USJ hosts SECRA Colombo Symposium

The SECRA Project Colombo Symposium hosted by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura was successfully held on 15th-17th March 2022 at Pegasus Reef Hotel, Wattala, Sri Lanka. The symposium was led by Prof. Rukmal Weerasinghe, the Country Lead of the project, and Prof. Lasith Gunawardena, the Program Chair, from the Faculty of Management Studies and Commerce. The inauguration ceremony was graced by many guests and keynote speakers from academia, industry, and representatives from international agencies.

Keynote speakers for the day included Snr. Prof. Sampath Amaratunge, Chairman of the University Grants Commission; Snr. Prof. Ananda Jayawardane, Chairman of the Commercial Bank PLC; Mr. Supun Weerasinghe, Director/Group CEO of Dialog Axiata PLC; and Dr. Bapon Fakhruddin, Technical Director Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Resilience of Tonkin and  Taylor, New Zealand joined online.

The evening constituted of an expert panel discussion on ‘University Enterprise Collaboration for Disaster Resilience: Opportunities in the Sri Lankan Context’ moderated by Dr. Upuli Perera from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. The distinguished panelists were Prof. Dilanthi Amaratunga, Head of Global Disaster Resilience Centre from the University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom; Mr. Abdur Rahim Siddiqui, Country Director and Representative of the UN World Food Programme, Sri Lanka; and Mr. Victor Antonypillai, Country Officer for the International Finance Corporation, Sri Lanka.

Addressing the inauguration ceremony Snr. Prof. Sudantha Liyanage stated that building and maintaining close university-industry ties and inculcating entrepreneurial skills in our students is of crucial and timely importance. Speaking on an overview of university enterprise collaboration in Sri Lanka, Snr. Prof. Sampath Amaratunge spoke on the gap between graduates against industry requirement and that several efforts are now directed towards easing off this gap. Further Prof. Amaratunge discussed some of the projects implemented by UGC to uplift university-business linkages and entrepreneurial culture in the face of many bureaucratic barriers.

Dr. Fakhruddin, who has spent a lot of his career establishing the Tsunami Early Warning System in Sri Lanka and was a pioneer in setting up the National Disaster Management Center in Sri Lanka, elaborately spoke on the Domino Effect: cascading disasters and risk management, and addressed how everything is interlinked and how a cohesive approach comprising academia, industry, government, and community can contribute to building better resilient communities.

Sharing his experience from an academic perspective, Snr. Prof. Ananda Jayawardane discussed the many practical implementations done at the University of Moratuwa to build long term productive collaborations with the industry, such as: establishing the University Consultancy Services; industry-funded research and development laboratories; industry-funded endowed chairs, etc., and also reflected on the best practices and lessons learned throughout his wide experience. Mr. Supun Weerasinghe sharing industry experiences on effective university-enterprise collaborations for DRR, stated that managing resilience involves: 1) Risk reduction; 2) Effective recovery; and 3) Resilience through empowering the community. Mr. Weerasinghe presented several projects, such as DEWN (Disaster and Emergency Warning Network), Sayuru; GoviMithuru undertaken by Dialog collaborating with universities, government agencies and other industry partners for better community resilience.

Prof. Evangelia Petridou from the Risk and Crisis Research Center of Mid Sweden University, presented the working outcomes of the Social Network Analysis produced during the early stages of the SECRA Project. The study has adopted a network based approach focused on relations and actors/institutions related to university-enterprise collaborations.

Ms. Hannah Singer, Resident Coordinator of the UN in Sri Lanka, sent her message to the symposium, in which she stated that the last year’s report by the climate change panel was, as the UN Secretary General called it, a quadratic for humanity, and emphasized on the urgent need for gender-inclusive science back solutions to tackle environmental issues and climate change. Mr. Abdur Rahim Siddique stated that within the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, one of the main pillars is enhancing resilience to climate change and disasters and strengthening environmental management. Further that the UN works to reduce institutional, community, and household vulnerabilities while improving capacities to better prepare for and adapt to a changing climate.

The second day of the symposium started off with a panel discussion themed on ‘Experience Sharing on Industry Linkup for University Enterprise Collaborations Related to Disaster Risk Resilience.’ The session was moderated by Mr. Rohan Cooray, a Risk Information Management Specialist from the UN and the expert panelists were Prof. Ranjith Dissanayake from the University of Peradeniya, Ms. Anoja Seneviratne, Director of Mitigation, Research and Development of the Disaster Management Center; Mr. Malith Fernando, a meteorologist from the Department of Meteorology and Mr. Charitha Ratwatte, Jr, Head – Group Sustainability at Dialog Axiata PLC

Speakers for the day included Mr. Liu Yang Sloan, Secretary-General and Chief Researcher of NeoChina Center for International Development; Mr. Darren Lumbroso, Technical Director at HR Wallingford Ltd, United Kingdom; Prof. Richard Haigh and Dr. Kinkini Hemachandra from the Global Disaster Resilience Centre, University of Huddersfield, United Kingdom. Ms. Sasha Cohen Ioannides, Candidate Cofounder of Ecotone Renewables and EIT EU FutureFoodMaker, spoke on Young Sustainable Innovation: Failures and Successes of Solution-Building on the third day.

Mr. Liu Yang Sloan, who spoke on Effective Network Building toward successful UEC, highlighted that youth centered collaborative programs need to be shaped around passion; emotion; imagination; and professionalism, and the need to combine rural development and sustainable development through cutting edge digital economic solutions. Mr. Darren Lumbroso shared lessons on Low and High Tech Ways to Increase Communities’ Resilience to Floods. Discussed learnings from low income countries regarding how they have improved resilience to hurricanes and coastal flooding, and how the Agent Based Models can be used to predict consequences of floods ultimately to save more lives.

Prof. Richard Haigh and Dr. Kinkini Hemachandra presented an overview of the GDRC Annual Report 2021. International collaborations, coproduction, whereby they formulate research ideas with end users; and creating an impact are central to their achievements. Dr. Hemachandra discussed GDRC collaborations with Sri Lankan institutions, academia and practitioners. Second day afternoon onwards the symposium was dedicated to internal project discussions among coordinating and partner universities and the event successfully concluded after many fruitful discussions.

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