Effective Skill Transfer in a Culturally Diverse Environment: Constructing the Manmunai Bridge in Sri Lanka

In 2009, as Sri Lanka’s 26-year internal armed conflict was coming to an end, the Sri Lankan government requested support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency for the construction of the Manmunai Bridge, which would connect the two shores of a lagoon in the war-ravaged area of Manmunai. Development in Manmunai was a priority because the Eastern Province, where it was located, had been heavily affected by the war. With Japanese grant aid, a Japanese contractor led the construction using local workers. The project hired workers from different ethnic and linguistic groups in the community, which led to communication issues between the contractor and workers and between workers. The Japanese contractor and Sri Lankan workers perceived the division of roles differently, especially concerning the management of heavy machinery. Workers tended to be unskilled laborers with less industrial experience and limited knowledge of relevant techniques. This case study examines how the contractor fostered better communication with workers, helped workers understand their roles and responsibilities in the project, and developed workers’ skills.

Development Challenge: Improving transportation and communication between the two shores of a lagoon in the war-ravaged Manmunai area in eastern Sri Lanka.

Delivery Challenges: Social and cultural; roles and responsibilities; human resources and organizational capacity

Lessons Learned: Despite language and ethnicity being a barrier, keeping communication alive bridged the gap among people of different backgrounds and enhanced learning and respect for each other.