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I Am Inspired: Insights & Reflections of Sri Lankan Change-Makers

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Inspiring Sri Lanka’s current and future generations of youth through the stories of successful and innovative leaders, entrepreneurs and drivers of change

The Sri Lanka Book Project was born out of the meeting of two kindred spirits by the coastal rail tracks of Bentota in 2016. Sri Lankan by origin and identity, yet raised overseas, we’ve been constant visitors to the island out of our deep attachment to the country and its people. Initially introduced by a mutual friend, we connected upon realising that we shared a vision of uplifting the lives of our local youth. During our conversation, we discussed the phenomenal achievements of Sri Lankans in the country and around the world and reflected on the lack of an adequate platform to share their stories. This exchange led to the development of the Sri Lanka Book Project. Today, the Project hopes to utilise the power of storytelling to foster entrepreneurship and innovation amongst the future generations of Sri Lanka. Our desire is that youth will be encouraged to shed their inhibitions, take a leap of faith, and pursue their passions by engaging in our initiative, which will take a three-pronged approach:

  • The I Am Inspired coffee table book
  • A Sinhala and Tamil career-planning high school textbook
  • The Sparklers Foundation Sri Lanka

I Am Inspired contains the insights of inspirational leaders with Sri Lankan roots based in the country and around the world. Spanning across eight chapters, the consolidated biographical portraits span areas most critical to Sri Lanka’s development.

The 50 personalities featured in the book have been selected in consideration of the following criteria:

  • Recognition of the achievements in (at least) one of the eight domains of expertise/chapters
  • Strong leadership and a knack for innovation and enterprise
  • Commitment to act as drivers of change and promote societal well-being
  • Exceptional self-awareness and an inclination for continuous self-development and learning

Our key endeavour in selecting the featured profiles has been to consolidate and present a gender-balanced and ethnically diverse group of personalities, representative of the heterogeneity of Sri Lanka’s population. A public nominations portal was developed on our website, www.sparklers-foundation.org, in May 2017 to enable Sri Lankans to recognize individuals who have left a positive impact on them and their communities. The nominees were then shortlisted, with five profiles ultimately chosen for each chapter, with the exception of the Start-up & Enterprise chapter, which features 10 profiles. The selection was done in consultation with the book’s mentors, all of whom are icons in their industry or field of expertise.

All proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Sparklers Foundation, which will run capacity-building programs for young Sri Lankans exhibiting exceptional entrepreneurial and leadership skills. This will include the printing and distribution of the textbook versions in Sinhala and Tamil, including reflective exercises and career-planning tools tailored to high school students, alongside the stories. We hope to further collaborate with other organizations to guide teachers to effectively teach and create dialogue on the themes and stories of the inspiring personalities.

For more information visit: www.sparklers-foundation.org

The Authors:

Indira Kithsiri, Co-Author

Born in the mountains of Switzerland to a Swiss mother and Sri Lankan father, Indira has always voiced the importance of society’s investment in youth. Her passion for social enterprise and the mentoring of young entrepreneurs is the crux for this initiative. She holds a B.Sc. in International Hospitality Management from the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland. Alongside her studies, she founded SAHANA Sri Lanka, a non-profit organization aiming to improve the living conditions and educational opportunities of underprivileged youth and women in Sri Lanka. Indira’s professional career has spanned more than ten years working in project development, relationship management and communications across Europe, India and Sri Lanka. These have included working across the private and non-profit sectors, ranging from the level of start-ups to multinationals. Her most recent role was with the World Economic Forum, where she managed strategic relationships with representatives of governments in South Asia. Today, she brings Sri Lankan hospitality to the Swiss Alps through Mountain Heritage, a collection of bespoke properties with contemporary Asian influences named “Indama”, “Nangi”, and “Samsara”.

“It is now in the hands of Millennials to weave the fabric of societal change, and drive innovation in constructing a better world. It is in turn our responsibility to engage, inspire and empower them through education and exposure to life-changing opportunities.”

HASHENDRA WIJESINHA, Co-Author

Hashendra is a third-culture nomad, having spent his childhood between Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Singapore. His most desired outcome from the Sri Lanka Book Project was the establishment of the Sparklers Foundation Sri Lanka. He aspires to use the foundation as a platform to upskill young Sri Lankans in the areas of leadership, entrepreneurship and career development, particularly youth from low socio-economic backgrounds, and with disabilities. Hashendra holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Arts (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 organizations like KPMG and Morphosis Sustainability. His international upbringing has made him passionate about resilient communities and sustainable built environments. He is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and currently manages the Job Smart program at the University of Sydney, coaching high potential international students on employability skills and personal branding.

“Resilience is key to thriving in a landscape of constant change. There’s no better way to instill this in our society than to highlight individuals who’ve beaten the odds in a similar cultural and socio-political environment. Seeing parts of themselves reflected in these changemakers will help inspire hope and possibilities in the minds of our youth. A platform of this nature will ensure that their drive, not their backgrounds, is what defines them.”

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The Chapters

Arts & Culture

Mentors: Saskia Fernando-Yatawara, Director of Saskia Fernando Gallery, Art Space Sri Lanka & Papillon du thé and Udayshanth Fernando, Chairman and Head of Design at Paradise Road Group of Companies

“These real-life stories will present the opportunities that exist in a career in the arts and narrate the amazing individuals who have worked, against all odds, to change the contemporary art and design culture in our Sri Lankan society today. I am confident that this project will provide creative individuals with the inspiration they need to work towards the growth and maintenance of Sri Lankan Art and Culture.” Saskia Fernando

“These stories should inspire youth to identify their career path and also assist them in finding out who they are and their directions in life. Everyone is born with a talent and it is vital that one discovers where their strengths lie in order to succeed in their future.” Shanth Fernando

Selected nominees:

  1. Cecil Balmond, Architect
  2. Jagath Weerasinghe, Artist
  3. Philippe Kumara Cart, Founder of Philippe K
  4. Sonali Dharmawardena, Fashion Designer
  5. Suba Sivakumaran, Film maker

Education, Science & Research

Mentor: Dr. Asha De Vos, Marine biologist, Ocean educator and Pioneer of blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean

“This book is a celebration of all that’s possible. While it showcases the work of a handful, it is a glimpse of the talent and capacity that is widely spread throughout our island, and serves as a reminder of the hidden voices that rarely get the limelight. These individuals spend their days solving real problems, and strive to leave the planet a better place than they found it.”

Selected nominees:

  1.  Hasini Jayatilaka, Postdoctoral Researcher, Stanford University
  2. Kamalini Lokuge, Senior Research Fellow & Lead, Humanitarian Health Research Initiative, ANU College of Health and Medicine
  3. Nushelle de Silva & Irfadha Muzammil, Co-Founders of Building Bridges
  4. Rakitha Malewana, Founder and CEO, Hamzter
  5. Razni Razick, Child guidance counsellor, early childhood educator, social worker and child rights activist

Human Rights & Philanthropy

Mentors: Kushil Gunasekera, Founder of Foundation of Goodness and Jehan Perera, Executive Director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

“A meaningful life will always incorporate the impact made on touching the lives of others if you let humane qualities be your guide. The series of expert chapters on this unique creation with numerous topics, will inspire the younger generation to attain superior levels for the good of our nation.” Kushil Gunasekera

“What is needed for Sri Lanka to progress is a unifying political value system that accommodates the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious reality. We need to create a society in which every vote is equal, regardless of the ethnicity and religion of the voter; and there are guarantees of non-discrimination and equal treatment of every citizen regardless of ethnicity or religion.  With their energy and openness to new ideas, my vision is of youth in the vanguard of this movement for change.” Jehan Perera

Selected nominees:

  1.  Chandima Rajapatirana, Co-Founder and President, EASE Foundation
  2. Cheryl Perera, Founder and President, OneChild
  3. Harinda Fonseka, Founder and CEO of gudppl.com
  4. Krystle Reid & Janitha Rukmal, Co-Founders of Enable Lanka Foundation
  5. Senel Wanniarachchi, Co-Founder and Director at Hashtag Generation

Public Policy & Governance

Mentor: Razeen Sally, Chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies and Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore

“Sri Lankan public policy and governance demand rejuvenation, and this can only come from the ideas and activism of the younger generation. This project brings together young professionals who aspire to do something better for their country. For this reason, it is a welcome contribution.”

Selected nominees:

  1.  Anushka Wijesinha, Economist and Policy Advisor
  2. Aritha Wickramasinghe, Legal Advisor, National Agency for PPP, Ministry of Finance
  3. Deshal de Mel, Economist and Research Director, Verité Research
  4. Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth
  5. Penny Abeywardena, New York City’s Commissioner for International Affairs

Sports & Adventure

Mentor: Muthiah Muralidaran, Cricketer and Reconciliation-through-sports Activist

“Sports unites us, regardless of race, gender, or social standing. A publication like this is crucial in identifying the individuals taking Sri Lanka to the next level as a brand, through achievements in their game, or through their pursuit of challenging quests for greater motivation.”

Selected nominees:

  1. Hassan Esufally, Marathoner
  2. Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala and Johann Peries, Mountaineers
  3. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, Cricketers
  4. Parami Wasanthi Maristella, Steeple Chaser
  5. Subhani Udeshika, Athlete and Teacher at MJF for children with disabilities

Start-up & Enterprise

Mentor: Afdhel Aziz, Founder and Chief Purpose Officer at Conspiracy of Love

“As a proud member of the Sri Lankan diaspora, it’s my honor to contribute to this book and I hope that it will give us inspiration that what we must work towards is not just economic success, but social justice and equality – for women, for ethnic minorities, for members of other oppressed communities who are discriminated against. Because without true equality and true representation, there is no real success, no real democracy.”

Selected nominees:

  1.  Achala Samaradivakara, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Good Market
  2. Biman Liyanage, Co- Founder of CirQ Technologies
  3. Jiffry Zulfer, Founder and CEO of Pick Me
  4. Nilushika Jayaweera, Founder and CEO of Nilu Tea
  5. Nimali Gunawardana, Founder of Nimali Chips and Fibre Mill
  6. Omar and Taha Bawa, Founders of Goodwall
  7. Robert Rajeswaran, Founder of Go Code Academy
  8. Sashee Chandran, Founder and CEO of Tea Drops
  9. Shalin Balasuriya, Co-Founder of Spa Ceylon
  10. Tharushi Rajapaksa, Inventor, Alternative Lunch Pack

Sustainability & Conservation

Mentor: Dr. Ravi Fernando, Chairman/CEO of Global Strategic Corporate Sustainability Pvt. Ltd

“Sri Lanka signed the Paris agreement to commit to reducing carbon emissions by mobilizing the 17 United Nations Sustainable development goals in December 2015, further ratifying it in April 2016. The current pursuit of impetuous economic growth may significantly jeopardize this commitment. As such, our Nation needs a platform of this nature to encourage our younger generations to collaborate in creating and implementing a sustainable development strategy for the future.”

Selected nominees:

  1. Anjali Watson, Co-Founder and Managing Trustee for The Wilderness & Wildlife Conservation Trust
  2. Bhagya Wijayawardane, Co-founder of ESHKOL Garden Works
  3. Lalanath De Silva, Head of the Independent Redress Mechanism of the Green Climate Fund
  4. Mohan Munasinghe, Chairman of the MIND Group
  5. Rangika Halwathura, Researcher, academic and inventor at the University of Moratuwa (youngest professor in Civil Engineering Science in Sri Lanka)

Tourism & Hospitality

Mentor: Hiran Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing

“Sri Lanka continues to go from strength to strength in tourism and hospitality. As such, we need to highlight the stories of those who have made a difference in the sector and further motivate the youth to enhance, enrich and pioneer the breaking of new ground in their fields of passion.”

Selected nominees:

  1. Charitha Abeyratne Hettiarachchi, Founder, Saraii Village
  2. Deshabandu Victor Hettigoda, Founder and Chairman of the Siddhalepa Group
  3. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Wildlife Tourism Expert
  4. Rishi Naleendra, Owner one-Michelin-starred Cheek by Jowl
  5. Dinesh, Bocuse d’Or Sri Lanka Gold Medalist

The Sparklers Foundation

Since its launch in 2017, the Sparklers Foundation has embarked on a journey to improve the school-to-work transition for youth around Sri Lanka. The Foundation is dedicated to running capacity-building programs to nurture and support young leaders in transforming their passions into actionable initiatives, ventures and careers. We believe that this developed at scale will help support productivity growth and innovation in the Sri Lankan economy.

Our mission:

To empower young people with the skills and opportunities to build sustainable communities.

We hope to advance the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development, with a focus on three key areas:

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