Jayathma Wickramanayake is on the UN World Stage

Ruwini Jayawardana,  in Daily News, 28 June 2017, where the title is  Passion, Poise and panache!”

She is certainly going places. Incoming UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake will taking office as the second Youth Envoy in the history of the United Nations System next month. She will be succeeding Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan.

Jayathma has the panache for youth related work. She has many years of experience working with high-level UN initiatives on youth and sustainable development. She also played a key role in transforming the youth development sector in Sri Lanka. A co founder of Hashtag Generation Jayathma has been spearheading projects which encourage youth to take part in political and civic activities. Her experience of working with grassroots youth organizations and political parties, initiating projects aimed at youth development together with her high-level experience in representing the youth agenda, globally, won her the role as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.

Jayathma Wickramanayake
Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage

“From becoming the first ever UN Youth Delegate to the negotiator of the UN Resolution that declared the World Youth Skills Day and now as the newly appointed UN Envoy on Youth to the Secretary-General, my journey has been truly wonderful. Today I represent young people from across the globe. I am a testament to what a young Asian woman can achieve if she is empowered,” Jayathma noted.

Hailing from Bentota Jayathma schooled at Sangamiththa Vidyalaya, Aluthgama and Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo. A graduate of Colombo University, she is currently reading for her Masters in Development Studies in the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

“I’m here because I was fortunate enough to utilize the opportunities that were made available to me as a Sri Lankan. I am someone who benefitted from the Free Education system, from Grade one to 13 and then in university. Therefore I am obliged to the people of Sri Lanka for the opportunities that were given to me as a young woman from a rural area. These opportunities were made available to me by the people of Sri Lanka from the money of the tax payer and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed in creating my path up to this point in time,” she explained.

Jayathma has represented and motivated global youth development on an international level since the age of 21. She was selected as the first ever Sri Lankan youth Delegate to the United Nations (UNYD) in 2012. She was also appointed as a member of the International Youth Task Force for the World Conference on Youth 2014 to ensure inclusive youth engagement in the process and was widely commended for her involvement in advancing the youth agenda in the UN. She was the lead youth negotiator for the Colombo Declaration on mainstreaming youth in the Post 2015 agenda. She played a key role in establishing the United Nations World Skills Day which was a proposal of Sri Lanka for which she was the lead negotiator.

“I have also been active in several high-level international initiatives for young people, starting from Rio +20 in 2012 to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to the World Conference on Youth, to the negotiations for the high level political forum on post 2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. I worked closely with the UN Country team here in Sri Lanka, especially as a UN volunteer and contributing to the ILO Zero Child Labor campaign in 2013 as a volunteer,” Jayathma said.

She has designed and implemented successful training programs for aspiring female politicians, doing her maximum to ensure strong female representation at local and national levels. Though a diplomat she embodies a heart of an activist. Bright, energetic, dedicated and beautiful, Jayathma was ranked island first in the recruitment process to enter the office of the Secretary General of Sri Lanka’s Parliament in which she served as secretary to the Secretary General of the Sri Lankan parliament from June 2016 to January 2017.

Recalling the turning point in her life Jayathma says that it was becoming the first runner up in the emerging young leader award competition that was organized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs in 2011 which gave her the much needed break in life.

“Following this competition, I started working on the National Youth Services Council on their global campaign for the World Conference on Youth in 2014. When the NYSC designed the Youth delegate program I was selected as the first ever UN Youth delegate from Sri Lanka along with Aruthra Rajasingham. This experience inspired me greatly to see how the United Nations can make a difference in the world,” she explained.

With her parents and husband at her graduation

Queried on what her most memorable experience was during her tours Jayathma said that it was taking part in the United Nations General Assembly. She was the official youth delegate to the UN selected by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development and had been able to meet and interact with many people who had inspired her through their work.

“The most important contribution I’ve made to the global youth development agenda is the UN World Youth Skills Day. I took leadership in 2014 after the World Conference on Youth to bring forth a resolution to the United Nations to declare a World Youth Skills Day on July 15. It was a follow up on the World Youth Conference and also an initiative that was directed and led by Sri Lanka,” she added with a smile.

One of her passions is bringing people together. She enjoys creating movements and platforms that bring different stakeholders together.

“I worked with certain Non-Governmental Organizations in Sri Lanka to bring young political party leaders together to initiate recommendations for reconciliation and constitutional reform. I’ve been working on this specially in conflict affected areas, getting Tamil speaking young politicians to work together with their Sinhalese speaking counterparts in Sri Lanka over the last year. That experience also helped shape my profile in receiving this appointment as someone who advocates for conflict prevention in the long run,” Jayathma mused.

Unraveling her thoughts about the role she is assigned to take on soon Jayathma noted that she believes that this is a great opportunity for all stakeholders to come together, especially the member states, the civil society organizations, youth organizations, private sector, academia and all other partners.

“As the UN Youth Envoy I will be working very closely with all these partners to create a more tangible and visionary agenda for young people and youth participation in the UN system. Investing in youth development is an investment that they make for the future. This will be one of the slogans that I will be working under, encouraging governments to invest more on youth development, introduce youth policies where there are no youth policies and initiate youth councils where there are no youth councils in the world,” she said.

Jayathma will be working alongside the three pillars of the UN: peace and security, development and human rights. Under Peace and Security, She will be working with the Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. Under development she will be focusing on getting young people to take leadership on implementation and evaluation of the Sustainable Development Agenda. Under Human Rights, she will be bonding with youth communities that are most vulnerable and marginalized in the world with an especial focus on young refugees and young women.

The message Jayathma wants to send across to youth who wish to aim high is that if there is a will, then there is a way. She herself has reached for the stars and had succeeded to fulfill her dreams.

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