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Panel Discussion on Youth Engagement and Youth Economic Empowerment

Introduction of SAYF 2020

South Asian Youth Festival 2020 is organized to gather youths from South Asian Countries, connect with them, share and learn their perspective, and develop a strong bond. The 3- weeks-long program is organized on the occasion of International Youth Day 2020 to celebrate youth power, energy, creativity, success, and capabilities. This festival which is being organized virtually will continue till the 3rd of September. The festival is organized in collaboration with various South Asian organizations like UNICEF- ROSA; UNESCO; A2I, Cabinet Division, Bangladesh, UNDP; National Youth Council Nepal; CYDA, India; CYN, Sri Lanka; Pinnacle Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, Maldives; Dynamic Youth Afghanistan; Maldives National Youth Council; Coca-Cola; Turkish Airlines & South-South Network.

Country-Specific Panel Discussion- Sri Lanka

The country panel discussion of Sri Lanka was centralized on the theme, “Youth Engagement and Youth Economic Empowerment.” The panel session was held on Friday, 21 August 2020. 

The discussion provided the opportunity to hear wonderful insights from the inspirational youths of Sri Lanka regarding the need for youth engagement and participation that facilitates opportunities for their leadership and economic empowerment. The panel discussion highlighted exceptional youth initiatives, engagement helping to drive forward sustainable development. 

The session was moderated by Mr. Gayan Rajapaksha, President, CYA-Sri Lanka, Trainer, Youth Activist. The country-specific panel discussion amongst elite panelists included; Ms. Anoka Abeyrathne, Forbes Under 20, Social Entrepreneur, Advocate; Mr. Darshatha Gamaga, Co-Founder, Impact Voice, Youth Activist; Ms. Shiromi Smarakoon, Secretary CYN- Sri Lanka, Rights Activist; Mr. Kapila Rasnayaka, Global Activist, Motivational Speaker, Artist; Mr. Milinda Rajapaksha, Author, Broadcaster, Political Activists.

The session was started with Ms. Sushila Shrestha, (Operation Manager at Global Pvt. Ltd) by addressing the motive behind organizing the festival and a short description of the South Asian Youth Festival 2020. 

The Moderator of the session, Mr. Gayan Rajapaksha, President, CYA-Sri Lanka, Trainer, Youth Activist, opened up the discussion by introducing the young amazing panelist. 

He raised the first question to Ms. Shiromi Smarakoon, Secretary CYN- Sri Lanka, Rights Activist, “How can you describe the youth issue in Sri Lanka?”

Ms.Shiromi highlighted the main issue of youths in Sri Lanka between the ages group from 15 to 29. Unemployment, economic, and financial crisis are the major youth issues in the country. There is also the issue of the education system. They get a college degree but they have no skills, experience, qualifications to deal with the world because of that they have huge pressure on their future and being unemployed. Even after they get a job they won’t be paid well due to a lack of experience. Lack of education brings issues in youth change and global pandemic. These are the issues youth of Srilanka are facing.

Ms. Shiromi Smarakoon, Secretary CYN- Sri Lanka, Rights Activist

Another question was raised to Mr. Milinda Rajapaksha, Author, Broadcaster, Political Activists, “What do you think of appreciation of youth participation in the Srilanka political system? Explain with historical and current situations.”

Mr. Milinda said, one-third of the population is young and youth are pushing boundaries of political parties. Two generations ago, youth were passive but now it’s changing. Youth are taking part in it and taking an interest in politics and raising the voice. They are raising voice in social media and taking part in it to bring change in the political system. In the past, only politician’s sons and daughters came to take part in politics but now youth from different backgrounds are engaged in politics. 

Mr. Milinda Rajapaksha, Author, Broadcaster, Political Activists.

Adding with this, now 90 percent of youth were elected from different backgrounds rather than political backgrounds. That’s what is making a change in the local level council. Massive changes are taking place. Now the youth are asking for free education and employment to the government in this pandemic situation. Youth are taking part in innovation and helping in the national economy by coming with new business ideas and meeting different organizations to deal with but how the government is going to support people that’s a new challenge.

Mr. Darshatha Gamaga, Co-Founder, Impact Voice, Youth Activist shared his perspective regarding the question, “What do you think about the obstacle to see in youth participation in decision-making process not only in government not only in the political system but everywhere what is the opportunity to young people and obstacle?”

Mr. Darshatha shared her perception that young people should be recognized and look equally and give the same value in the decision-making process. Exception and recognition should be given to young people. In social media, a lot of young people are taking part in the innovation business even in political systems. He added young people should have equal rights and value in decision making. Youth should not be taken as one group of people. Youths are very different from each other, different backgrounds, different societies come together to collaborate and come up with solutions. Young people need to be recognized and should be included in the country’s decision-making process.

Mr. Darshatha Gamaga, Co-Founder, Impact Voice, Youth Activist

He added youth participation is about tomorrow but now it is about today. Youth participation is about today and many young people are actively working for the betterment of the society and the community. It is important to create opportunities, or spaces, platforms where young people can be engaged today. Creating opportunities for youth people. Young people need to take things in a sustainable manner. Adding more, young people are becoming active platforms that should be provided to young people today not only tomorrow. It is about creating opportunities. We can look at ways to counter this issue and to create more employment opportunities for young people.

Moderator asked a question to the speaker, Mr. Kapila Rasnayaka, Global Activist, Motivational Speaker, Artist, “Can young people take leadership? Is there any example from the county or from Global?”

Mr. Kapila said that we need to realize the system challenges and then act for change. We can’t make the change overnight, it’s about understanding the psycho-social development process and technological intervention is visible in many sectors in this era. If anyone wants to change the system there should be a psycho-social development process.

He talked about physical education and also added a good example. He said the capitalist system makes people think about people and life so it is not possible to change the mindset. Technology distracts the young people and they can’t think of natural imagination to change in the system . Natural imagination should be there. Therefore young people should engage with agriculture with technology. If young people want to revolutionize the world in the country they should engage in agriculture and technology. If young people want to change the system they should have a holistic approach to understand inclusiveness. It’s about the sociology and psychology of young people. We need a social development process for evolution.

Mr. Kapila Rasnayaka, Global Activist, Motivational Speaker, Artist

Moderator: How was your experience to be able to make a change in your community?

Ms. Anoka Abeyrathne, Forbes Under 20, Social Entrepreneur, Advocate shared that when it comes to social enterprise it touches all the aspects as he mentioned before youth unemployment, education to digital technology. So, one of the best things about social enterprises i.e. it’s quite innovative and utilizes different medium basic methods of communication. He added young people indulged with technology might destroy the imaginative capacity of young people. But technology is something, to do lots of changes, young people need to be naturally connected to people. 

A social enterprise is growing rapidly across different sectors ranging from manufacturing to agriculture. Sri Lankan social enterprises are creating employment and leadership opportunities for young people and marginalized communities, working to support vulnerable children and adults, and empowering women and girls.

Ms.Anoka said there are really great hubs coming to Sri Lanka inspiring not only students but young people who do not fit in to go to university. The other thing, we are still looking at sort of skill despite whatever background they come from. We also work with different groups of entrepreneurs across Sri Lanka so looking at a social entrepreneur as a game-changer because it looks at all the solutions to your issue that you have in Sri Lanka. We have political stability here in Sri Lanka getting into the political arena or getting into the entrepreneur arena.

Ms. Anoka Abeyrathne, Forbes Under 20, Social Entrepreneur, Advocate

Moderator: What is the role of young people in developing skills?

Mr.Darshatha explained the role young people can do in our communities. He explained the three steps. The first one is about taking initiative. We see many young people talking about lack of opportunity and it is creating a lot of issues we should understand. It’s not only about criticizing problems but finding innovative ones. The second step is to use the opportunity and seek the opportunity. There is a lack of opportunity but that doesn’t mean we don’t have it. He said we as young people have the opportunity and also have a responsibility to give the opportunity to create spaces and take on that and continues the journey

Moderator: What are the good things young people have from the current government?

Mr. Milinda said there are a thousand ways that young people can be involved on different platforms. The youth needs to be recognized. We have different training, a rise of opportunities, we have youth councils to work, we have talented young people performing arts and culture, civil society school, national festivals, sports. There are thousands of ways for youth engagement. They should need to know which sector to look after. She added Sri Lanka youth parliament, youth council, different national youth festivals, youth club federation, youth NGOs take 60% issues of the country forward, and addresses them. Even now young people don’t know how to make work done by the government. Those are the new things we should look into.

Moderator: What is the message for young people in Sri Lanka?    

Ms.Anoka shared a message not only to the Sri Lankans but all over south Asian groups that you need to take initiative, you do need to figure out what to do with your life. If you see entrepreneurs in South Asia every single person wants to change the world in a positive way. They care really about their communities. So, we need to look at how you structure a social enterprise or business. You need to look out how to incorporate and you need to look out legalities. It is not very easy to cooperate in business or social enterprise in Sri Lanka or anywhere in South Asia. Furthermore, she added, it is about looking at a long term sustainable goal as a country as also a community with your skill or qualification and you can contribute to a greater goal.

Moderator: Is there discrimination for young women?

Mr. Kapila Said, “There are very few women representatives in parliament but at the grassroots level we can see women but even now in the big stage there is a lack of women in power with only 2% of women representatives. Young people are suffering from various things, lack of internet, lack of education. Young people are also suffering from mental issues and racism that distract the young mindset. If we are not targeting rural women rural girls rural men so what’s the purpose of development so we should bring rural young people to highlight.”

Moderator: How can young people’s initiative change?

Ms. Shiromi said since the new government has lots of expectations. Young people are representing and they are coming from different backgrounds. Sri Lanka federation of youth clubs has been providing guidance to young people. They have organized giving platforms for youth. In the present government, there are huge projects for youth opportunities that can be grabbed by the young people of Sri Lanka. Thus, youth need to take initiative and have a clear vision of what they need to do.                 


The discussion among the experienced panelists certainly helped us to learn a lot and gave an insight into the learning skills. The Country- Specific Panel session was ended in an intellectual, very interactive, and insightful way. It was indeed an excellent conversation with inspiring young youths for sharing their perspective on Youth engagement and economic empowerment on the platform of the South Youth Asian Festival 2020.