Mobitel and the innovation conundrum


It’s not an uncommon sight to see corporates using CSR as a promotional tool to promote their brand name. Sure, you have “sustainability” thrown around more often now. But whether these CSR initiatives actually make a sustainable impact has always remained a question. That’s a discussion of its own. But what about corporates that use innovation and novelty in a similar fashion? This is particularly the case for companies in the local tech industry that runs regular PRs.

It should be noted that we’ve already reached out to Mobitel for clarification on 3rd of September 2019, regarding the below-mentioned projects. The company is yet to get back to us. We will update the article should anything new come to light.

Remember Meethotamulla?

The Meethotamulla garbage dump is an unfortunate tragedy, one that ended up with people losing their lives purely due to authorities’ and our own negligence. But following the incident, one important concern that surfaced was the debate around urban waste management. This was a hot topic all across traditional and digital media, and one couldn’t miss the headlines on the papers. With this new development, we saw Mobitel leap to facilitate a solution. At the time it was reported that Meethotamulla garbage dump contained pockets of high levels of Methane. To monitor this Mobitel Innovation Centre, Mobitel’s innovation arm, deployed sensors. These sensors essentially recorded Methane, Carbon Monoxide, and Carbon Dioxide levels in the garbage dump.

Meethotamulla | MIC
The MIC team assessing the situation at Meethotamulla

The immediate concern was to determine if Methane was at a dangerously high level. Any further action depended on this reading. It was yet to be established for the next steps ahead.

So what really happened thereafter? Turns out the sensors were taken down before long it was installed. Sadly, nothing much has been carried out since then, from Mobitel’s part at least. The garbage dump is still imposingly intact as it was 2 years ago. Sure, we have our local politicians talking about programs to offer resolutions and revive the Meethotamulla community. But with no surprise, these have been mere statements written on air with no weight to it whatsoever.

Would it be fair to say that nothing has been done at all? Maybe not. Cue for Dr. Manju Gunawardena, senior scientist and board member at the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology. Dr. Manju has already talked about how consumer-grade drones were used to map and monitor the garbage dumpsite. Here, a DJII Phantom drone was used to generate thermal imagery, orthomosaic maps, multispectral imagery for wetness monitoring, etc. This allowed for a more accurate means of monitoring the garbage dump situation. So it seems not for the lack of technology or skilled labor. Rather, it’s a matter of application and following through.

Drones on meethotamulla dump site failure. We are mapping and observing continuously for further slips and crack…

Posted by Manju Gunawardana on Sunday, April 23, 2017

First time in Sri Lanka; is it reason enough?

Dialog claimed to be the first to have tested 5G in South Asia. Cargills Bank was the first to introduce image credit cards in Sri Lanka. HNB calls its BID n BUY service the first e-auction website in Sri Lanka. But is the “we came first” (no pun intended) lingo good enough?

Remember the smart bus stand showcased at Infotel back in 2015? Two years later, this concept was officially launched at Town Hall, Colombo as Sri Lanka’s first smart bus stand. The original plan was to expand the project within Colombo and later to other parts of the island. At least that’s what the company said. Fast forward to 2019 and the only smart bus stand at Town Hall is, unfortunately, no longer smart.

It’s a pity though. The smart bus stand was definitely a novel experience, one that could offer convenience and infotainment to regular commuters. Features like a self-service information portal, a mobile phone charging station, and an air quality monitor, etc. were quite captivating, to say the least. It’s sad to see it reduced to merely a flashy bus stand now.

Promises are best when fulfilled

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of doing something novel and potentially exciting. Especially in the business of tech. But none of the fanfare will matter if a promise is made to the general public and falls short in delivery.

“Echoing its commitment as a responsible corporate citizen”, might not be the best way to start a press release if its a corporate with stalled projects and false promises, like the smart bus halt. In fact, Mobitel isn’t the only entity out there that leverages in selling innovation and novelty as a concept for marketing campaigns. For example, Commercial Bank’s online and mobile banking registration via ATMs, is just you typing in your phone number on the ATM. The actual process still requires you to go to the bank. Then there’s the mobile app by Sri Lanka Insurance, one that extends some of the existing services of the company to mobile. But calling it, “geared and equipped with latest technology and innovative service features” may be a bit of a stretch. Overall, this goes to show the importance of accountability. Particularly in the case of corporates. 

Mobitel smart bus stand
Mobitel’s smart bus stand on display at Infotel 2015

Sri Lanka is looking at a truly digital future, and part of that involves sustainable initiatives that genuinely benefit the society at large. After all, sustainability isn’t just limited to planting trees and reducing your carbon footprint. It also encapsulates strategic initiatives that can be carried out for a longer period of time, with clear economic outcomes.

So while we commend corporates like Mobitel on taking the initiative, we also wish it was more than just expensive PR.


  1. Least Mobitel tried as their CSR project, but implementing island wide it up to the government officials/the transportation ministry, not a telcos job. The PR clearly stated it’s a pilot project by Mobitel. Sustainability is the hardest in the CSR. ReadMe rather than finding faults and being keyboard warriors why not find a solution to the problem? You guys boast as the IT platform.

    You guys charge for all CSR events even community events like startup weekend, as that’s your business model. So of course you would not understand CSR. No ones perfect, take your website for example what a crap, but you guys have problem when Gov website gets hacks, while you guys can’t secure your own website. As boasted by readme, shouldn’t a leading (BS) IT mag set standards?

    “It’s easy to blame but hard to implement” Get a life ReadMe!

  2. Even ReadMe can’t sustain business things they started like the magazine, tech talk, and much more. what happened to all the paper articles you guys put out? Just loud noise, no show. LOL stop pointing fingers at others. You can’t even sustain your business, you’re writing about CSR initiatives.


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