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Alumni from Sri Lanka secure grants to help respond to the impacts of COVID-19

Posted: 22 March 2023

Sri Lanka, Alumni, COVID-19, Environment, Impact, Inclusion,

Australian alumni in Sri Lanka are providing significant contributions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support proactive alumni to have greater impact, the 2021 round of Australia Awards – Sri Lanka’s Small Grant Scheme provided funding on a competitive basis for projects that aligned with priorities identified in the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

The scheme, funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, provided grants of AUD5000 to ten projects (involving a total of fifteen alumni). All ten projects supported recovery initiatives connected to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and responded to the priority areas of economic recovery, health security, and stability.

Five of these projects had a gender focus and are showcased in a separate story you can read here. The other five projects, which contributed to sustainable development in Sri Lanka more broadly, are profiled below.

Ashani Rathnayake used her grant to train a group of vulnerable Sri Lankan citizens to generate revenue through e-commerce platforms. This project responded to the COVID-19 pandemic having left many families in the country facing pay cuts, unemployment and lower income-earning opportunities. The project helped participants develop their skills to use online platforms, establish a business and use social media effectively to grow a home business. It also linked participants with existing tech-based organisations to better access industry internships and employment opportunities at the end of the training. Ashani collaborated with the Negombo Round Table 07 (a charity organisation) and SLASSCOM (a non-profit organisation specialising in tech-based training).

“I believe the project was vastly successful as I was able to deliver above and beyond what I initially planned—reaching a group of students in need with a very comprehensive program offering a range of skills and practical experience,” says Ashani.

Australia Awards alumna and grant recipient Ashani Ratnayake

Ashani completed a Master of Management at the University of Melbourne in 2020 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Dilan Bandara used the grant to develop a career exploration and recruitment platform called Skills Careers that provides an integrated resource to find jobs, undertake assessments, find learning prospects, or speak to an expert on career progression or reskilling/upskilling realities. The platform also allows organisations to identify the right candidate in an easy and logical manner. Dilan drew inspiration from the World Economic Forum and the Australian Government’s former employment service jobactive (now Workforce Australia) in developing the site. “This online tool will focus on organisational talent acquisition and human capital development,” Dilan says. “My objective was to create a one-stop online platform on human capital development and job creation. Skills Careers will enable people to match the right talent to the right job using interest and competency assessments.”

Australia Awards alumnus and grant recipient, Dilan Bandara

Australia Awards alumnus and grant recipient, Dilan Bandara

Dilan completed an Australia Awards Short Course in Sustainable Tourism Development delivered by Griffith University in 2018.

Kusum Athukorala’s project focused on community engagement and communication for climate security during the COVID-19 pandemic. It included awareness raising and advocacy about climate and water security aimed at the community and professionals, with special emphasis on the risks associated with sand mining. The community component specifically focused on highlighting the issue of water security for women and children, who are the most affected by the harmful impacts of sand mining on water availability.

“Water security is of paramount importance in a world hit by a double whammy: struggling with climate change as well as current food insecurity fuelled by the war in Ukraine,” Kusum says. “Water security is the first step towards tackling global food security. As an Australia Awards alumna, I saw the need to strengthen community resilience and improve disaster risk awareness through water advocacy as the community are the first responders in most disasters, which is why I utilised this small grant to focus on community engagement and communication of climate security.”

Alumni grant recipient, Kusum Athukorala

Kusum is a development consultant with a special focus on climate change and water and continues to promote a gender focus in water programs. She is also the Chair of NetWater and the Chairperson of Global Water Partnership South Asia. She participated in the Australia Awards Fellowship on ‘Building Climate Change Resilience through Integrated Water Resources Management’ conducted by Queensland University of Technology in 2013.

The final two projects were both delivered by groups of alumni.

The first group consisted of five alumni: Dr Madura Thivanka, a Lecturer at British School of Commerce; Dheera Hettiarchchi, Cluster Head – Travel and Tourism / Lecturer at the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hospitality Management; Malinda Ekanayake, Director Operations at Aarunya Vacations (Pvt) Ltd; Chandra Nishanthi, Business Development Manager at Experiential Journeys (Pvt) Ltd; and Lalith Mapatuna, a tour guide.

A group of young people who received tourism training in Uva Province through the small grants project.

Their project trained 16 young people in the tourism sector in Uva Province, one of the poorest communities in Sri Lanka. To deliver the training, the alumni group collaborated with many stakeholders in Sri Lanka and Australia, including Griffith University, the University of the Sunshine Coast, Savannah Guides Ltd, Uva Wellassa University, Uva Tourism Promotional Bureau, Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management, and the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Fellow Australia Awards alumni from the group’s Short Course cohort also supported them in providing training in areas such as site guiding skills, hospitality trade skills, and information and communication technology to face to digital challenges. On completion of the training, the participants will obtain professional and licensed qualifications from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

Sharing his thoughts on behalf of the group, Madura says, “Through the grant, the group were able to share the skills, knowledge and experience we gained from the Australia Awards Short Course with Sri Lankan tourism stakeholders by utilising the network we built on. We are now working closely with these 16 participants to sustain the gained knowledge and experience from the program until the economy recovers to serve international tourists. This continuous development is taking place with the support of Uva Wellassa University.”

The group all completed the Australia Awards Short Course in Sustainable Tourism Development delivered by Griffith University in 2020.

The second group project was led by two Australia Awards alumni: Saliya Jayathilake, Senior Assistant Secretary (Development), Ministry of Power and Energy, and Rusitha Dharmasena, Director (IT and Program Promotional), Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration. The pair developed an information management system to facilitate the Human Resources functions of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. The system was linked to the Public Service Commission; Ministry of Public Administration, Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government; Ministry of Education; Ministry of Health; the Cabinet; Departments; and Provincial councils. This electronic system will improve the service delivery and efficiency of the public sector over previous manual systems.

Saliya completed a Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University in 2016 and Rusitha completed a Master of Information Systems at the University of Melbourne in 2016, each with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Congratulations to all recipients of the 2021 Small Grant Scheme for their hard work and the development benefits they have achieved for their country.