A spotlight on Agent of Change Maheshi Wanasundara
Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They’re filled with passion, drive, and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to create a more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable world for all.
We’re profiling five participants from Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals — an 8-week, impact-driven course that taught 100 youth how to use the tools and tactics of social entrepreneurship to work towards the achievement of the SDGs. Maheshi’s work touches on a number of Sustainable Development Goals, namely SDG 8: Decent Work & Economic Growth, SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure, and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.
Even though she has moved often, Maheshi’s heart remains in her homeland, Sri Lanka.
Fiercely proud of her cultural heritage and determined to share its beauty, she hopes to elevate the profiles of Sri Lanka’s creative artists, innovative thinkers, and sustainable producers while preserving the authenticity of their work.
“There are amazing products and businesses [from Sri Lanka],” said Maheshi. “I want to bring them to the global market and make sure those creators and business owners get the recognition they deserve.”
She’s doing this in the form of Musey, her social enterprise.
Maheshi’s passion brought her to CSI’s Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program, where she met other young people hungry for change. Over the eight weeks, she began to finetune her purpose as a social entrepreneur, and started to map out her business structure.
“The biggest plus for me was connecting with individuals and hearing their stories. It encouraged me to take a step back and look at my ideas, and figure out how my ambitions matched what I want to do,” she recalled. “I was able to identify how my personal values connected to what I wanted to invest my time and energy in.”
Musey is the culmination of Maheshi’s love for her home country and her newly-gained knowledge of social entrepreneurship. At its essence it’s an online shop, but really, it’s a platform where Sri Lankan small business owners can shine on a global stage. Shoppers will be able to find anything, from health and lifestyle products to furniture and home decor.
All of the young businesses Maheshi collaborates with have to meet three requirements:
- They use sustainable material, sourced locally in Sri Lanka;
- They are environmentally-friendly and minimize waste; and
- They provide opportunities of employment to their community.
Most of these ventures are owned by women or young families.
One of the brands she is working with uses “end-of-roll” materials from large garment factories to make their clothes. In this way, they are saving this fabric from being thrown away, and each piece of clothing will be unique. The brand also provides an opportunity for the women in their neighbourhood to earn some extra income and develop new skills through casual employment.
As Maheshi helps these young entrepreneurs reach and connect to an increasingly-online world, she plans to reinvest profits into the communities of these original artists. Decolonizing wealth is one of her main goals.
“I’m really excited to be a part of their journey, to help lift them to the next level of income or knowledge, and to learn and grow alongside them.”
Next steps for Maheshi involve finding ways to collaborate with the artists. Although she can’t conduct informational interviews in person in Sri Lanka, she’s been continuing her research and connecting with people virtually.
“I want to [gather] information and knowledge in the community and facilitate the sharing of it,” she said.
Currently, Maheshi’s days are filled with work, a newborn, and two beagles. But despite the strangeness and novelty in her life (and the world!) right now, she stays positive: “Being responsible for my daughter makes me a bit more focused and determined. It really helped me see what I want in our future.”
As she continues on her social entrepreneurship journey, Maheshi is constantly on the lookout for people she can learn from. If you have advice for an up-and-coming entrepreneur, or experience bringing businesses to the global market, definitely get in touch!
Our Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals program is designed to equip the next generation of changemakers with the skills, resources, and coaching they need to make an impact. Check out other stories from program participants here!
Agents of Change: Sustainable Development Goals is made possible with the support of the Government of Canada.