IVLP Alumnus Brings Impact of Global Exchanges Back Home

Community activist Chitral Jayawarna has worked towards his vision of a global egalitarian society for most of his professional career, through leadership positions with service organizations such as the Lions Club of Pita Kotte. But after participating in a 2019 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on cross-border trade, the economist and public relations specialist returned to his home country of Sri Lanka with new inspiration on how to bring that vision to life, starting in his local community.

Throughout his exchange, Mr. Jayawarna met with public, private, and nonprofit sector counterparts across the U.S. who inspired him to think big and deepen his professional collaborations in Sri Lanka and around the world. Leveraging ideas from his newfound international network, he spearheaded three new community-based projects with the Lions Club of Pita Kotte to provide shoes for students in under-resourced areas; educate children on the importance of protecting the environment by engaging them in sustainable practices, such as tree planting; and raise awareness and knowledge of the novel coronavirus among the Sri Lankan community.

Shoes 4 All aims to provide children in low-income families across Sri Lanka with at least one pair of shoes. “Our goal is simple; we are dreaming for the day every school student in Sri Lanka is wearing shoes while they are attending school,” Mr. Jayawarna says. This includes not only the hundreds of thousands of students aged 5-13, for whom schooling is both mandatory and state-funded, but also the 90% of children 17 or younger who face daily challenges to continue their education beyond the mandated age.

“These kids are facing enormous challenges due to lack of resources. There are thousands of school students that go to school barefoot. It is our fundamental responsibility to help them,” he says.

Through Mr. Jayawarna’s tree planting and donation initiative, the Lions Club of Pita Kotte worked with local students to plant over 100 donated trees to provide children with firsthand experiences of caring for the environment, so they may see its effect and continue these practices into adulthood.

Before COVID-19 was making headlines around the world, the social activist took steps to protect and prepare the people of Sri Lanka by creating and distributing information packets outlining the main modes of transmission of the virus, as well as preventative measures.

Mr. Jayawarna also identified several transferable lessons from his visit to the U.S. that could apply to businesses in his home country. After observing how American industries, such as the growing “green sector,” biotechnology, manufacturing, agri-business, and e-business remain competitive in the world market, the economist believes American family farming practices can inform agricultural businesses in Sri Lanka.

“Sri Lanka family farming businesses have a primarily local focus. One of the greater lessons I observed is family farming businesses developed to cater to the international market through exportation,” he recalls from his IVLP visit to a family-run dairy farm and maple syrup producer in Burlington, Vermont.

But the parallels don’t end there. Mr. Jayawarna reflects that professional exchanges such as his provide new possibilities for international partnerships in a variety of fields. “IVLP gives opportunity to young leaders in different sectors to inspire each other and share their experiences with organizations, peoples, and countries.”

Since the conclusion of his IVLP, Mr. Jayawarna has discussed potential collaborations on projects pertaining to renewable energy and transshipment business with several of his fellow international visitors and American counterparts.