Unlocking the Potential of Women through Technology for Sri Lanka’s Development

April 13, 2015


Jeyani Thiyagarajaah from the Viluthu Center for Human Resource Development from Jaffna placed an immediate application in order to integrate ICT into her project, “Sanjeevi : An enterprising solution for food and nutrition in Sri Lanka.”

Dilinika Peiris/World Bank

  • Sri Lanka has made some strides to improve access to Information Communications Technologies (ICT), creating opportunities for development. However, much more remains be done.
  • While successful on several development indicators, Sri Lanka is ranked 20th in the labor force participation gender gap. This is a significant challenge to the country’s goals for growth and equity.
  • With ICT advancements, civil society organizations (CSOs) working on gender have greater opportunities to build social enterprises and make a difference at the grassroots level. Innovate for Impact connects CSOs promoting women's empowerment with ICT tools.

Colombo, Sri Lanka: “ICT is a powerful transformative tool and it has revolutionized the way people think, behave, work and also advocate for change,” said Rolande Pryce, Operations Advisor World Bank Sri Lanka and the Maldives, at the inaugural session of Innovation for Impact.

Fusion, the ICT arm of Sarvodaya, together with Microsoft engaged in a two day workshop to promote ICT and improve organizational operations. This would increase chances for employment and entrepreneurship for women at the grassroots. 

" While governments, policy makers and practitioners work on making systemic changes, civil society groups can help improve this situation at the individual and household level through exposure, encouragement and advocacy. "

Rolande Pryce

World Bank Advisor


In order to meet Sri Lanka's goals of being a knowledge economy. The country will have to invest more in research and development while creating more opportunities for women to join the work force. 

ICT Trends, Challenges and Opportunities

Despite a growing ICT literacy, less than a fifth of Sri Lankans use the internet, and only 10 percent of households have direct access. This is an indication that the internet is not being fully utilized to improve information access or business efficiency. However, internet access and quality have improved dramatically with faster speeds and lower costs. This has helped ICT employment grow 20% per year for the last 10 years.

An obvious gap in Sri Lanka’s development toward a knowledge economy stems from the lack of university graduates, especially women who major in technical fields.

Sri Lanka nevertheless has an ambitious goal of improving revenue through ICT related jobs and startups. Ruwindhu Peiris, Managing Director of the Colombo office of Stax and Board member of lead of “1000 Startup Program” of SLASSCOM (The Sri Lankan IT KPO Industry Chamber) presented the Knowledge Services Industry Vision 2022 which envisions Sri Lanka having a knowledge based economy with the goals listed above.

The Changing Role of NGOs in Sri Lanka

In a presentation on the changing role of NGOs in Sri Lanka, Udan Fernando, Executive Director of Center for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) illustrated the shift in perception of NGOs from ‘conspirators’ to ‘partners in good governance’ while the space for NGOs to operate has become more open to advocate for change. It is now up to the Civil Society Organizations to seize the moment and use creative ideas to add value. “However, CSOs should maintain a critical distance with the government while exploring the possibilities of collaboration and engagement. This will ensure the independence of CSOs,” Fernando said.

Female Labor Force Participation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has the 20th largest gender gap in labor force participation (LFP) globally, which impedes the country’s goals for growth and equity. In 2010, the labor force participation rate for women over age 15 was 41 percent, versus 82 percent for men of the same age. In contrast, female LFP in Thailand and Malaysia were 80 and 57 percent respectively.  Most women live long, healthy lives - an indication that while Sri Lankan women are educated and live longer many do not work outside the home.

The low female labor force participation has been attributed to 3 key factors:

·         Gender norms around household roles –  women are responsible for household chores limiting access for outside employment;

·         Skills mismatch – a disparity between the skills women attain and what the market demands or will pay for; and

·         Gender bias - active and institutional gender discrimination, wage gaps, discriminatory work places, and weaker job networks compared to male counterparts.

“While governments, policy makers and practitioners work on making systemic changes, civil society groups can help improve this situation at the individual and household level through exposure, encouragement and advocacy,” said Pryce, encouraging NGOs to incorporate ICT as well as gender and development into their existing programs.

To help address low female labor force participation, CSOs can promote and advocate for:

·         Women to access part time work, maternity leave and child care services in an effort to eliminate associated stigma;

·         Girls’ to identify and develop careers of their choice from an early age regardless of gender norms and restrictions;

·         Access to job information and placement services.

The two day workshop provided opportunities for CSO participants to network and brainstorm possible ICT solutions integrated within existing projects. This will be followed up with a year of support for NGOs in close collaboration with the partners. “Our goal is to support our NGO partners in creating employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for educated young women in Sri Lanka. We will work towards this goal and keep track of results which we hope will be innovative and demonstrative examples for others to follow,” said Isura Silva, Manager of Sarvodaya Fusion.

This is the third year of partnership for ICT development outreach for NGOs working with youth implemented by World Bank South Asia Region External and Corporate Relations unit, Microsoft Asia and Pacific Citizenship Engagement program and the Sri Lankan ICT4Development partner, Sarvodaya Fusion.