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 iparticularly the case for companies in the tech industry. Mobitel is one such company.

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 one important concern that surfaced, was the debate around urban waste management. With this new development, we saw Mobitel leap to facilitate a solution. At the time it was reported that Meethotamulla 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 fact. So what really happened with this? Well, it turns out the sensors were taken down merely weeks after installing them. Sadly, nothing much has been done since then, from Mobitel’s part at least. The garbage dump is still intact as it was 2 years ago. Sure, we have politicians talking about programs to find a resolution and revive the Meethotamulla community. But with no surprise, these have been mere statements 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. So it’s clearly not for the lack of technology or skilled labor. Rather, it’s a matter of application and following through.

But the question still remains, why would Mobitel make surfing the wave of the Meethotamulla fiasco? Was there even a clear-cut plan to carry the initiative forward? Was it all just for PR?

First time in Sri Lanka; is it reason enough?

Speaking of PR, remember the smart bus stand Mobitel 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. It’s 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 interesting to say the least. It’s sad to see it reduced to merely a flashy bus halt now.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep

“Echoing its commitment as a responsible corporate citizen”, might not be the best way to start a press release if you’re a corporate with stalled projects like the smart bus halt and Meethotamulla. To be fair, Mobitel isn’t the only entity out there that tries to sell innovation and novelty for mere marketing purposes. But 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 (Image credit ReadMe)

Furthermore, if Sri Lanka is looking at a truly digital future, then part of that includes sustainable initiatives that actually benefit the society at large. After all, sustainability isn’t just limited to planting trees and reducing your carbon footprint. It also pertains to strategic initiatives that can be carried out for a long period of time, with clear economic outcomes. Case in point, the Mobitel smart bus stand. 

So while we commend Mobitel on taking the initiative, we wish it was more than just expensive PR. Here’s hoping we’re proven wrong.

References: ReadMe

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