The youth hold the future. The statement holds true to all nations, including Sri Lanka.
The youth in Sri Lanka have potential. They have the ability, but sometimes lack the resources and the support to chase their dreams.
Many lives were lost in the 30 years of conflict. Many left but many stayed back. It has been a rollercoaster ride for Sri Lanka.
But, last week was a proud one for all Sri Lankans, especially the youth as the United Nations Secretary (UN) -General António Guterres appointed our very own Jayathma Wickramanayake as his next Envoy on Youth.
She succeeds Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan.
The success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development depends on empowering young people as rights-holders, agents of change and torchbearers.
Wickramanayake is an expert in global youth work having worked extensively with a number of high-level UN initiatives on youth and sustainable development and played a key role in transforming the youth development sector in Sri Lanka.
For the last two years she has been instrumental in creating a large movement for civic and political engagement of young people in Sri Lanka named “Hashtag Generation”. As a possible candidate to the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth she combines her intimate knowledge of the largest youth demography in the world, with her high-level experience in representing the youth agenda, globally.
Wickramanayake has represented and motivated global youth development on an international level since the age of 21, when she was selected as the first ever Sri Lankan Youth Delegate to the United Nations (UNYD) in the year 2012. She was consequently appointed as a member of the International Youth Task Force for the World Conference on Youth 2014 to ensure inclusive youth engagement in the process and was widely commended for her involvement in advancing the youth agenda in the UN. She was the lead youth negotiator for the Colombo Declaration on mainstreaming youth in the Post 2015 agenda. Wickramanayake later played a key role in establishing the United Nations World Skills Day which was a proposal of Sri Lanka for which she was the lead negotiator and could build on the outcomes of the World Conference on Youth (WCY) 2014. UN World Youth Skills Day giving chance to demonstrate the important role Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) plays to empower young people.
Since January 2017, Wickramanayake works at Sri Lanka Institute for Development Administration as part of her public service career where she is being trained on Public Policy, Public Management, Public Administration and Development Administration.
She has previously served as Secretary to the Secretary General of the Parliament of Sri Lanka (2016-2017), Project Officer-Youth, One-Text Initiative in Sri Lanka (2015-2016), Member and Youth Lead Negotiator, International Youth Task Force of the World Conference on Youth 2014 (2013-2014) and Official Youth Delegate to the United Nations, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development (2012-2013). She was furthermore a Senator in the Sri Lankan Youth Parliament (2013-2015).
“I’m here because I was fortunate enough to utilize the opportunities that were made available to me as a Sri Lankan. I am someone who benefitted from the Free Education system, from Grade 1 – 13 and then in university. So, I’m very much obliged to the people of Sri Lanka for the opportunities that were given to me as a young woman from a rural area,” Wickramanayake was much grateful to everyone that has contributed in creating her path.
She was born in Bentota and initially schooled at Sangamiththa Vidyalaya in Aluthgama until the scholarship exams at which point she could enter Visakha Vidyalaya. Wickramanayake is reading for Master of Development Studies, at the University of Colombo and holds a Bachelor degree in Science, from the same university. “These opportunities were made available to me by the people of Sri Lanka from the money of the tax payer,” she added.
Today she represents young people from across the globe. She is a testament to what a young Asian woman can achieve if she’s empowered. “If you have a will then you will have a way,” she brought out the message that she wants to send across to other young women in the world, who are dreaming of becoming something big.
“Facing the challenges that you must inevitably face being a woman in today’s world and enjoying being a successful change-maker globally, the sense of responsibility I have to work for others is due to the cultural environment that I grew up in,” Wickramanayke said.
Wickramanayake mentioned that bringing people together is something she personally loves. She likes creating movements and platforms that bring different stakeholders together. Resulting she has worked with certain Non-Governmental Organizations in Sri Lanka to bring young political party leaders together in order to bring recommendations for reconciliation and constitutional reform. She has been working on this specialty in conflict affected areas, getting Tamil speaking young politicians to work together with their Sinhalese speaking counterparts in Sri Lanka over the last year. As she mentioned that experience also has helped her shaping her profile in receiving this appointment as someone who advocates for conflict prevention in the long run.