Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo
Ruben Jansen addresses environmental concerns for future sustainability
Q: What are the challenges facing the country today?
A: Shortages in energy and water resources pose a major challenge for Sri Lanka. Many other countries seem to have the ability to maintain a continuous supply of water and energy whereas Sri Lanka isn’t able to do so.
When looking to resolve this issue, the solutions must be worked on in a sustainable manner. If we begin constructing huge power plants across the country, then it would harm the environment and the people.
Q: Do you observe any changes in the spheres of environmental sustainability and women’s empowerment?
A: Environmental sustainability is essential to ensure that future generations have a clean and adequate place in which to live.
To do this, two changes must be effected: policies that promote environmental sustainability; and education systems that teach people how to be environmentally sustainable.
In terms of women’s empowerment, females tend to give up gainful employment following marriage, which is a great loss as they contribute by helping businesses to thrive. Sri Lankan society must look at the role of women differently and empower them to play a part in the nation’s development agenda.
Q: How can Sri Lanka retain the talent it has?
A: I’m fortunate to be part of a generation that doesn’t live in a conflict zone and therefore, see opportunities in Sri Lanka.
The country’s economy is growing and there’s more investment, which reduces the brain drain that was prevalent during the war.
Therefore, there is no reason for brain drain but even if some do leave the country, they will return and help the nation with the knowledge and exposure they’ve gained. In turn, Sri Lanka must create an environment that is exciting, challenging and safe to retain young talent.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
A: With the world undergoing rapid change, it is impossible to map a clear path right now. But what I can aim for is to enjoy what I do, work somewhere where I’m valued and contribute to society, thereby striking a balance between giving and taking.
Q: And where do you see Sri Lanka in a decade from now?
A: One of the most exciting developments in the last few years has been the expansion of Sri Lanka’s highways, which in the future will lead to more networked connections.
I would also like to see sustainable tourism, and the challenge of shortages in energy and water being resolved – although the beaches will be overcrowded with high-rise hotels and people.
Q: Do the present world leaders live up to your expectations?
A: I’m disappointed in the world leaders of today.
In 2017, when many countries were dealing with an influx of Syrian refugees, the UK government fell short in standing up for the rights of refugees. Brexit was a consequence as people felt threatened.
COVID-19 is another is concern. It is a pandemic for which many countries weren’t prepared although experts had warned world leaders of its extent. For instance, the US president questioned the authenticity of the virus while also viewing the climate crisis with derision.
These are major concerns for young people.
Q: Who is responsible for climate change and global warming?
A: Many stakeholders are responsible – e.g. large multinationals, airlines and governments. They are not able to agree on measures to reduce carbon emissions effectively and urgently.
The education system should have sustainability at its core. Two years ago, my brothers and I set up a club called ByeByePlasticStraws to raise awareness on single-use plastic. We also joined Save the Children in Sri Lanka as part of its national campaign #YouthForClimate to reduce the use of plastic in Sri Lanka.
Q: How do you view the growing importance of social media today?
A: Social media has a major impact on e-commerce, and platforms such as Instagram and Facebook help businesses reach wider audiences.
However, the disadvantage is its lack of privacy where confidential information about individuals becomes available in the public domain. Governments must protect people’s privacy as companies sometimes abuse the information they receive.