For Dr. A.T Ariyaratne, founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadanaya Movement, one of the things that Sri Lanka needs to ‘fix’ in order to move ahead is to bridge the gap between profits, and humanity. This is where ‘Western economic theory’ is completely false, he says — because it created poverty and unemployment by focusing on theory alone.

“The present economic practices of the West…is that land, labour, and capital are brought together to just create more and more. That’s wrong: it isn’t just land, it’s nature. It’s not labour, it’s human personality. It’s social wealth, not capital. It’s not just capital, it’s science, and technology,” he said.

Addressing a gathering at a panel discussion on The Role of Business in Sustainable Economic Resurgence, organised by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Ariyaratne outlined his journey as a teacher and humanitarian who put the rural community at the forefront. The most epiphanic experience for him was to come across a husband waiting for his wife to give birth in a rural village, armed with a pickaxe to sever her umbilical cord. This highlighted the disparities between villages, and the urban community, and eventually inspired Dr. Ariyaratne to found the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.

“I found that there is no development taking place in villages, because whatever resources they have is sucked into the city,” he elaborated.

“I thought we have to find a way to bring capital to these villages. We learnt from the people that there were human needs which could be classified into ten. Clean and beautiful environment, simple clothing, food requirement, housing, communication, health, education, energy needs and so on. Each of these were in over 300 sub-needs; which creates employment opportunity. I founded societies, and then tried help people getting the capital they needed, without sacrificing anything. The quality of their lives were improved.”

For Dr. Ariyaratne, the solution to move forward is simple — to focus on not just economic and political needs of a country, but on its spiritual needs as well. Creating moral and cultural values will help create a unified national identity, and complement socioeconomic development along the way, as people learn to respect each other in their growth.

“If these things are not there and you focus only on the politics and economics, the kind of mess we are in today are bound to happen,” he added.