Having graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) of Government this May with a Masters in Public Administration, well known Peace-builder Pushpi Weerakoon is a Fellow of Edward S. Mason Programme in Public Policy and Management. She was a member of ‘Harvard Square to Oval Office: Political Campaign Practicum for Women’, a non-partisan initiative of the Women and Public Policy Programme that provides a competitively select group of Harvard graduate students with the training and support they need to ascend in the electoral process at the local, state and national levels. Pushpi Weerakoon addresses different levels of people, from leaders to activists, to women and youth on what challenges they need to overcome at this critical juncture in the political history of Sri Lanka.
Leadership : What will drive Sri Lanka towards prosperity?
The paradigm of the leader-follower goal is long gone with the complexity of the society and issues at hand. Our new leaders must adopt a leadership-group-reality dynamic, which requires being honest about the reality, the present situation. This will enable them to address the threats and opportunities citizens are facing by appropriately changing values, habits and practices accordingly. Side-stepping the reality ,even if harsh, will negate the end goal due to the process based on ignorance.
Development Challenge: build the capabilities necessary for progress
Sri Lanka’s recent demographic transition has resulted in a dividend of a large youth population. It is beyond a quarter of the entire population. To maximise on this bonus they should be recognised as the agents of social change and given opportunities to make decisions to build their own future. Their innovative ideas, dynamic views and energetic actions must be respected and be included in policies to not only maximise the benefits for themselves but also to prepare them to take up the responsibilities of an aging population.
At a high level in the scale of a middle-income country greater investments must be made in youth. Not only must the youth be heard through policy dialogues, advocacy and advice, they should also be provided avenues/easy access to implement them taking ownership and responsibility of the entire process.
Leaders should come up with innovative processes to link youthful ideas with experienced veterans so that lessons learnt in yester-years would be put in good use by today’s generation. Free education provided should not be mistaken for the freedom of education we lack. Students must be encouraged to embark in studies and develop career aspirations beyond the traditional medical, legal, engineering and commerce streams. A/L results should not be the sole means to a successful future.
The number of women headed households due to the Conflict and Tsunami contributing to the economy through household industries must be assisted beyond providing micro finance, such as publicity, creating markets for their goods locally and internationally and by being trained in technical and innovative methods to improve their products and profitability.
Infrastructure development must be followed up with effective utilisation of it. For instance, just building schools or buildings after building in the North and East is of no use if plans are not implemented to motivate and retain the human resources required to provide the services.
Public sector and government processors upheld as the backbone of a successful nation must be strengthened through employing rightful wise men and women with a system to continuously assess their performance and motivate them through sufficient compensations.
Activist Challenge – calling attention to contradiction in values upheld in the present society
In order to bring discipline to the development, our new leaders will have to play roles of activists to call attention to diminished values in the present society. Meritocracy gained by education, experience or better yet, both must be upheld instead of highly politicised or personalised appointments and gains. Nations such as Singapore and Malaysia, which were far behind us, rose to their present status mainly due to this. In addition government must be at the forefront in up-holding human rights, especially gender rights. Degrading and discriminating against women at all levels must be condemned with repercussions.
Creative Challenge- doing something that has never been done before
Sri Lanka has the worst record of women’s overall participation in national and local legislative bodies in the South-Asian region. Out of the total 225 seats in the Parliament, as of this week females will only occupy 9, which is a reduction from the 13 seats held immediately prior to the elections. Currently we are at 125 out of 132 countries in the global rank for women in Parliament. Sri Lanka significantly worsened from its 2012 position of 39th place to 55th in the Global Gender Gap Index in the 2013 report, widening its gender gap on the Political Empowerment sub index. Sri Lankan women have had the franchise since 1931, much earlier than many other countries. With a 52% of the population being female these statistics are a great concern. Hence leaders, political parties and citizens must make a conscious effort to support females to take up decision-making positions in the political and other sectors.
Crisis/Transitional Challenge-leading in ‘perilous times’ moving from one set of beliefs/values to another
In spite of the military victory in 2009, our leaders will also have to be mindful that we are yet to complete the post-conflict reconciliation process through restoring mutual respect and justice while healing the trauma to establish an identity, in order to achieve the full potentials of positive peace.
We should not relive the past, but definitely should not forget it. Make use of the lessons learnt for a greater social good, present and future. Hence we must be mindful to do reconciliation and development activities in a ‘Conflict Sensitive’ manner.
As we exercised the Presidential Election last Monday the 17th August and witnessed the results on the following day, our vote was a collective power disguised as a right and a civic duty to appoint individuals to lead us to prosperity or to remove as we deem fit. Judging by the recent activities of the Sri Lankans the elected leaders would want to be mindful of the fact that with this power the citizens would also take the responsibility to call out to those who are disrespecting the positions they have been voted into, whereby to not just protect our future generation but also the present. Especially in the face of adversity, with proof we can proudly proclaim that our nation will never be silent and let anything or anyone silence our nation!