Currently viewing the tag: "Manjula"
Today’s Five-Year Update will be different from the usual because I’ve written it, with details and fact-checking provided by its subject, Manjula Dissanayake, F12. Back in the spring of 2012, I had long heard about Manjula but I hadn’t actually met him until Kristen and I were staked out in the Hall of Flags one day, snagging students as they went by. After that, Manjula and I chatted about putting together a post about his path through Fletcher. Inspired by that experience, I launched the “Student Stories” feature, and included Manjula (then an alumnus) in the mix.
Since his 2012 gradation, Manjula and I have been in semi-regular contact and he’s been kind to include me on his busy schedule when he’s been in the area. I’ve remained inspired by him and his work. (Plus, he’s just a very nice guy.) Today’s post will extend his story from that very first post to this point, five-plus years after his graduation.
While at Fletcher, at the same time as he pursued the standard MALD collection of courses, Manjula also pushed forward the organization he had founded before starting his graduate studies, Educate Lanka, by pursuing business competitions at Tufts University and elsewhere in the Boston area, resulting in funding and mentoring opportunities. The mission of Educate Lanka is:
“To empower the socioeconomically marginalized children and youth” of Sri Lanka “with enhanced access to quality and equitable education, learning, and employment opportunities,” with a vision of “a Sri Lanka and a world in which opportunities are universal for all.”
This was a natural fit to earn support from the Fletcher community, and Professor Kim Wilson, Dean Bhaskar Chakravorti, and Professor John Hammock are still on the Educate Lanka Board of Advisors.
After Manjula graduated, he returned to the Washington, DC area and to running Educate Lanka full-time. Each time he and I got together, what was always clear was how challenging it was to build sustainability for the organization. Educate Lanka was successfully sponsoring students’ education through its unique online platform, but working capital and growth investments were seemingly raised dollar by dollar. Then, in 2015, a game-changer: Educate Lanka received a Mastercard Foundation Management Grant of $250,000 (facilitated from the foundation side by Reeta Roy, F89), providing the funding stability that Manjula needed to be able to think strategically about Educate Lanka and its mission. The organization has continued to grow and mature.
Beyond financial stability, the investment from the Mastercard Foundation allowed Educate Lanka to introduce a new social-private partnership model in Sri Lanka (in addition to and to complement the student sponsorship platform), involving major corporate/employer partners such as Deutsche Bank, Mastercard, and SyscoLabs to address the youth skills and exposure gap, making Educate Lanka students more skilled and employable and creating a pathway for an equitable, empathic, and inclusive society. This video describes the partnership with Sysco Labs (formerly known as Cake Labs).
Along the way, Manjula’s work has attracted significant attention. He was profiled by his undergraduate college, and the Sri Lankan Sunday Times. He was selected for the Top 99 Under 33 Global Foreign Policy Leaders List; was given the Outstanding Sri Lanka Young Professional Award; was named an American Express Emerging Innovator in the U.S.; and was the winner of Millennial Impact Challenge by Huffington post. Most recently, Manjula was a member of the U.S. delegation of entrepreneurs who attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in November 2017 in Hyderabad and he recently completed his first executive education program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Manjula has also shared his perspective on educating the poor and on international education through his own writing, for the Diplomatic Courier (Future of Work and Global Talent and Non-Profits have Turned a Corner; Philanthropy should Follow) and for the HuffPost, as well as through a TEDx Talk.
Of course, as important as Manjula’s personal achievements are the successes of Educate Lanka. Since its founding in 2007, Educate Lanka has achieved these milestones:
- 1200+ students (ages 13-25; 65% female, 35% male) directly supported across 28 communities in all nine Sri Lankan provinces, from all ethnicities and religions;
- 4500+ years of education funded
- $500,000+ (around 70 million rupees) in micro-scholarship financing;
- 450+ alumni with gainful employment.
- 15 corporate and institutional partnerships
- 250+ students trained on skills, competencies, and values
This story details an Educate Lanka success, as well as the complexity of the Sri Lankan education system. It’s the first entry in a “Scholar Stories Series” to highlight the partnership with Mastercard on female empowerment in Sri Lanka. (Links to future stories will also appear on Educate Lanka’s Facebook page.)
Educate Lanka has also created a global education program (under the private-social partnership model mentioned above). Among the partners is the St. Mark’s School, right nearby in central Massachusetts, which invites Educate Lanka students to the U.S. every year for its Global Citizenship Institute. (Manjula is a guest lecturer in the program, and the students last year were hosted by the Sri Lankan ambassador to the U.S.)
As for the next five years, Manjula told me, “I plan to focus the next five years on scaling the two interventions (the online sponsorship platform and the social-private partnership model) towards full sustainability and replication. This phase will position me to achieve my long-term goal of reshaping Sri Lanka’s education into a more inclusive, equitable, and relevant system that is capable of producing a workforce and citizenry that could meet the demands and obligations of our future.”
Whew! Even for five years, that’s a long list of accomplishments and serious ambition. I hope it’s clear why admire Manjula. But I’d be giving a misleading impression if I didn’t note that Manjula’s past five years have included the usual post-Fletcher milestones, such as marriage and the addition to the family of an adorable boy, along with active involvement in a DC-area cricket league.
Manjula was a rock star in the Fletcher community and he has nurtured one of the most dynamic organizations with Fletcher roots. I’ll certainly be staying tuned to Educate Lanka news so that I can follow its, and Manjula’s success.
Now and then, I hear about a Fletcher graduate’s current work, whether or not I knew the alum well as a student. While I was thinking about what to write today, I remembered hearing about Envoys, the venture launched by Seth Leighton, F12, and two classmates from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), where he pursued a degree before Fletcher. Seth serves as Executive Director of Envoys, which works with schools to offer trips and global education programming. (One of the trips is to Sri Lanka, where the students observe the work of Educate Lanka, the NGO started by Manjula Dissanayake, F12, Seth’s Fletcher classmate.)
The way Seth has woven the Fletcher and HGSE aspects of his education together to create his new career strikes me as an especially good example of where a dual degree can be valuable. His TEDx talk provides further insight into his perspective on global education.
Tagged with: Manjula
On Saturday I heard about something worth sharing. A current Fletcher student and Admissions volunteer, Deepti, is currently helping out our friends at Educate Lanka, the Sri Lanka-based non-profit headed by Manjula Dissanayake F’12. Here we see Deepti on a panel with other volunteers and in-country staff, interviewing a new batch of Educate Lanka scholars. I need to investigate more — I hadn’t heard that Deepti would be in Sri Lanka this summer. Until I get all the details, here’s the photo, with Deepti in the middle on the left.
Tagged with: Manjula
Our Admissions Committee meeting will start in 45 minutes, but I’m going to try to sneak in a blog post before I head over to the meeting room. I wanted to update you on news from some of our blog friends.
First, our student bloggers. They’re back on campus and I’ve been giving them a little time to settle into classes before I start cajoling them for posts. Meanwhile, if you weren’t in Guatemala City to hear it yourself, you might like to check out Roxanne’s latest TEDx talk.
Also making news — our friend Manjula. Trying to follow his comings and goings via Facebook, I see that he has spent an extended time in Sri Lanka generating support for Educate Lanka. At least one of the goals of his trip was to organize a charity “Walk for a Cause,” which took place last weekend. Along the way, he was interviewed in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times, and also by Young Asia Television. (No translation available, but you’ll get the idea.)
Finally, and closer to where I’m sitting right now, our own Christine has made Fletcher news, in that she has been promoted to Admissions Coordinator. At the moment, she is wearing two different hats (her old one and her new one — both stylish, of course), but that leaves little time for writing Consult Christine posts. Once she settles into only one job at a time, she can start up writing again.
So that’s the round-up! And I’m off to the Admissions Committee meeting.
I first met Manjula Dissanayake when he had nearly completed his Fletcher MALD, though I had heard others talk about him before that. Throughout 2012-2013, I made up for lost time by getting to know him as we featured his first post-Fletcher year and his organization, Educate Lanka, on the Admissions Blog. Today, I couldn’t be happier to share the news that Manjula has been recognized for his work by Diplomatic Courier and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy as an “Influencer” in the publication’s 2013 list of Top “99 under 33” foreign policy leaders. It has been a great pleasure to follow Manjula’s post-Fletcher progress and to be inspired by his dedication to Educate Lanka and the children it supports. Congratulations, Manjula!
As if that weren’t enough good news for a day, it turns out that Manjula has plenty of company from Fletcher alumni among this year’s 99. Here’s the complete list, with the category in which they were recognized:
Elliott L. Ackerman ’03, Chief Operating Officer, Americans Elect (Risk-Taker)
Caroline Andresen ’10, Evaluation & Reporting Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (Practitioner)
Erin Clancy ’09, Foreign Service Officer, U.S. Department of State (Innovator)
Sophia L.R. Dawkins ’11, Program Officer, Conflict Dynamics International (Shaper)
Jan Havránek ’09, Deputy Director, Ministry of Defense of the Czech Republic (Catalyst)
Sherif Mansour ’08, Middle East and North Africa Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists (Risk-Taker)
Toru Mino ’10, Head of Product, Kopo Kopo (Catalyst)
Dalia Ziada ’11, Executive Director, Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies (Influencer)
And the Fletcher grads are joined by two alumni of the Tufts undergraduate program:
Eileen Guo, Founder and Partner, Impassion Media and Impassion Afghanistan (Catalyst)
Meena Sharma, Associate, International Practice Group, Covington & Burling LLP (Catalyst)
Having so many members of our community recognized for their work, well, it’s just a happy day around here!
You can read more on the Diplomatic Courier site, and on the Fletcher website. You can also see what people are saying on twitter: #99Under33. But here’s how Diplomatic Courier describes this recognition program:
The 99 Under 33 recognizes the distinctive impact each of the honorees has on his or her community today and their promise of potential as a leader in the future. This list uniquely offers insight into the creativity, determination, and passion of the diverse young people who are already tackling the world’s critical global challenges. By design, this list is broad and diverse, which reflects the belief that foreign policy in the 21st century is made by leaders from all sectors.
“Since the inception of this list in 2011, Tufts University leads in alumni being recognized as top leaders. Evidenced by the impressive people named to the 99 Under 33, Tufts University goes above and beyond typical academic expectations and truly prepares its graduates to tackle tough foreign policy problems. These leaders are not waiting for tomorrow — they are leading now,” highlights Ana C. Rold, Editor-in-Chief, Diplomatic Courier.
Congratulations to all the Fletcher/Tufts alumni who have received this special recognition in their field!
Just over one year ago, Manjula Dissanayake graduated from Fletcher and I’ve been keeping up with him since. We recently exchanged emails and decided it’s time for a spring/summer update. Pulling together this blog post will require reaching into many websites and other sources, because Manjula has been a busy guy.
To recap: After graduating, Manjula decided to focus full-time on his non-profit, Educate Lanka, from his base near Washington, DC. Pushing Educate Lanka forward has required a combination of on-the-ground work in Sri Lanka, along with nearly continuous efforts to draw attention to the organization, in hopes funds would follow. Manjula’s work, inseparable from the organization, has been recognized in so many ways! Back in April, I was fortunate to grab a few minutes with him during his visit to the area when, over the course of three days, he spoke at the Tufts Social Innovation Symposium as well as at the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition (as an alumni competitor), and also attended a research presentation, exhibition, and silent auction benefiting Educate Lanka at Harvard. Between events, he packed in visits to staff and faculty. During our conversation, he gave me a sense of the activities he had in front of him. Here’s what has kept Manjula busy during the past few months:
- He wrote a column for the Huffington Post.
- He attended a boot camp for American Express Emerging Innovators.
- For Educate Lanka, he was invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative University in St. Louis about fundraising strategies.
- Having been (with Educate Lanka) voted as a winner of the Ignite Good Millennial Challenge, he attended the Ignition 2013 Millennial Social Impact bootcamp.
- And then he taped an interview on Huffington Post Live about the Millennial Social Impact bootcamp.
Even while I was compiling the list of all these activities, I learned of yet another new one. This past Sunday, Manjula spoke live (via Google hangout) at the Social Media Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka about using “Social Media for Social Good.”
Throughout the past year, Manjula told me, he has developed plans to grow Educate Lanka and possibly to carry the concept beyond Sri Lanka. He has put together a Board of Advisors on which Fletcher is well represented, and he continues to promote Educate Lanka’s work. From my outsider’s vantage point, I can see the extraordinary effort that has brought Educate Lanka to where it is today, but the results have been impressive! I’ll continue to follow Manjula’s path and report back again in the coming months.
I’ve been very pleased with my new-this-year Student Stories feature on the blog. An attentive reader might ask, “Why so pleased? They haven’t been writing much lately.” True, critical reader. But here’s why I’m happy. When I asked each of the students if they wanted to inaugurate this blog theme, they all said yes. I appreciate enthusiasm — this was my first team and I didn’t need to go to my bench! When I met with each writer for the first time, I emphasized that there are plenty of places on the Fletcher web site to read interesting, but formulaic, student profiles. My hope was that we would work together to develop ideas for posts, and I have basically gone along with any idea they’ve presented. Overall, I didn’t know what the feature would look like when we launched it in October, but I knew that all would be clearer by the end of the academic year, in May.
But back to the fact that the writing tends to arrive in spurts (after winter break, for example). In this case, the reasons why they’re not writing may be as interesting as what they would have written. Let’s start with Maliheh. She emailed me an apology last week for not having submitted a promised post, but she really needn’t have apologized — I know exactly what she’s up to. She’s processing the bounty of acceptances she has received to PhD programs around the country. Was I surprised to learn of her success? No I was not. Maliheh is amazing. Don’t tell her I said that — she’s also humble.
What’s Mirza up to? He told me late last semester that he took on a research project that was intellectually satisfying, but used a lot of his time. Then, over the winter break, he and his musical partner revived their duo, Arms and Sleepers. They played some local gigs, and planned an amazing tour for Mirza’s spring break. In Europe or Russia? Don’t miss this opportunity to catch a performance — who knows whether this tour will be their last.
(I’d like to add a little practical note here. One of the reasons Arms and Sleepers is back is that Mirza realized his earnings potential is greater building on a past success than taking a part-time campus job. Many students are able to do something similar — consulting part time for a past employer, for example. File that away in your mental financial plan!)
Back to the writers. Scott has promised me a piece very soon. Not much more to say there. Roxanne continues to be very busy on campus with the Storytelling Forum (the website includes more and more content) and a new series of conversations about gender issues (curricular and more broadly) at Fletcher. Nonetheless, I arrived at work this morning and found an email from Roxanne containing her next post. I’ll share it as soon as I can.
Which leaves Manjula who, though an alumnus now, was the student who made me think that following students’ stories as they pursued their individual paths through Fletcher would be a good idea. Manjula has a million things going on connected to his organization Educate Lanka. A lot of them are in the “we’re a finalist” or “just need to sign the contract” phase, so we agreed to hold off on an EL update. But the organization more than keeps him busy, and any free moments can be spent writing for a larger audience on topics such as Unleashing Potential Through Education.
As much as Educate Lanka fills Manjula’s days, he still sets aside time for other activities, such as getting married. He shared some amazing wedding photos with me. I would love to post every single one of them — they’re that beautiful — but I’ll settle for just this one.
Manjula told me that the wedding outfits that he and his bride, Chara, wore are traditional in Kandy, the region of Sri Lanka that Manjula comes from. He explained that Kandy was the last kingdom in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the traditional wedding attire derives from royal regalia. He said, “The outfit I wore is called the Kandyan Nilame. And Chara’s jewellery and the ceremony that we followed are also according to the Kandyan traditions.”
So, blog friends, that’s what my writers are up to. Given their interesting busy lives, I’m happy to wait a little longer for their next posts.
Those who have been reading the blog for a while and others who have scrolled through the archives may remember Manjula, a rock-star 2012 graduate. When we talked in the spring, Manjula agreed to my request to follow his story a little further, especially since he is continuing work started at Fletcher (as described in the spring’s blog post). Recently, he sent me the first of what I hope will be a series of updates. He wrote, “My post-Fletcher life as a social entrepreneur dedicated to Educate Lanka has been a challenging journey, but a very exciting one at the same time.” And he listed some of the highlights of the four short months since he left campus:
- The “It Only Takes Ten” campaign to raise funds for Educate Lanka was successfully launched and has made significant progress.
- Our story was published on USAID/State Department’s Diaspora Forum.
- I presented a speech at the U.S. State Department’s South Asian American Employee Association Cultural Diversity Event.
- VEGA (Volunteers for Economic Growth) presented me a Diaspora Volunteer Award and partnered with Educate Lanka.
- Our project on Global Giving was a success and is ongoing.
- I was interviewed for a Sri Lankan television (Young Asia Television) program.
Manjula and Educate Lanka are still benefiting from the support of his former classmates. Last spring, Fletcher students, faculty, and staff recorded two videos to kick off the “It Only Takes Ten” campaign. The videos are similar, but I’m going to share both anyway.
Many languages, One Meaning
and Many Countries, One Meaning
Quite a few Fletcher students have a goal to establish a nonprofit, and it’s an inspiration to all of us to observe Manjula’s work. He tells me that he has a few more projects lined up for the coming months. I’ll be checking in with him so that I can provide an update toward the end of the year.
In April, after I wrote my last post from the Hall of Flags, I was emailing with Manjula Dissanayake, one of the students featured. A week later, we sat down and he described the incredible path he has followed from his pre-Fletcher days to now. With Commencement just around the corner, I’m featuring Manjula’s story.
It all starts in 2007, when Manjula was working in finance in the DC area. He and his roommates had previously raised funds for Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, but they felt they could do more. They decided to focus their efforts in the area of education, forming Educate Lanka. Before long, Educate Lanka was occupying so much of Manjula’s time that he decided to dedicate himself to the effort, starting by pursuing graduate study in development and social entrepreneurship, either through an MBA or an international affairs degree. An application process later, he enrolled in Fletcher’s MALD program in September 2010 as a Board of Overseers Scholar, and quickly got to work on building his own intellectual infrastructure to run the organization, which currently has a core volunteer staff of ten, and a larger pool of about 40 to draw upon.
I should pause here and describe Educate Lanka. The organization’s main activity is securing micro-scholarships of $10 to $20 for students who lack funds but have a high potential to become future leaders, by connecting the kids with sponsors from around the world. 100% of the sponsorship funds go to the students. There are no administrative expenses (this being a fledgling organization), but if something comes up, funds are raised through a separate fundraising process, which also generates some scholarships for students without sponsors. Currently 275 students are receiving scholarships. A total of 350 have received funds, about 30 of whom have completed school (though a few left school and the program). There are over 400 sponsors in 15+ countries. Once they are in the program, the kids are funded through their undergraduate studies, starting as early as fifth grade (age 10). Over 12 million Sri Lankan Rupees (about US$100,000) has been awarded.
Back to fall 2010. Manjula settles in, registers for courses, etc. Good things started to happen pretty much right away. The first was that Educate Lanka was selected to receive the funds raised through Fletcher’s annual Asia Night event. That same semester, Manjula drew support from Empower, a project of the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership (IGL). And Educate Lanka took third place in the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition. Not a bad start for one semester, and at that point Manjula started to think Educate Lanka had the potential to become a larger organization.
In spring 2011, Manjula took a microfinance class with Kim Wilson, and cross-registered for a Harvard class on education and social entrepreneurship with Fernando Reimers. Both professors offered advice on complementary models for Educate Lanka, and on how to make the organization more sustainable and scalable. Should it continue as a 501(c)3 (non-profit)? Or should it turn into a blended social business? Also that semester, after attending the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, someone referred him to USAID and the State Department, because he works with the Sri Lankan diaspora community, which led to an invitation to speak at the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.
Come summer 2011, while also interning in the Education Investment Group of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Manjula was a finalist in the MassChallenge competition, as a result of which he received mentorship and guidance. Toward the end of the summer, he used a fellowship from IGL to travel to Sri Lanka, visiting the north and east of the country, where Educate Lanka wasn’t yet working. He returned with a sense of how to achieve near-term organizational expansion in Sri Lanka, including a corporate partnership model.
Meanwhile, Manjula’s roommate, Sadruddin, was thinking of replicating the model in Bangladesh, and had received a good response to the idea. He hopes to pilot the project by the end of this year. (Here they are together.)
Back at Fletcher in September 2011, Manjula reconnected with Prof. Wilson and Prof. Reimers, who together mentored him and helped him to think about global replication and to add a corporate partnership model to Educate Lanka. An MIT class on Development Ventures required him to take his ideas and act on them. He received another IGL/Empower fellowship to return to Sri Lanka during the winter break. And he continued entering business plan competitions. He was one of two finalists in the MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Competition.
His Fletcher classmates sent more funds Educate Lanka’s way from 2011 Asia Night proceeds, and Manjula was one of a small group honored as a UN Volunteer of the Year in Sri Lanka. Also helpful, more Fletcher students were jumping on board, including a group that wrote a consulting report on the concept of distance learning in Sri Lanka. He received additional funding from the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises, and IGL is committed to supporting Manjula, even after graduation.
In spring 2012, Manjula was a semi-finalist at the Harvard Social Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition. And this semester also found him in two classes specifically selected to build his skills set. Along the way, he needed to write a thesis and do the other things expected of Fletcher students. Oh, and he attended Clinton Global Initiative University in March, and was an Echoing Green semi-finalist. In preparing to graduate, he created his own Fletcher Field of Study: Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in International Development. (His second field is International Political Economy.)
I asked Manjula to reflect on his Fletcher experience, which seems to have been uniquely successful in connecting him to the local academic community. He said that he came to Fletcher “with the idea to get more guidance, more advice” and to “test the model and see if it has legs.” He confirmed that he was able to do that through classes, the business plan competitions, talking to mentors, seeing the response of people who believe in the Educate Lanka model (including some who want to replicate it elsewhere in South Asia and in Africa), and talking in panels and at conferences. All of this pushed him to move Educate Lanka toward a sustainable social business model while maintaining its core scholarship model.
What’s coming up after graduation? There are five or six fundraising events set up for the summer. The model will be starting up in Bangladesh, leading to “Educate World” in many countries. There’s a plan to start an online platform to arrange one-on-one mentoring for underprivileged kids, enabling knowledge-sharing between the developed and developing world (and also generating more traffic for the Educate Lanka website). The mentoring program would offer a new means of involvement for people who can’t contribute funds, and builds the community of people Manjula says are energized with “‘change the world’ spirit.”
Finally, Manjula took a minute to say “how much I appreciate all the support and backing I have received from my fellow Fletcher students, from all three classes (’11,’12,’13) with which I had the privilege to share my experience, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni. I owe them my thanks.”
I’m going to try to keep up with Manjula and Educate Lanka through the coming year, and I’ll report back on Manjula’s post-Fletcher path. Based on his success in the past two years, I’m guessing there will be plenty to write about.
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