Cover Story
Youth activist putting Sri Lanka on the global map
Navodinee Wickramanayake

Strong, charismatic and confident Navodinee Wickramanayake is part of a new emerging breed of Sri Lankan youth who is keen to activate change. An alumna of Ladies College, 24 year old Navodinee opted to do her undergraduate studies in Japan as it offered a different perspective. Now on the cusp of pursuing a MSc in Business Communication and Digital Media in the Netherlands, Navodinee can be defined as one who is a game changer. Harnessing her positive energy and drive to succeed, she has represented Sri Lanka at many international conferences where she has passionately spoken about issues affecting Sri Lanka. Her commitment to make a change has enabled her to co-found The Better Tomorrow Movement, an organization to provide mentorship, support and inspiration for young people so that they in turn can make a difference to the communities they live in. Not one to rest on her laurels, this inspirational woman is on course to make a real difference to Sri Lanka through her advocacy.
Text Tina Edward Gunawardhana
Photos Siyath Ranathunga
Hair and Make up Chalana Munasinghe of Ramani Fernando Salons
Clothes Zudhora

Why did you decide to go to Japan for your higher education?

I realised that in an extremely competitive world it is crucial to differentiate yourself at every chance you get. When I was applying to universities, a lot of kids were opting for the more “traditional routes” like UK, US and Australia. It was then that I realised that a Japanese education would set my CV apart. Added to this, my extracurricular activities in school which included a Vice Captaincy in Synchronized Swimming earned me a full scholarship. This of course further supported my decision.

Was there a formative event that made you want to be more active for social causes?

When I was studying in Japan, I began working for an organization called the Global Education Project, LBE. I travelled across cities and carried out seminars that were aimed at improving leadership skills, English language skills and cultivating a global mindset across Japanese students. Seeing the almost immediate impact on these participants was very encouraging to me. Over a couple of hours they would seem more confident, work better as a team and understand to appreciate other cultures and differences. This made me realize how helping others can trigger a positive impact,

What did you achieve through your participation at Global Changemakers?

Attending the summit in Switzerland and becoming an ambassador for GCM was my first experience representing my country oversees. What was amazing was the people I met at the conference. It was just 60 of us, so I was able to make friends with young leaders listed in the Forbes 30 under 30, refugees, social media influencers and Queen’s Young Leader award winners. We keep in touch on social media and bounce ideas off each other. It helped me learn more about the challenges we face as a society and how we can come together to address some of these issues. I also learnt the value of being pro-active. No matter how daunting a challenge may seem, the smallest efforts to solve it, do make an impact.

Describe your time at the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations?

This was probably one of the most amazing experiences I have had. I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend Harvard’s largest international conference as a delegate speaker on a scholarship and share the stage with Nobel Laureates and CEOs and speak to some of the brightest minds in the world. I was selected for this role based on an article I wrote for the UNDP in Sri Lanka. I took that opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences growing up in Sri Lanka during a time of conflict and I spoke about the importance of inclusivity when making decisions about reconciliation and moving forward. The feedback I received from the event was humbling. A year later, I still get emails about how that speech made a small impact on someone’s life.

What do you do as aYouth Correspondent for The Commonwealth Youth Programme?

Early last year, I wrote an article about Colourism in Sri Lanka. This initiated a conversation about an issue that in some form or the other affect a lot of girls in Sri Lanka. This inspired me to write more about causes that I am passionate about. It was then that I applied to join The Commonwealth Youth Programme as a blogger for #YourCommonwealth. It was an incredible opportunity to join an international network of inspiring individuals and write about things I felt deeply about. It was through this network that I found out about ISFiT in Trondheim, another incredible student run initiative that is now the largest of its kind in the world. Once again, my work surrounding youth empowerment granted me a full scholarship to attend this festival in Norway and network.

What work did you do while being involved with the Enhancing Development of Global Entrepreneurs Program (EDGE) in Japan?

This was a programme introduced by the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) in collaboration with Stanford University. It focused on learning how to use Design Thinking to develop a product or service that can benefit various demographics.

How did you make the connections to start The Better Tomorrow Movement (TBTM)?

I met Courtney Gehle who later became the founder of TBTM, at the GCM Summit last year. Subsequently, I partnered with her and helped build the organization from ground up. Now, we have recruited an international team via social media and our various international networks. I am also fortunate to have a great group of friends who have all ventured out of the norm to do some incredible things, I am constantly inspired by them and is excited to have them onboard when we expand our programmes.

What made you start TBTM?

Courtney and I had so many different causes we were passionate about addressing but didn’t really know how to focus on all of them and still make a tangible impact. So we decided to start an organization that would provide mentorship, support and inspiration for other young people to go out and make their difference in order to create an impact.

What change do you hope to bring about through it?

TBTM is designed to provide inspiration, empowerment and support. As of today, we have introduced two programmes outside of the interviews and write ups we do to inspire youth to join hands to make a difference. One is the Hand Up Programme which is a mentorship programme that pairs mentors and mentees together in the hope that they will work on developing or building a social service project. We also just introduced the Global Ambassadors Programme which is aimed at building communications and social media advocacy skills while promoting our work and brand through its members.

Why is empowerment your focus?

Over the past few years I have been so incredibly fortunate to represent the youth of Sri Lanka, abroad. However, in all honesty I do not think I am a representation of a larger majority of Sri Lankans. I am one of the fortunate few who had the upbringing, resources and educational background to dream big. This is the reason why I believe empowerment is at the heart of change making. There are thousands of young people in Sri Lanka who probably have better ideas than I do but are crippled by inadequate resources and access. This is what I hope to change someday.

What are the greatest challenges for Sri Lankans of your generation?

Access and resources eliminate equal opportunity and this is one of our biggest challenges as a developing nation. In addition, I also think that despite Sri Lanka’s rigorous academic curriculum, most schools lack a holistic approach to education. Ladies’ College did a great job in teaching me the importance of being well rounded individual and I attribute a lot of my accomplishments to this. Unfortunately this is not true for most schools and must be something parents and guardians work on improving until the system changes.

What are your career aspirations?

I am interested in Communications and Public Relations. ​In the future I’d like to see my self catapulting socially conscious organizations into the limelight so that they could reach and impact a larger group of people. But we live in a new age where one must diversify themselves, so I hope to also be involved in a range of projects that will allow me to continue to travel, learn and make my difference.