Microsoft Connecting Communities: A healthy environment for the future generation

Saturday, 27 June 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Partners Ministry of Child Affairs and SLANA to educate and empower children and youth


Microsoft Sri Lanka together with the State Ministry of Child Affairs and Sri Lanka Anti Narcotics Association (SLANA), held a workshop titled ‘Connecting Communities’ an initiative the assist the country’s children and youth to take the lead in driving change in their lives and that of their communities through technology.

The event graced by Rosy Senanayake, State Minister for Child Affairs, brought together civil society organisations, NGOs, the Government and the private sector together to discuss issues faced by children and youth, dangers of cyber security and how well all stakeholders can work together to provide a safer, healthier environment for children in an age where technology plays a critical role in connecting people and communities. 

Senanayake giving the keynote address at the conference said that her Ministry is currently engaged in setting up more child friendly spaces at their Child Secretariat and plan to set up a child friendly phone line that would enable children to have direct access to the secretariat. Children would be able to discuss their problems and issues with Ministry personnel trained and geared to help provide the solutions these children need. 

However, the Minister said that they are in need of private sector and civil society partnership to make these changes happen – be they in trying to provide protection, nutrition or education and requested the support of the organisations present at the workshop. 

“We are looking first of all to create a strong child friendly society and some of you can take on maybe a district or a province in looking after these child friendly societies and doing advocacy programs with regard to how to get in to vocation programs, etc. I would like to send you a very comprehensive report where you could come on board and support us. There is much work to be done in the north with regard to preschools and child-friendly spaces, child societies, etc. for which we need your support. We are also looking at building a value system in this country as to how we can teach our children to respect humanity irrespective of gender, an issue our country faces and we need your assistance to connect a healthy future generation to this country.”

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, certified Specialist in community medicine and General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, speaking at the workshop said that Sarvodaya as the country’s largest not for profit organisation has worked with a number of institutions like Microsoft as well as several government agencies on community development, child protection and welfare. He said that the Connecting Communities workshop allowed for an important dialogue that brought together people from various sectors to engage and discuss how to make connectivity better and more holistic. 

“We have initiated some new programs and through the tele-centers we have set up, we are providing not just connectivity but also education to children and youth. Through our Sarvodaya Fusion network, which partners with Microsoft on several programs we have designed some truly interesting and attractive curricula and material for children that would grab their interest while not denying them some of the things they are attracted to. For e.g. PC games, how can we use them in a responsible way that would develop their personality instead of getting them addicted to them in a negative way. These are areas we have successfully addressed,” said Dr. Ariyaratne.

Chandula Abeywickrama, Chairman of CSR Lanka, which represented the private sector, was also a guest speaker at the workshop. Addressing the gathering he said that the corporate sector collectively spent Rs. 2 – 4 billion annually on CSR and a lot of it was not spent in a sustainable manner i.e. more on an ad hoc philanthropic basis rather than on programs that met a national need. He said a lot of the funds were already available with the private sector but they needed to be properly engaged so that the country’s children and youth can benefit at a national level.

“What we see is the private sector doing lots of bits and pieces here and there and moving away from national priority. It’s important to look at CSR from more of a stakeholder transformation point of view. The private sector believes in triple bottom line reporting – People, Profit, Planet; but we feel there is another ‘P’, which needs to be added and that is Progress. The profit of the private sector needs to go toward the progress of the planet and the people; only then can business become sustainable. I think that’s where we need to trigger this transformational aspect of stakeholders. CSR Lanka as the apex body for corporate social responsibility work with a number of stakeholders such as the national child protection authority, community-based organisations and NGO’s who possess significant expertise in different fields. These organisations need to be connected with the private sector as well as the public sector, so that there could be a joint effort towards commutative transformation. The Ministry, Microsoft and SLANA through this initiative would no doubt bring about a public private partnership that would transform all the stakeholders and benefit the country at a national level.”

Janakie Karunaratne, Manager Community Affairs for Microsoft Sri Lanka, said that Microsoft has always partnered with not for profit organisations, likeminded private sector organisations and the government to reach a wider section of the Sri Lankan populace with the intention to educate and enable social economic change.

“We have worked with the Education Ministry to educate teachers so that they can impart knowledge to young people on the importance of IT. The Minister is now appealing to all of us to come together so that we can work jointly towards a greater national plan. This way we can avoid any replication of projects and if we, the private sector, civil society, government and donor organisations can join to form a committee, we can channel all our efforts to drive transformative programs.”