Since 2010, Sri Lankans Without Borders (“SLWB”) has consistently worked to bring together Canadians with ties to communities in Sri Lanka to discuss their history, experiences, deeply held beliefs and aspirations In doing so, we are committed to amongst other things, using our common Canadian values to create safe and open spaces where issues that are of interest to our members, including political, social and identity issues relating to Sri Lankan communities, can be discussed. The creation of these spaces is not a political act. In our experience, a rising tide can and should lift all boats.
Make no mistake – this goal was an ambitious one in 2010 in a barely post-war environment. However, the board of SLWB strongly believed the future of Sri Lanka and that of its diasporas would benefit from this effort. We are proud to have built strong relationships and friendships between the various ethnic and religious groups of Sri Lanka – friendships that have been the platform for other awesome endeavors.
We have also been involved with members of the global diaspora and in Sri Lanka from the onset. SLWB created Kathae Kadai, the first digital platform to enable key discussions, idea sharing and friendship forming. We have also hosted various groups like Sri Lanka Unites, the Centre for Policy Alternatives and key foreign representatives including Erik Solheim (Norwegian negotiator and diplomat) and Gordon Weiss (Former UN Spokesperson to Colombo). As part of this continuing relationship with the people of Sri Lanka and the issues that impact the country and its people we continue to look at initiatives where we can be of support.
OVERSEAS SRI LANKANS CONFERENCE
This past April, members of the SLWB Board of Directors were invited by the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) in Colombo to discuss how Sri Lankans living overseas can assist in the development of Sri Lanka. These discussions were also attended by several other diaspora organizations from Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to name a few countries.
While we all continue to digest the many conversations that occurred publicly and privately during these discussions, the following summarizes some important elements of the conversation:
- Sri Lanka is increasingly classified by international donors and international agencies as a middle-income country. This classification does not reflect reality and is in fact skewed by regional income disparities where Colombo is vastly richer than the other regions. However as a consequence of this classification, international donors no longer fund important needs for communities of high need in Sri Lanka leaving members of rural communities in Sri Lanka at greater risk of poverty especially in the North, East and Central regions of Sri Lanka.
- While many communities in Sri Lanka have benefitted from remittance payments and other forms of support from non-profits, school alumnae and individuals residing overseas, there is little coordination between donors. There is growing local concern that these forms of support are fueling a culture of entitlement and hand-outs, particularly where there are few employment opportunities and other sources of financial income. It is incumbent on both these donors and the Government to take steps to discourage the formation of this culture and to build sustainable eco-systems.
- While Sri Lankans living overseas i.e. the Diaspora have an important role in supporting the livelihoods and development of communities in Sri Lanka especially post-war, there is at times a lack of recognition of the resiliency and capacity of the varying communities within Sri Lanka. Other than the important issues around mental health, what is lacking in particular for families who are trying to stabilize their lives in a post-war Sri Lanka is access to reasonable loans to start businesses, access to land, employment opportunities in their community and an opportunity to take on roles of leadership in the community.
- The Government of Sri Lanka needs to play a leadership role in facilitating a positive relationship between the various communities in Sri Lanka and the global population with ties to Sri Lanka. The Diaspora continues to harbor significant reservations about the attitude of the Government towards the Diaspora and their commitment to resolving key concerns. Many attendees at the conference, including those from SLWB, expressed the need to see the Government expedite the military-occupied land to their civilian owners, resolving land disputes quickly around the island and ensuring that civilian employment opportunities are not sacrificed in order to maintain the presence of a military in communities especially in the North and East.
- A vibrant private sector is essential to the successful and sustainable development of Sri Lanka. The basics of a strong economy must be adhered to for not just the diaspora, but for any investor to have reasonable faith that their investments are protected. Strong regulatory systems must be in place, corruption must be at a minimal, authority for decision-making whether at a central or provincial level must be transparent and communicated. For more on this and other business concerns you can click here to read more.
WHAT’S IN STORE? HOW YOU CAN PARTICIPATE?
Today we are happy to announce that we are moving this one step further by reviewing partnership opportunities with key organization(s) on the ground to help move Sri Lanka down a sustainable path. Our choice to partner with a select number of group(s) is in order to be able to track the progress of our efforts. We will also be seeking skilled professionals in the business community who can help support a sustainable path in Sri Lanka. If you are interested in participating in these initiatives or volunteering, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.