An inspiring busybody celebrating all things positive
Savithri Rodrigo on the first anniversary of Kaleidoscope and more
Savithri Rodrigo is something of a celebrity. You either know her name or know her face, and after decades in journalism and media, it’s really no wonder. Her professional accolades include receiving the Sri Lanka Woman Leader 2020 Award, Zonta Woman of Achievement Award for Media in 2004, a Presidential Award winner for Radio Broadcasting in 1995, and Leadership Excellence in Communication and Media – Women for Governance: Professional and Career Women Award 2014/15.
Outside of being award-winning, Savithri has founded Stratyx Promotions and Media Concepts (Pvt.) Ltd. and Stratyx Write (Pvt.) Ltd, two companies working in PR (public relations), media, communications, event conceptualisation, and execution.
Her newest project, which she launched at the height of the pandemic during Sri Lanka’s three-month lockdown last year, is the digital programme Kaleidoscope with Savithri Rodrigo which yesterday (15) celebrated its first anniversary. A weekly feature which runs on her YouTube channel, Kaleidoscope, is a mix of news, issues, and discussions of the positive kind that shows what we as Sri Lankans have to be happy about and celebrate each week, even during trying times.
In honour of Kaleidoscope’s first anniversary, Brunch grabbed the chance to chat with Savithri about Kaleidoscope and about Savithri herself, and the many small steps and moments that have led her where she is today.
Give us a rundown of Savithri Rodrigo and everything you get up to.
I’m a busybody – I like to keep busy, and am always up for a challenge and trying something new. Kaleidoscope with Savithri Rodrigo was one of those moments when I felt I needed to do something different and create awareness on causes and issues which I feel passionate about.
But besides that, I’ve been a television reporter, producer, journalist, MC, moderator, corporate writer, author, PR strategist, corporate trainer etc. – and if you ask me to try something new today, I will. I’m a people person and revel in meeting and chatting with people, and so journalism was the best area to get into.
What makes you tick? Professionally and personally?
Professionally, like I mentioned above, being a busybody. Personally, family (including our fur baby Lily), conversation, a good laugh, lots of travel, any book, and inane teleserials.
What got you into journalism and media?
I was 21 when our son was born and decided to be a “stay at home” mum. I had been working furthering my work experience for what I thought would be my career. The good intention of “staying at home” fell by the wayside because I was bored. (A tribute here to all stay-at-home mums – it’s one of the hardest “careers” to be in).
My husband Shewantha spied an advertisement in the Daily News vacancies section at Rupavahini for news readers. The hours were super (night work) and fitted in well. I applied. I had never been in front of a microphone. Another challenge – TV was new and those applying for the post were all from SLBC (Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation); they had the required microphone technique (which I didn’t even know existed) and were quite comfortable in front of one. Most were also newsreaders so everything was in place. They just had to perfect the art of going live in front of a camera. All news bulletins went on live so there could be no mistakes.
Well long story short, I was shortlisted among this very celebrated network of “announcers” as they were called and went in for two weeks of intense full time training at SLTTI (Sri Lanka Television Training Institute). Jerome de Silva, who was also one of those being trained, realised I was at sea during that training period and painstakingly sat with me throughout lunch and tea breaks and drilled “microphone technique” into me. Besides Aunty Irene Wanigaratne, who was my drama guru in school, I am what I am today because of Jerome; Mahesh Perera, who would watch my bulletins and cross over to Rupavahini the next day from SLBC and give me a piece of paper with my mistakes and how to correct them; and Noeline Honter, who shepherded the English news readers and would sit morning after morning teaching me to improve my technique.
From then on, everything is history. I’m ever grateful to Rupavahini where I was for 17 years because it was truly a honing ground with amazing opportunities and to LMD, where I worked for nearly 20 years, for sharpening my writing skills.
What do you think your alternate career would have been if you didn’t pursue journalism and media? And why?
A boring company secretary (no offence to company secretaries but given my demeanour, I just cannot think of giving it a go), which is what I’m qualified in – although I don’t think I would have lasted.
As a journalist yourself, what is your favourite part of following a story and finding out what makes a person tick?
I love inspiring stories, so if I find one, especially now, I try to make contact. Once that’s done, I do my homework – that’s integral to me. Then I work on my story angle. At the interview, I first try to make my interviewee comfortable; I don’t believe in pushing people into a corner and trying to ferret out information. I’d rather get them on my side and get the story out. Second, talk, talk, talk.
Tell us a funny story from your earlier years.
In my earlier years as a news anchor at Rupavahini, I was at a social gathering when I was introduced to someone saying: “This is Savithri Rodrigo, she’s on the news at Rupavahini.” The person I was being introduced to gave me a once over, looked at the other individual and as if I wasn’t in the room, and said: “That’s definitely NOT Savithri Rodrigo. She’s much more beautiful.” I crash landed to Earth that day! What a difference good lighting and makeup can make (haha!)
Your YouTube programme Kaleidoscope just turned one. Tell us more about how Kaleidoscope works.
So, Kaleidoscope is a weekly show of about 15 to 17 minutes and is uploaded every Friday on our YouTube channel, Kaleidoscope with Savithri Rodrigo. The format is very unique and right now, there isn’t anything similar in programme concept or style.
It’s a quick round up of the week in a news snapshot, a news capsule, and issue-based segments where we feature newsmakers, corporate captains, high achievers, pioneers, innovators, disruptors, gender voices, entrepreneurs, young people, activists, heads of missions and agencies, risk takers, trailblazers, creative people, Sri Lankans who are keeping the flag flying abroad – basically anyone who is newsworthy. We also have a lifestyle segment.
Another unique facet is that our backdrops each week are themed with interesting trivia to relieve boredom, and we always have a fun element somewhere in the show. It’s a lot to pack in but it’s done. Over our 54 shows in just this last year, we have featured over 280 people including 149 women achievers, 62 start-ups and entrepreneurs, and discussed 40 industry areas and 54 social and environmental issues.
What inspired Kaleidoscope?
It started during the pandemic – May 2020. The world was in depression and Sri Lanka was in lockdown. Every bit of news we came across was utterly miserable and disheartening. I had come to the end of one of my working chapters and was pondering what to do when my husband said, why don’t you get onto social media with positive news? I’ve always loved being in front of a camera (call it misplaced narcissism). So I called up my now “Partner in Crime” Prishan Pandithage and he came on board before I had finished my sentence.
Our first programme went out on 15 May 2020, with the entire concept being that we will only focus on positive news and give people a sense of optimism no matter how bad the situation is. Keeping one’s mind positive is part of winning a war.
With Kaleidoscope celebrating its first anniversary, what’s your favourite Kaleidoscope memory?
Putting together that first programme right in the middle of lockdown, interviewing my first guests Mevan Pieris and Dinali Bandaranayake, who were both ever supportive of our new baby. That first programme serves as a benchmark to what a journey we have come on – the challenges have been unending but, I have a great team with Prishan leading the way. The programme production has improved in leaps and bounds and each day is a learning curve but we move on, up and up.
Over one year of Kaleidoscope you’ve spoken to hundreds of people – how do you keep it going without running out of steam?
The one thing I always wanted to do was give women, young people, and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) conversations more focus. Next, it’s social and environmental issues. And each day, I discover more and more – extraordinary people who rarely get a voice. My assistant Thilini, Shewantha, Prishan, and I are always scouring sites looking for these stories. Believe it or not, for the number of things we keep discovering, even if I run the programme for the next 10 to 20 years, I will still have an overflow. Shows the extent of amazing achievers out there!
What is your biggest hope for Kaleidoscope in an ideal world ?
I would like Kaleidoscope to be the bearer of happy news but also to pay heed to some of the burning issues, making lifestyle changes to be more socially conscious and environmentally responsible. The feedback I have received over this year from my viewers both in Sri Lanka and across the world has been wonderful. I have a large following of Sri Lankans living abroad who enjoy that quick update of what’s happening in their home country and also a large number of foreign nationals who have or had a connection with Sri Lanka like former diplomats, heads of MNCs (multinational companies), etc. The continuation of the programme is primarily due to a super collective of sponsors – currently it’s MPower Capital and Ceylinco Life. I’ve also had People’s Bank, CDB, and Singer Sri Lanka among my sponsors in the past.