FEATURE STORY

In Sri Lanka, Youth Learn New Skills and Bridge the Digital Divide

August 12, 2016

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Students from the YES media and films youth organization making a short movie. YES media was started by Wajira after he received training from the Shilpa Sayura foundation. 

World Bank

Story Highlights
  • With less than a fifth of its population using internet, Sri Lanka’s literacy in new technologies remains low and national disparities persist, creating a digital divide.
  • An information and communications technology (ICT) outreach partnership between the World Bank and Microsoft benefited more than 8,000 people and reached 23,500 individuals in South Asia. The initiative raised awareness among 300,000 community members on how to eradicate poverty through the use of ICT.
  • Over 3 years, 16 NGOs received grants to develop innovative solutions to tackle youth employment and more than 100 NGOs received training in new technologies in South Asia.

Today is International Youth Day; this year’s theme is “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production.” 

SRI LANKA, August 12, 2016 – Wajira’s early life was bleak and dark, struck by extreme poverty. The 21-year-old and his family come from a rural village in Dambulla in Sri Lanka where they experienced deprivation and constant hunger.

With an inborn talent in art, Wajira decided to volunteer in a foundation that had been working in his village for some time.  The foundation granted him the opportunity to study information and communications technology (ICT). This opened new doors for Wajira and he is currently pursuing a degree in fashion design at the Open University of Sri Lanka. With the training and education he received, Wajira and his colleagues started YES films, a social enterprise, which produces short films that aim to bring social issues into the public sphere.

Through his hard work and the foundation’s unconditional support, Wajira was able to break through  the vicious cycle of poverty. He is now a well-respected social entrepreneur who continues to serve the nation.

It was the Shilpa Sayura foundation that brought light into his life. The Shilpa Sayura Foundation and its project “Digital Rainbow” was one of the many projects funded by the Youth Solutions regional grant through a partnership between the World Bank and Microsoft. 


" The participation of women can be a game changer in the use of ICT for Sri Lanka’s development "

Rolande Pryce

Operations Advisor World Bank Sri Lanka and the Maldives

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Coding your way to opportunity” trained 20 unemployed school dropouts in basic programming and coding skills.  

World Bank

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Coding your way to opportunity” trained 20 unemployed school dropouts in basic programming and coding skills.  

World Bank

A Story of 3 years

In 2013, 8 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka competed for a grant financed through a World Bank-Microsoft partnership initiative. Of the 80 projects submitted, the Shilpa Sayura Foundation won the national grant and launched the “Digital Rainbow” project. This project trained 38 digital media educators and 956 youth from a curriculum covering democracy, The United Nations’ Millennium Goals and digital media.

A year later, the grant competition switched to a new theme, “Coding your way to opportunity” and aimed at training individuals with basic knowledge of coding to enhance their programming skills. The Karuna Trust Foundation and the Sri Lanka Anti-Narcotics Association (SLANA) won the grants. Karuna Trust educated 20 unemployed school dropouts from the Rambuka area, a remote location bordering the Sinharaja forest reserve, on software engineering. With time and effort, these students completed their training and are now using their newly honed ICT skills at their current jobs. The Sri Lanka Anti-Narcotics Association taught coding and movie making to recovering drug users and helped them grow into better and more competent individuals.  

The third year featured a two-day “Innovation for Impact” workshop to help NGOs implement ICT solutions to address youth employment, especially for young educated – yet unemployed—females. The  workshop focused on addressing the low labor force participation rate of women through ICT to help them innovate and create jobs for themselves. 


" Most NGOs do not have the capacity to embrace innovative ideas and unorthodox thinking, which is essential to change the lives of those in need. ICT is a driver of development and youth can propel this development, and the World Bank-Microsoft partnership has provided opportunities to learn new technologies that are vital if Sri Lanka wants to move forward economically. "

Isura Silva

General Manager at Sarvodaya Fusion

Results and Lessons Learned

Over the last three years, Sarvodaya Fusion, the NGO that managed the whole initiative, has seen the benefits of providing institutional sustainability to NGOs in Sri Lanka.

“Most NGOs do not have the capacity to embrace innovative ideas and unorthodox thinking, which is essential to change the lives of those in need,” says Isura Silva, General Manager at Sarvodaya Fusion. “ICT is a driver of development and youth can propel this development, and the World Bank-Microsoft partnership has provided opportunities to learn new technologies that are vital if Sri Lanka wants to move forward economically.”

Much remains to be done to fill the digital gap and sustain the activities financed through the grants. But by supporting digital projects, this partnership explored ways to empower NGOs into helping youth like Wajira, learn the right skills to reshape their future.