The Foundation of Goodness was set up by Kushil Gunasekera in 1999. It provides essential services to his ancestral village of Seenigama, Sri Lanka, and beyond. Gunasekera is ably supported by a dedicated Board of Trustees and a committed team, based in Seenigama and Colombo — all working together with villagers and donors to uplift the lives of rural communities in the Emerald Isle.
Excerpts from the interview:
1. Please apprise us of the organisational structure of the Foundation of Goodness [FOGUC], staff strength, activities and roles played by the trustees.
What was, at the outset, co-ordinated by three individuals from 1999 to 2004, post-tsunami, has blossomed to include several entities. At the time of responding to this questionnaire, we have 30 empowerment activity sectors including the MCC Centre of Excellence, a fully-fledged Sports Academy and a professional Diving & Training Centre as well as two Village Heartbeat Projects. These are all aimed at empowering the rural disadvantaged communities to make better progress; and, narrowing the gap between the urban and rural sectors in Sri Lanka. Village youth, post-tsunami, were trained and empowered during the rebuilding-process to become supervisors; they were absorbed as stakeholders to teach their peers with better opportunities and facilities to excel. The trustees are yours truly, Kushil Gunasekera, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Rohan Iriyagolle, Ashan Malalasekara, Kumar Sangakkara, Pradeep Karunagaran, and Mahela Jayawardene. They govern the overall direction and policies of the Foundation, helping to secure sponsorship in the long-term — and, to continue to serve humanity.
2. Cricket is ‘mega’ in the Indian sub-continent. Cricketers are much-respected. This makes any charitable venture thta cricketers enter into as a strong entity capable of bringing about lasting change. Your comments.
Yes, surely, the exposure and awareness, by courtesy of the participation of the cricketers, has been hugely beneficial. However, managing the initiatives professionally in the same mode as corporate governance, in a passionate way, is the key for long-term sustainability and wholesome results.
3. Muralitharan was modest when he said in the ‘Star Vijay’ interview that FOGUC is doing a good job, but a lot more needs to be done in Sri Lanka, top-down and bottom-up, to enable grass-root development to happen. Your views about FOGUC are being a trendsetter.
Our aim has been to provide equal opportunities to people in the rural communities who are not fortunate enough to be blessed with the same facilities and training as in cities. This would pave the way for them to set and reach higher goals in their lives. The skill and talent identified in the rural areas of Sri Lanka are phenomenal, and if we harness the resources well, Sri Lanka can fast-track its journey towards greater prosperity. We must be serious in initiating such a development plan, with a realistic time-frame.
4. Our readers would be keen to know what motivates and motivated the likes of Kumara Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas and Muralitharan to become involved in this noble venture.
Murali was the first to join me when FOGUC was established in 1999. He is a caring individual who has always wanted to help others in need. Chaminda Vaas followed suit. Kumar Sangakkara collaborated after the tsunami struck, sensing the need to rebuild. Mahela Jayawardene, via his own Mahela Foundation, entered into a partnership in support of our rebuilding efforts in the northern part of the country. Rohan Iriyagolle and Ashan Malalasekera — cricketer and rugby player respectively —have also been with FOGUC ever since its inception.
5. I am certain that knowledge about FOGUC would motivate Indian cricketers to come together and start such ventures in India as well… if awareness about FOGUC is enhanced through the media.
I believe so, but cricketers cannot manage daily affairs of such a project. It calls for like-minded, committed, competent, efficient, honest, disciplined and reliable partners. One has to be mindful of protecting the image of the cricketers. If this delicate balance can be achieved, the sky is the limit. There would be a lot many people out there, who would want to extend their support.
6. A look at your Website suggests that the scope of the Foundation’s activities is well-diversified… It also fits the description of sustainable holistic development. Would you agree?
Yes, indeed. This diverse programme encompassing 30 different empowerment aspects, in one village, for example, has motivated 50 villages to emulate it and benefit therefrom.
7. What percentage of Sri Lanka’s population has FOGUC reached out to and benefited over the years?
Every year, we assist about 30,000 beneficiaries in the south and the north of Sri Lanka. We can only hope that it will be possible to reach out towards other areas in need. However, the biggest challenge is being able to sustain what we started for a long time to come.
8. Could you comment on the existing links and tie-ups you have with public agencies [governmental bodies] and private enterprises in Sri Lanka? Your comments on a public-NGO-private joint venture to promote sustainable development in today’s world?
We work with ministries that oversee NGO operations and monitor their [the NGOs] ongoing project development plans. We receive support from some private enterprises in Sri Lanka. FOGUC is, by and large, funded by overseas donors. I wish that the public and FOGUC can enhance their partnership greatly in the years to come.
9. If I say that the list of your benefactors is growing, with more and more non-resident Sri Lankans contributing to the noble causes that FOGUC undertakes, would I be right? Guess awareness spreads by word-of-mouth.
It is happening. When you build a good experience, the ‘word-of-mouth’ way is powerful. Nothing multiplies as rapidly as kindness.
10. The name of Indian actress Nandita Das is in the list of benefactors on the website. Guess she would have been drawn to your noble causes after she spent some time in Lanka shooting for a Tamil movie?
If I recall correctly, Nandita [Das] was associated with another supporter of the Foundation of Goodness, viz., Bandula Jayasekera, the Honorary Consul General in Sydney. It was through him that she got involved with FOGUC and its engagements with the rural communities.
11. It is wonderful to learn that the Board of Trustees includes a Hindu, a Christian and Buddhists. This should go a long way to promote religious harmony, which is indispensable in today’s world. Right?
The Foundation of Goodness signifies the Importance of Goodness which every religion professes, and as such it is not a surprise we accommodate people from different religious backgrounds to join hands in doing all the good we can.
12. Can you comment on the job creation possibilities which FOGUC’s ventures have uncovered, directly and indirectly? Would you consider FOGUC to also play the role of an employment generator in present-day Sri Lanka?
The answer is yes. We manage sectors such as Women’s Enterprise & Empowerment, Computer Training, English Teaching, Driving & Training, Business Skills Initiatives, and Sports Training & Development, from all of which employment has been generated. It is noteworthy that some boys and girls, who have benefited from FOGUC, have represented Sri Lanka in different sports at various age categories.
13. Any projects undertaken in the interest of the environment — recycling, waste management, biogas plants, resource conservation and environmental education among the next generation?
All of these are also incorporated in our ‘Environmental Management Sector’ to educating school-goers.
14. Can you throw some light on FOGUC’s plans for the next few years? Do you have short-term or medium-term plans?
The model is well-established in the southern part of the country and based on its success we have moved to the northern part in the last few years, helping 25,000 beneficiaries in the process, to rebuild their lives speedily in the short-term, while upgrading the infrastructure in schools over the middle-term. The long-term goal is to launch the North Learning & Empowerment Institute, similar to the Seenigama Model, based on education and sports development, on a 50-acre land gifted by the President of Sri Lanka to Muralitharan, in recognition of his outstanding achievements on-, and off-the-field.
15. This should have been the first question. Could you take us back to the genesis of FOGUC? How was it founded? What were the driving thoughts/factors/intentions?
I started really small at the rural village school; perhaps 35+ years ago, trying to help disadvantaged kids with their essential school supplies since many of them had one notebook for eight subjects and didn’t wear shoes to school.
Subsequently, the work expanded to encompass electricity supply to villagers, and establishing water supply and sanitation facilities for people lacking these basic amenities. Nothing great is ever achieved without taking that one humble step; thus, the journey began.
As a young boy, I felt compassion for the people of my ancestral village in Seenigama, who lacked the facilities to realise their potential despite innate talent and ability. Having become a successful businessman, I faithfully returned to my hometown and donated a part of my family property in Seenigama to the establishment of FOGUC in 1999.
The ‘Lahiru’ modern villa was developed as a unique Holiday Home with the novel concept of addressing the priority concerns of the Seenigama villagers and the rural communities in the region — by way of attracting visitors to this property. This resulted in the augmentation of kindness and the consequent alleviation of the hardships faced by the villagers.
Like all things, the change occurred on that fateful day — Boxing Day, 2004 — with the tsunami destroying the once-lovely villa. It metamorphosed to a Relief Co-ordinating Secretariat/Activity Centre for the villages in the region, serving an even better cause. The wave of compassion that followed the tsunami was stronger than the latter.
In a short span of three years, FOGUC took a village from near-annihilation to vibrant regeneration. Medical, educational, vocational and recreational facilities were provided to over 40,000 inhabitants across 50 villages via 30 empowerment activity sectors, free-of-cost. FOGUC is expanding its widely-extolled holistic model for rural empowerment in other parts of Sri Lanka too.