Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Tech entrepreneur drives social impact

Sri Lanka

Harsha Purasinghe (Sri Lanka ’14)

As a young technology-focused entrepreneur, Harsha Purasinghe was instrumental in initiating and leading a unique social innovation in the aftermath of an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.  He developed “DEWN – Disaster & Emergency Warning Network” in collaboration with Dialog Axiata – Sri Lanka’s leading mobile operator. At present, it is being used by the government of Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Center for mass dispatch of disaster and emergency warning messages through multiple technology channels to alert citizens via text message.

His commercial software venture Microimage HCM is a leader in Digital HR technology. He intends to take the product to global market towards becoming the leader in Mid-Market Human Capital Management. He also led the company to build broadcast automation solutions which is used in Sri Lanka and some of the regional media networks.

And though he had already made major contributions to the field of technology commercially, he wanted to expand his personal interest towards driving social impact. After returning home from his fellowship, he brainstormed ideas with like-minded friends who are working towards creating the social impact ecosystem in the country. Eventually he appeared as an impact investor in a reality TV show for social entrepreneurs. The TV show enabled him to educate the broader public on the concept of social entrepreneurship while giving potential entrepreneurs a chance to access seed funding.

In addition, he partnered with Nathan Sivagananathan (Sri Lanka ’15) on the recent launch of a Colombo-based accelerator hub that will house 700 seats. A portion of the seats will be dedicated to entrepreneurs who are designing businesses that have a positive financial, environmental and social impact. He is exploring further partnerships with Fellows especially in the Asia Pacific region, in addition to Fellows in his home country of Sri Lanka.

Listen here to learn about his many endeavors.

harsha purasinghe

Justice, Peace

Bringing humanitarian relief to the heart of the village

Sri Lanka

Chevaan Daniel (Sri Lanka ’17) oversees News 1st, Sri Lanka’s largest independent news network of TV and radio stations. It is a subsidiary of the Capital Maharaja Organization, which includes renewable energy, national security and infrastructure businesses. While on fellowship, he studied effective ways to address humanitarian crises and natural disasters.

With his media colleagues, he began to expose what poverty has looked like throughout Sri Lanka because it had not been reported before by major media in the country. His group partnered with local universities to present comprehensive data and statistics on poverty levels, providing it as a resource to the government and the United Nations. But unfortunately, neither the country nor the United Nations took action. This was when they decided to take matters into their own hands with Project Gammadda (Heart of the Village), an initiative that Daniel created to address poverty and suffering in Sri Lanka. One such project, out of Project Gammadda’s 2,000 micro-projects, was completed recently in Matara, rural southern Sri Lanka. The project brings clean drinking water to the 100 students of the Aparekka Kanishta Primary School, which had operated for 80 years without access to clean water. EF president George de Lama spoke at the project’s inauguration in February.

Click here to learn more about the project at the Aparekka Kanishta Primary School.

Listen to Daniel tell his story here.

Change & Innovation, Peace, Prosperity

Healing a nation through hope and reconciliation

Sri Lanka

Nathan Sivagananathan (Sri Lanka ’14)

As chief growth officer at MAS Holdings, Nathan Sivagananathan is charged with generating new businesses that will be valued at $2 billion goal by 2020. A 2014 Eisenhower Fellow, his goal was to foster small business development in post-civil war Sri Lanka. After his fellowship, Sivagananathan worked with Eisenhower Fellow Harsha de Silva (Sri Lanka ’11) to launch an online platform that connects entrepreneurs with investors. They enlisted investors to provide $5 million to a total of 20 companies.

This year, their goal is to find investors for 25 entrepreneurs, including one company that will employ approximately 4,000 people.  In April, Sivagananathan opened a 70,000 square foot accelerator/incubator that provides 700 seats for entrepreneurs, 300 of which had already been filled prior to the opening of the space. This $3.5 million project will be not just a co-working space, but will include connections to investors, back office and technical support for the daily needs of an entrepreneur. To target parents, particularly women entrepreneurs, the space will be child-friendly and have adequate play areas.

Having lost his sister to cancer, Sivagananathan has been active in raising money for cancer research in Sri Lanka. In 2011, to raise funds for the treatment centers, he launched ‘Trail’, a walk spanning 27 days across the country, which engaged over 200,000 Sri Lankans to develop a cancer hospital in the previously war-torn northern region. The walk, which harnessed the power of social media and crowdfunding, raised over $2.5 million from across the globe. In 2016 he launched Trail – The Walk Back, this time going from north to south, and raising millions to establish the country’s third public cancer facility, which will be completed in 2020.

His vision is to promote “One Sri Lanka”, a country that is not divided by religion or region, but that is united. Listen here to learn more about his next steps to continue the work of reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

nathan sivagananathan


Using journalism to strengthen democracy


Yuli Ismartono (Indonesia ’97), Uni Lubis (Indonesia ’11), and Natalia Soebagjo (Indonesia ‘90)

Three Eisenhower Fellows, all women, all from Indonesia, are using their fellowship experiences across decades to collaborate and enact change in Southeast Asia.

Yuli Ismartono, a prominent journalist and media trailblazer, uses communications to build democracy in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. During her Eisenhower Fellowship in 1997, her publication was banned by the government. She had to re-establish a path for herself, switching careers from print to television. In her work post-fellowship, she introduced “taboo” topics such as domestic violence and LGBTQ issues, for which she received criticism from religious conservatives.

For the last decade, since creating AsiaViews, she and Eisenhower Fellows Natalia Soebagjo (Indonesia ’90) and Mari Pangestu (Indonesia ’90) have forged a path of unifying the countries of Southeast Asia through their English-based website. Her ultimate goal: to bring together the community of ASEAN people to share their strengths.

Soebagjo has found that her life shifted since her fellowship. Soebagjo had professionally worked in finance and the securities market,  but when she went back to Indonesia in 1990 to begin community development and rebuilding work, she realized that communities were left without resources due to corruption. This motivated her to join Transparency International, where she currently serves on the Board, along with three other Eisenhower Fellows. This is her way to take an active stand against corruption in both her home country and across the globe. She was motivated to join AsiaViews to raise the voices of Southeast Asian expert journalists. Often, she observed, commentators from the West wrote about Southeast Asia, but were not actually experts. She wanted to shift this dynamic.

Uni Lubis has spent 27 years in journalism using different media platforms, and now has a strong focus on digital media and is a keen observer of how millennials interact with it. She seeks to understand what millennials have in common around the world.

Listen here to Yuli Ismartono’s story. To learn about Uni Lubis and Natalia Soebagjo, listen here.

Featured from left to right: Natalia Sobegjo, Uni Lubis, Mari Pangestu, and Yuli Ismartono.

Change & Innovation, Prosperity

Rebuilding through innovation and technology

New Zealand

Wil McLellan (New Zealand ’14)

“…Regardless of the success or failure of individual initiatives, the Eisenhower Fellowship has the opportunity to be a constant global catalyst and enabler for projects that have a positive impact on fostering peace, prosperity and justice.” – Wil McLellan

Wil McLellan, co-founder and director of the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC), lost everything in the devastating earthquake that struck New Zealand in 2011. Finding shelter in a tent with his wife Diana, McLellan, with deliberate purpose and intention began to rebuild, not only for himself, but for his community. He co-founded EPIC with his friend Colin Andersen, to house displaced technology companies and help people keep their businesses going and rebuild their livelihoods. As a result of being in the midst of natural disaster relief, McLellan came to his Eisenhower Fellowship with his mind extremely focused on building and running the technology center at home in New Zealand. He was being responsive to the crisis faced by his community.

The exposure to other world-class innovators changed him. He was intuitive enough to realize that the real value in being part of a fellowship program was the brainpower, experience and connections of his peers. He was also humbled and inspired to go home and do more. And that is exactly what he did.

EPIC expanded by creating a satellite technology campus in a rural coastal region of New Zealand in a city called Westport, which has been severely suffering from economic decline due to the closure of mines and major plants. The EPIC Westport project, driven in partnership with a local family that served as the anchor,  created new technology-related jobs in the region, yielding a 300% increase in work in the region’s technology sector from 2015 to 2016. It also prevented the displacement of some businesses and families from Westport to other more centrally located cities in New Zealand. Families were able to remain connected to their homes and long-time communities.

McLellan then harnessed the global power of the Eisenhower Fellowships network by consulting with Arvind Gupta (India ’14) who leads digital citizenship for the entire country of India. The two collaborated to provide insights for the government of New Zealand in the area of expanding access to the internet. The value of leveraging Arvind’s experience and advice between two countries was made possible because of the relationships built through their EF journey.

Active in the field of growth and expansion of technology businesses, McLellan regularly consults with his EF peers from the 2014 Innovation Program, and together they collaborate to build a community of innovators and risk takers.