Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo


Jovanna Fernando says open-mindedness could lead to a brighter future

Q: What is the good, the bad and the ugly here in Sri Lanka?

A: The best quality is our selflessness when it comes to being caring and hospitable, which really came through during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Sri Lankans are not as open-minded as we should be and this holds us back as a nation. One of the ugliest qualities is the lack of respect we show towards each other.

Q: In your opinion, what are the challenges facing the country today?

A: The lack of standardisation when it comes to employment is a challenge. As Sri Lankans, we also have a tendency to accept processes and procedures passed on to us, instead of building a mechanism to continuously evaluate and question how things are done to improve them.

I also see a lack of integration in functions and information between the state and private sector.

Solving these problems would be key in taking the country forward.

Q: What changes do you see in the spheres of education and environmental sustainability?

A: As a developing economy, although we have an acceptable education system, we lack the funding and tools required – especially at university level – to mould individuals academically to compete globally.

In environmental sustainability, while many policies have been established, little has been done. We must do more to protect our environment.

Q: Do we have young leaders who can take the country forward? What traits should they have?

A: Yes, our generation is full of passionate individuals waiting to make a difference. Leaders must be open-minded, be able to listen to all ideas and choose the best possible option. They must have the inherent ability to analyse perspectives when faced with an issue and treat each side with respect.

A leader must be willing to accept criticism and take responsibility for not only his or her actions but also those of his or her followers.

To make a difference, leaders must be well-educated, respectable, be effective communicators, have empathy, be ready to walk out of comfort zones and make the difference our small island is waiting to see.

Q: And do you believe that Sri Lanka will be united one day?

A: Sri Lanka is not too far away from being united. But it must acknowledge the issues and work towards innovative solutions.

We need open-minded and inspiring leaders combined with a forward-looking population who understand our differences, learn to respect them, and remember that mistakes and decisions are made by humans – not Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims or Burghers. The blame for any mistake should be on the human race as a whole. It is the day we acknowledge this when we will truly unite.

Q: Who are today’s pragmatic leaders – and why do you think so?

A: Chinese President Xi Jinping, for taking advantage of the global business climate and using it for the long-term growth of his country. Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi also used her connections in the West for her country’s benefit without harming her nation.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa knows the strengths and weaknesses of the people, as well as the state mechanism, and uses those strengths to maximise the advantage to the nation. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is a great team leader who can successfully work with teams that have diverse opinions and principles.

Q: What challenges do young people face in the global context?

A: Youth have liberal ideas but lack the ecosystem and respect needed for these visionary ideas to bear fruit. Society holds young people down, judging them without objectivity and inhibiting the potential of even the smartest minds.

The advancement of AI too makes it increasingly difficult for youth to gain employment, which leads to numerous other issues including substance abuse.

Q: How do you view the growing importance of social media today?

A: Social media is both a great tool and powerful weapon. It has transformed our world into a global village, making it easier to spread awareness on issues speedily, collect funds and build strong campaigns with international support. Moreover, it nurtures talent that may not have been identified on other platforms.

But social media needs to be used with respect and caution as it could effortlessly ruin lives.