Rural Knowledge Centers of Sri Lanka

Nenasala operators shine at Global Knowledge meet

The Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur recently played host to an International Conference on Global Knowledge Transfer and Information and Communication Technologies. More than 1700 delegates, including numerous young people, attended the Conference, at which some 128 countries were represented.

Nanasala operators at GK3
Left to right: ICTA consultant Dr. P.N. Meegaswatte, ICTA Project Manager - Information Infrastructure Subramaniam Gavashkar, Koslanda Nenasala operator S. Srikanthan, Lunama Nenasala operator Kumara Dissanayake, Bandarawela Nenasala operator Amaradasa Ratnayake, and Thalpotha Nanasala operator Mahesh Dissanayake.

The Global Knowledge Partnership hosted this Third international Global Knowledge Conference (GK3) to enhance the status of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the service of development cooperation, thereby facilitating the access of the poor and disadvantaged to knowledge and to markets.

The Conference unfolded under the motto "Emerging People, Emerging Markets, Emerging Technologies". The term "Emerging People" referred especially to 100 young social entrepreneurs selected through a global competition, and in whose honour a special forum was held at the Kuala Lumpur Conference.

Young Social Entrepreneurs are young people up to age 30 who have set up innovative enterprises that aim to make a positive social impact and that use ICT as part of their business model. Social impact is achieved through creating benefits for society, such as employment opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

Two of Sri Lanka's Nenasala operators, associated with the ICTA, won coveted Young Social Entrepreneur awards. Selected from among 864 applicants around the world, the Thalpotha Nenasala, Polonnaruwa, and the Lunama Nenasala, Hambantota, operators were singled out for their contribution to improving the ICT literacy of Sri Lanka's rural populace.

Mahesh Dissanayake who runs the Nenasala in Thalpotha works to popularise the use of Sinhala in IT at grassroot village levels. He has witnessed the use of IT for development internationally in Japan and India, and uses these lessons to get rural communities like Thalpotha to develop and upload digital articles and media that are of value to rural people like themselves in their daily lives. "The support and assistance we received from ICTA from the time when we were a small community organisation is the foundation of our current success," he said.

Kumara Dissanayake, the Lunama Nenasala operator, is a social entrepreneur well known to mobilize the community around his centre for social and IT projects. He also maintains a bilingual website,, which contains maps and other information about Hambantota district.

Koslanda Nenasala operator Sri Kanth was singled out at the event by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, considered to be the 'Father of the Green Revolution', who called Sri Kanth "a great man" and "a hard working grassroots level worker" before an audience of delegates.

Sri Kanth, who also founded the Hill Country Disability Group, has risen from obscurity to become a prominent advocate nationally and even internationally for computer literacy as an efficient way to bring greater opportunities to marginalised communities including rural women, youth, and the handicapped.

"We are networking with other countries to improve life for our village people," said Sri Kanth. "Many opportunities come to us at events like GK3. We need to show our foreign partners that we are keen to work with them."

Amaradasa Ratnayake, operator of the Bandarawela Nenasala, earlier this year participated in the e-INDIA 2007 development forum in New Delhi. He attended GK3 in search of e-marketing business partners for rural women's handicraft and for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) orders. "We can improve people's lives in so many ways," he said. "We meet new business partners at conferences."

Story and picture by Patrick Harrigan, Executive Director of the Sri Lanka Children's Trust

Courtesy: The Sunday Times (Colombo) of 23 December 2007