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Dr. Sirimali Fernando, Chief Executive Officer at Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI)
Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) is an organization that is in charge of Sri Lanka’s national science & technology coordinating and monitoring framework 2013-2015. Dr. Sirimali Fernando, Chief Executive Officer of the Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) expressed her interests in collaborating with STEPI under the potential KOICA-STEPI-COSTI trilateral partnership to conduct a training workshop or a global round table discussion session to aware the Sri Lankans on STI policies.

First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to do the interview. Would you kindly elaborate on the Coordinating Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (COSTI) especially in terms of its role and capacity in strengthening science and technology policy in Sri Lanka?

The main goal of COSTI is to harness Science Technology and Innovation (STI) onto the three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental at a national level. It has a strong thrust on Innovation which is about commercialization of new scientific knowledge and technologies. Therefore, it goes beyond research and academia to industry and markets; converting ‘Research in to Rupees’.

To do this COSTI has to re-orientate Sri Lanka’s national STI ecosystem which is currently fragmented (in more than 80 institutes working independently - COSTI has mapped all the institutes) coming under more than 16 line ministries, state ministries and also in the private sector. These work in silos and are thoroughly disjointed, duplicating and triplicating their efforts. This requires many stakeholders from different sectors (research, industry, funding, regulatory and end user ministries and institutions, international partners etc.), both from the public and private sectors to be brought together.

COSTI has now worked out a framework where stakeholders would come together in 15 thematic areas (already identified) to co-identify, co-plan, co-strategize and co-implement mega STI programs (called National Innovation Programs or NIPs) to effectively address national development goals set out by the National Planning Department. To enable this COSTI has already drawn up the operational framework, and worked out web based programs to bring physically fragmented stakeholders to a common virtual platform.

At the same time, COSTI is complementing this activity with concurrently building capacity (in 15 identified areas) and creating awareness on STI amongst people, in all areas of STI and bringing together once again the fragmented stakeholders in a cross cutting coordinated way. This would be facilitated by COSTI working under the new Ministry of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs functioning directly under the Prime Minister in the present Government. COSTI is now fully operational with a staff of 42 people (except 3, all are graduates) and more than 90% of them have postgraduate degrees (including 7 PhDs) and at least 3 years of experience working in the STI sector.

What are the challenges that COSTI is facing?

This is a new concept and an ambitious project for Sri Lanka. Its success would depend on our ability to change the mindsets of all stakeholders (currently dominated by the’ silo mentality’) to work together towards common national goals. The government has to develop a framework to facilitate this process and introduce various instruments (policies, processes, incentive schemes etc).

COSTI in principle attempts to bring people and capacities together in an inclusive manner in a virtual space. This provides many opportunities but requires innovative solutions to capture those and manage them properly.

Our activities are all evidence based. Hence we depend a lot on data related to STI. Harmonization and Managing STI ‘Big Data’ at a national level is a serious problem as several institutes are currently generating STI related data in an ad hoc way.

A holistic focused Master Plan needs to be developed that would provide a coherent investment plan for STI in Sri Lanka to encourage investment both by the government and the private sector.

Could you introduce science and technology policy directions of Sri Lanka?

The latest Science and Technology Policy of Sri Lanka was developed in 2009. This was complemented by the National Science Technology and Innovation Strategy in 2010. COSTI framework is based on the STI strategy which envisions harnessing STI for socio-economic development of the country, supported by a world class innovation ecosystem and a scientifically literate society and entrenching sustainability principles in all spheres of STI activity.

In which aspects do you think South Korea can cooperate with Sri Lanka in S&T?

COSTI has identified international cooperation in STI as an important enabler for the STI sector in Sri Lanka. It has a separate team headed by an ex-Ambassador who is functioning as the Program Director in International cooperation. We look up to Korea’s impressive STI based development process. In fact Korean examples are quoted in the national STI Strategy of Sri Lanka!

I see many aspects for cooperation with Korea.

• I recognize with gratitude that for many years Korea has been supporting many STI related activities (in areas relevant to COSTI) of the government, non-government and of the private sector. We would really like to take a stock of all that and map them to our National Innovation Ecosystem framework and identify areas to complement, support and sustain. 

• I believe we can learn a lot from Korea than trying to re-invent the wheel. We would appreciate opportunities to learn from best practices of the Korean national innovation ecosystem. 

• We would like to work with Korea in a mutually beneficial way, especially in some mega national innovation projects.

• Sri Lanka is trying to achieve the maximum with limited capacity. Therefore, we need to build capacity concurrently and it is a priority. We would in particular appreciate advice and technical support especially to build our capacities in human resources and skills development, techno-entrepreneurship, development of research, metrology, ICT and quality infrastructure, improving scientific literacy of our people and managing big data.
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