Case spotlight: FabLanka Foundation: Empowering Rural Youth in Sri Lanka with 3-D Printing Technology

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This case was featured in the August 2022 issue of Connect.

Who – the protagonist

Greshan Fernando, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of FabLanka Foundation.

What?

FabLanka Foundation is a not-for-profit social enterprise working on socio-economic development using cutting edge 3D printing technology.

Pioneering the introduction of the Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies to Sri Lanka, FabLanka is made up of a group of highly skilled engineers who set up fabrication labs throughout the country as a community outreach project.

3-D Printing at FabLab

Why?

Greshan was feeling under pressure after an intense Board of Directors meeting finished without any agreement on the main decision of the final business model or the future plans of the FabLanka Foundation.

Greshan was well aware that FabLanka had attracted significant interest from a number of groups including youth, civil society and industrial sector organisations and, also, the government of Sri Lanka.

Now was the right time for the foundation to streamline its activities and the company’s purpose.

When?

FabLanka was founded in April 2016.

Fast forward nearly six years and the organisation was having a big impact on socio-economic development throughout Sri Lanka.

It was January 2022 in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo where the Board of Directors meeting took place.

Where?

FabLanka opened its first FabLab in May 2017 in the small town of Makandura, around 60km away from Colombo.

This was also the location of FabLanka’s administrative office where the Board of Directors meeting was held.

Key quote

“We are confident that 3-D printing is a viable option, as opposed to other manufacturing technologies, for transforming Sri Lanka into a manufacturing based economy. 3-D printing reduces supply lines and inventory while increasing the product varieties for customers at low cost.”
Priyantha Palapathwala, a co-founder and the Director for Business Development at FabLanka.

What next?

Greshan reviewed the main ideas that were discussed at the Board of Directors meeting, and decided to prepare a report for the next meeting in a month’s time.

He wanted to address some of the key issues in the report. What key revenue streams should FabLanka focus on, donor funding or new product development? How should FabLanka expand the team, and what expansion strategy should the FabLab follow?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Fascinating case subject

Chaminda said: “I found that the case context of FabLanka Foundation was fascinating.

“FabLanka Foundation is a small not-for-profit which is trying to introduce Industry 4.0 technologies, including 3-D printing, for the socio-economic development in the island nation of Sri Lanka.

“This was a unique situation as using the latest digital technologies for such a purpose in a small developing country was very innovative and ambitious.

“The challenges faced by the company and how they were trying to go forward also motivated me to write this case.”

Fab Lab Visiting FabLab Makandura

Challenges of case writing in a pandemic

Chaminda continued: “When writing the case, the main challenge was the impact of COVID-19.

“The pandemic delayed the original writing plans and deadlines as data collection and interviews had to be rescheduled. In addition, COVID-19 also changed FabLanka’s way of working and organisational priorities. This caused me to revise the original focus and content of the case.

“However, since this was my first case writing experience of an international case, it was overall a great learning opportunity.”

Cover all bases

He added: “Teaching the case has been inspiring. The main challenge was to deliver the multiple knowledge areas covered in the case (Industry 4.0, 3-D printing, and the use of digital technology for social purposes in a developing country context) during the limited class time. The class teaching itself was a good learning opportunity for me as the class facilitator.”

High engagement

He commented: “The MBA students of Colombo University, where I taught the case, really enjoyed the case discussion.

“In addition to the class discussion, they were able to experience a live demonstration of 3-D printing in the classroom.

“Students’ engagement in the case discussion was very high, with many practical and relevant suggestions generated during the session. Students really valued the context where latest the digital technologies were used not just for standard business activities but for social-economic development in the country through a not-for profit social enterprise.”

Advice for case authors

Chaminda said: “Take your time to write the case in your own phase to keep the motivation.

“It is also very important to understand all the key aspects of the organisation you are writing about, regardless of the focus of the case.

“Furthermore, I’d recommend seeking professional opinions and feedback from experienced case writers and teachers during each stage of your case writing. Their ideas can be very useful in identifying your ‘blind spots’ as a case writer.”

Scholarship benefits

Chaminda concluded: “I think the Case Writing Scholarship scheme is a great opportunity for new case writers. For people like me who are coming from emerging countries, where the case method is not known as much as a university teaching method, it also provides additional motivation to engage in the case method in multiple ways. Therefore, my special thanks go to The Case Centre for continuing with the excellent Case Writing Scholarship project.”

THE CASE 

The case

Who – the protagonist

Greshan Fernando, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of FabLanka Foundation.

What?

FabLanka Foundation is a not-for-profit social enterprise working on socio-economic development using cutting edge 3D printing technology.

Pioneering the introduction of the Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies to Sri Lanka, FabLanka is made up of a group of highly skilled engineers who set up fabrication labs throughout the country as a community outreach project.

3-D Printing at FabLab

Why?

Greshan was feeling under pressure after an intense Board of Directors meeting finished without any agreement on the main decision of the final business model or the future plans of the FabLanka Foundation.

Greshan was well aware that FabLanka had attracted significant interest from a number of groups including youth, civil society and industrial sector organisations and, also, the government of Sri Lanka.

Now was the right time for the foundation to streamline its activities and the company’s purpose.

When?

FabLanka was founded in April 2016.

Fast forward nearly six years and the organisation was having a big impact on socio-economic development throughout Sri Lanka.

It was January 2022 in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo where the Board of Directors meeting took place.

Where?

FabLanka opened its first FabLab in May 2017 in the small town of Makandura, around 60km away from Colombo.

This was also the location of FabLanka’s administrative office where the Board of Directors meeting was held.

Key quote

“We are confident that 3-D printing is a viable option, as opposed to other manufacturing technologies, for transforming Sri Lanka into a manufacturing based economy. 3-D printing reduces supply lines and inventory while increasing the product varieties for customers at low cost.”
Priyantha Palapathwala, a co-founder and the Director for Business Development at FabLanka.

What next?

Greshan reviewed the main ideas that were discussed at the Board of Directors meeting, and decided to prepare a report for the next meeting in a month’s time.

He wanted to address some of the key issues in the report. What key revenue streams should FabLanka focus on, donor funding or new product development? How should FabLanka expand the team, and what expansion strategy should the FabLab follow?

AUTHOR PERSPECTIVE 

Author perspective

Fascinating case subject

Chaminda said: “I found that the case context of FabLanka Foundation was fascinating.

“FabLanka Foundation is a small not-for-profit which is trying to introduce Industry 4.0 technologies, including 3-D printing, for the socio-economic development in the island nation of Sri Lanka.

“This was a unique situation as using the latest digital technologies for such a purpose in a small developing country was very innovative and ambitious.

“The challenges faced by the company and how they were trying to go forward also motivated me to write this case.”

Fab Lab Visiting FabLab Makandura

Challenges of case writing in a pandemic

Chaminda continued: “When writing the case, the main challenge was the impact of COVID-19.

“The pandemic delayed the original writing plans and deadlines as data collection and interviews had to be rescheduled. In addition, COVID-19 also changed FabLanka’s way of working and organisational priorities. This caused me to revise the original focus and content of the case.

“However, since this was my first case writing experience of an international case, it was overall a great learning opportunity.”

Cover all bases

He added: “Teaching the case has been inspiring. The main challenge was to deliver the multiple knowledge areas covered in the case (Industry 4.0, 3-D printing, and the use of digital technology for social purposes in a developing country context) during the limited class time. The class teaching itself was a good learning opportunity for me as the class facilitator.”

High engagement

He commented: “The MBA students of Colombo University, where I taught the case, really enjoyed the case discussion.

“In addition to the class discussion, they were able to experience a live demonstration of 3-D printing in the classroom.

“Students’ engagement in the case discussion was very high, with many practical and relevant suggestions generated during the session. Students really valued the context where latest the digital technologies were used not just for standard business activities but for social-economic development in the country through a not-for profit social enterprise.”

Advice for case authors

Chaminda said: “Take your time to write the case in your own phase to keep the motivation.

“It is also very important to understand all the key aspects of the organisation you are writing about, regardless of the focus of the case.

“Furthermore, I’d recommend seeking professional opinions and feedback from experienced case writers and teachers during each stage of your case writing. Their ideas can be very useful in identifying your ‘blind spots’ as a case writer.”

Scholarship benefits

Chaminda concluded: “I think the Case Writing Scholarship scheme is a great opportunity for new case writers. For people like me who are coming from emerging countries, where the case method is not known as much as a university teaching method, it also provides additional motivation to engage in the case method in multiple ways. Therefore, my special thanks go to The Case Centre for continuing with the excellent Case Writing Scholarship project.”

THE CASE 

The authors

The protagonist

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