By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Last Tuesday (18), Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Namal Rajapaksa appointed Iraj Weeraratne and Tehani Imara as members of the Board of Directors of the National Youth Services Council. The Council, headed by Theshara Jayasinghe who is also the founding member of Viyathmaga and the Ekathuwa Youth Movement, will consist of eight members.
The appointment, which is for a period of three years, is now in effect and both Iraj Weeraratne and Tehani Imara shared that they are looking forward to lending their contributions to the National Youth Services Council. Both Tehani and Iraj are notable youth leaders in the island; both well-known artists with a number of successes, with Iraj having a number of Billboard features with global artists like Sean Kingston, Soulja Boy, R.I.O., Cassidy, Kevin Lyttle, King Los, Dizzy Wright, Londynn B from Cardi B’s Netflix special “Rhythm and Flow”, and also Grammy award-winning rap crew Bone Thugs- n-Harmony.
We reached out to both Tehani and Iraj to speak about their appointments and how they as public figures hope to approach their newly appointed roles, while also maintaining their careers as prominent figures in the entertainment industry with considerable online following and fan bases.
Tell us briefly about the appointment, what does your role as a board member entail?
I was appointed as a Member of the Board of the National Youth Services Council, Sri Lanka. My role primarily entails developing, promoting and creating easy access to Digital and Social Media for the rural youth. My forte, apart from Music, has been Digital and Social Media. Hence, I am grateful to be given an opportunity to share my experiences and knowledge in Digital and Social Media with the Youth of Sri Lanka.
I firmly believe if we encourage our Youth to engage more with Digital and Social Media, we can create a network of young digital entrepreneurs. Today, if a young person has access to social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube they can generate an income working from their own homes. Small business owners and young entrepreneurs can sell their goods and services via Facebook and Instagram. They can reach their target audience and potential customers quite easily utilizing social media as their primary tool. Post Covid19, more consumers will be purchasing goods online. In fact recently, Instagram even launched a new button titled ‘Order Food’ which when clicked on directs the individual to a connected food delivery partner platform. That’s how easy it is today to sell/order a product on Instagram! Facebook and Instagram both have multiple ‘Call to Action’ features available for small businesses; e.g. ‘Shop Now’. Furthermore, if an individual is taught how to use YouTube properly, he or she can earn a monthly revenue in dollars (USD) by working from their own homes. An individual can quite easily be trained to become a successful YouTuber and online users are constantly craving and demanding for new content, hence there is a great demand for YouTubers. A significant monthly pay can be earned by being a successful YouTuber.
Why did you as a musician decide to engage in matters pertaining to Development?
My question to you would be, why not? As a Sri Lankan citizen I think we all have a duty to serve our country. However, I am not engaged in Governance – I am not a politician nor am I an elected Member of Parliament or a lawmaker. I was simply invited to be a Board Member of an important public sector institution that aims at empowering the Youth of Sri Lanka, not take on the role of a politician.
The youth approximately account for a quarter of our population – 4.4m. That is 4.4m potential local change-makers and global game-changers. Hence, I firmly believe if we empower our youth, help them grow and encourage them to break the existing ‘mold’ and help them discover new avenues, we will see a shift in society and the economy.
Youth empowerment has proven to reduce the rate of poverty, rate of suicide, rate of depression, etc. to a significant level. I firmly believe that if the youth are equipped with essential skills, they can utilize these skills to change their lives, assist and impact the lives of others, and even invest for their future use, thereby aiding the country economically too.
Are there identified youth issues that you believe must be addressed that must be dealt with immediately?
Youth Unemployment. In my opinion an important strategy for youth employment would be to facilitate and encourage youthentrepreneurship. Providing entrepreneurship training for the youth can lead to a significant growth in business creation and innovation. Encouraging start-ups by creating the right training facilities, the right mentorship programs, creating avenues for the youth to network and introducing multiple start-up business loan facilities can create the overall environment and ecosystem that is required to encourage youth entrepreneurship.
Sri Lanka has immense talent we just need to empower our youth and help them find their calling. Two other issues that I firmly believe needs to be addressed immediately are ragging at Universities and Suicide.
Any other area you would like to look into?
I am quite keen to see PayPal being allowed in Sri Lanka. At present, Sri Lanka only allows a user to send money via PayPal but not receive and withdraw. This has to change. If we are to encourage SME’s to trade online, young professionals to offer their services online, e.g. Graphic Designers, Website Developers, etc. we need to allow full access to PayPal. Products designed, created and made in Sri Lanka can easily be traded online via platforms such as eBay if the full services of PayPal are allowed in the island.
Do you believe for there to be progress, work should be handled by individuals such as yourself?
Again, I would like to ask you, why not? We all have a duty to serve our country. An opportunity has come my way to do so and I am grateful for being given that opportunity and that chance to give back to my country. I will be working for free and will not be accepting any form of fee or payment for the services I render to the Board as a Director.
I was born and raised in Sri Lanka and received my primary and secondary education at Royal College, Colombo and Stafford International School, Colombo. I only went overseas for my tertiary education and promptly returned back to the island upon graduating with my degree in Accounting and Finance from UK. I have lived in Sri Lanka, received most of my education in Sri Lanka and have worked and earned in Sri Lanka; hence it is my duty to serve the country if given the opportunity to do so.
Furthermore, for there to be real progress, all of us as Sri Lankan’s should work together to achieve our common goal; to make Sri Lanka into a developed first world nation and not simply sit back and be keyboard warriors and expect free handouts.
Finally, do you see yourself effecting real change and as someone who has had a different experience (as an artist) what is your unique vision that you bring to this newly appointed role?
I would like to encourage the youth in Sri Lanka to keep thinking out of the box, invent, innovate and grow. Use social media as a positive tool, a catalyst for change. Today, a young person can acquire a skill simply by watching YouTube tutorials. We have seen young people embark on successful careers, for example in the beauty industry, food industry, etc. by teaching themselves skills by watching YouTube tutorials and videos. Young actors have emerged by learning acting skills via YouTube and aspiring musicians can today, learn how to play the guitar or any instrument for that matter, by following a YouTube tutorial. Individuals in Colombo have started to make money by becoming Social Media Influencers / Instagram Influencers. Brands today invest in Social Media Influencers and use them as a marketing tool. These opportunities should also be extended to youth in other areas of the island.
Furthermore, today individuals are able to successfully build their own personal brand by marketing themselves on Social Media. In recent times, in Colombo, we have seen the emergence of young professionals in the beauty industry, entertainment industry, event management professionals, etc. for example who have successfully promoted themselves and their services purely via Instagram and have thereby successfully attracted a significant clientele.
On a closing note Iraj shared that his goal with this new appointment would be to encourage Youth to engage more with Digital and Social Media and use these tools in a positive manner to bring about positive change in their lives.
On 18th August Iraj released the first single “Ayer | Yesterday” for his upcoming brand new album titled ‘With U” which he said would be his first international album.
We also briefly spoke to Tehani Imara and this is what she had to say;
“We are yet to be appointed to our duties,” said Tehani, sharing that, however, her role would primarily be in skill development. Her education background, she said, is in digital marketing. However, she is most passionate about skills development and she has been involved in projects where organisations provide a platform for youth, particularly those from marginalised parts of the
She said that there are many talented youth in the island, those who are highly skilled but lack the opportunities to showcase their skills and talent. “I believe that with our influence, it is our responsibility to motivate the disenfranchised youth to have a voice,” she said. She shared that the appointment allows her to truly reach out to those who would otherwise get overlooked, and amongst this skills development aspect, she said she hopes to pursue it to go hand in hand with other areas that require attention such as youth unemployment and also, as she mentioned before, the development of skills which can facilitate employment; this is largely dependent on improving education.
Tehani shared that as someone with a public audience she has a responsibility to speak out and as someone who is now part of an organisation in the public sector that is dedicated for the betterment of youth, she believes that as someone who has a considerable youth following, she has a bigger voice than most which can be beneficial in effecting actual change.
While Tehani is well and truly ready to take on her newly appointed role dedicated to her cause, she is first and foremost a musician. We checked in with Tehani about any upcoming works that her fans can look forward to and she said that she has had a new single in the works. “I’m planning to release a single very soon; I was supposed to release it months ago, but after Covid hit, I couldn’t really shoot the video! It’s a dance track and I’m hoping to release it very soon.” She said the single is titled “Adara Katha”. She also added that she has a few English tracks in store, which she hopes to release soon as well, while also hopefully being able to get back on stage once the Covid situation settles down.