“When all else fails, make yourself your own inspiration” – thoughts of a young achiever
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When I saw Assignment #5 – to create an 'Inspire!' portrait by interviewing a young person who has an interesting job or career and who you think would be an inspiration for youth – in the VOY Blogger Info Packet that my Internship Manager sent me last June, two people instantly came into my mind. I am writing about one of them today. I thought it would be best if I do away with the ‘Inspire!’ profile format, so here it goes.
He is Siddhartha Nanayakkara.
I first met Siddhartha at a public lecture organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies – of which I was a student – and later at the World Conference on Youth 2014, at which both Siddhartha and myself were delegates for Sri Lanka.
I met Siddhartha two weeks back and interviewed him. His inspiring story is featured on Voices of Youth today.
Siddhartha is from diverse-cultured family – from a father who is a Hindu and a mother who is a Buddhist. He started his schooling career at Royal College, Colombo which is one of the leading boys’ schools in Sri Lanka. Later-on he moved to a private institute to continue his education in consequence of reasons relating to his partially Hindu status.
At the age of 15 Siddhartha began to follow British Computer Society (BCS) Professional Exams, and completed them when he was 16, thus becoming the 2nd youngest BCS graduate in the world.
After BCS, Siddhartha’s love for Marketing urged him to follow the Professional Qualification offered by Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK), which he completed at the age of 18. Continuing his journey to build up a solid academic background, he obtained his Masters degree in Economics from the University of Colombo at the age of 18 and Masters degree of Artificial Intelligence from the University of Moratuwa at the age of 19. He also completed an MBA at the University of Leicester. Siddhartha is currently reading for his PhD in Emerging Economics at the University of Portsmouth and also his LLM.
The dynamics of Siddhartha’s career progression are quite interesting. Responding to my questions on his professional background he said “I had a lot of obstacles when I started. As my family went through a rough patch when I was 16, I had to start working to get my own earnings in order to look after my family. At the age of 17 I started off as a visiting lecturer of several leading institutes.” Even now Siddhartha continues his lecturing career and has recorded more than 15,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students in national and international universities. As per the records of United Kingdom’s Office of Qualifications, there’s no other young graduate across the world who has been capable of performing such a feat.
Starting as a young lecturer, Siddhartha’s next move was joining with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), which was part of the British mission in Sri Lanka. Afterwards, he joined John Keells Holdings, Sri Lanka’s largest listed company, to pursue a career in the marketing sector. He continued to widen his exposure in diverse fields of work, by moving into various positions with the Presidential Secretariat of Sri Lanka, Asian Development Bank, World Bank and Google.
“Technology, Marketing and Economics are the three fields I lay my key interest on. In terms of life outside my professional career, I take lecturing as a hobby and also supporting youth movements across international boundaries, and I yet strive to create the world’s largest network for the development of entrepreneurship for young people in emerging markets.”
Siddhartha wanted to add a keynote for the Sri Lankan youth – which I think is equally important for the international youth community a well – based on his experiences in diverse disciplines.
“Sri Lanka is at a point where more privileges are open to us. A lot of international attention is placed on our country both positively and negatively. However if we could make use of the networks, contacts and the experiences available to us and make ourselves benefit, I think that is the best thing. And apart from working for an employer which gives you limited capacity, I would always suggest that young people move to start-ups of their own, in a small scale at least. The reason is that this creates a multiplier effect of employment and gives you more opportunities at a smaller scale to bring in better innovation. I think Sri Lanka could gain its unique competitiveness, which it’s yet to discover, through innovation.”
Siddhartha’s thinking, I believe, is one which speaks not only to the youth in Sri Lanka, but also to millions of talented and capable young people around the world. His vision that young people should take an initiative in “fixing” economies is important in every political and demographic context.
Concluding the interview, I asked Siddhartha whether he had any special inspirations – people who inspired and shaped his persona. The answer he gave me was quite different from what you'd hear from an average young person.
“What worked out for me was my own personal inspiration. At the age of 16 I took up the responsibility of looking after my family, and whenever I saw an opportunity to progress in my academics I had to look up to myself and not anyone else. Even when I worked for well-established organisations there were many restrictions – limited salary, if you perform you get paid, you know, it’s first to serve them buddy, and then yourself. So to me, I consider myself as a personal inspiration, and apart from all well-known and respected people you can follow, I think you should always be your own role model.”
At the age of 23, Siddhartha has achieved quite a lot in life despite all the difficulties he had to go through when he started. As a tireless youth activist, he is a unique testament for unlimited potential and robust energy of the emerging youth movements in Sri Lanka.