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Ruwan Navarathna: Using his soft skills to make a difference in Sri Lanka

Posted: 29 June 2022

Sri Lanka, Alumni, Experience, Impact,

Australia Awards alumnus Ruwan Navarathna is using the knowledge and skills he gained through his Scholarship in Australia to make a difference at the Parliamentary and Corporate Affairs division of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Secretariat, where he works as a Senior Assistant Secretary.

In this role, Ruwan is responsible for coordinating the President’s parliamentary and cabinet affairs. His work is connected with policy formulation and analysis of related activities. Using the theoretical and practical knowledge of various aspects of development that he gained in Australia, Ruwan coordinates the preparing of answers for Parliamentary questions, summarises Cabinet Memoranda and other related documents, and coordinates regulations and other items for the President to present.

In 2014, Ruwan was working at the Divisional Secretariat in Rajanganaya, in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province, where he was involved in implementing many development programs. At the time, he believed that his position had the capacity and potential to make a greater contribution to sustainable development in the area.

Ruwan’s brother, who was living in Australia, had shared many stories with him about the impressive and efficient land management systems operating in Australia. In order to explore the theories and concepts of sustainable development that he wanted to use in Sri Lanka, and to experience the Australian way of life, Ruwan applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship in 2014. He was successful in receiving the Scholarship and completed a Master of Development Studies at the University of Melbourne in 2015.

After returning from Australia, Ruwan joined the North Western Provincial Council as the Senior Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Education, a position in which he began to apply and benefit from the skills he learnt in Australia. He worked in that role until August 2019, when he joined the District Secretariat of Anuradhapura.

Ruwan learnt about many development theories during his master’s degree and that knowledge has helped him to understand the decisions and actions of the Provincial Council. “When we understand the concepts behind most of the practices,” Ruwan says, “it is easy to convey the messages to others.”

He also notes that the soft skills that he gained from his Australia Awards Scholarship have been just as important as the technical knowledge he learnt.

“I have been using my soft skills and knowledge every day to deal with situations that arise in my workplace,” he says.

Ruwan notes that the senior officials in the District Secretariat accepted and valued his views, ideas and opinions, and he attributes this recognition to his studies in Australia. “When I worked in the Provincial Council, the Chief Secretary wanted me to write reports as he thought I had gained good writing skills from my studies in Australia,” he says.

With the intention of sharing his knowledge and skills though other channels, in 2017 Ruwan participated in a project management training session (Induction of Sri Lanka Administrative Service Cadets – Module on Research Methodology) for Junior Executive Officers at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration.

Ruwan acknowledges that it is not easy for a mid-level manager to introduce concepts into existing systems, but says he was able to make adjustments to the existing data collection approaches when he worked as the Senior Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Education.

“Though there are ways to simplify the processes and make them more efficient, people are resistant to changes. Hence, introducing anything new to create a positive change in the workplace can be challenging,” he says.

Ruwan has also actively been involved in supporting prospective Scholarship applicants from Anuradhapura. In 2021, he collaborated with some other Australia Awards alumni to conduct a mentoring program for potential applicants. The program provided guidance on the application process and conducted mock interviews to help hone applicants’ skills. Ruwan has also supported Australia Awards – Sri Lanka by participating in pre-departure briefings to share with the new cohort of Scholarship recipients his experiences in Australia of academic life, finding accommodation and adjusting to life in a foreign country.

Ruwan delivering an information for potential Scholarship applicants

In an effort to take part in more alumni engagement activities, Ruwan also joined the North Central Province chapter of the Sri Lanka Association of Australia Awards Alumni, because distance was an obstacle to attending alumni events in Colombo.

Ruwan is thankful for the support and knowledge he gained through Australia Awards. He says that the Scholarship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and encourages other Sri Lankans from smaller provinces to apply.