A life forged by the 2004 tsunami – Global Impact’s Ranjith Yapa Arachchi

We are all marked out by different circumstances and histories; our position in society or academic achievement, a job or skill, a title, wealth, family, faith or fame but Ranjith Yapa Arachchi, the Global Impact South-Asian Project Manager, is defined by a single day; December 26th, 2004. This day is referred to in Sri Lanka as the start of ‘Tsunami Time.’

While for some 100,000 Sri Lankan families the day represents loss on a scale most of us still struggle to grasp, that fateful day was a turning point for many, our colleague ‘Yapa’ among them; a moment when everything changes, when the future you thought you had was suddenly gone and a new journey was about to begin.

Now 52, Yapa makes clear he feels he was remarkably fortunate; he lost no immediate family, his home was spared and most of his neighbours survived, though many friends and too many of their children were taken. Like so many families, Yapa’s home town of Tangalle on the southern tip of Sri Lanka was devastated, Yapa’s young business was destroyed along with so much else & the tourists the town had begun to develop around were, if they survived, frantically trying to leave. 15 years later the town still carries the scars of that day.

Looking back through the tough years since, Yapa identifies the weeks and months after the tsunami as a strange beginning to a changed life. In a recent interview he first apologised for his English; I however make no such apology for a man I have learned to admire for his quiet courage, his unending practicality and the way integrity has held him together through many difficult years.

The weeks and months following the tragedy were a brutal wake-up call to Yapa. “Many money come to Tangalle from good people through very many company and NGO; enough money to repair all damages, but most money wasted. Corruption was problem for sure but big problem for Tangalle, and many place same like Tangalle, is NGO fix problem they “think” local people have. Most of time, NGO solution and local solution is not same but no one ask local people what to do.”

Addressing the yawning gap between disaster relief efforts and local need, Yapa described how he set about making a difference. “I am good for organise many things and in next years I help families and small group make helping-self projects; nets and boats for fishermen, guest-house repair, local bridge making, solar-panel fitting; all project we do is small and make to fix problem local people “know” is big problem for them.”

“Then, in 2012, I help one Global Impact customer build small infirmary. Since that time, I manager for small project for Global Impact customer; solar energy, medical centre, irrigation, fishing, disabled children, computer training, job-training. In my job I find project same like this for many European company. They make investment and this help local people to fix local problems. It is great job.”

Married with two children born pre-tsunami, Yapa understands the enormous impact Corporate Social Investment can have, but knows beyond all doubt, and from bitter experience, that big projects designed and implemented by “outside” corporations and NGO’s have a poor track-record on delivering positive, long-term outcomes. In contrast, small, locally designed, locally managed solutions (most costing no more than $5,000) reliably deliver wave after wave of long-term, local benefit because they are built around local understanding of the issues and an intimate appreciation of which solutions are feasible and appropriate. These solutions are then implemented by local groups using local businesses, local produce, local labour and local skills with those same skills, jobs, benefits and money staying in the community.

These micro-projects, responding specifically to local community interests, are at the heart of Corporate Social Performance projects the Global Impact team develop, implement and manage for SME clients across Europe. In line with the principle of “local-knows-best” our projects only ever come into being through our field-based Regional Project Managers who are tasked with unlocking grass-roots knowledge of issues and solutions, be that in communities close to our client’s business, or further afield in South Asia and East Africa. Yapa’s latest project, developed for a UK based IT company, is the classic application of this well-tested strategy.

The Methnana Foundation.

At the end of a year-long dialogue with both the UK client and the special-needs charity, The Methnana Foundation, the client has given the go-ahead for; a) a £1,500 capital investment in disabled-friendly desks, chairs and other classroom furniture & b) a series of vocational training projects aimed at dexterity development in Methnana children, requiring a monthly investment of £130.

The newly-funded projects, designed and tested by parents and teachers, and overseen by Yapa, will allow Methnana to attract an additional 15 to 18 children living with cerebral palsy, downs syndrome and a broad-spectrum of difficult conditions from the local, predominantly poor, Matara community in which Methnana works.

For the parents and their communities, Methnana’s daily input will free parents from the burden of hour-by-hour care, will permit mothers in particular to allocate more time to siblings (as well as adding to family incomes) and will alleviate some of the wider emotional and financial pressures that affect extended families and their support communities.

In a country where such facilities are not state funded, and in the absence of surplus family incomes to pay for such facilities, outside investment is THE only option for children and their families needing the support Methnana gives.

For companies investing valuable profit in projects like Methnana it appears, on face-value at least, that the business has merely exercised its philanthropic muscles; doing some good for a community less fortunate than the company’s own. To Yapa and the Global Impact team however, investments such as these are much like any other investment a company makes; they are measured by their outcomes, by their “return”.

That there is a direct and measurable RoI in the local community is self-evident but for Global Impact clients it is our job to ensure the investment is harnessed to help drive the client company forward in which ever way the client intends. This is invariably a blend of;

i.           Developing the company’s purpose & identity.

ii.         Differentiating the client company from the competition.

iii.         Enhancing a company’s brand and brand impact.

iv.          Marketing the brand to promote brand-significance and visibility.

v.          Bonding colleagues together behind a “cause” greater than profit.

vi.          Developing a recruitment and retention ‘identity’ as a growth-driver.

vii.          Developing corporate volunteering programs.

We leave the last word to Yapa. “Companies I work with understand they are not “donors”. Local people with many problem do not need donors, no, they need partnership and respect. Global Impact client are partner, good partner, and organisation like Methnana want to help UK company be better company; half my job is I make this happen.”

“Stutiyi from Sri Lanka.”

Feel free to contact Yapa and the Global Impact team through; start-the-journey@globalimpact.dk