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Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students

by Horizon Lanka Foundation
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Computer skills for 100 Sri Lankan students
Students at a session
Students at a session

by Surekha Galagoda - Visit http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2007/10/21/fin21.asp

Mahavilachchiya, a village 245 kms from colombo is well known among locals and the international community as the first evillage and the village with the highest density of computers compared to any other village in Sri Lanka. Most parts of the village have broadband internet connectivity thanks to the hard work of the CEO of Horizon Lanka Foundation (HLF) T. B. Nandasiri Wanninayaka.

Today it is the first village to have a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operation, which is totally handled by youngsters who are not only fluent in English and Computer knowledge but also play squash and rugger.

Wanni as he is popularly known has brought a smile to the youth of the village due to years of hard work and not accepting “No” for an answer. The concept of carrying out work for Colombo based and international companies from Mahavilachchiya was contemplated by Wanni even before the term BPO was widely known. Kapila Gunawardena based in the USA visited the HLF and seeing the potential of the youth wanted us to start a BPO operation, said Wanni.

John Keells was introduced to HLF by the Foundation for Advancing Rural Poverty (FARO). This saw the birth of the first BPO operation from rural Mahavilachchiya. The company On-Time Technologies (Pvt) Ltd., the BPO Company based in Mahavilachchiya rents the facility and the IT infrastructure of Horizon Lanka Academy.

Nirosh Ranatunga, a graduate from the University of Kelaniya functions as the CEO while Isuru Seneviratne is a director. John Keells selected one of its subsidiaries Infomate Ltd. to pioneer the outsourcing of transaction processing to On-Time Ltd. John Keells selected Infomate Ltd as they are in the business of providing outsourced accounting service owing to the availability of a high volume of data intensive transactions and the familiarity with the outsourcing model. Tripartite agreement

The JK strategic group IT division facilitated the setting up of the remote connectivity to JKH systems from Mahavilachchiya and the high internet links of On-Time facilitate data access and transaction processing. Once the secure connectivity was set up a tripartite agreement was signed between John Keells, On-Time Ltd and FARO in May 2007 and there has been no turning back since then.

Infomate transfers digitised images electronically to On-Time and they carry out the processing of invoices and document indexing based on the images. The outsourcing work for Infomate (Pvt) Ltd. is done from Mahavilachchiya using advanced communication technology. At present the operation is handled by four youth of Horizon Lanka Foundation while two are undergoing training at Infomate Ltd.

The staffers of On-Time said that they could break even when the two students join them after the training. At present each operator processes 150 invoices per day.

Nirosh Ranatunga said that a separate data link provided free by LankaCom, is used to connect Mahavilachchiya and JKH avoiding internet for a secured connectivity. Security tokens are being used to make the connectivity more secure but it creates high overheads since we have to pay a monthly rental for each token.

We use two software systems for the BPO operation which is SAP and BPO Mate. SAP is a client server software of which the client is installed at our site and our operators give user names and passwords to connect to the server at JKH.

The BPO Mate a web based system that we access via a web browser giving its URL. Separate user names and passwords are given to our operators for BPO Mate. This is used to retrieve images. The Speed of the datalink is 128 kbps. Customer data

Wanni said that they have also signed a contract with Dialog Telekom to process customer data while FARO is in discussion with Singer as well.

He said that since JKH was their first client it was easy to get recognition and secure a client as JKH is well recognised.

Wanni said that creating jobs in the village has opened many opportunities for the youngsters, which were hitherto shut. Without the support and help of JKH and FARO we would not have achieved so much in such a short period of time, said a grateful Wanni.

He said that they would showcase this village as a model for teaching English and IT using modern technology. He said that technology should be accessible to all children be they in the village or city as all children are talented.

He said prior to this project being introduced girls joined garment factories while the boys joined the Armed Forces after completing their education. English and IT has opened a host of opportunities to these youngsters and expanded their horizon as the name implies.

Dr. Ashok Junjunwala of IIT India during his visit had suggested that Anuradhapura be made a BPO district with Mahavilachchiya as the base.

We as Sri Lankans should hope and pray that this becomes a reality sooner than later where every citizen can be proud of the youth of this country. During the training period Infomate takes the trainees through an induction program as well as a structured program in the processing of accounting transactions.

The Social Responsibility Foundation of John Keells also provides the trainees with accommodation during the training period.

The horizon Lanka Academy trains the students in Computers and English and now most of them are so tech savvy that they even have their own blogs, which has helped them, win laptops from donors.

The first lucky blogger to receive a laptop from Dr Ing. E. Leuthold of Switzerland was Tharanga Sampath. Among the other lucky winners are Ranuka Udayanga an 18-year-old Advanced Level student while the other was Hansi Sumedha (16), an O/L student. Internet connections

The village of Mahavilachchiya got Internet connections before the village got telephone connections thanks to Mesh technology, a project, donated by UNDP. Mahavilachchiya was selected as the testing ground for Mesh technology as it was the village with the highest density of computers.

Hansi Sumedha said that her ambition is to become a doctor. She said, “Before I joined HLF I didn’t have any knowledge of English or computers. Thanks to the teachers of HLF now I have my own blog to which I write often. Most importantly I perform better than my classmates in school. She said that she could use her laptop to do presentations. Her parents are farmers and she has two sisters.

Isuru Seneviratna, now a director of On-Time studied up to the GCE (O/L) in Mahavilachchiya and has been groomed by Wanni from grade four. He sat for his A/L examination in the Science stream from Nivaththaka Chethiya Vidyalaya Anuradhapura. Speaking of Wanni’s teaching methods, he said that he used innovative methods, which made them like the subject.

He was a lucky recipient of a BPO training program, which he underwent in Laos and India for three months. We were fortunate to be trained by David Paulson in Laos. “I got a whole new experience and thanks to that I am very much changed. He also gave us a good training in management.

“I gained a lot of experience at JKH, Laos and India and I don’t know what I would have done if this project was not initiated by Wanninayaka Sir,” said Seneviratne who will be celebrating his 20th birthday this week. His future plans are developing the company and moving to the management side, as that is his pet area.

Nirosh Ranatunga sharing his experience about Laos and India said that Laos is not as developed as our country.

The English knowledge is somewhat good but they have excellent systems while some team members are good in IT. Therefore they follow the systems and do big projects for clients even in the USA.

Ranatunga, a commerce graduate from the University of Kelaniya has done some software projects even while a student and now owns his own software development facility in Anuradhapura. Among his future plans are developing On-Time technologies as well as his private business.

U. B. Seetha, a 54-year-old grandmother of one of the students of Horizon Lanka Academy said that prior to this project nobody knew about computers. Thanks to this project our grandchildren are very knowledgeable and my grandson can even speak in English said the proud grandmother. We even got an opportunity of looking at a computer thanks to HLF and the HLA.

Horizon Lanka Foundation

Horizon Lanka Foundation (HLF) is a non profit organisation registered under the Companies Act of Sri Lanka. It has been operating since 1998 in Mahavilachchiya. The Horizon Lanka Foundation was set up in 1998 due to the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahavilachchiya.

Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Nandasiri Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school.

Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers.

It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all-round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24 Internet access.

In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world. Horizon Lanka Foundation is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly.

Micro Scholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka Foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties.

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OnTime operators
OnTime operators

Source: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/071021/FinancialTimes/ft301.html

MAHAVILACHCHIYA, Anuradhapura - Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) is a growing business globally which Sri Lanka has now cottoned onto quite capably.

Dozens of BPO’s are springing up here as global companies look for cost effective ways of handling their back-office operations in countries where labour and communications are cheaper than the west.

Yet ever heard of a BPO company in a jungle setting, next to a wild life park and subject to the occasional threat by the LTTE? OnTime Pvt Ltd is part of rural Sri Lanka’s first IT village, Horizon Lanka in the backwoods of Mahavilachchiya (adjoining Wilpattu) off Anuradhapura, where a group of youth processes data for a fee.

There is nothing different in the BPO industry in processing information inside the office of the client or the service provider located elsewhere. For example, staff at Mahavilachchiya’s proud company, OnTime, processing marketing data for a John Keells Group subsidiary daily could – if we close the curtains in this nice office surrounded by shady trees and occasional bird calls – very well be inside a JKH office in Colombo. There’s nothing different.

OnTime operators log into a JKH SAP accounting system through a secured link and enter data like prices and quality of suppliers. Some 150 documents are handled by one operator per day. Dialog Telekom and Singer are expected to join OnTime as its next clients with negotiations going on with the two parties.

“The BPO entry came as we needed to create job opportunities for our youngsters to remain in the village after their initial learning in English and IT,” said Nandasiri Wanninayaka (better known as ‘Wanni”), the village boy-English teacher-turned village entrepreneur.

Horizon Lanka, Sri Lanka’s first IT village, is a revelation itself. Launched by Wanni, as a Mahavilachchiya school teacher, in 1998, the initiative began as an English teaching exercise for the children whose parents were mostly rice farmers. From there with one computer donated by the US embassy, impressed by an English journal that the students did, the village has progressed to a centre of IT learning where one in every eight families has a computer (a ratio of 100 computers for 800 families).

Unheard of before but in these backwoods poor farmers are reading online newspapers in the comfort of their makeshift homes with uptodate computers with the help – unbelievable again – of seven wifi zones under a new technology called MESH. Here a section of the village amidst paddy fields and streams has wireless Internet access at all times.

Wanni and his Horizon Lanka exploits are legendary and profiled in newspapers and TV stations across the world. The IT village’s biggest opportunity probably came when Wanni and his best students shared the stage with Intel Chairman Dr. Craig Barrett in December 2005, during the latter’s visit to Sri Lanka and presence at a major IT conference.

The idea of setting up a BPO emerged as Wanni pondered on the next level of development. “Having taught English and then IT, the next issue was where do they get jobs? How can we retain them in the village?” he asked.

Enter the Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities in Sri Lanka (FAROLanka) to help Horizon set up its BPO and find its first client. FARO’s help however comes with some conditions – Wanni’s support and guidance to help other villages to develop on similar lines which the latter and his team are more than willing to do.

Isuru Senevirathna is OnTime’s Operations Director. He has received BPO training – along with another OnTime employee – in Laos and India sponsored by John Keells.

The 20-year old youth like any other Mahavilachchiya youngster would have had to either join the armed forces (in the case of girls it’s garment factories) or remain in the village as a farmer, until Wanni and his vision came along. Now Isuru is the proud owner of a motor cycle, happy and contended.

OnTime CEO is Nirosh Manjula Ranathunga, a 30 year-old graduate from Kelaniya University who studied IT while doing his B.Com degree. Ranathunga, who lives in Anuradhapura and visits Horizon twice a week saying he can handle operations from his home town easily through email/Internet, is also interested in transferring his skills and learning to other villages. He has his own company, Real Business Solutions, and runs a formerly-owned Horizon Lanka cyber café in Anuradhapura.

“I joined Horizon Lanka two years ago as a project manager and I’am very happy with this BPO initiative,” he said. Some 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs in Mahavilachchiya which has a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS Internet connection. The Horizon Lanka website is www.horizonlanka.org

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Buddhika Prasanna Kumara, one of the youngest bloggers in Horizon Lanka Academy has reached 3000+ hits to his blog by today. This is the most number of hits any of the Horizon Lanka student or a staff member has got so far. Buddhika joined blogsphere only on 6th May, 2007. Others had started blogs few months earlier to Buddhika. He was not one of those kids who wrote essays a lot earlier and it was due to blogging he is improving his writing. He was not the brightest in his class either. He was one of the slowest and laziest for academic activities. But blogging has made him keener in academic affairs.

The first thing Buddhika does in a morning is checking the number of hits and moderating comments he has received. He keeps checking the number of hits and comments and writes more and more small essays. This clearly shows that blogging can improve language skills of the students in a dramatic way. We think other students in Sri Lanka also should start blogging and improve English. You can encourage these kids by visiting their blogs and sending comments.

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Tharanga Sampath with the laptop
Tharanga Sampath with the laptop

Dr. Ing. E. Leuthold from Switzerland contacted Horizon Lanka Foundation through email last April and informed us that he is willing to provide a brand new laptop for one of our students. Horizon staff selected Tharanga Sampath, a brilliant student at Horizon Lanka Academy. Visit his blog http://tharangasampath.wordpress.com/ to know more about him. Now Tharanga proudly owns a Windows Vista installed brand new laptop. We thank Dr. Ing. E. Leuthold a lot for this generous donation. Dr. Ing. E. Leuthold has already promised to send two more laptops for the next two best students at Horizon Lanka Academy.

Lak Saviya Foundation was involved in coordinating with the donor in Switzerland - Dr. Ing. E. Leuthold - and Horizon Lanka for the purchase and delivery of the laptop computer. Lak Saviya managed to liaise with the donor and the recipient (through Horizon Lanka) for selecting an appropriate Acer laptop from Sydney, Australia that fits within the budget of the donor and suitable for the end user – a digital butterfly in Mahavilachchiya village. Lak Saviya purchased the computer in Sydney and hand delivered it to Horizon Lanka. We thank Lak Saviya for their generous assistance to us in this regard.

Following are the testimonials from two staff members about Tharanga.

“Tharanga has been showing a keen interest in Horizon affairs for the past few months since he rejoined the HLF after his three month English course at Kekirawa. He also scored good results from the GCE (0/L) 2006. He has not only successfully designed and maintained the fist ever student blog at Horizon Lanka but also has taught it to most of his friends and junior students of Horizon Lanka Academy. I recently gave him the responsibility of handling ICT lessons for juniors and he has so far been doing it to my fullest satisfaction. Further he has the good quality of fulfilling whatever duty is assigned to him, with a great deal of preparation and devotion. He is at the moment in charge of the computer lab and most of the authorities say that he is clever and duty-conscious.”

Ranjith Pushpakumara - Head Master - Horizon Lanka Academy

“In 2002, when I was visiting Horizon first time, several small children could keep my attention to them. Tharanga Sampath is one of them and who has been attending to Horizon Lanka Academy yet to absorb any thing to be a genius.

In fact, Tharanga improved his knowledge because of his dedication and enthusiasm rather than his skills. It is a challenging task and he could win that in many times. He was not skillful person in mathematics. But he could pass it because of his dedication. Many times he was the only person who did home work on time.

Tharanga could become familiar with blog designing easily and he designed his personal blog before any other student in Horizon Lanka Academy. As I think it is not the most important evidence to prove his good qualities. He got together with others and helped them to make their own blog. He sacrificed his sleeping times for his friends.

As I feel Tharanga takes the top in respecting teachers and loyalty to the Academy. He doesn’t refuse any assignments given by teachers and tries to do it on his maximum. Horizon Lanka Academy does not belong to one person. It is a property of several people. Most of the shares belong to students. It is their property. Senior students should use their experience to guide junior students. Tharanga has understood it.

Tharanga’s parents are loyal to the Academy as well. His father participated for many Sramadana campaigns and almost all the parents’ meeting.

Tharanga can contribute his knowledge to give some credits to the foundation in the future.”

Buddhika Prasad Hettiarachchi, Director – Horizon Lanka Foundation

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Young people being trained for BPO work
Young people being trained for BPO work

“However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.” An article written by Isuru Senevirathna, Horizon Lanka Foundation,

Sri Lanka isuru@horizonlanka.org - July 2007 | Vol. V No. 7 | www.i4donline.net

‘Horizon Lanka’, the model for taking ICT to the rural villages, is a famous word in Sri Lanka. It is also receiving international recognition. In fact, we never thought of creating a model to take ICT to the rural villages. First, we only wanted to develop our village. For this, we had a great hero to guide us. He is Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka, our English teacher since 1998. I was 11 years old then.

Mr. Nandasiri was teaching us English in a public school of my village. His teaching method was able to attract us to the subject, although English was a subject hated by most children. Before Mr. Nandasiri it was difficult to learn, as we did not have a teacher who could teach us in a better way. But, Mr. Nandasiri managed to turn the tables. While we were continuing studies, our elder brothers and sisters started a journal called ‘The Horizon’. We wrote stories to that journal and Mr. Nandasiri photocopied them from the nearest town, which is 40 kilometers away from my village. By a stroke of good luck, the US embassy found out about the journal through an article which was written by Mr. Gamini Akmeemana for a public English newspaper in Sri Lanka. The US embassy helped us with a 486 model computer and a dot-matrix printer, along with some computer books.

Mr. Nandasiri started teaching us about computers with the knowledge he gained from reading those books, as he himself did not have enough knowledge about computers. Each student got 5 minutes to operate the computer under Mr. Nandasiri’s guidance. This was a fantastic experience for us children of poor farmers.

With Nandasiri sir’s leaving public school, we were really sad since nobody could do Nandasiri sir’s job there. We did not give up our way. We got together as a team and talked him to arrange an English class for us. He accepted our request and started the class under a huge mango tree in his garden. And we did not forget to continue the journal too. A family called Gaminitillake donated a used computer to our English class and we stared a website with their help and uploaded it from the town. Through the website, we got a big publicity throughout the world. It was a big revolution of us. Lot of donors came to us and helped to improve our English and computer knowledge. Eventually we could build a small computer room with the support of donors and the capacity of our parents. This was our journey……

Today we have a modern computer Lab that was donated by Mr & Mrs. Charles. And we could build a tower to connect to the Internet from our village since we had to travel 80 kilometers up and down to access internet from the nearest city ‘Anuradhapura’.

However, now I am 19 years old and I am confident that we can do something for our village from the knowledge we gained during a period of about nine years from Horizon Lanka.

About ten months ago, I realised one of the dream, in my life. I could travel to two countries for a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) training. I never had been out from this small island. But I was lucky to travel to Laos and New Delhi in India with the sponsorship of ICT Agency of Sri Lanka. During that training, we could see practically their operations and the way a BPO company meets the clients’ demand, on time with good quality. Eventually we ended the training and returned to Sri Lanka with the mind of starting our BPO Company in Mahavilachchiya. After a training period of three months, we had an opportunity to start a BPO company in rural Mahavilachchiya village. A foundation called FARO (Foundation for Advancing Rural Opportunities) is helping us in the initial stage to run the company. Already we have started the company named OnTime Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. John Keells is a major client of us.

We also are discussing with Dialog Telekom Ltd. and Singer Sri Lanka to get some more work for our youth. Around 50 youths are being trained to take up BPO jobs from Mahavilachchiya. Mahavilachchiya has very good infrastructure like a modern computer lab with 512 KBPS internet connection, 50 computers in the village households - 30 of them are connected to Internet through mesh technology - and 7 Wi-Fi zones in the village where you can use your laptops. Through our company, we are offering job opportunities for the youths in the village. This is a big revolution in the village and we are happy to say. This is what we wanted to do. However, we could do it. Now we are using same Horizon Lanka building and Horizon Lanka equipments. In the future, we hope to develop our company as the largest BPO company in Sri Lanka and build a huge building and develop as an our owned company. Nirosh Manjula, who trained with me in Laos and India and I am running this company.

I take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped us to success this journey.

Horizon Lanka Foundation

The Horizon Lanka Foundation was established in 1998 because of the determination of a group of children from the rural village of Mahavilachchiya. Their thirst for knowledge and educational advancement led them to the door of Mr. Nandasiri Wanninayaka (now CEO of HL Foundation), their former English teacher in the public school. Thus began an after school club providing children further education in English and computers. It has become a popular place for many children of the village. Since 1998, the Horizon Lanka Foundation has branched out. As well as providing an all round education to the village children at Horizon Lanka Academy, they have expanded into the Information Age and now service the entire community with their computer lab, which has 24h Internet access. In 2001, the website www.horizonlanka.org was launched by the children of Horizon Lanka Academy, opening a window to the world.

HLF is also responsible for beginning a project, which is bringing PCs to the homes of the villagers of Mahavilachchiya. So far more than 30 homes have been furnished with a computer and this is increasing monthly. MicroScholarships is a project of the Horizon Lanka foundation that aims to help deserving students in their education. Many capable students in rural Sri Lanka are forced to interrupt their schooling because of financial difficulties. MicroScholarships ensure that every child covered under the scheme gets a quality education and a happy childhood. Under it, volunteers offer financial assistance that gives the child a small amount of money every month. The efforts, funded purely by kind donations and sponsorship, are now providing over 160 students of the village with computing skills, access to the Internet, PCs in their homes, an Academy to improve their education specializing in ICT and English and most importantly, giving the children and community fresh hope for their futures.

Youth working at the OnTime BPO
Youth working at the OnTime BPO
Young CEO of OnTime BPO
Young CEO of OnTime BPO

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Organization Information

Horizon Lanka Foundation

Location: Anuradhapura, North Central Provin - Sri Lanka
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @horizonlanka
Project Leader:
Nandasiri Wanninayaka
Chief Executive Officer
Anuradhapura, North Central Province Sri Lanka

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