Interview with Jayan Perera Achieve Real Change (ARC),
Posted on February 1st, 2016

By Dasanti Wimalaratne

 Jayan Perera is one of the founding members of Achieve Real Change (ARC), a volunteer organization based in the UK and made of second generation Sri Lankan professionals. ARC’s mission is to help Sri Lankan’s business, medical and sports sectors develop by having diaspora members use their professional skills for their country’s sake.

Everyone wants to help their country, even if they are living abroad, and ARC helps makes that possible. Jayan Perera, during one of his many visits home, agreed to discuss ARC and his homeland.

Q: When did you start ARC?

A: Back in March 2012. I came for one of International Alert’s diaspora engagement pieces that was based around Sri Lankan professionals and what they can do for Sri Lankan. I decided right then to found ARC. What we try to do is bring people who have experience in UK-based industries, who are experienced global leaders, to Sri Lanka to use some of that knowledge.

Q: How many members do you have?

A: It’s very organic. We have a core executive group of four of us where each person is responsible for one arm aside from the medical arm which has two people. I run the business arm, Aiysha runs the sports arm, Shanja and Shyvanthi run the medical arm. Underneath those individuals who run the organizations are a large group of individuals who help. We have about twenty people who are quite core, who show up for everything.

People have taken great risks to be part of ARC. Especially people from Tamil community have gotten a lot of flak for joining something that’s part of the wider Sri Lankan community. I can’t stress how proud I am of the people who have stepped outside their comfort zone/taken a lot of flak.

Q: What sort of organizations businesses does ARC Business work with?

A: We work with a number of organizations. We’ve found that the garment industry is especially welcoming and appreciates our help. Innovation is at the core of their DNA. Organizational structure, strategies for inclusion, we find as an industry, they are quite open to those ideas.

One example of what we’ve done in the garment industry is there was an organization was set up in North and their entire problem was that they have a large business in the North manufacturing garments but they have almost exclusively get supplies from Colombo while everyone on the floor/stitching was from North. We foresaw a problem with that where they could have a situation where all the managers are from the South and all the workers are from the North. We initiated a turbo boost and helped 8 of their employees get from being green in the field to having some sort of management or university degree and having a grasp of the necessary skills.

Q: How well does ARC Medical fare in Sri Lanka?

A: Quite well! Medical affairs are more similar than businesses. ARC can help even private hospitals improve their care. What we’re finding is that there’s a lot to learn from the Sri Lankan model. You have hugely educated and experienced medical professionals here. In the UK, it’s all about being lean and mean, doing the best with the minimal resources. It’s a bit more prevalent for the people to have private healthcare here.
Q: How do you think we should counter the Sri Lankan ‘brain drain’?

A: Sri Lanka is an environment of start ups –  there’s a tenacity to deliver success in Sri Lanka, to target the business sector in a different way, to go along new ways that nobody else has gone before. There is an opportunity for you to make something of yourself.

In Sri Lanka, I’ve seen how much you can do with sometimes not a lot and it puts things into perspective as to how much you can achieve.

Q: What would attract 2nd Generation Diaspora to move back?

A: If it’s not considered ‘giving it all up’, especially if you come from a Western country. There is a lot of fear around giving up a higher quality of life.

The lifestyle here, it is a little bit more easy-going, it’s a little slower paced. Sri Lanka’s an interesting place because you can go quite far here if you can articulate yourself and do the things that you are taught to do in the UK and other places.

Businesses, they like having people from around the world where they’re different – not even necessarily to lead the team but augment it. People are still driven by fundamentally similar desires in business and innovation is always welcome in most organizations. Employers here, if they’re looking abroad, they have to be more vocal about it.

Q: How often do you visit Sri Lanka?

A: Since 2012, I’ve been here 2-3 times a year.

            Q: What do you love best about Sri Lanka?

A: The weather. The food. It’s home. One thing people forget about the diaspora is that no matter how long you’ve lived in another country, when you come back, when you come home, you’ll always feel as if you’ve never left.

When you come to Sri Lanka, you are really standing with people who share your origin story. I really love that feeling. I don’t think it’s something that can be articulated in a single word or a single paragraph.

Q: So even though you’ve never lived in SL, would you define it as your home?

A: Yeah. A simple answer is ‘yes’. Home isn’t just a feeling. Without getting overly philosophical, it’s not just where you lay your hat. Home, for me, is where you feel the most comfortable, it’s where you can just be yourself and walk around.

Sri Lanka, regardless of how many weeks a year I spend here, always is home and I do really love it for that.

Q: What Sri Lankan traditions do you follow?

A: Every night we have rice and curry. At home, our parents speak to us in Sinhala. We do keep up with news over here.

My kids are definitely going to have Sri Lankan cricket shirts, no doubt about that. I would hate for my kids to not feel like this is somewhere that they can call home.

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