A Battle to the Top

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The Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM) elected Nuwan Gamage as its 44th President in its 52nd year along with a Council of Management and Executive Committee for  2022/23. Nuwan has over 20 years of experience in a plethora of field, ranging from cosmetics and fashion to infrastructure development and plans to expand SLIM beyond its current level with his newly appointed position.

Nuwan believes that building a strong digital marketing ecosystem in the country is pivotal in making the generations to come future ready and help businesses thrive. Digital and social media are strong platforms for marketers and businesses to grow exponentially. It has also been at the forefront of the country’s digital transformation during the pandemic and has been at the centre of the start-up eco system where digital natives are born, the spokesman said.

He also believes that research and advocacy on a national level will greatly contribute to the development of a knowledge-driven economy. He believes that engaging in public policy development and strategy formulation and research for ministries and public enterprises will greatly enhance the country’s economic stability. He feels strongly about the need to build and promote Sri Lanka to the rest of the world as a place people and business can not only visit but invest in and live in peacefully. It is a crucial part of revitalising Sri Lanka’s economy and enhancing the country’s reputation on global scale.

Nuwan spoke to Ceylon Today in an exclusive interview discussing his new position, journey and plans for the future of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.

 Excerpts from the interview:

 Tell us a bit about yourself…

 I am the President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing. I was born and raised in a small village in the down south called Morawata, in the Matara District. I completed my Ordinary Level in the village and did my Advanced Level in town. Looking for a job as an Advanced Level student, I moved to Colombo to study and started working at a small-scale advertising agency. That’s how I started my career. It wasn’t the easiest; coming from a village without any proper qualifications. When I started my degree in marketing, I began to realise the potential in this career. After all, at those times if you mention ‘Marketing’ to a village person, they think of it as a guy in a suit, going to boutiques and such. As I came to realise, marketing is extremely expansive; it’s overlooking an entire business – from product development to sales, to customer satisfaction. It’s a 360 degree industry.

 Could you describe what you’ll offer to SLIM and its role?

 SLIM began operation in 1970 under an Act of Parliament as a national body of marketing. Sales, marketing, media buying, and advertising all come under SLIM. We have three main pillars – Education, Secretariat, and Research.

 In our education pillar, we have a professional education qualification for marketing – including digital marketing. What you learn today has to benefit you five years from now. Otherwise, it doesn’t benefit you and the money you’ve spent is wasted.

 Another aspect of education we have introduced is teaching sustainable marketing. Sustainable marketing is becoming an important issue in this day and age. Most companies do a bit of greenwashing but I don’t know if they are addressing it or if they are taking sustainability to heart.

 Three months ago, we launched ethical marketing guidelines in Sri Lanka, developing a green marketing framework for the top corporations of Sri Lanka. For instance:  packaging, supply chains, usage of polythene and switching to biodegradable materials.

 We also have entrepreneurial marketing courses where people starting small scale businesses can learn marketing. A lot of time, people have wonderful products and services invented but they cannot market them properly. Hence we can provide that service. Our main goal is to provide knowledge to the economy of Sri Lanka.

 Our second pillar is the Secretariat which is just membership services. We are a member-based organisation which is how I was voted President.

 The third pillar is research which is a new addition to SLIM. Startups don’t have the access to research agencies in Sri Lanka – it is an unnecessary cost to them because they don’t have big budgets to spend on research. Identifying that gap, we launched research.

 Under this pillar, we also have academic research where professional people in marketing can do their research and publish their papers with us.

 As a self-made man, what are your thoughts on the startup culture in Sri Lanka?

 When you look at the startup culture globally, as a percentage, the number of startups that succeed is very low, because of the lack of understanding of the business and financial instability.

 Sri Lankan startups are usually driven by passion which can only take you to a certain extent – from that point onwards you need a marketing and business strategy. Further, you’d need a sort of angel investor. We have some of those networks in Sri Lanka, but for example in rural areas, they don’t have the proper guidance and investment they need to start.

 Additionally, there’s a very dependent mentality in Sri Lanka.

There is no such subject in our education, in our syllabus, to inspire yourself to start your own business, to become an entrepreneur. You’re taught to only work under someone else. That dependent mentality is something we have to get rid of.

 Luckily, I see that Generation Z is moving away from the trend of working under others and following entrepreneurship. They are extremely creative, as well as more environmentally conscious than previous generations. This sort of mentality should be encouraged. SLIM is there for supporting those motives under our pillars.

I believe that developing a collaborative programme for small businesses and startups to help them with seed funding, mentoring, training and providing growth opportunities will go a long way in their initial stages and help the economy greatly.

 How do you think SLIM can help in the current economic crisis?

 Marketers can be at the forefront of helping in this crisis because Sri Lanka’s reputation is damaged. We can help in enhancing our international reputation. We must have a collaborative approach – between the exporting sector, the tourism sector, and so on.

We need more investor-friendly policies. For example, foreigners can’t open a bank account in Sri Lanka if they aren’t working here. If we can develop a policy change to allow that then we would get much more revenue.

As a national body of marketing, we will be facilitating this. Currently, we are working with agencies and a couple of marketers in Sri Lanka to develop a blueprint to position Sri Lanka as an ideal place to travel, invest, and live. The ‘Live’ aspect is most important because Sri Lanka’s educated population is leaving the country. We have to protect their future and their kids’ future. This will take 10 or 15 years but SLIM will be facilitating the first steps.

 Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs?

 To answer that question frankly. What I did was always prepare myself for the next challenge – I looked ahead and saw the trends coming in the future and prepared myself for that battle.

The next thing is dreaming. Dreaming about your passion will go to your subconscious mind. Our brain is the most powerful thing we have and if you have the willingness and you are a dreamer, things will automatically come to you. I think I’m a good example because I came from a village and now, I am the President of SLIM – I came to Colombo without anything but the money for my boarding house. From there I developed myself and grew. The difference is getting an education and a job. While you’re working you learn. I am reading for my PhD now – you have to upgrade yourself frequently to face the next battle. Believe in yourself, don’t compare yourself to anyone else- you be you and that will drive you to where you want to be.

By Ruelle Sittampalam