I came across a really interesting article written by InformationWeek editor Paul McDougall. This article is all about a multi-million-dollar program in which the U.S. will help train a variety of workers in Sri Lanka. In addition to fostering partnerships to educate workers and create jobs in the construction, garment and textiles industries, USAID is also focusing on training 3,000 specialists in IT and related functions.
The article points to a statement posted last week by the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on its Web site, which says that USAID is partnering with BPO and IT and English-language training companies to establish professional IT and English skills development training centers. “Courses in Business Process Outsourcing, Enterprise Java, and English Language Skills will be offered at no charge to over 3,000 under- and unemployed students who will then participate in on-the-job training schemes with private firms,” the embassy said in its statement.
Following their training, according to InformationWeek article, the tech workers will be placed with outsourcing vendors in the region that provide offshore IT and business services to American companies looking to take advantage of the Asian subcontinent’s low labor costs.
From a philosophical point of view, that sounds great (that’s my opinion, mind you). I mean, after all… the United States is a world power and the wealthiest of countries and I believe that it is incumbent upon us to spread our good fortune around when and where we can (I want to emphatically point out that I’m not suggesting we force our way of life on other countries, but just do the right thing and provide aid and assistance). Sri Lanka is a developing economy that is in need of assistance.
According to information on the U.S. State Department’s Web site, war and terrorism ravaged the country from 1983 until 2009, when the Sri Lankan government declared victory after more than 26 years of civil conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed separatist group. LTTE remains on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations, according to the state department.
Sri Lanka, of course, draws lots of tourists to its beaches. But it was its beaches and coastal areas of eastern, southern, and southwestern Sri Lanka that suffered severe damage and loss of life as a result of the Asian Tsunami in 2004.
But McDougall’s article (whom, by the way, I have the utmost respect for; I worked with McDougall for a number of years in a past life and he’s a smart and talented journalist), discusses the USAID initiative in the context of President Obama’s pledge to retain more high-tech jobs in the U.S. To further make that connection, the article adds that the $22 million program in Sri Lanka is being overseen by USAID director Rajiv Shah, an Obama appointee asked in January head USAID. Shah, who has held senior positions at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said at his swearing-in ceremony that USAID needs to focus more on helping developing nations build technology-based economies, the article notes.
Take what you will from that connection. I’m not opposed to adding context to news, and I agree that there is a bit of the “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” sorta thing going on. I mean, Congress is debating a bill that’s aimed at closing loopholes that encourage offshoring, while USAID is funding an offshore market. I get that.
But is this something we should jump up and down about, stomp our feet in protest, and otherwise criticize? Is this really about the U.S. is grooming Sri Lanka to steal IT jobs from us by helping the poor country build up its nascent outsourcing industry? I think not. But, as always, I’m interested in your point of view. What say you, readers? Is USAID, in this case, good or bad?