A village developed by Lyca for Sri Lankans affected by the war was inaugurated on Wednesday and as a first step they handed 150 houses and Lycamobile’s chairman Subaskaran Allirajah promised another 450 houses will be built and given to war effected families in North and East of Sri lanka.
‘Lyca’s Gnanam village’: Houses handed over to the beneficiaries
‘Lyca’s Gnanam village’ consisting of 150 houses have been handed over to the families. The keys were handed over to the beneficiaries by the guests such as Gnanambikai Allirajah, the co-founder of Gnanam Foundation, Lycamobile Chairman Philanthropist Mr.Subashkaran Allirajah, Leader of the Tamil National Alliance R. Sampanthan and other guests.
‘Lyca’s Gnanam village’: Guests arrive for the handing over ceremony
The guests for the handing over of the ‘Lyca’s Gnanam village’ have arrived at the newly constructed village a while ago.
Lyca’s Gnanam Foundation Founder Member and Lycamobile Chairman Philanthropist Mr.Subashkaran Allirajah with his mother Gnanambikai Allirajah and his wife Prema Subaskaran has arrived.
Honourable Mr Vigneswaran, President of the Senate of Malaysia, Honourable James Berry MP, Member of British Parliament and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, Right Honourable Keith Vaz MP, Member of British Parliament and member of the Justice Select Committee, Opposition Leader and leader of the TNA R. Sampanthan and Honourable Mr Sumanthiran, Deputy Leader of the TNA also have arrived for the event.
‘Lyca’s Gnanam village’ to the beneficiaries today
‘Lyca’s Gnanam village’ the newly constructed village consisting 150 houses for the internally displaced families, by Lyca’s Gnanam Foundation is to be handed over to the beneficiaries today (April 10)by Lyca’s Gnanam Foundation Founder Member and Lycamobile Chairman Philanthropist Mr.Subashkaran Allirajah.
The beneficiaries, the Poonthoddam IDP’s, religious leaders and political leaders express gratitude to Mr.Subashkaran Allirajah for his long term vision of supporting the most needy communities of Sri Lanka.
In June 2014 during his Visit to Sri Lanka to open 9 district branch offices of Lyca’s Gnanam Foundation, Great Philanthropist Mr.Subashkaran Allirajah assured the Poonthoddam IDP’s that he will support the construction of Permanent Shelter for the them for resettlement in the near future with close coordination with all relevant government authorities.
After Completion of all preparation work the Ministry of Resettlement and Hindu Relations affairs and Lyca’s Gnanam Foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for construction of 150 Nos Permeant Houses with all basic facilities including toilet facilities to be constructed at Sinnaadampan in the Vavuniya district for relocation of 150 Families of the Poonthoddam refugee camp.
This historical event concludes the IDP issues of Poonthoddam which was in existence for the past 30 years. The relocation programme also incorporates sustainable livelihood activities to ensure Poonthoddam IDPs are provided with sufficient income generation in the resettlement village.
The foundation stone laying ceremony was held in august 2015 with the patronage of Madam Hon.Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga with many other distinguished guests.
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Lycamobile’s chairman Subaskaran Allirajah: Meet the philanthropist behind the multi-million pound business
“He cooks for everyone and we stand around the breakfast bar and chat. Some of the most important decisions the company has taken have been over meals he’s made.”
This is one of Lycamobile’s leadership team, and he’s talking about his boss, founder and chairman Subaskaran Allirajah. Lycamobile is a mobile virtual network operator, providing Sim packages to people across the globe, enabling them to make calls to anywhere else in the world – you might recognise its store frontage.
The name “Lyca” is based on Allirajah’s sister’s name, Lehka. “I didn’t want to name the company after her exactly in case it didn’t work out,” he explains. Today, Lycamobile is in 21 countries, has 15m customers and turns over €1.6bn. According to The Sunday Times’s Rich List, Allirajah is worth £180m.
The company has 11 subsidiaries and other parts of the business, too: there’s (to name but a few) Lycaremit, a money transfer service, LycaFly, which offers cheap flights, LycaTV, Lycalotto and Lyca Productions, which is working on the film 2.0, billed as being the most expensive Indian production ever, having released a Bollywood hit already.
“Films as well?” I ask as we course through Allirajah’s achievements. “You can make a good margin on films in India, provided you run it as a business. But more than anything, film is my passion; I just really, really love it. When I was little I loved to watch movies – I’d watch one or two every day. Of course, I never thought I’d release a movie,” he qualifies.
But sitting talking to Allirajah in Bella Cosa, his Italian restaurant in Canary Wharf (it’s opposite his office and came up for sale. He owns the Indian down the road, too), it quickly becomes clear that life hasn’t always been like this. The multi-millionaire grew up in Sri Lanka during the country’s civil war. His dad died when he was young and, as a teenager, he followed his brother to Paris to escape the conflict.
Once there, the family set up a restaurant, then a grocers. The grocers sold calling cards to people who wanted to phone abroad. “Suddenly, the distributor stopped supplying, and customers were running round trying to find cards. Other incumbents were too expensive… my brother and I thought, ‘why don’t we just start selling them ourselves?’”
Business went well and, in 1999, Allirajah moved with his wife, then a medical student in Sri Lanka, to London. Three years later, he set up his own firm, Lycatel, a calling card firm. By 2006, he’d moved into mobile. Calling cards “were great for calling internationally at a cheaper rate, but a pain to use for the customer. In the early 2000s, not everybody had a mobile phone. But between 2000 and 2006, usage increased.”
Allirajah decided to bring across the benefits of the calling card to a mobile platform – so customers would have the benefit of making international calls cheaply on their mobiles. “To do that, we had to become a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) – a user friendly innovation. Regulations in Europe had recently changed to allow this to happen, and the Netherlands was one of the first countries to adopt the change. So we launched Lycamobile there with T-Mobile.”
Move with the times
Now, Lyca’s reach spans Australia to Poland, Tunisia to the US. Allirajah says changing migration patterns and increasing movement means Lyca’s target audience has altered. “With calling cards, it was individuals looking to call outside Europe. Then, it was intra-Europe. Now, it is the international customer – anyone travelling internationally. People used to be happy with having two phones and having to switch between them; now they want just the one.”
Moreover, voice calls still play a huge part in Lycamobile’s offering, he adds, despite the enormous rise of data. That said, Lyca’s spin-offs focus closely on the rise in the use of data in its key markets: across Africa, for example, LycaTV offers specific content aimed at local audiences. You can see the logic: if you’re offering data, why not offer content for consumers using that data? “We have LycaTV, LycaRadio – it’s great for customers to have all of that in one place. The challenge for all operators is to strike a balance between what people are doing, what they are using, and be one step ahead: what will they want next?”
A bigger purpose
But what has driven him to do all this? Attempting to extract a grand statement from him, we come to: “I simply took advantage of opportunities that were before me, because that was all I had at the time. Having some success has meant being able to give back to communities who need it. That is fulfilling.” It’s his team who pipe up: “Subas is the most humble, generous person. He just will not admit it”; “he spends so much time giving others things, making the lives of others better.”
In 2010, Allirajah founded the Gnanam Foundation with his mum (Gnanam is her name). Financed entirely by his company, the foundation will shortly open Lyca Village in Northern Sri Lanka. The village has been built for a community that has been in a refugee camp for the past 25 years. “That is an achievement for me. I would like to do more projects like this, in places where it’s needed most.”
Allirajah’s wife is the chair of the Gnanam Foundation, and of LycaHealth. “She never got to finish her studies and become a doctor [she followed Allirajah to the UK and then studied biomedical sciences], so I said to her ‘I’ll make sure you will have many doctors reporting to you.’” LycaHealth owns and runs diagnostics centres in Canary Wharf and Orpington. It will shortly be opening a new, 11-story facility, in Chennai in India. “The long-term plan is to have 10 worldwide. She’s the one behind it and now has over 200 doctors reporting to her.”
In addition to opening a village, a medical centre and releasing a film this year, Allirajah intends to press on with his plan to have 50m people using Lycamobile by 2020, focusing on Africa and South America for growth. The company has also just bought Ortel, a direct competitor in Belgium. “It’s a good year, actually. And there is increasing interest worldwide for launching MVNOs – from football clubs to social media startups.
“I never planned anything. It just happened. I didn’t think ‘I’m going to go into telecoms and be successful’. I never had any specific plan for the future.”
“Yet his ambition never stops,” says a colleague. “He has moving targets and is very good at setting impossible tasks! But he’ll always drive everybody to achieve it.” Allirajah’s family will soon fly out to Sir Lanka to open Lyca Village. “They will all be there. Family is everything for me, and I look at our employees as one big family. We take the highs and the lows together; we move forward together.”