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.
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.
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.
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.