Suijitha Miranda was our first social entrepreneur in Sri Lanka. In 2016, she opened her learning center together with the team of our 3rd GMP+ program with WHU. With her never-ceasing will to learn, she quickly became an indispensable source of knowledge for our other social entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka. Since 2018, Sujitha has been a BOOKBRIDGE Country Manager, responsible for our projects and programs in Sri Lanka. In this interview she shares her journey from an education journalist to a leader.
Sujitha in the Skills Learning Centre in Bandarawela, the social enterprise she founded in 2016.
Sujitha, tell us 3 facts that people should know about you.
When I was younger, I was a 100m high jumper and badminton player and participated in national competitions. When I got married I stopped doing sports and gained weight. I´m now back in the gym and play badminton from time to time.
I don´t have a university degree, as the Sri Lankan civil war was going on when I graduated from high school. I had been accepted by Eastern University but as this was in the center of the civil war region, my parents didn´t want me to go. That´s why I started doing an MBA a year ago.
I love eating spicy and fried food. If I see or smell something fried and spicy, such as samosas, I immediately have to eat it.
Why did you decide to apply to BOOKBRIDGE as a social entrepreneur?
During my professional journey, I held different positions such as a teacher, manager and educational journalist. In 2010, I had to write an article about the school situation in Sri Lanka. I had to visit more than 400 schools and discovered the huge difference between city and countryside schools.
This made me think of how to change this inequality. In my hometown, Bandarawela, I started to run development workshops for young people. It was an activity-based seminar called “Find yourself”, intended to enable students to find their talents and to turn them to their profession. At the end of the workshop, the parents asked me why I offered this as a single workshop and not as a course. This gave me the idea of founding an institution for career guidance.
I didn´t have the funds to found my own institution but discovered an advertisement from BOOKRIDGE looking for local entrepreneurs with a business idea that would have social impact. I decided to apply and when talking to the people from BOOKBRIDGE I discovered that it was exactly what I had been looking for.
This is how I became a social entrepreneur. Together with the team of the BOOKBRIDGE Capability Program, I founded my “Skills Learning Center” in Bandarawela, and immediately it became successful.
Today, you are our Country Manager in Sri Lanka. How did this happen?
To be honest, this role wasn´t so new to me. As I had been the first BOOKBRIDGE Social Entrepreneur in Sri Lanka, I had already accompanied the next social entrepreneurs on their journey. When Saradha resigned from his role as Country Manager in 2018, I decided to take over his position.
What was my motivation? First, monitoring the other social enterprises was already familiar to me. Second, I wanted to support them with my experiences and learnings from my social enterprise. It was a challenge but with the backing of BOOKBRIDGE I was willing to take it.
As Country Manager, Sujitha manages our social enterprises in Sri Lanka. Pictured with her are the four social entrepreneurs (from right to left): Sampath Senawatte, Kishoth Navaretnarajah, Malaka Kumarasena and Satheesh Pushparaj.
What do you remember as a highlight of the program?
My program was the first BOOKRIDGE Program in Sri Lanka, so I didn´t have any clue what it would be like. Only on the first day of module 1 did I realize what was expected of me. I still remember this first meeting with my team: it was a really good team and after 4 years we are still connected, hearing from each other on a regular basis.
Another moving moment was when the team had arrived in Sri Lanka and we had our first dinner together. It was like meeting old friends – not people that we had never seen before.
An important moment in the early days was when I talked to Carsten for the first time and immediately had the feeling that he knew what I wanted to do for my country. In this moment, I discovered that BOOKBRIDGE was the right thing for what I was aiming for. It was very different from the other NGOs I had looked at, because its focus was purely on impact and the people who achieve it.
What impact did BOOKBRIDGE have on you?
I learned that becoming independent, financially and in terms of your ideas, and taking responsibility for your decisions was crucial. If you want to achieve social impact you shouldn't depend on the funds of others. When these funds stop, your business will stop. Realizing this, I decided to rely only on my own revenues, in order to act independently.
Another important impact was the motivation to become active myself. If you want to change your society, don´t wait for someone else to do it! Start by yourself, and ask: what can I do to start the things I want to change?
A big moment for Sujitha and the team of our 3rd GMP+ program was the opening of her career center.
Learning that you have to assess impact, and how to do it, was very important. For me, the central point was: take responsibility, for your finance but also for your decisions. I encourage people around me, such as the other BOOKBRIDGE social entrepreneurs, to take this responsibility.
Before becoming Country Manager, whenever something new came to my mind, I immediately started to realize my idea. With BOOKBRIDGE, I learned to think first, to analyze and then act. I ask myself: what would my other colleagues do at BOOKBRIDGE? How would they approach this situation? I try to take two steps back and step into other people’s shoes, to see a problem from different sides.
I learned to take my own decisions and to take responsibility for them. BOOKBRIDGE is an organization led by great freedom, so whenever I ask someone, "What should I do?" my colleagues answer me, "Think about it and decide for yourself!" In giving me the space to reflect, develop and take my own decisions, I have been able to grow tremendously.
Personally, I learned how to have a good work-life balance. As a journalist, I was a workaholic. When I joined BOOKBRIDGE, I came to understand the concept of work-life balance: you have to take time for your work but also for your family, for traveling and discovering new things, for seeing your friends. Today, I take time for doing the different things that life consists of.
Thank you Sujitha for sharing your experience and your learnings with us. We are proud that you are part of our BOOKBRIDGE Family!