Buzz with Danu - Aruni Ganewatte

Aug 09 2023.

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Today I speak to Aruni who was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 10 years old. Aruni obtained her M.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences from California State University, Northridge. She is currently working as a Behavior Analyst/ Parent Educator for children with Autism. 

As a child, Aruni was introduced to the world of beauty pageants by her mother. In 2000 Aruni won 2nd runner-up for Miss Asia U.S.A. and went on to win the “Prettiest Five” Virgoa wards in 2001 and in 2003.  One of her proudest moments came when she was crowned Miss Sri Lanka/Canada/ U.S.A. in (2001). In 2011 Aruni won the “Peoples Choice award” in the Mrs Asia USA pageant.

Aruni established the Sri Lankan Youth Organization (“SLYO”) in 2011 and grew the organization to a global status by establishing  4 chapters in the US, UK, Canada and Sri Lanka. Today she speaks about her work and how we can contribute as a community. 

1. There are many young organizations in SL what would you say is different about #SriLankanYouthOrganizationInc.SLYO?

SLYO stands out from many other young organizations in Sri Lanka due to its unique approach and focus on connecting Sri Lankan youth around the world through its four pillars: Leadership, Education without borders, Community involvement, and Youth global interactions. Here's what sets SLYO apart:

Global Connectivity: One of the key differentiators of SLYO is its ability to connect Sri Lankan youth from various parts of the world to one platform. By creating a global network of youth, SLYO provides a unique opportunity for young Sri Lankans to interact, collaborate, and learn from each other, irrespective of their geographical location.

Four Pillars: SLYO has identified four crucial pillars that form the foundation of its initiatives. These pillars are Leadership, Education without borders, Community involvement, and Youth global interactions. By focusing on these pillars, SLYO aims to offer a holistic approach to the development of the youth, empowering them with essential skills and experiences.

Opportunities for Growth: Through its four pillars, SLYO offers numerous opportunities for young individuals to grow and thrive in an ever-changing world. Leadership programs instil essential leadership qualities, while Education without borders breaks down barriers to knowledge and learning. Community involvement fosters a sense of responsibility and social impact, and Youth global interactions encourage cross-cultural understanding and collaboration.

Inclusivity and Diversity: SLYO's global reach and diverse membership pool contribute to its inclusivity. By bringing together youth from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, SLYO creates an enriching environment that promotes tolerance, understanding, and appreciation for diversity.

Adaptability: The emphasis on being part of an ever-changing world showcases SLYO's commitment to staying relevant and adaptive to emerging challenges and opportunities. This flexibility allows the organization to continuously evolve and cater to the evolving needs of the youth it serves.

In summary, SLYO differentiates itself by providing a platform that connects Sri Lankan youth globally, offering diverse opportunities for personal and professional growth, and promoting inclusivity, adaptability, and cross-cultural interactions. Through its four pillars, SLYO aims to empower young individuals to become future leaders and make a positive impact on society.


2. SLYO is recognized by the United Nations, can you elaborate?

Official Recognition: Consultative Status is a formal recognition by the United Nations that SLYO is a reputable and credible organization that is actively working towards positive social change and contributing to the well-being of youth on a global scale. This recognition enhances the organization's reputation and validates its efforts.

Participation in UN Activities: With Consultative Status, SLYO gains the right to participate in various meetings, conferences, and events organized by the United Nations. This provides the organization with a platform to voice its perspectives, share insights, and contribute to discussions on issues related to youth, education, leadership, and other areas it focuses on.

Access to Information and Resources: As a recognized organization, SLYO gains access to valuable information, data, and resources provided by the United Nations. This information can be instrumental in shaping the organization's programs, projects, and strategies.

Networking and Partnerships: Consultative Status facilitates networking opportunities with other NGOs, UN agencies, and stakeholders. This opens doors for potential collaborations, partnerships, and joint initiatives, allowing SLYO to work collectively towards common goals.

In summary, Consultative Status with the United Nations is a prestigious recognition that opens up a range of opportunities for #SriLankanYouthOrganizationInc.SLYO. It allows the organization to engage with the UN, advocate for its causes, access resources and information, build partnerships, and extend its impact on a global scale.

3. This Organization is registered ®️ in the US and how does this help Sri Lanka?

As a registered 501(c)(3) organization in the United States, SLYO enjoys several advantages that directly benefit Sri Lanka and its youth. The registration as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit provides SLYO with tax-exempt status, allowing the organization to carry out fundraising efforts to support its mission and initiatives effectively. Here's how this registration helps Sri Lanka:

Tax-Exempt Status: As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, SLYO is exempt from federal income taxes in the United States. This means that any donations made to the organization are tax-deductible for donors. This tax benefit encourages individuals and businesses to contribute to SLYO's cause, which in turn provides additional financial resources to support youth-focused projects and initiatives in Sri Lanka.

Financial Transparency: As a registered nonprofit, SLYO is required to maintain financial transparency and accountability. This ensures that donors' contributions are utilized efficiently and effectively towards the organization's stated mission. Such transparency fosters trust and credibility among potential donors and supporters.

Global Reach: Being registered in the US gives SLYO a global reach and exposure. The organization can access a vast network of potential supporters, including Sri Lankans and other individuals or groups interested in contributing to youth development in Sri Lanka. This extended reach amplifies the impact of SLYO's efforts and increases the opportunities for collaboration and partnerships.

In summary, the registration of #SriLankanYouthOrganizationInc.SLYO as a 501(c)(3) organization in the US opens doors to various fundraising opportunities, financial transparency, and global reach. These advantages enable SLYO to gather resources and support from diverse sources, which ultimately contributes to its ability to create a meaningful and sustainable impact on the lives of Sri Lankan youth.

4. Tell me about your background? What made you start this? 

In the early 1990s, I moved to the USA and experienced the challenges of balancing two cultures, as many people do when they leave their home country. During this time, I realized the importance of representing my Sri Lankan heritage proudly in the United States. Encouraged by my mother, I decided to participate in beauty pageants and modelling, as it provided me with a platform to showcase and celebrate my Sri Lankan identity.

In the year 2000, I took part in the Miss Asia USA pageant, competing with 52 other countries. To my delight, I achieved the 2nd runner-up position, an incredible achievement. Motivated by this success, I continued my journey in beauty pageants, participating in the Miss Sri Lankan, Canada USA pageant and winning the coveted title.

In 2011, I decided to pay tribute to my late mother's memory by taking part in my final beauty pageant, Mrs Asia USA. During this pageant, I was honoured to receive the People's Choice Award, which further motivated me to continue advocating for youth and making a positive impact in their lives.

My passion for helping young people, combined with my educational background (holding an MS in Family Consumer Sciences), fueled my desire to contribute meaningfully to society. It was then that I decided to establish #SriLankanYouthOrganizationInc.SLYO. Drawing on my knowledge and experiences, I envisioned a platform that would connect Sri Lankan youth worldwide and provide them with unique opportunities to develop leadership skills, gain quality education, actively engage in community projects, and interact with their global peers.

Through the four pillars of Leadership, Education without borders, Community involvement, and Youth global interactions, I sought to empower young individuals to navigate the ever-changing world and become leaders who make a positive impact. SLYO became the medium through which I could combine my passion for representing my culture, my commitment to youth advocacy, and my dedication to fostering a better world for the upcoming generations.

5. SLYO, both sponsors and volunteers play vital roles in empowering Sri Lankan youth worldwide. Let's delve into the key responsibilities of sponsors and volunteers in the organization. Role of a Sponsor in SLYO. Sponsors are individuals, organizations, or companies that offer financial or material support to SLYO's initiatives and programs. Their contributions are fundamental to the organization's sustainability and successful implementation of various projects. The role of a sponsor in SLYO includes:

Financial Support: Sponsors provide the necessary financial resources that enable SLYO to conduct educational programs, leadership workshops, community projects, and other vital initiatives.

Mentorship and Guidance: Some sponsors may extend mentorship and guidance to the organization and its members. This involves sharing expertise, offering valuable advice, and supporting the development of SLYO's leadership team.

Brand Visibility: By associating themselves with a reputable youth organization like SLYO, sponsors gain brand visibility and positive exposure. Their support is recognized during events and on various promotional materials, showcasing their commitment to empowering youth.

Networking Opportunities: Sponsors can facilitate valuable connections by linking SLYO with potential partners, collaborators, or supporters, thereby expanding the organization's network and reach.

Impact on Youth: Ultimately, sponsors make a direct and significant contribution to enhancing the lives of young Sri Lankans by providing them with opportunities for growth, education, and leadership development.

Role of a Volunteer in SLYO: Volunteers are the backbone of SLYO, actively engaging in various activities and initiatives to propel the organization's mission forward. The role of a volunteer in SLYO includes:

Active Engagement: Volunteers enthusiastically participate in planning and executing SLYO's projects, events, and programmes. They generously dedicate their time, skills, and efforts to ensure the success of these initiatives.

Skill Contribution: Volunteers bring a diverse range of skills and talents to the organization, enriching SLYO's ability to create a positive impact. Their collective expertise strengthens the effectiveness of the organization's endeavours.

In summary, sponsors and volunteers are essential pillars of support for SLYO. Sponsors provide crucial financial resources, mentorship, and brand visibility, while volunteers actively engage in the organization's initiatives, contribute their skills, and foster a sense of community among the youth. Together, they make a significant impact, empowering and nurturing the future leaders of Sri Lanka.

6. You guys work on four main pillars. Tell me the reason why these 4 areas were chosen and how have they reflected in change.

SLYO is a unique non-profit organization that stands out by focusing on four main pillars: Leadership, Education without borders, Community involvement, and Youth global interactions. These pillars were carefully chosen to provide young Sri Lankans worldwide with diverse opportunities for personal and social development.

SLYO's emphasis on leadership development empowers young individuals to become confident and responsible leaders, equipped with essential skills to make a positive impact in their communities. The pillar of Education without borders breaks down geographical barriers, offering access to knowledge and fostering intellectual growth.

Through active community involvement, SLYO encourages youth to engage in meaningful community service and social projects, fostering empathy and social responsibility. The pillar of Youth global interactions promotes cross-cultural understanding, unity, and cooperation among young Sri Lankans worldwide.

These four pillars have led to significant changes, as SLYO has witnessed the emergence of proactive youth leaders, higher educational pursuits, impactful community projects, and lasting global connections. SLYO continues to shape the next generation of Sri Lankan leaders with a global outlook and a commitment to building a better and more inclusive world.

7. As someone with Sri Lankan roots, what would you say is the biggest issue in Sri Lanka for the youth? 

As someone with Sri Lankan roots, I would say that one of the most significant issues facing the youth in Sri Lanka is access to resources and opportunities for personal and professional growth. While Sri Lanka boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world and a pool of incredibly talented young individuals, the lack of platforms and opportunities hinders their ability to shine and showcase their talents to the world.

Limited access to resources, such as quality education, vocational training, and mentorship programs, can hinder the youth's potential for skill development and advancement. Many young Sri Lankans face challenges in finding avenues to enhance their abilities and explore their passions, which may lead to the underutilization of their talents.

Moreover, the youth in Sri Lanka often struggle with the lack of connections and exposure to opportunities on the global stage. In an increasingly interconnected world, having access to networks and international platforms is vital for young individuals to compete, collaborate, and thrive in various fields.

Addressing these issues requires concerted efforts from various stakeholders, including the government, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and the private sector. Providing more resources and support for skill development, vocational training, and mentorship programs can empower the youth to maximize their potential and contribute meaningfully to society.

Creating platforms for showcasing talents and fostering innovation can help young Sri Lankans gain recognition and opportunities both locally and internationally. Encouraging international collaborations and exchange programs can also open doors for the youth to connect with counterparts from different countries, facilitating cultural understanding and global competence.

By addressing these challenges and providing the necessary support, Sri Lanka can unlock the full potential of its talented youth, paving the way for a brighter and more prosperous future for the nation.

8. Are you affiliated with any government entities, and has the government of today all the post supported the initiatives in helping your organization? 

Regarding SLYO's affiliation with the government, as mentioned earlier, it is not a government-affiliated organization. It is an independent non-profit organization with its own mission and objectives. While some governments may support and collaborate with non-profit organizations that align with their goals, the level of support and involvement can vary depending on individual circumstances and policies.

The success and growth of non-profit organizations often rely on a combination of factors, including public support, donations, partnerships, and grants from various sources, including individuals, businesses, and government bodies. SLYO, as a non-profit organization, likely seeks support from diverse stakeholders to further its initiatives and make a positive impact on Sri Lankan youth globally.

9. You know we are losing many talents from Sri Lanka to the international market. What would you tell those who were trying to migrate?

To  those considering migrating from Sri Lanka to the international market, I would like to share a perspective inspired by John F. Kennedy's timeless words: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

While it's natural to seek opportunities abroad, let us also consider the immense potential for positive change that lies within our homeland. Sri Lanka's future hinges on the talents, skills, and determination of its youth. By staying connected to our roots and contributing to our nation's development, we can be agents of progress and transformation.

Yes, the international market may offer attractive prospects, but let us not forget the impact we can make right here at home. The knowledge and experiences gained abroad can be harnessed to benefit our communities and country. Through innovation, entrepreneurship, and collaboration, we can create an environment that nurtures talents and opens doors for others.

As Sri Lanka undergoes rapid development, we have a unique opportunity to shape its destiny. By uniting as a collective force, we can build a brighter and more promising future for all. Together, let's pave the way for a nation where opportunities abound, and no talent is left unexplored or untapped.

So, before you make your decision, ask yourself, "What can I do for my country?" Your skills, passion, and dedication can become catalysts for positive change. Let's embrace the power of our youth and work hand in hand to create a thriving Sri Lanka, where dreams can be realized, and aspirations can flourish.


Danu Innasithamby

Danu is a Jaffna Boy with a Marketing qualification (only because he needed to study, and not because he wanted it). He has been a part of the team for seven years and is the face behind Buzz with Danu, and WTF.


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