Driven by their passion for the country and for social entrepreneurship, authors Indira Kithsiri and Hashendra Wijesinha are collaborating to write a book profiling the stories of successful entrepreneurs and inspirational leaders with Sri Lankan roots, from within the country and abroad. Indira began the project after recognizing the absence of an adequate local platform to highlight these exciting individuals and their achievements. Her collaboration with Hashendra was born out of their closely aligned interests and goals, particularly Hashendra’s aspirations to establish a non-profit organisation focusing on mentoring young Sri Lankans in the areas of entrepreneurship, personal and career development. Their initative will specifically target youth from disabled and low socio-economic backgrounds.
The book is the first component of an ecosystem of efforts to engage both the private and public sectors in supporting the nation’s burgeoning young, innovative personalities. Their ambition is to produce a publication which will provide insight and guidance to bright young Sri Lankans who posses aspirations to turn their ideas into powerful and impactful realities. Once published in English in early 2018, the authors hope to collaborate with the Sri Lankan Government to distribute textbook versions of the book in Sinhala and Tamil to high schools across the country. “We believe this initiative could support the current government’s reforms in the education sector, by providing innovation to the school curriculum.”
They are well on their way to gathering an exceptional list of nominees across the nine chapters of the book. They have begun identifying candidates for the final line-up! These include the likes of Penny Abeywardena (Commissioner for International Affairs for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio) and Cheryl Perera (founder of OneChild, the world’s first organisation to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of minors through advocacy, rehabilitation and reintegration). They will also be joined by Marine Biologist and blue whale expert Asha De Vos, Everest, Mountaineer Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala and Rakitha Malewana, Founder of the non-profit organization ideanerd SL, which aims to establish a culture of scientific research in Sri Lanka by focussing on encouraging innovation among school children.
“We believe this initiative is incredibly timely, given Sri Lanka’s current economic and social developments. The book will set the foundation for our plans to engage in a number of initiatives we hope to introduce to the country, to engage both the private and public sectors in supporting the nation’s burgeoning young talents” said Indira.
Hashendra added: “We hope to use the publication as a medium to provide insights, direction and guidance to bright young Sri Lankans with the aspirations to turn their ideas into powerful and impactful realities”.
An essential part of this project will be the involvement of the broader local and diaspora Sri Lankan community in selecting the most accomplished talents as exemplars for the local youth. “Ratheesan and Robert’s achievements provide a fantastic testament to the spirit Sri Lankan youth who need to embrace jumping over the hurdles to cultivate their dream career or initiative. Their commitment to be drivers of societal change and wellbeing in the face of adversity and setbacks serve as fantastic examples of inspirational stories from the Sri Lankan diaspora. Through their actions, they demonstrate a clear commitment to be drivers of societal change and well being. They are hard-working individuals, have strong leadership and are also willing to give back to society, which are important selection criteria for us” mentioned Indira and Hashendra.
Robert is a coding evangelist from Wembley, who is determined to attract British youth to become trained in a language essential to communicate in tomorrow’s digital society. He began his business as part of Natwest’s Entrepreneurial Spark programme, backed by DELL, KPMG and Pinsent Masons. They run after school coding clubs, holiday camps and intensive web development bootcamps. Now comprising of a tightly knit team of seven, GoCode Academy is expanding to other parts of the country. They regularly deliver workshops and presentations in schools, colleges and universities. “Our mission is to inspire the next generation of digital creators by equipping them with the skills and environment to have creative outcomes. The ability to program will be as essential as reading and writing for those entering the workforce/business world in future. That’s exactly what our young people will need for the digital era” says Robert.
Robert was forced to leave Jaffna, Sri Lanka with his family when he was a child as result of civil unrest. It took around two years of his family living as refugees before they were granted asylum in the UK. He says the whole experience of being a refugee gave him the hunger and perseverance to succeed. He graduated in accountancy and worked as a broker in the city of London. While working for a leading FinTech startup, he realized the digital skills shortage. Robert went from starting GoCode Academy from a coffee shop in London to be named Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the FSB Worldpay Business Awards in London.
‘I am incredibly pleased to be featured in the “Start-up, Business & Digital” chapter of the book. It is a great opportunity to share my story in this exciting book, which stands to be a source of inspiration for the Island’s current and future generations. I’m hoping to build on this momentum by taking my experience as a young entrepreneur to the start-up community in Sri Lanka in the near future. There are definitely countless opportunities for British businesses to collaborate with Sri Lanka’s ecosystem’”
About Indira Kithsiri, Project Initiator and Co-Author:
Indira Kithsiri is a bona fide social entrepreneur and youth empowerment advocate. Born in the mountains of Switzerland to a Swiss mother and Sri Lankan father, she founded SAHANA Sri Lanka, a non-profit organisation that aims to improve the living conditions and educational opportunities of underprivileged youth and women in Sri Lanka. Indira’s professional career has spanned more than 8 years working on project development, relationship management and communications across Switzerland, India and Sri Lanka. Today, she is a Community Specialist for India and South Asia at the World Economic Forum, in Geneva, Switzerland.
About Hashendra Wijesinha, Co-Author:
Hashendra Wijesinha is a third-culture nomad, having spent his childhood between Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce (majoring in Management) and a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Politics and Development Studies) from the Australian National University (ANU). He has a diverse skill set built across the corporate and non-profit sectors, including areas such as risk and management consulting, project management, communications, and research with organisations like KPMG, The United Nations Development Program, and the ANU. He is currently pursuing his postgraduate studies in Sustainability and Accounting at the University of Sydney.
We would like to invite all Sri Lankans across UK to participate in this initiative by spreading the word and by nominating their heroes at www.iaminspired.lk.