Why financial literacy efforts do not work well ?

pink pig figurine on white surface
Picture by Fabian Blank

In big picture, if you really look at it, the power/money structures do not want the general public to be good at finances. Look at our society- we are awkward, ashamed and it is a taboo to talk about money in our families.

Why? because we think money is secondary -the money can’t buy happiness crap.

But truth is, unconsciously we believe money is evil. We despise wealthy people as corrupt. We do not let ourselves be wealthy. So when our unconscious minds work against money, even though we want to do well, our minds won’t let us succeed, because we feel guilty.

There are many financial literacy curriculums, workshops and awareness programs running in Sri Lanka. They are run by corporates to make their staff do well, in apparel factories to help low wage earners to better manage their lives, by NGOs for disadvantages communities and in some schools as an extra curricular thing.

Middle class swear by their credit cards. Lower class pawn their gold and recycle ‘seettu’. Many are squeezed by micro credit legitimate sharks, pyramid scammers and “game poli mudalali.”

Financial literacy should help us take better decisions. But why it isn’t ?

  1. By definition literacy is knowledge. Not application. So having knowledge about finance and practicing good financial habits are worlds apart. Practice require patience and planning.
  2. These programs are mostly delivered to a person, not to the whole family. He gets knowledge and disappears in to the family and society. He has no leverage. He’s alone and fights the battle in his mind. He keeps financials as a secret. Most spouses do not know what is happening with their family finances.


Involve families.

Get the family members to talk about money. Plan together. Grow and sometimes crash together.

Our school education fragment the family, the society.

We play down real practitioners for illusion of certificate knowledge.

It’s time to get back to family, involve all of them, if you are interested in making people financially strong.

This is on each and everyone of us.

5G, iphone12 and trade wars.

iPhone 12 Lineup's mmWave 5G Support Limited to the United States -  MacRumors

In this blog post, I will take a full circle around the current situation of global 5G roll out, what apple’s iPhone 12 will do for adoption of 5G and back to USA Govt’s ban on Huawei.  

But first,  what is actually 5G ? 

5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies launched in 2019. It’s the next step from 4G which provide connectivity to most current cellphones.

The main advantage of 5G is that they have greater bandwidth, giving higher download speeds.

Telecom operators say that 5G offers download speeds up to 20 times faster than existing 4G, though coverage remains very limited for now.

The increased speed is achieved partly by using higher-frequency radio waves than current cellular networks. However, higher-frequency radio waves have a shorter range than the frequencies used by 4G or 3G cell phone towers.

Current 4G cellphones will not be able to use the 5G networks, which will require new 5G enabled wireless devices.

So, 5G. Is it available as yet?

The pandemic has kept consumers at home more this year, where they can use their own WiFi networks, and away from city-centre areas that often have the best 5G coverage. In Sri Lanka, only few spots have 5G in Colombo, which means I have to be in those spots to enjoy 5G. 

I am using a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 right now. Will I upgrade to a note 20 ? Not a chance. 

If you want to buy a new device so that you want to connect to 5G, that is not a good idea as of now. 

5G will be pivotal to advancements in industrial automation, driverless cars and the “internet of things”

5G promises faster download speeds and lower latency, opening the door to entirely new kinds of applications, from self-driving cars to holographic video calls. 

Which means, 5G will be more suitable for corporate and industrial market than among consumers

According to GSMA, the mobile trade body, operators are expected to spend 80 per cent of their mobile capital expenditure, or nearly $890 bn, on 5G networks in the next five years, driving  unto 1.8bn 5G connections by 2025. 

Meanwhile, the huge amount of capital needed for 5G, and a collapse in the share prices of some of the largest telecom operators in the industry, has put pressure on telecoms companies to justify their capital expenditure.

Should you buy a iphone 12 or any 5G enabled phone?

Even though Samsung and LG launched their first 5G handsets in mid-2019, telecom operators say that no one has yet offered the attraction of the iPhone 12. 

before iPhone 12, Just 13 per cent of smartphones shipped globally in the first six months of 2020 were 5G-capable.

While the iPhone 12’s features would be not enough for a “yes” for an upgrade, telecom operators believe and pray Apple’s marketing trend and its’ fan base will make a stronger case for 5G.

Telecoms companies are pinning their hopes on Apple and its new iPhone 12 to kickstart the long-promised shift to 5G, after slow adoption of 5G among consumers over the past 18 months.

Also there is no “killer app” that will immediately attract the consumers to switch to 5G enabled smartphones. 

Here’s an interesting fact: When Apple introduced their first iPhone in 2007, it did not even support 3G, this was five years after Nokia launched its first device to use what was then the fastest network available. 

But iphone in 2007 had loads of killer apps and features for people to turn to iPhone and then create the android smart phone explosion. 

Apple has mentioned mobile gaming as one key use case for 5G, introducing a new iPhone version of the popular multiplayer game League of Legends. But confusions over the Apple App Store’s commercial terms have prevented popular games streaming services such as Microsoft’s xCloud, Google’s Stadia and Facebook Gaming from launching on the iPhone so far. This further reduces the iPhone 12’s attraction even for gamers. 

The war on 5G

The launch of global 5G networks is becoming a massive trade war with increased pressure from USA officials to governments around the world  to block Huawei because of lingering fears over the company’s links with the Chinese government and military, and concerns that its technology could be used for spying. Huawei has denied such allegations.

Huawei is the world’s largest telecoms equipment supplier. 

This slowed 5G roll outs in some countries, including the UK. 

Here’s a another statistic: In Europe,a major prospect for 5G, in JULY, just under 2 million 5G devices were sold. 

That is a higher percentage than earlier in the year but, it is still just 11 per cent of total smartphone sale in Europe. It is slow adoption. 

Apple might be looking to app developers to produce new experiences, such as augmented-reality games, that can take full advantage of 5G.

The current state of 5G globally is in introductory stage, with only 24 countries globally is live with 5G.


5G will come and change the way we live, work and basically everything. 

But it will not be in this year, it will take until 2025 to see wider adoption. But rest assured we will get 5G slowly. 

As consumers, at this moment you will have limited utility by purchasing a 5G enabled phone at a very high price tag. 

But for industrial automation and corporates this will be a wonderful opportunity to get on the next wave of technology and be an early adopter to explore new value additions. 

Corona updates.

Sri Lanka is doing pretty well on COVID19.
People are back on to everything, going back to what it was like before. Masks are fast disappearing, social distancing…well what is that ?

Good thing is people hit hard by the lockdown can now get back on their feet.
Bad thing is going back to what it was, negate our learnings of the pandemic. Because…


Today’s ( Sep 15) Covid update:

USA, India and Brazil are hotspots. Global deaths are closing on that ominous number of 1 million.
Just let that sink in.
1,000,000 lives lost.
We are now immune to numbers. Numbers do not move us. The severity of the pandemic is like a bygone.

Our ways of living and trading have changed. What if there’s another wave ?

Which is why we need to get in to digital ways of life, with care.

If companies need to stay relevant in this VUCA world you need to get your business models digital, not just the marketing.

Universities, you need to get your courses online, fast.

Governments, there’s no better moment than this to make your e-gov services accessible to all.

There are good examples. But it should not stop there. It needs to get better.

Daily collections at small shops (unbanked)

MIRISSA, SRI LANKA - MARCH 2014: View Of Local Shop In Mirissa ...

A man in motor cycle jacket and helmet comes in to the shop and shows a yellow card printed with rows and columns. The shop owner reaches for his drawer, pulls out a similar yellow card. Shop owner gives Rs. 1500/- to the man. Both of them scribble on their cards, swap them, and smile through the masks.

Later I got to know that it was the process for daily collection. The shop owner has taken a Rs. 30,000 loan. Term is to pay back 33,000 with in a month. Shop owner pays 1500/- each day until he reaches 33,000.

This system runs with out collaterals. Runs on trust. Runs on risk not documented . In some cases fear is the collateral.

This is one snapshot of the unbanked in Sri Lanka. The shop keeper is not worthy enough for banks to lend. So the shop keeper has to find alternatives with in his means. It is high interest, sure, but it is what he has.

The shop owner explained me the benefits he receive through the system.
– He was not charged any interest during the covid lockdown months. The lender has been very reasonable. Even most of the banks could not live up to that standard.
– He can pay back the loan in any number of instalments, as long as it is completed with in a month.

Also I learnt the next door shop owner has taken a Rs. 100,000 loan from the same lender and have fled never to be reached again. Bad debts.

Questions to ask in the blackout.

Like COVID19 did, yesterday’s islandwide electricity blackout should give our decision makers the space to reflect on our energy production. Different action is what is needed. Old ways of doing things will result in same outcomes.

The new Government is looking ways to reduce funds flowing outwards by strengthening domestic production.
Why can’t we stop funds outflow from energy production? ( *cough* fossil fuel).

Let’s frame the questions in a different light. This is for decision makers.

What if, we could adopt what India did with solar? Achieving more than 50% of energy from renewables. They have policy issues but they are trying hard.

What if, we can look up to the case studies of the top 10 countries in the climatescope rankings ?
(Chile, India, jordan, Brazil, Rwanda, Philipines, China, Mexico, Peru, Thailand)

All big issues give decision makers two options.
1) Bring excuses and play whataboutism, until customers forget the issue.
2) Bring new ideas and execute them like if their lives depends on it.

I pray they chose the second.

4G broadband is a Luxury.

Living in Piliyandala, I have taken 4G broadband for granted. This is the internet I received today in Anuradhapura. An eye blinding speed of 0.04 Mbps download and 0.11 Mbps upload.

Just 6 kilometers in to the main road (not a byroad) towards Mihintale, 4G broadband is almost non existent from my ISP.

I checked mobile 4G speed. 2.6 Mbps and 1.85 Mbps. It was better. But still a not ok speed.

I wondered what would have happened to me, if I lived at that location in Anuradhapura during COVID19 lockdown.

Frustrated, I checked with the place I stayed and they were gracious enough to provide their ( a different ISP) broadband for me.

Just like proper highways enable people to trade outside their communities, with proper broadband people will be able to grab new global opportunities.
COVID19 forced all of us to embrace all things digital. The way we work, learn, and build businesses have changed with in a month. There was nothing else we could do. We were pushed. We adapted. That possibility was hanging right infront of our eyes even before COVID19, but we did not bother.

That internet meme captured us so well. ( Was it your  CEO who made the push for digital in your company? No, it was COVID19 😊)

But without 4G broadband, rural Sri Lanka will be sidelined once again. People are now ready to buy. ISPs and TRCSL need to increase quality coverage.

The Online Lives of Young Children in Sri Lanka

Sarvodaya-Fusion’s IT YahaMaga program at a school somewhere in Kuliyapitiya

Nicholas CarlisleFounder/President of Power of Zero and No Bully, has interviewed me few months back on ‘The Online Lives of Young Children in Sri Lanka’ as part of their series on the online lives of young children across the world.

Power of Zero is a global campaign to reshape early learning for a connected world. It focuses on children aged eight and under. Young children (8 and under) spend an average of two hours a day with screen media and the time increases every year. Technology has now become part of the landscape of childhood.

I talked about my experience of Sarvodaya-Fusion’s ‘IT YahaMaga’ program, where we have raised awareness about internet safety and ethics, for more than 50,000 school students in less than 5 years.  You can read the full interview here to see my answers to questions like below. I would like to see your comments and critique which I will report back to Power of Zero to update their case studies.

Are they using the kid friendly version of Facebook Messenger?

Mostly no, because they are using their parent’s phone and often their parent’s Facebook account. More educated parents create separate accounts that are child friendly, but that is a much smaller percentage. I talk to people in the rural sections, and I ask them “Are you on Facebook?” and they say yes, and I say “Are you on the Internet?” and they say no.  They get their mobile data enabled by a prepaid connection, but all they can see is that they are on the Facebook app. They don’t realise that they are on the Internet. I am not talking about the young people here, I am talking about the adults in rural sections. They are not asking the questions that they need to ask such as: “How do I enable my mobile data?” and “How do I set my privacy’” and “Do I have to be careful about sharing pictures?” Those conversations are only now starting to happen.

Mission of ‘Power of Zero’ is to build every child’s powers to connect well, by setting up the next generation to harness the positive power of the internet and end online hate, bullying, and violence.

I highly recommend their learning materials section. It has lot of useful material if you are a parent or a facilitator in building capacity of children to be safe online.

Micro finance should be regulated

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.

Hithawathi හිතවතී

Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 21.28.25

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

First AI Summit in Sri Lanka

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.”