SRI LANKANS OVERSEAS
ENGAGING THE DIASPORA
Anthony Chelvanathan urges interaction with the diaspora
Q: What is your take on Sri Lanka as it stands today especially in the context of the progress it has made in recent years?
A: I left Sri Lanka when I was very young. But each time I return, I’ve discovered something different in the country. The one time I remember from years ago was when I visited my aunt. This was during the civil war and there was certainly a sense of tension at the time.
During my most recent visit last year however, it was a completely different experience. I felt completely at ease, and could see how Sri Lanka was embracing an exciting new era of peace and prosperity.
Q: Could you describe your impressions of Sri Lanka during your last visit in more detail – and how much has the island changed from the past?
A: When I last visited Sri Lanka, my former colleagues at the local office of Leo Burnett went out of their way to entertain me. Indeed, I felt very fortunate to be able to spend valuable one-on-one time with many of them. My visit was extremely memorable because I felt very welcome – so I enjoyed every minute of my time in Sri Lanka with erstwhile workmates.
During that visit, I had the opportunity to speak with a cross section of people from the advertising and marketing communications fields, as well as share my perspectives and insights with them. At the same time, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal from them as well.
My overall impression is that Sri Lanka is making great progress in all areas, and professionals in industry are thriving and reaching greater heights in the context of professionalism without having to compromise on being kind and helpful people.
I’m really excited by the prospect of the next generation of Sri Lankans carving out a niche of their own. The world already recognises and admires our diaspora – what we now need to do is bring them back to see how much they have to contribute to the nation.
Q: And how do compatriots in your country of domicile view Sri Lanka?
A: I live in Canada where the overall impression of Sri Lanka is now very positive. People here see a complete transformation of the country and know that much progress has taken place. This change in mindset will consolidate further as Sri Lanka projects itself as a hub of activity and development.
Q: So how do you view the brain drain that continues – and why is there still no abating or reversal of it, in your opinion?
A: Many people left Sri Lanka during the war. Now that the war is over, a certain level of ease and comfort has set in.
However, many people continued to leave even after the war ended simply because they wished to seek different opportunities, experience a different way of life, benefit from a fresh start in their careers or further their education and other prospects in a different country. Once people seek a new life and establish themselves in another country, they grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle and may be reluctant to relocate again.
Q: What is your personal take on reversing the brain drain?
A: For me personally, I’ve already spent so much time in Canada that it is difficult to consider moving back at this point in time. However, I’m open to regularly visiting Sri Lanka and think that many others who have settled overseas welcome the idea of staying connected with people in the island.
Q: Given what you have stated above, what more needs to be done to entice Sri Lankans who are residing overseas to contribute to their country of birth?
A: I think that creating more and more opportunities, and strengthening ties between the country and its expats across the world can help bring Sri Lankans who are living overseas back home – or at the very least, encourage them to contribute to the country’s development in some way.
One way to achieve this is to sponsor or promote Sri Lankans who are living abroad to consider short-term visits to
the island. That would help them get a taste of what Sri Lanka has to offer today as a modern, dynamic and rapidly evolving nation.
Regular visits could also help them connect and engage more with professionals and officials in Sri Lanka, and establish a dialogue through which they can offer inputs on important projects and initiatives – this may help shape the country and its future.
Q: In your opinion, what should Sri Lanka focus on the most in the next decade or so?
A: It must focus on rebuilding bridges with the Sri Lankan community overseas while simultaneously placing a strong emphasis on growing from within. Sri Lanka is already on the right track but maintaining the momentum is the key. There’s also been satisfactory growth so focussing on this will ensure that the country is noticed and appreciated beyond the local region.
Q: And finally, what are your expectations of the country in its post-conflict era, not to mention the contribution that the diaspora can make going forward?
A: I do hope that the country can move forward, and continue to build a future that is filled with peace and progress. That in itself would encourage people who fled the war and those who are reluctant to leave their lives abroad to consider returning so that they too can contribute to the island’s exciting future.