New leaders must adopt a Leadership-Group-Reality dynamic says Harvard graduate


Pushpi in front of the oil painting of late Prof Edith Stokey in whose honor Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) awarded her the scholarship (Prof Stokey was the co-founder and the first tenured female professor in the history of HKS) with Betsy Stokey (Daughter of Prof Stokey) and Prof David Ellwood (Dean of HKS) Photo credit: Aaron Fortus - MC/MPA ’15 Harvard University

Freshly graduated from the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) of Government with a Masters in Public Administration, Peace builder Pushpi Weerakoon expresses her views on the direction the newly elected leaders should take.

What kind of ‘leadership’, should the newly elected and those already in power provide to drive Sri Lanka towards prosperity?

The paradigm of 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. Then appropriately changing values, habits and practices they will be able to address the threats and opportunities citizens face. Side stepping the reality even if harsh will negate the end goal due to the process based on ignorance. Diagnosing the five Principal Challenges, recognizing the toughest situations and opportunities and guiding the diverse multi- ethnic citizens as a coherent group through practical methods will lead to a positive social change.

Development Challenge - build the capabilities necessary to progress

Sri Lanka’s recent demographic transition has resulted in a dividend of a large youth population. To maximize on this bonus greater investment must be made on these agents of social change who must be 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 policy dialogue, advocacy and advise and they must be prepared to take up responsibilities of an aging population. Provide them with avenues/easy access to implement ideas taking ownership and responsibility of the entire process. Encourage social entrepreneurship. Continuation of scholarships and internships provided to under privileged youths in the rural and conflict affected areas to gain from the developed areas is of utmost importance to bring about inclusiveness among the different societal and ethnic tiers. Come up with innovative processes to link youthful ideas with experienced veterans so that lessons learnt in the past would be put to good use by today’s generation.

Free education 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. Pressure on youths to live life according to the dreams of their peers hinders growth. Freedom to experiment and express their varied talents and chose a profession they are passionate about inspires innovation, a skill without which one cannot succeed in today’s world. A/L results should not be the sole means to a successful future. Higher education institutes, universities or external academia must introduce multi faceted skills based curriculums in keeping with the universal demands.

To apply these skills government should create jobs by uplifting local sectors and entrepreneurs as much as bringing in foreign investments. Industries, which require complex transferable skills with a multitude of ‘know how’ rather than a labor force with limited knowledge and skill set will continue to help the economy grow rather than stay stagnant or decline like in most low skilled agricultural societies. Rather than exporting unskilled labour, invest in those without a tertiary education and retain them to work in our own soil. Assist the many women headed households beyond providing micro finance.

Infrastructure development must be followed up with effective utilization such as motivating to retain the human resources required to provide the services. Also the citizens of the communities undergoing the development change must be part and parcel of the plan. They should not feel that their rightful ownership to hereditary land and other resources is been hijacked for the benefit of third parties. Land grabbing, coercion and duress must be avoided at all costs.

Public sector and government processes upheld as the backbone of a successful nation must be strengthen through employing righteous and wise men and women with a system to continuously assess their performance and motivate them through sufficient compensation.

Activist Challenge - calling attention to contradiction in values upheld in the present society

In order to bring about discipline to development, our new leaders will have 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 politicized or personalized appointments being made. 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. Our nation’s daughters, sisters, wives, mothers and grandmothers must feel protected and supported not threatened. Irrespective of the change of governments or party politics there must be justice for all regardless of caste or creed.

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 nine. As the 125th out of 132 countries in the global ranking of women in parliament, we significantly worsened from the 39th place in 2012 to 55th in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2013. With a 52% of the population female, a quota system must be established for women as an interim affirmative action in leadership positions in politics, appointments to governmental and semi-government bodies, committees (especially post conflict reconciliation), public administrative entities, judicial offices, government ministries, diplomatic missions, and commissions, as well as in appointments to boards, corporations, and universities.

In addition with the blessing of a new trend of youths and intellectuals entering politics, make a precedent in appointing qualified ministers for the requisite subjects as done in many developed countries.

Maintenance Challenge-to sustaining what is essential in times of change

Sri Lankans have a rich history of respecting diversity and inclusion not to be clouded by the cessation terrorist conflict. The harmony we witness from all the religious groups paying tribute and worshipping Adam’s peak as one and celebrating the April national New Year in unison echoes unity in diversity. This must not only be respected and continued but also be celebrated. The majoritarian Sinhalese or Buddhist notion should not be a hindrance to other Lankans to live peacefully. Examples set by great leaders in the history such as King Dutugamunu in respecting his opponent King Elara must not be forgotten.

Coexistence is not only required internally but also externally. A country fails by isolating itself from the rest of the world. We have a rich history of diplomacy, which needs to be primed through correct placements and not by providing sinecures to party faithful. Especially in terms of reconciliation and development, due to the need of speedy and effective recovery from complex social issues the assistance of international organizations such as UN, World Bank, USAID and IMF is invaluable.

As witnessed and applauded by the world during this elections, we demonstrated a remarkable disciplined culture away from the common hooliganism. Understanding that this was possible through the inclusive efforts of the government, law enforcement and law abiding citizens, leaders must stress the benefits of such conduct and motivate the need to reap this benefit continuously.

There is a reason why the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ is called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. It seeks to restrain the self-destructive excesses of capitalism and channel the Government’s use of our tax money into creating opportunities for all and not just a selected few. The economy and society both should be run democratically to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few. Regulations and taxes make private corporations act in the public interest but do not destroy them. Continuing such policies is imperative.

Crisis/Transitional Challenge -leading in ‘perilous times’ moving from one set of beliefs/values to another

We are yet to complete the post conflict reconciliation process and win the full potentials of peace. We should not relive the past, but definitely not forget it. Make use of the lessons learnt for the greater social good, present and future. Reconciliation and development activities should be done in a ‘Conflict Sensitive’ manner. The invaluable sacrifices made by our security forces, forcibly recruited terrorist cadres and innocent civilians should not be in vain. We must not ignite similar hatred in individuals by marginalizing, disrespecting, degrading and making any section of the population feel they are second class citizen. Every aspect of development must benefit the collective ‘Sri Lankans’ not just the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Burghers or the elite. Pledges to safeguard and respect each and every citizen irrespective of their ethnicity must be urgently implemented. This will result in capacity building for good governance, conflict resolution and more effective and sustainable policies.

Sri Lankans are an intelligent people who have always come together in the hour of need despite our diverse ethnicities for the good of the nation. We made use of our collective power by voting at the recent election electing tose we considered fit to represent us and rejecting those we did not want. The elected leaders must be mindful of this power the citizen and be responsible for ensuring the proper conduct of those voted into office.


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