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YOUTH PERSPECTIVE: Foresight and Innovation Summit – What was it all about?

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“Foresight is not to predict the future. It is to identify the needs of the future and make them opportunities of the present.” – Peter van de Pol, UNDP Global Sector for Public Service Excellence, Singapore

Two days of continuous discussion, experience sharing and debating has marked the beginning of Sri Lanka’s journey on foresight and innovation. The First National Summit on Foresight and Innovation for Sustainable Human Development has come to an end, providing answers to many questions and unsurprisingly making way for fresh questions waiting to be answered. In case you missed it, here’s a breakdown of the Summit:


Day 1

The Summit began with an Opening Plenary with Mr. Peter Batchelor, Resident Representative a.i. of UNDP Sri Lanka, Hon. Niroshan Perera, Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, Mr. Rushdi Abdul Rahim Mr. Rushdi Abdul Rahim, Director, MyForesight, Malaysia, Mr. Thomas Prehn, Director, Mind Lab, Government of Denmark and H. E. Peter Taksøe-Jensen, Ambassador of Denmark to India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, addressing the 300+ audience.

Drawing from the Malaysian experience, which is quite close to home, Mr. Rushdi Abdul Rahim made a compelling argument on the importance of foresight. In the 1990s, Malaysia had a vision to make the country a developed nation which at the time seemed utopian but today, he claimed, it is a realistic goal due to innovative steps taken collectively, towards improving their governance structures. The story outlines the lesson for Sri Lanka to dream big, but start small.

From Denmark we heard another approach towards innovating governance structures by reforming the public sector to be more service/people oriented. Mindlab is a cross-governmental innovation unit that involves citizens and business to enhance policy making. Mr. Thomas Prehn from this Danish agency, explained that failures towards achieving anything are not ‘failures’ but instead are ‘attempts’ – which brings us one step closer to success. This was very inspiring and motivating as he suggested that we must not give up on making Sri Lanka a better country.

The Summit, from the inception, was very interesting as it was structured comprehensively with inputs from national and international specialists, sessions conducted by various subject experts and experiences shared by various local and global organizations. There were parallel sessions of Day 1 facilitated by subject specialists from various representative countries, on Environment/Energy, Climate Change, Disasters and Waste Management. It was clear that the expectation was to draw on experiences and shared learnings to bring foresight and innovation to the forefront of the National development dialogue.

The final session of the day was graced by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe and other international resource people representing multiple governments, speaking on the topic ‘Reimagining Governance’.

The Prime Minister rightfully pointed out the requirements for Sri Lanka to go forward.

1.       Reconciliation and Strengthening Democracy

2.       Achieving high standard of living

3.       Achieving this within a framework of Sustainable Development


Prime Minister Wickramasinghe, went on to describe the national plan to develop the major cities of Sri Lanka including the Megapolis project in the Western Province. The vision of the Prime Minister is quite agreeable, but the entire world will now be eyeing the outcomes of these plans for the country.

Foresight is a fairly new concept to the Sri Lankan audience and Day 1 ended with the audience digesting all the new tools introduced during the day whilst anticipating the activities of Day 2.


Day 2

The discussion began on day 2, with consideration for disruptive innovation; a term not found in the day to day Sri Lankan vocabulary. Disruptive innovation is the type of innovation that creates new opportunities while displacing the existing established mechanism and constructs. Jay Cousins’, sharing his insights from Germany, emphasized on the importance for us Sri Lankans, to strive for innovation with foresight.

On the part of the Sri Lankan Government, the Ministers for Science, Technology and Research and Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunication identified the groundwork laid by the government to facilitate innovation ranging from the Innovation Dashboard to the newly introduced Digitizing platforms. However, it seems that all these initiatives require consideration on how to make them sustainable for human development.  The existence of opportunities for social innovation and the need to recalibrate the roles of the state, civil society and the private sector was highlighted by Mr. Dilhan Fernando from Ceylon Tea Services.

The Summit, then broke out into parallel sessions on social development. There were discussions on Public Administration, Reconciliation and Peacebuilding, Equitable Governance and Gender with a range of experts leading the discussions.

Thereafter, a plenary on the Role of the Private Sector in Innovation for sustainability was held with Mr. David Fullbrook of DNV GL Clean Technology Centre in Singapore, Mr. Philippe Richart of Lafarge Holcim, Mr. Carl Cruz of Unilever and Mr. Jerome Auvity of Jetwing Holdings as speakers at a panel discussion moderated by Ms. Sumathi Jayaraman from UNDP in New York.

This followed yet another break out session on Economic Development which had discussions on Urbanization, Regional Development, Livelihood and Entrepreneurship and Ending Poverty.

The Summit then came to an end with a Closing Plenary on the Way Forward by Mr. Nandana Wickramage - Group Director/Head of Marketing and Sales, Ceylon Biscuits Limited, Hon. Harsha De Silva, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mr. Jorn Sorensen, Country Director, UNDP Sri Lanka.


What’s Next?

UNDP will now work very closely with the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs to expand on the dialogue on foresight and innovation which began at the Summit.

There remains more work to be done and this is simply the beginning for UNDP. Successfully integrating foresight and innovation into development practices in Sri Lanka will no doubt be a challenging task but UNDP has the strength of its partners and other vested stakeholders.

We think the Summit provided answers for many questions, but in the process, it resulted in the rise of many more questions. The Summit focused on introducing the tools and concepts of Foresight and Innovation. However, the attention is now on the stakeholders of the Summit - those who represented the public sector, civil society and the private sector, to take these learnings forward and apply them. The success of the Summit will entirely depend not on the depth of the outcome document but rather on the successful application of the learnings in the real world in the journey towards achieving sustainable human development

While acknowledging that the Summit was indeed a great effort to facilitate transformational leaders, it should also be noted that drawing from experiences of countries such as Denmark, Malaysia, India, Armenia, and Moldova is all fine, yet Sri Lanka will require a unique and original strategy to bring about Sustainable Human Development. Sri Lanka has its own unique social, cultural, political and economic system, which makes it essential for us to identify the pattern that best suits us so we can collectively create a county we want by 2030.

As Mr. Rushdi Abdul Rahim said Foresight is a change of mind set. You need to be able to think about the future. It is about participation"… and “Innovation is the extraordinary effort in which the dreamer becomes the doer" Ms. Cornelia Amihalachioae, eGov Center in the Government of Moldova.

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