in perfect symphony. Customers are getting grumpy and impatient by every passing minute. Welcome to the world of convenience driven by Gig economy.

But this convenience comes at a price. Some issues are now coming in to surface. Majority of Uber and PickMe taxi drivers I drive with are not happy. They do not get many rides as they used to, because there are many vehicles in both services.  Price per Km is fixed, even though fuel prices are in the rise ( inflation) .

It’s way too early to tell what will stick and what will not. Is Gig economy the new evil? It is easier to condemn new things as a fad. But Gig economy is here to stay. Can we make it work for betterment of every stakeholder by balancing the benefits?

A brave new wild world is waiting to happen. What do you think?

I will start this blog post with a must read article on employability.

5 steps that could help freshers bag jobs in greater numbers. It focuses on Indian context. If you are lazy to read it, here’s the bombshell.

Graduate unemployability: For years, employers used degrees as a lazy filter to shortlist interview candidates. But, now that it is clear a degree is not what it used to be—60% of taxi drivers in Korea, 31% of retail sales clerks in the US, and 15% of high-end security guards in India now have a degree—employers are shifting their focus to employability and skills. This means candidates from outside the top institutions, or those without degrees, can differentiate themselves through certifications, soft skills, apprenticeships, projects, work experience, career growth, and more.

Almost all Sri Lankan employers I meet complain about candidates not having right skills and attitude, not just among freshers but also among seniors. Degrees are not relevant, they say.

Yet the young generation toil away their money and time in to getting a degree, and employers keep on picking degree holders. Why is this ?

One person gave an explanation that seems fit. ” We do not have enough pressure yet to work more. Look at India, they have enough pressure to be relevant, because if you do not work well,  many are in the line to take your job”

Well then I read the most bizarre thing. Forget pressure, we are rewarding the lazy.

Sri Lanka’s unemployed graduates who are not disabled but are not contributing to the nation in gainful employment will get a 20,000 rupee monthly allowance from the state starting from July 2018.

The government will recruit 5,000 graduate who apparently cannot find a gainful job and pay them 20,000 rupees a month from July.

They will be recruited for ‘training’, the government said.

tweetupsl
pic credit: Dialog

I went to tweetupSL 7 yesterday. I have missed last 2 years.

So many new young faces, and the interactions gave me the flavour of young aspirations and new trends in social media. Right now, the intensity of  interaction is high, one of the main factors is the inclusion of local languages. It’s much more engaging when one can type in your own language.

On twitter, we follow so many unknown people. It’s great to meet someone in person after I had followed and interacted with them for like 3 years. Most of the time, when I meet in person, I see a different personality from his or her online presence. So yeah, we have our split personalities: online and offline. This very core human nature brings in numerous issues and tensions on social media. Social media promised us harmony around 2007, we wanted everyone in the world to be on social media. Yet we find ourselves in unwanted trouble in 2017, because when we have many people on social media, we get to see all of their problems too. You just cannot have good things only. Just like life.

I was asked this question by Amila, and I had to answer to the audience – ‘how did twitter helped in your life and work?’

I actually reflected on this same question, few days back after I watched Chamath Palihapitiya’s rant about how bad social media is, especially facebook.. He asked people to move away from social media. I guess yes, when you are popular and influential. No one needs your tweets to validate your authority in the field. But for the rest of us, who are ordinaries, social media is a gift of unfathomable proportions. Provided, we use it safely, with empathy and with patience. (UPDATE: yesterday, Chamath has taken back his own words. Again emphasising my point, we need balance)

I joined twitter in 2009. I’ve connected to great people and brilliant ideas on twitter. I cannot count them, but I can assure it is in thousands. So many long term business partnerships were formed through twitter and other social media introductions. Many good friends were found, some of them feels like my family.

Yet where do I draw the line? Too much of anything is bad. Too much of video streaming is bad.  Getting to phone the moment we are bored is bad. Too much of scrolling in your phone as a habit is bad.

Part of what Chamath says is true. Social media can own you, take control of what you think. It can create a small bubble in your mind and can make you think that what you see in your feed is the truth. It has happened to me. It became an addiction and then I had to get out of it. That’s where digital detoxes helps me. And there are apps to help me to get in to digital detox. 

Technology inclusion in our lives are inevitable. We must be part of it to explore the opportunities. We must also take care of our personal hygiene, so we become mindful in a world full of information.