Top Story,Cover Story l by Tina Edward Gunawardhana l 17 Jul 2023     - 163

Man about town


Words: Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Photographs: MK MindfulMedia, LA Flicks and courtesy of Vinoda Basanayake

Vinoda Basanayake is a super connected foreign policy lobbyist and has an enviable black book of big name celebs who are his friends. Born and raised in Washington DC, he is one person people clamour to know. His academic record is impressive having attended Georgetown University (undergraduate), University of Pennsylvania Law School and Wharton School of Business. His penchant for organising parties during his student life propelled him to enter the hospitality industry and he owns several top notch restaurants and clubs including Heist Lounge, Casta’s Rum Bar, Ciel Social Club and Morris American Bar, all places where celebrities are keen to be seen. Known as just ‘V’ to his friends he juggles his life as an entrepreneur keen to build his city as a Saturday night playground while focussing on building up his company Versus which has some exciting new projects in the pipeline. Suave and personable, he has a great work ethic which has held him in good stead to get him where he is now, at the zenith of his professional career.

 

What made you seek a career as a lobbyist?

I’ve always been really interested in politics. When I was in college I had the honour of interning with a Member of Congress, Representative Ron Dellums. Congressman Dellums was a pioneer and an inspiration. He was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and was instrumental in the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. After working for him I knew I wanted to get involved in public policy. While I was in Graduate school I scored a summer internship with the largest lobbying firm at that time, Patton Boggs, and was fortunate enough to be offered a full time job and then started my career there in their foreign relations practice.

 

Can you briefly explain what it entails?

I have spent most of my career working as a foreign policy lobbyist. I have represented governments, international organizations and sovereign funds to advocate their interests to the US government. At the highest level the job of a lobbyist is to ensure their clients’ interests are being considered by the US government when making policy decisions.

 

You were a protégé of Tommy Boggs one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington. What was that experience like?

It was incredible. I’ll never forget that in my first week working for Mr. Boggs I met former President Clinton and future President Obama. Boggs was a force of nature and I was blessed to have learned from him. That experience really positioned me for future success in the field.

 

You were named Top Lobbyist of 2020 by the National Institute for Lobbying Ethics, have been listed in the Legal 500, and have been recognized by The Hill as a Top Lobbyist. There is a perception that lobbying is profession dominated by white males, did you feel the need to work extra hard for your success in the field?

If I am being honest, yes. It is absolutely accurate that lobbying was historically not an inclusive profession. It is also true that for decades lobbying was an old boys’ network. But that is changing quite a bit. When I started lobbying, the field was far less diverse and Congress was far less diverse in general. Now we are seeing many more Members and lobbyists of colour and I believe that many of us are making a very strong effort to support, promote and mentor other people of colour in politics as well.

 

What are the personal and professional attributes you need in order to be a successful lobbyist?

You have to be strategic, persuasive and credible. There is an incorrect notion that lobbying is solely relationships based- it is not that simple. Even when I didn’t have the relationships with Members and staffers that I do now, I was always good at developing a strategy for my clients. You need to understand the workings of the US government well enough to know how to make the strongest impact.

You also have to be persuasive when making the strongest case for your client. Once you actually develop the relationships, the most important thing is to maintain your credibility. Policymakers will not listen to you unless they trust you- clients won’t either.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Edward Gunawardhana

Tina Edward Gunawardhana is the Deputy Editor of Hi!! Magazine. She writes on a variety of topics which include travel, fashion, lifestyle, cuisine and personalities. She is also a journalist for the Daily Mirror Life. An intrepid traveller, Tina likes to show readers the world through her eyes and experiences. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - tinajourno or email her at tinajourno@gmail.com

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