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Forbes 30 Under 30 : Meet Poornima Meegammana

8 months ago

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By Nethmie Dehigama We were thrilled to have a chat with Poornima Meegammana, who was just recently listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2022 list of social entrepreneurs for her work with a programme called Nextgen Girls in Technology – an initiative to increase women’s participation in the technology industry. Poornima is a filmmaker, animator, designer, and lecturer at the National Institute of Business Management (NIBM) and the Academy of Design (AOD). Some of her other most recent achievements include the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, which is the first time a Sri Lankan has won a UNESCO award for an education project, as well as being awarded a fellowship with Epic Games. Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself. A: I am 28 years old and born and raised in Kandy. You could call me a social entrepreneur, animator, filmmaker, and educator. Over the years, I have done a lot of social development work in the creative and tech space, while also pushing out empathy-driven stories. My work has always been some sort of social commentary – this has always been important to me. Q: When did you know you had a passion and knack for animation and filmmaking? A: I have loved stories since forever, and my storytelling journey started probably during pre-school. My dad always used to tell me stories, and while I loved listening, I wanted to go beyond. I started acting them out for my dad, sometimes changing the storyline. I was heavily involved in theatre during my school days, taking part in competitions and shows. Later on, I joined a programme by Adobe Foundation, where they taught us photography, art, and film to express ourselves. I learned to use photography to tell stories. That was not enough for me, so I put photos together, added some music, and created videos. Eventually, that was not enough for me either, which ended up with me making my first film at about 17 years of age. So far, I have made about 10 short films. After my Advanced Levels, I wanted to study film further, and the closest programme I could find where I could explore this avenue was an animation and motion graphics programme. This is where I fell in love with animation. Basically, I did not have one point where I discovered animation. I have always wanted to find new ways to tell stories. Q: What has your journey been like getting to where you are now, breaking into the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2022 list of social entrepreneurs? A: My social entrepreneurship journey probably started when I was 12. I was a kid who did everything. In fact, I volunteered at the Shilpa Sayura Foundation at that time – the same foundation where I am now part of the board as well as the Director of Youth Development. I also tried to start a number of clubs related to drama and social development during my schooling days. Half the other students’ parents never understood what my “field” was. I have to mention that I did not walk this journey alone. I have so much support from the people around me – from my parents and friends to the amazing teams I currently work with and have worked with in the past. Q: It’s amazing that you are using your platform, skills, and knowledge to cater to young girls and women by helping them improve their digital skills. What inspired you to focus on empowering women and how do you go about this? A: At Shilpa Sayura Foundation, for a project called AppSmart, we researched the subject of technology and girls’ participation in Sri Lanka. What we found was, just a few years ago, less than 8% of girls in school studied Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a main subject. When we spoke to industry people and university students, we found that there was a skill mismatch between graduates and what was required by the industry. We have so many things in the modern world that do not work for women, such as certain medicines, and I believe the biggest reason for this is the lack of diversity in these sectors. When there aren’t enough women in these rooms, of course, our perspectives are not going to be considered. I began the Nextgen Girls in Technology programme, which is a techno-extracurricular programme in schools, to improve analytical, logical, and creative thinking. It’s about training university girls with in-demand skills like IoT, Machine Learning, cybersecurity, and design to bridge the skills mismatch and increase their employment opportunities. At the moment, we have reached 3988 school students, 442 university students, and over 500 teachers. We intend to touch many lives around the island. Q: What are some key habits that you have cultivated that have helped you reach your current achievements and goals? A: I am very organised with my daily tasks. I use tools like Google Calendar and Trello. I even put tasks like cleaning my room on my calendar. This is something I have been doing for years and it is something that needs to be done because I do 5-6 different things at once and I want to continue doing these things. Being organised is therefore necessary. I also make sure to never take on tasks that I do not enjoy. I have a clear picture of what I like, and I want to have fun with any work that I do. You could also call me a fierce note-taker, with whatever I listen to and learn. I’m basically a big nerd. But I am a lecturer, so what can you expect? Also, this may not count as a habit, but I have made sure that I have a strong community and support system around me. I always have people to reach out to and who support me strongly. Q: What do you see yourself doing in the next 10 years? A: I don’t believe in long-term goals. We live in a very dynamic world. When we set long-term goals, we do so based on the information that is only available in the present. But the world keeps changing, and new opportunities keep coming. So basically, I am doing a disservice to myself if I keep a rigid goal. I prefer to have short-term goals and have a general direction of where I want life to go. Typically, in the next 10 years, I want to expand Nextgen Girls and reach all girls on the island as well as in other countries in Asia. And as you’ve probably figured out by now, I am always looking for new ways to tell stories; therefore, I am hoping that in 10 years, I will have found new ways to do so. I’m always open to opportunities that come my way. PHOTOS © PRABHASHANA HASTHIDHARA  

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