Bringing Youth Together for Diversity and Inclusion Within Sri Lanka

‘Youth for Diversity and Inclusion’ is an initiative delivered under the Faith in the Commonwealth Programme and is backed by UNDP's youth skills-building programme, HackaDev Academy of Learning and Skills

February 7, 2023


“Young people have the potential to build respect and understanding and empower their communities to believe that change happens with and not just to them” – Amy Longland, Programme Officer, CVE Unit, The Commonwealth Secretariat 

Empowered youth and an efficient public service factor heavily into building improved and sustainable communities that not only contribute to the overall well-being of these communities but also maintain stability within society's structure. In an effort to mainstream these values in society, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka and the Commonwealth Secretariat (CS) began discussions in late 2021 with the aim of collectively developing and strengthening the skills of young Sri Lankans and the public sector officials to promote peacebuilding, interfaith and intercultural understanding.

Building on these shared interests, UNDP and the Commonwealth Secretariat thus began the “Youth for Diversity and Inclusion” programme, inspired by the ongoing ‘Faith in the Commonwealth’ programme, through which the Secretariat engages youth from different Commonwealth member states and equips them with the tools and skills required to facilitate inclusive community development projects. “Youth for Diversity and Inclusion” was tailored to match the collective vision of both UNDP and the Secretariat and was rolled out as a series of two identical back-to-back residential workshops, conducted in Ahungalla, Sri Lanka with the participation of 70 Youth and 12 public sector officers.


“We focus on creating respect, tolerance, understanding of others’ beliefs, different opinions, different viewpoints among different people through the workshop” – Ralani Weerasinghe, Learning and Skills Associate, UNDP Sri Lanka.

The key focus of the programme was to bring youth and public sector officials to a common platform to build synergies and train them to successfully design and develop social action projects in their respective communities, focused towards promoting peace, social cohesion, and intercultural understanding. To this end, the team behind UNDP Sri Lanka’s HackaDev Academy joined hands with Daniel Smith, the Lead Consultant for the Faith in the Commonwealth programme, and colleagues from the Counter Violent Extremism Unit of the Secretariat to design and effectively deliver the “Youth for Diversity and Inclusion” programme. 

The implementation of the programme proved to be challenging due to the socio-political environment in the country which was progressively becoming volatile by mid-2022. However, despite these challenges, the team was able to pull through and forge ahead, receiving more than 300 applications from all over the country shortly after registrations were opened. Following a screening process, 70 youth participants were selected to attend the programme along with 12 public sector participants nominated by the National Youth Services Council and the Vocational Training Authority of Sri Lanka, two of the country's leading national organisations with the agency to drive community development.



The experience proved beneficial for the HackaDev team, as they underwent an intense 2-day sensitization workshop conducted virtually by the Commonwealth Secretariat team, where they received an in-depth understanding of the reasoning behind the structure of the workshops and how they needed to be facilitated. Following this orientation, the team was ready to welcome the two batches of 40 participants from around the country for an on-site HackaDev Training for the first time after a 2-year hiatus! 

The workshop experience was not limited to the knowledge-building sessions alone; the participants were given the opportunity to break the ice and interact with one another from day zero onward. The team of facilitators, namely Amy Longland, Kithmini Nissanka, Ahamed Nishadh, Fahim Aslam, Kulunu Jayamanne, Sarika Warusavitarana, Ralani Weerasinghe and Kaushala Amarakoon, led by Daniel as the lead facilitator, provided a friendly and agile learning environment for all participants. It was considered important that the participants were provided with the freedom to grasp the knowledge delivered, and to learn from each other, embracing the diversity within. All the activities and sessions in the workshops were connected with elements of local culture and environment for a relatable learning experience. One of the most well-received sessions was the “Respect Process” conducted by Daniel, where participants were introduced to the concept of moving towards change and maximizing the effectiveness of the journey towards change as individuals and communities, all with a metaphorical reference to a river! 

This process was covered through four simple yet effective toolkit-based modules focused on 4 different stages of driving towards positive change. The first module titled “I Am”, was focused on improving self-awareness among participants, the second, “You Are”, introduced tools and methods used to enhance community interaction through active communication, the third, “We Are”, focused on how we can work towards establishing a better understanding between participants on the dynamics in communities, and the fourth and final module, “Change” introduced participants to tools that can be used to transform their learnings and insights into action. 


A highlight of the programme was the marketplace, which was set up on the final day, where participants got to showcase their social action projects, revealing several interesting areas of intervention pertaining to education, climate action, social cohesion and gender equality, based on their individual experience at the community level. Shortly after the programme concluded, a virtual gathering was facilitated by the programme team to cross-share and follow up on the progress of these social action projects and to create synergies between the two batches to collaborate in executing their projects. 

As a key outcome of the programme, the “Respect in the Commonwealth” digital toolkit was launched, allowing participants access to a wide pool of resources that can be used in carrying out their community projects and sharing their learnings with the wider community. 

In the post-evaluation form, participants stated that they have a clear understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion and have gained the competency to use and apply the tools and techniques introduced at the workshop in their personal, professional or academic endeavours, with many underscoring how every element, from structure to content, played a crucial role in improving their skills, inculcating in them a sense of unity, broadening their perspective of society and encouraging them to be more action-oriented to take society forward. 

“What works in one community might not work in another. What works today, might not work tomorrow. But what we can do is try things out and we can learn together. And as we learn and discover what works here in Sri Lanka, we can move towards peaceful, cohesive society.” – Daniel Smith, Lead Facilitator, Youth for Diversity and Inclusion.