Brunch

The Road To Rights on the power of taking action to drive change

We all talk of a better world, but getting to that better world is a very different story. It requires a lot of work from our end – the kind of work that involves re-evaluating basically everything we do and finding sustainable ways to go about our lives, for our own sakes and for the sake of those after us. Now, this is not impossible, but it is difficult.

The United Nations (UN) has given serious thought to how we can build a sustainable world, developing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for international institutions, governments, businesses, and individuals all around the world in order to work towards creating a safe, sustainable, and inclusive global society. These goals range from development-focused goals like addressing the urgency of climate change to developing clean and affordable energy to socially driven goals like eradicating poverty and promoting gender equality.

The UN also declared the 2020s to be “the decade of action”, with the UN and its partner organisations accelerating efforts to address and resolve critical issues by 2030. In response to the decade of action, youth-led human rights and SDG advocacy initiatitve The Road To Rights has launched a new aggressive campaign, #ActionToImpact, in a bid to localise actions and create activities to address SDGs in a Sri Lankan context by 2030.

Road To Rights Founder Dr. Ashan Perera

Brunch chatted with The Road To Rights Founder Dr. Ashan Perera for more on #ActionToImpact and what it hopes to achieve. Following are excerpts of the interview.

Tell us a bit about The Road To Rights.

The Road To Rights started back in 1998, when, at the age of eight, I started the United Childrens’ Club with my brother and sister to help three children who lived next door to us who couldn’t go to school. We created a small tent and would leave our school bags there so that those three children could come to the tent as well. Seeing the family next to mine struggle with a lack of education inspired me to start United Children, which grew and in 2009 became The Road To Rights, a youth-led initiative that advocates for human rights and education and focuses on sustainable development.

Today, The Road to Rights is an international movement that has chapters in 22 different countries and a following of 12,000 young people in Sri Lanka from a variety of cultural backgrounds. The Road To Rights illustrates that young people can become more conscious of sustainability and drive social innovation.

What is #ActionToImpact?

#ActionToImpact is a campaign specifically designed to help Sri Lanka achieve the UN’s SDGs. As Sri Lankans, we have some unique issues to address within our communities when it comes to the SDGs, so we need to drive our own campaigns and localise these SDGs to address issues effectively.

#ActionToImpact is mainly about creating a multi-stakeholder platform that can bring businesses, young people, academia, and the government together to localise these SDGs and achieve them as a country by 2030.

There are four key pillars to #ActionToImpact: Awareness, education, engagement, and action. Awareness is about helping learn about the SDGs and what they are; education is about showing people how to address and tackle the issues the SDGs are looking to resolve; engagement is about getting people involved at all levels, from media personnel to businesses to the government to the individual Sri Lankan; and action is about taking steps to address the issues and achieve these SDGs.

The Road To Rights will officially launch the #ActionToImpact campaign on 7 August with six flagship forums taking place online. Anyone looking to get involved, in whatever capacity, will be able to join #ActionToImpact through its digital platform (www.srilanka2030.lk).

Road to Rights youth volunteers

How is #ActionToImpact going to work toward achieving Sri Lanka’s SDGs by 2030?

One of our core components of #ActionToImpact is our digital multi-stakeholder platform that we will launching on 7 August with the #ActionToImpact campaign. This platform will allow various stakeholders – from businesses to civil society to youth to government organisations and academia – to showcase and collaborate their efforts in achieving SDGs; to allow volunteers, knowledge experts, philanthropists to join in contributing to national and local actions; and to allow for a national educational and resource hub for sharing research work, best practices, materials, and measurement tools on suitability.

Another core component of #ActionToImpact is the National Research Symposium on Sustainable Development, an annual event and platform to be launched in 2022 to encourage businesses communities, academia, and individuals doing research work or driving social impact initiatives related to sustainable development to submit their experiences and research work to feed decision-makers with validated information and practices that can help tackle critical social issues. Many business communities and other stakeholders have good practices and strategies that drive social impact, and this symposium will be a way for those practices to be shared and adapted on a national scale.

The #ActionToImpact campaign will also enlist the support of 17 celebrity ambassadors to be the front faces of these SDGs and take their message to a larger audience, especially the grassroots level. These celebrities have been selected from various cross cultural backgrounds and industries – from sports to media to acting – and collectively have a fan base of over three million followers. These ambassadors will be trained and guided to lead social innovation and advocacy. It is our hope that through these abassaords, we will be able to inspire and educate their fan bases to take even small actions in contributing to Sri Lanka’s sustainable development journey.

#ActionToImpact will also include the G17 University Ambassadors Consortium, a national undergraduate platform the Road To Rights has previously launched. The consortium features over 200 student ambassadors from 10 Sri Lankan universities, who will be taken through a one-year fellowship programme designed to create future professionals who contribute to the sustainability agenda and become industry leaders who think and act for sustainability. Through #ActionToImpact, the consortium hopes to expand to include ambassadors from 10 more universities as well as ambassadors from universities abroad.

#ActionToImpact will also introduce the National Platform for Children on Sustainability – #KIDS4SDGs – working with children from each school in Sri Lanka and engaging to learn and talk about SDGs and also to inspire parents and teachers to care for the environment and how, as children, they themselves can take action.

A 2021 beach clean-up, in celebration of Earth Day

Why is it so important that we as Sri Lankans work towards achieving these SDGs?

If you take the SDG of “Climate Action”, which is addressing the urgency of climate change, simply put, there is no Planet B. Earth is all we have, and climate change is real. So it is absolutely important that we address it. At the same time, with the rapid growth of industries and human activities, communities around the world, even in Sri Lanka, are facing many long-term challenges that are shaping our society. As a nation, if Sri Lankans are not conscious about sustainability, I don’t think that in 10 to 20 years, we have a valuable society to offer to our children.

To create a better, sustainable, and more inclusive society for us and future generations, it is important to tackle the issues highlighted by the SDGs now. There was a discussion recently, where I learned that some of the issues the UN had identified as issues that we would need to face post 2030 have become issues that will affect us by 2025. It’s not just the environment that we need to think about. We also need to think about the poor, about inclusive and quality education, because if we don’t, we won’t be able to produce kids and young people who can fit into the global context and who will be able to work competitively with other countries.

This is the time for us all to think about sustainability and to work towards it or we will no longer have a society or world in which we can live peacefully.