What Sri Lanka has to teach the world

Robert D. Eldridge, japantimes.co.jp, May 20, 2019
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Sri Lanka ranks 8th in the World Giving Index, suggesting a compassionate society in volunteering and donating, despite its not yet being a developed country. Economically, and in other areas, it is a country worth watching.
The country, however, also has numerous problems in health care, access to higher education, poverty, social problems and many areas that are not being properly or adequately addressed.
It was because of this that a news organization in Sri Lanka, Newsfirst, specifically decided to examine these problems at the local and individual level beginning in 2013, calling it Gammadda, which is Sinhalese for “amid the village.” Subsequently, partnering with a local university, it conducted household-by-household surveys of the problems residents faced in 2016, 2017 and again in 2018. The United Nations recognized this initial information-gathering effort at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul in 2016.
But the Gammadda initiative was not limited to information-gathering alone. The effort transitioned into providing solutions for community development, or “action out of facts.” Using the young people in the news agency, several hundred specific projects were identified, and a timeline of 100 days was assigned to complete as many as possible through partnerships with the community and other young people. Amazingly, every single community development project was accomplished.
A second 100-day challenge was launched, followed by a 1,000 project challenge.
Using the networks the media agency and its partners have developed in all areas of society, combined with the power of technology, it has been able to be quite successful in the few short years since it started.
One of the key components of this success has been the volunteer force of young people Gammadda created, who are able to access information online about activities and events. This group, appropriately, is known as Gammadda V-Force and operates under the motto “The Courage to Care.”
I see great potential for such a national-level partnership between the private sector, media, universities, NGOs/NPOs, and local municipalities (particularly those that are suffering from population decline), to address problems here in Japan. I can think of a 1,000 small to medium-size projects myself that need addressing. Fortunately, today’s young people, despite what some people might think, are engaged and interested in these issues. I hope their energy, passion, and intelligence can truly be tapped.
Particularly, there are many things that need to be done, including cleaning up Tokyo’s streets, subway and train stations, and other things prior to Japan’s hosting the Olympics next summer. It would be great to involve everyone in that effort.
Currently, it appears Japan only has three sister-city relationships with Sri Lanka. If there were more, perhaps some Japanese communities would have learned about Gammadda and tried to introduce it into their communities or areas. I always encourage Japanese cities, towns, and villages I visit to pursue more sister-city relationships and often write about the need for Japan to expand such relationships as part of its public diplomacy [JB emphasis]. And this is yet another reason why it should: to expand its ability to gather information and ideas.
I hope Japan and other countries can learn from Sri Lanka’s private sector effort to address public policy issues. In doing so, it and the world can develop greater connections with the country suffering from the horror of the recent attacks and provide hope for it and for ourselves.
To learn more about Gammadda, please visit its website (www.gammadda.lk/), or better yet, create a sister city partnership with Sri Lanka and get involved that way.
Robert D. Eldridge is the North Asia director for the Global Risk Mitigation Foundation.

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