A country’s youth is its greatest wealth. There may be no other resource in a country more important than youth. Young people are characterized by new ideas, creativity and energy. The power of youth is incomparable. To move forward into a new world, to begin a new era, the energy, power and participation of youth are needed. Although we call old people experienced and mature, maturity can also be seen in young people.
The ability to overcome challenges, face anything without fear, cope with technology and stay informed about what’s new is what sets young people apart. So, for the development of a country, we need young leadership; leadership full of energy and new ideas; and leadership that discovers and introduces new things.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Darshana Mapa Pathiranage, Senior Lecturer and Student Advisor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Kelaniya University, discussed youth leadership and the change that can be brought about by young leadership.
Excerpts from the interview
Q: Many today demand strong leadership from young people. Why is that?
A: Before discussing Sri Lanka, we should talk about the other countries. In developed countries, a person with a lot of experience is nominated in a presidential election. And it can be an old person. Because they don’t want a new vision but to maintain the status quo in the country. However, faced with certain crises, wars or other crises, developing countries often need young leadership. Strong leadership is needed to lead them to development and protect them from enemy attacks. What we call “young” here is not only a fact of being young. The idea of having a new vision and good and strong leadership.
Then, under such leadership, opportunities are given to new ideas of youth. When there is a young leadership capable of such feats, given the current situation in Sri Lanka, we don’t know what kind of situation we would face in the future, what kind of situation people would have to undergo and how the policy would change. However, what Sri Lanka needs right now is not leadership rooted in families steeped in traditional political ideologies or the maintenance of tradition, but leadership with a new vision.
Then the new vision that we should embrace is one of leadership that can protect the culture of Sri Lanka and learn from the experience of other countries to uplift the country in some way. At that time, we must strengthen the country in several sectors. I see that several aspects of Sri Lanka need to change. Among them are public transport, education, the health sector, the opportunity for new innovations, the film industry, the development of local agricultural industries and tourism.
Q: How do you think public transport should change?
A: With the current situation in Sri Lanka, there has been a major problem with passenger transport. The reason for this is a system that has been used for a long time. This means traveling daily in one’s own vehicle to the office, resulting in a fuel crisis on the one hand, while on the other hand many believe that development means that every home has a vehicle. Public transport in developed countries is well developed and the number of vehicles on the roads has been reduced accordingly.
People in these countries spend little on fuel due to good transport connectivity. We can see the current situation in Sri Lanka. Many Sri Lankans have become accustomed to cycling and walking and others are using public transport which could be used to make a major difference in the country. This is to make the country’s public transport more efficient. The current government or a future government should focus on the development of public transport.
Currently, a lot of money is invested by the Ministry of Transport in train and bus services. However, it is sad to see the conditions of the trains and buses. Poor facilities in buses and trains should be improved.
There should be restaurants and good sanitary facilities on the trains. The transport sector had become an unprofitable sector for so long. But today, it is a profitable sector. The income must be used to
Q: Are there only buses and trains for public transport in Sri Lanka?
A: No. Cinnamon Air, Sri Lanka’s first domestic airline, has introduced daily flights between Colombo and Nuwara Eliya, which have been operating for some time. But today it stopped. Either because people cannot afford it or because of difficulties in maintaining it.
However, if domestic flights could be operated, many would be attracted to this, making transportation easier. The Hamilton Canal is another transportation option from Negombo to Colombo. But today only fishermen use the canal. In the past, boats operated from Diyawannawa, which is a good option.
Q: What other benefits do people get from using public transport?
A: It is less stressful unlike private transport.
It helps people to bond and help each other by knowing their situation. Metro rail services in Europe should be adopted here to reduce transport interference.
In Sri Lanka, some people are seen watching a teledrama or a night before when they arrive at work or surfing social media. because people don’t have time for that when they drive their own car. But if there is a comfortable means of transport, people can meet these needs when they arrive. It is also important that bus or train services run on time so that people are not inconvenienced.
Today, even those in higher positions in the corporate sector use public transport. The current crisis is the best time to change. People could save a lot by using public transport.
If public transport is well organised, the private sector will also fall in line and the government will not have to bear the costs.
Q: What do you think education should change?
A: Education must be improved to enable children to find employment. After spending 13 years in school, if the education system has not improved to meet global standards, that education is useless.
Q: How should the health sector change?
A: We know that traditionally there have been many crises in the health sector for many years. The Western medical system has been promoted by the authorities. Because of this, people have to spend a lot on western medicine and its mafia. In China, indigenous medicine is well recognized.
Even though indigenous medicine works in Sri Lanka, it does not receive much support from the government due to the interference of those who promote western medicine.
Q: Why is youth leadership important in driving innovation?
A: New innovations will only have their place if there is young leadership. Many in Sri Lanka have found different ways to produce fuel, but neither the previous government nor the current government has encouraged it due to the practice of importing oil.
Q: You mentioned cinema. Why is that?
A: Our film industry still depends on theatre. Online platforms such as NetFlix have evolved. It needs people with vision and innovation. We haven’t been able to upload a single Sri Lankan movie to Netflix yet. If we switch to this industry, we could earn much-needed foreign currency. To do this, young leadership is needed.
Q: How to set up local agricultural sectors?
A: This is a good opportunity to develop local agricultural industries. There should be someone who can face it without fear to support local industries. We consider tea, coconut and rubber as the main local industries. Apart from this, many things can be exported, such as local handicrafts and textile industry products made in Sri Lanka. There are few opportunities for these industries in Sri Lanka. When it is possible to produce many products in Sri Lanka, they are imported because of the benefits politicians derive from them.
While Bombay onions are grown in Sri Lanka, they are imported from India. Why can’t we offer producers in Sri Lanka, those who are engaged in agriculture, the opportunity to grow onions? Recently, there was a problem with rice in Sri Lanka, and the problem was based on a fertilizer problem, but if this problem had not occurred, rice and paddy could be produced in Sri Lanka.
They try to do useless things and some experiments without looking to the future. The reason is a lack of vision. Also, it is because of the lack of vision on agriculture that the problem of fertilizers arose. That’s why we had to import rice from India and other countries. When we import rice, we have to pay more. Imported amount should be paid more. Therefore, more money needs to be spent on these activities.
We import dhal from India and other countries at a higher price. But there are other things we can introduce instead of dhal. Mung beans and black-eyed peas are grown in Sri Lanka. If we promote these plantations, the imported lentils could be sold at a lower price and if the money spent on the lentils was given to the local farmers, they would grow more and it would be a kind of solution to the food crises in the country.
Q: How should the tourism industry change?
A: The tourism industry is a major source of income for Sri Lanka, but the question is whether we provide the facilities for foreign travellers.
Tourists look for nightlife which is not important in Sri Lanka.