Feature Story – Anoka Abeyrathne


I recently read an article in the Huffington Post by Ms Anoka Aberyrathne, a Global Shaper and an award winner of the 25 Most Influential and Powerful Young Persons of the World 2012. The article was about the challenges faced by Sri Lanka’s economy and the urgent need for the Sri Lankan people to embrace an innovative mindset. I was struck by the similarities between both of our countries and I believe that her article will provide us with an excellent perspective which can be used to examine the situation in Brunei.

Anoka graciously granted us permission to reproduce her story. Read on and be inspired.

“To go forward as a country and as a nation we should give higher priority to our products,” President Maithripala Sirisena said at the Presidential Awards for Innovation ceremony held on 5th February. The President also stated that he hoped to implement a special program to broaden opportunities for innovations in the local market by empowering innovators. The event symbolises how local governance is beginning to show renewed interest in supporting innovation within the nation and this is hopefully a stepping stone towards creating an ‘innovation culture’ in Sri Lanka.

In this article, UNLOCKED blogger Anoka Abeyratne gives her opinion on both the global and local recognition of ‘innovation’.

What does Sri Lanka not have in common with Japan, Sweden, Finland, South Korea and Israel?
As I’ve discovered recently these five countries, as per the Bloomberg Innovation Index, are the top five countries for innovative research and development. They’ve created some of the coolest technological marvels using their creativity.

Interestingly South Korea, Finland and Israel are also at the forefront of the countries with the top five postsecondary education (with regard to its workforce). The reason these facts are interesting is because of how innovation and creativity, the latter being something that is not encouraged in the least especially in Sri Lankan schools, is affecting the positive development of our country and its people.

Most developing countries are beginning to see innovation and entrepreneurship as a solution to social challenges because of the simple yet very effective solutions these creative ideas generate. One such solution is social entrepreneurship. While this term may be familiar, and has no set definition or policy frameworks to regulate it in Sri Lanka, this simple but strong concept has led to young children being educated through creative ways.

A prime example of such is the EducateLanka foundation. Another such example is Good Market, which has enabled communities to gain access to better market systems while providing healthier fare to consumers.

According to the National Human Development Report (2014) the National Human Resources and Employment Policy proposes entrepreneurship development programs and credit and business development services for enterprises that maintain decent work standards.

Having tried to explain social entrepreneurship to a group of academics while researching for postgraduate studies as well as having had to explain it to university students, I’ve personally felt how difficult it is for most people to understand concept. This is due to the fact that “social enterprise” is not a concept that people in Sri Lanka think of on a day-to-day basis. That is, until you start showing people in practice how social entrepreneurship works and the impact that it creates, rather than just talking about the topic.

The NHDR (2014) mentions how expanding the concept of selfemployment requires widespread promotion of entrepreneurship and the introduction of entrepreneurship principles into education, access to low-cost finance and networking across business actors.

Being part of the World Economic Forum Global Shapers and a New Champion of its community, the level of innovation, action and creativity one sees is both very exciting and very saddening when you realise that some of the best minds in the country forget to be creative and instead tread the wellbeaten path of conformity.

I recently read an interview about an amazing lady, Sandra Wandurangala and something that stuck with me was the fact that while she had been politically motivated, she realised that she could make better and greater changes through entrepreneurship and philanthropy. It is paramount that the youth of the country follow such great personalities and most importantly the doers.

At the end of the day, it won’t be the fancy speeches, the online or oneoff campaigns held island-wide by politically motivated individuals or groups that will help propel Sri Lanka’s development sustainably and innovatively, because without action, nothing will change.

It will be people empowering themselves socio-economically and through education after discovering that there is a life beyond waiting for someone else to make a change. They will realise that they can make the change by themselves, through creativity, innovative thinking and action. And that is how positive development will really begin.

This article was published in the Apr-Jun 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!

anoka224 year old Anoka Abeyrathne is an environmentalist, eco-socialentrepreneur and youth policy advocate. She was awarded the Common wealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development and featured by Youth Service America and Huffington Post List on the 25 Most Influential and Powerful Young Persons of the World 2012.

Abeyrathne is one of the youngest World Economic Forum Global Shapers in Sri Lanka and a Royal Commonwealth Society Associate Fellow. She represents Sri Lanka in the United Nations-World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Council and is the recently elected Asia-Pacific Representative to the UNHabitat YAB.

Anoka graduated with a LLB (Hons) from the University of London and Masters in Development from the University of Colombo.