Chitranganie Mubarak, Chairwoman, ICT Agency, Sri Lanka

By Medha Basu

Women in GovTech Special Report 2016.

Tell us about your background. How did you get to where you are now?

To be honest – I am not a ‘techy’. I am actually a Chemistry Honors graduate and started my career in the academic discipline I had my grounding in – first as a lecturer and then as a researcher. It was in the mid-eighties that I found that economic and social development is what really inspires and interests me.

Today I am someone who strongly believes that this technological wave we are riding on offers countries like ours an opportunity to break out of the shackles that hold us down, and bring about a huge change both economically and socially. I am really passionate about leveraging on ICT for building our country.

I got hooked onto ‘ICT for Development’ first as the Director of TradenetSL, a division of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board. Our mandate was to use ICT to reach out to buyers, showcase our products, collect and disseminate market and product information, set up strong networks linking producers at the grassroots with exporters and so on. This was in the late nineties.

A few years down the road we launched the country’s first online trading platform, with our own payment gateway and a logistics provider. It was the smaller producers who benefited the most – suddenly their products had a wider visibility and an extensive outreach.

Then came ten years of driving a programme which produced over 200 innovative ICT-based solutions to address problems people faced in their everyday lives. Diverse projects with diverse outcomes – the common theme to it all was ensuring that the dividends of ICT reached every village and every citizen. It was fascinating!

Today I am the Chairperson of this organisation - the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka. We are the apex body in the country mandated with the responsibility of setting the ICT policy direction and facilitating ICT development activities across the country.

Why did you decide to join the public sector?

This is something I've never really thought about, but I guess I was led by my family upbringing. My father was a highly recognised civil servant when the civil service in our country was at its zenith. Many of his close friends were also from the service. As a young child I used sit in on their discussion, imbibing the atmosphere of 5-year development plans and the like!

With the exception of a short foray into the private sector I have stayed in the public sector – and happily so.

What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?

I think for me the most satisfying experiences in my career have been when something that I have worked on makes a real difference to the country and to people.

The digital recreation of the ancient Jetavanaramaya Monastery complex in the sacred world heritage city of Anuradhapura, which brings out the depth of our cultural heritage; a local language text-to-braille software for the visually impaired; the e-Hospital Project which cut down on patient waiting time and enabled doctors to make more informed diagnosis and treatment – these are but a few examples.

What advice do you have for other women looking to succeed in GovTech?

For most women in our society, perhaps in most Asian societies, balancing work and family commitments becomes an art by itself! The thing to do is to leverage on the networks you have of family, friends and others you may have in your household to ensure that the work at home gets done with or without you.

In Sri Lanka there is a preference, among women in particular, for government jobs because of the stability it offers and the perception that it is less stressful and easier to juggle along with family commitments. I think no woman should make a career choice based on a job being ‘easier’, - whether you can get off work early when needed; don’t have to take any work home; or once you get the job, it is there for you.

These are all the wrong reasons. I would say choose you career path based on what inspires you. There will never be a boring moment. Technology may not be what you were trained for but it is a mere tool with which you can improve the lives of people. So don’t turn away from it even if it is alien to you.

And finally, how do you like to unwind after a long week at the office?

Work is so much a part of my being, I now find it difficult to disassociate myself from it. But I love traveling – and I love nothing more than travelling with family. And to put my legs up and watch a good movie!