Brunch

Giving a powerful voice to a sustainable future: Hype Sri Lanka on its first anniversary

We hear it time again: Children are the future. We hear this from politicians, business leaders, educators, and practically anyone who takes the time to even briefly discuss the future.

But how empowered are our youth to be this change? Are their voices heard? The simple answer is not always, and it is this that the youth empowerment movement aspires to fix.

In Sri Lanka, there are several organisations that drive youth empowerment. One such engine is Hype Sri Lanka, a youth empowerment incubator built on the foundation of driving inclusive and sustainable youth development. Today, 25 January, Hype Sri Lanka celebrates its first anniversary.

The Morning Brunch spoke to Hype Sri Lanka Founder Chiranthi Senanayake and Secretary of Finance Raveen Jayasinghe ahead of this milestone to take a look at the Hype Sri Lanka’s journey.

 

Building a youth empowerment incubator

 

Hype Sri Lanka Founder Chiranthi Senanayake

Chiranthi Senanayake founded Hype Sri Lanka after a history of working closely with government and private stakeholders, both locally and internationally, since her first experience as a diplomatic volunteer in 2009.

“The first-hand experience I gained through my community service in the youth empowerment sector made me realise that the national youth development system has two main shortcomings,” Senanayake shared. “The first is an unsustainable reliance on the bottom-to-top approach for youth development, and the second is the adoption of blanket youth policies and the execution of generic youth programmes based on an age-specific definition. So there was an obvious need for an entity that facilitated the streamlining of the overall macro system responsible for youth development.”

Linking with Kasunjith Satanarachchi, a friend from the advocacy sector, Senanayake explored the possibility of setting up Sri Lanka’s first youth empowerment incubator dedicated to improving the sustainability of the existing youth empowerment frameworks, giving birth to Hype Sri Lanka.

As an organisation, Hype Sri Lanka enables top-level youth development and acts as a nexus that creates inter-stakeholder links in Sri Lanka’s youth infrastructure in a friendly, energetic, focused, and inclusive manner, advocating for equal representation throughout all top-level processes from all groups of youth, including youth with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.

 

Making an impact

 

Raveen Jayasinghe explained that Hype Sri Lanka, being Sri Lanka’s first-ever youth empowerment incubator led by a group of passionate youth, acts as a catalyst for inclusive and sustainable youth development. “In a nutshell, Hype Sri Lanka advocates for effective and co-ordinated youth development through the empowerment of the youth to assume a forefront role in their own development,” Jayasinghe said.

“Approximately a quarter of Sri Lanka’s population (23.2%) is made up of youth between the age of 15 and 29 years. Despite this demographic reality, the country lacks a co-ordinated and sustainable mechanism for furthering youth development. There is an obvious lack of youth participation in the top-level development of the country, which is both unsustainable and ineffective,” he added.

 

A year of humble progress

 

Official launching event of Hype Sri Lanka in 2020

Having kicked off in January 2020, Hype Sri Lanka had to navigate through the pandemic as an infant organisation. “Hype Sri Lanka started off during the pre-Covid period by accommodating an interactive stakeholder discussion on the day of its launch, thereby creating awareness on youth empowerment incubation and making us more known in the national youth development sector,” Jayasinghe said.

“Project Nexus, initiated by Hype Sri Lanka, is now a growing network of 65 youth organisations and voluntary social service organisations (VSSOs) working together and seeking strong sustainable partnerships,” he added.

Another Hype Sri Lanka initiative, the Hype Policy Think Tank, functions as the only volunteer-run think tank in Sri Lanka, focused on researching and bringing forward youth-related issues out into the open. The Hype Policy Tank, together with Hype Sri Lanka’s other departments, has produced several surveys and published a host of reports that capture the youth perspective on prevalent development issues.

The organisation’s Department of Disabled and Vulnerable Communities Representation oversees the inclusion portfolio of the incubator. This Department organised a webinar titled “Sensitising the Public Systems and Administrative Authorities of Sri Lanka to Persons with Disabilities”, and also organised a social media campaign in celebration of International Day of Disabled Persons.

Jayasinghe explained that Hype Sri Lanka has also been able to work alongside notable international NGOs such as the International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to counter disinformation and hate speech in the backdrop of the 2020 parliamentary elections through a social media campaign. The incubator also worked closely with Women Enabled International (WEI) to organise three national consultations with women with disabilities and persons from the LGBTPQIA population of Sri Lanka on the impact of Covid-19 on these two vulnerable groups.

As part of its “Youth Public Proposal” series, Hype Sri Lanka’s Department of Youth Advocacy and Activism submitted two public proposals to expert committees appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The first of these is the youth public proposal on potential provisions of the Third Republican Constitution of Sri Lanka, which was submitted to the expert committee on drafting the new constitution. This was followed by the youth public proposal on potential reforms to the commercial law of Sri Lanka which had been submitted to the Commercial Law Reforms Expert Committee Special Unit.

“These are just some of the many projects carried out by Hype Sri Lanka, and we have a humble happiness about where we are today,” Jayasinghe said, adding that on an internal level, the Hype Sri Lanka team also carried out two internal culture development programmes to build up the personalities and knowledge of its members.

 

Looking to the future

 

Interactive stakeholder discussion at the official launch of Hype Sri Lanka on 25 January 2020

Reflecting on 2021, Senayake shared that Hype Sri Lanka hopes to grow in size and mission next year. “In line with our short-term vision of growing Hype Sri Lanka to serve as the focal point of inclusive and sustainable youth development in the country,” Senanayake said.

“The incubator aims to organise three extensions to the existing programmes, apart from need-based projects that the organisation will execute in the coming year. The first is to increase the number of youth organisations and VSSOs registered with Project Nexus from 65 organisations to 120 organisations by the end of the year, with the assistance of our team of district co-ordinators.

“The second extension is to output two key status reports through the Hype Policy Tank, namely, the ‘Report on the Status of Persons with Disabilities in Sri Lanka’ and ‘Report on the Status of Formal Primary and Secondary Education in Sri Lanka’. Thirdly, the Department of Disabled and Vulnerable Communities Representation of the organisation, together with the Hype Academy for Human Capital Development, aims to finalise the module on disability sensitisation and conduct a series of the ‘Youth Empowerment Stakeholder Disability Sensitisation’ training sessions in the coming year.”

Having made the most of one very eventful year already, Hype Sri Lanka is set to take on 2021 and its mission of an inclusive and sustainable world, with unbounded hope, optimism, and hard work to back it up.