Published: | Canada

Seeds of Change: The Social Enterprise That Blossomed From a Founder’s Tragedy

From the outside, it seems like Kieran Arasaratnam has the perfect life. A loving family, a successful career in investment banking, and a prestigious position as an advisory board member at a London university. However, despite these personal and professional accomplishments, there has always been a desire within Arasaratnam to do more.

Tracing this burning need to the death of his brother who was killed during the Sri Lankan civil war, ten months ago Kieran Arasaratnam left his lucrative career in banking to develop Uinspire, an organization he deems “a new kind of social enterprise.” Focused on tackling poverty, Uinspire has raised more than £250,000 for charitable projects in Sri Lanka and the UK, and has garnered an impressive roster of high profile celebrities to its cause. They include Noble Peace Prize Laureates Muhammad Yunus, Leila Janah and Malala Yousafzai, and celebrity athletes such as Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara, and Tim Henman.   

Arasaratnam recently spoke with TamilCulture to discuss his work with Uinspire and how others can get involved.  

Q: What led you to start Uinspire?  

A: The idea behind Uinspire began long before the organization formed. My early life was difficult — my brother was killed during the war in Sri Lanka and I became a refugee at a young age. Despite these troubles, I benefited from an education and good mentors, and I went on to have a successful business career. I have been involved in a number of charities throughout my life, but I felt strongly that I wanted to do something more. Uinspire was my way of making a bigger impact by leveraging my experiences and business and academic networks. After spending many years working in finance, I realized I had the tools needed to build a different kind of social enterprise, one that tackles poverty from many angles and seeks to solve problems in unconventional ways through technology and innovation. Hence, Uinspire was born. 

 

Q: How does Uinspire work? 

A: Put simply, Uinspire is a social enterprise platform, a company that seeks to tackle poverty in developing countries with a holistic approach that combines fundraising, investment, volunteering and mentorship. Those four elements form the four pillars of the company: Uinspire GIVING, our crowdfunding and fundraising platform; Uinspire VOLUNTEERING, which brings volunteers to the communities we serve; Uinspire INVEST, which connects investors and startups; and Uinspire MENTORING which will soon offer support to communities through a network of experts.  

Another big part of what we do is the Uinspire Digital Academy which is based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The purpose of the academy is to lift young people out of poverty by offering cutting edge digital innovation and leadership training.

We also run Uinspire Global Leadership Events in London, San Francisco and Jaffna, where we invite influential speakers to share their ideas on charity and sustainable development with our network. We look forward to hosting women’s rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai soon, as well as author LXMI and Samasource founder Leila Janah later this year.  

 

Q: What projects are Uinspire currently involved with? 

A: We have many projects across South Asia and we aim to expand globally this year. The Uinspire Digital Academy in Sri Lanka is the biggest thing we have happening right now. That is staffed by a core team of 20 digital mentors who are specialized across digital disciplines as diverse as coding, web development, social media strategy, SEO, content production and blockchain infrastructure development. The digital training course, organized in partnership with Samasource, has a new intake of students every three months. But we are only just getting started. We have bigger ambitions for empowering disadvantaged youth in Sri Lanka, in line with the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. We are also launching Meet the Mentor, a series of video and podcasts that complement the Uinspire Global Leadership Events. 

 

Q. What have been some of Uinspire’s biggest achievements? 

A: It is hard to single out one achievement. 2017 was a big year for Uinspire. At the start of the year, we launched our crowdfunding platform. We successfully funded projects in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the UK. We have formed partnerships and garnered support from some very influential and inspiring people. We launched our Uinspire Global Leadership Event with Muhammad Yunus. We also launched the Uinspire Digital Academy which we expect will have a far reaching and long lasting impact on the communities it targets. We will also be working with Foundation of Goodnessto expand Uinspire’s reach to support education initiatives, and are in talks with #Iamthecode to launch a Hackathon event in parts of Sri Lanka to strengthen digital skills for young girls. 

 

Q: What are your hopes for Uinspire in the future? 

A: We have come very far in a short period but there is still a long way to go. We are just scratching the surface. Of course, we will continue to build our platform and increase the number of projects we back and grow our network. I am currently looking at different ways of making our organization more efficient and transparent by ensuring there is as little as possible that comes between our benefactors, volunteers and the people we are trying to help.

 

Q: How can people get involved? 

A: There are three main ways people can get involved. The most obvious way is to donate, participate or become an investor. This kind of contribution is really valuable to us and is the lifeblood of our organization. People who want to contribute can do so via the project pages on our website. We are also keen to find people to join our volunteer programs in Sri Lanka which are run on a regular basis. Those supporters with a specific skill set and experience – particularly entrepreneurs and business leaders – are welcome to get in touch and offer themselves as mentors to help support the projects funded via our website. Our past, present and future rely on our supporters. Without their generosity and time, we would not have got this far. We hope they will continue to stay with us as we reach our next stage of development. 

 

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If you are interested in learning more about Uinspire, check out their website: https://uinspire.co.uk/

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