This is Deepti Jayakrishnan, the Fellow from Colombo, Sri Lanka!
I am an Indian lawyer in the first year of the MALD program at Fletcher and currently a Blakeley Fellow, consulting for Educate Lanka Foundation Inc., a DC based non-profit operating in Sri Lanka. I am very grateful to the Blakeley Foundation for making the project possible!
Educate Lanka was founded by Sri Lankan youth, for Sri Lankan youth, in 2007. Today it has over 60 volunteers of different nationalities and only three full time employees to administer the educational needs of a diverse portfolio of students spread across seven of Sri Lanka’s nine provinces.
Why, you may ask, isn’t education free in Sri Lanka?
Yes, it is. But according to several studies, the most recent being “Initiative for Sri Lankan Education,” undertaken by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in April 2013, school-related fees and the opportunity costs associated with sending a child to school are often the main blocking factors to secondary education. Hence the poor in Sri Lanka are unable to afford the “free education.”
Using an online platform via <educatelanka.org> Educate Lanka has raised over $250,000 for the education of 600+ Sri Lankan youth and children until date. These come from donors from around the world who can look at student profiles and contribute $10, $15 or $25 per month towards expenses of a student to stay in primary, high school or University respectively.
What next for a Lankan student, after a degree?
According to 2012 data from the National Human Resources and Employment Policy, every year an estimated 140,000 students complete general education without having acquired job-related skills. The Technical and Vocational Education and Training system is expected to fill the gap but employers consider it not very relevant in meeting their needs.
With seven years’ experience of being a provider of financial support under its belt, Educate Lanka created a program for mentorship and skills development to fill exactly this gap. Realizing that students need larger amounts to pursue vocational skills training or higher degrees, Educate Lanka also began exploring options other than scholarships.
And what this Blakeley Fellow did this summer…!
Given my background as a lawyer with experience in the financial services sector, my role in the last three months was to assist Educate Lanka in examining the possibility of micro-financing higher education for its scholarship recipients, submitting related reports, reviewing legal documentation and assisting with the process of registration as a local entity. I put my negotiation and communication skills to good use while finding corporations, to partner with Educate Lanka, for its mentorship and skills development program. I also supervised an intern from American University, who accompanied the Educate Lanka team on field trips and helped create online profiles for Educate Lanka officers. These officers are teachers or retired civil servants who volunteer their time as Liaison Officers; they are responsible for screening students and acting as a liaison between the online donors and the scholarship recipients.
I set about accomplishing the above tasks by drafting partnership proposals, grant applications, legal templates for lease agreement and undertaking by scholarship recipient to abide by Educate Lanka conditions (such as attending workshops, coaching students, permission to Educate Lanka to use/publicize their application information), a project report to apply for tax exemption and also, a memorandum of understanding to formalize the relationship between Educate Lanka and its 14 Liaison Officers. All these tasks required meeting the relevant people, scattered across the island.
Thanks to the Blakeley grant, I have been able to assist Educate Lanka in its mission to empower economically disadvantaged children and youth by enhancing their access to educational, financial and employment opportunities!