vinyaThe Sarvodaya movement, based in Sri Lanka and widely recognized as a global leader and model in translating a Gandhian and Buddhist approach to self-governance into practice, offers many lessons for contemporary development and peacebuilding. Sarvodaya communities in Sri Lanka (15,000 at the peak) are independently organized around fiercely defended principles of self-reliance and Deshodaya, or national awakening. Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, Sarvodaya’s leader, plays a central role in direct conflict resolution and reconciliation during Sri Lanka’s past and continuing bitter ethnic conflicts and threats of religious extremism. More broadly, Dr. Ariyaratne’s work to galvanize the village-level Sarvodaya societies at the local and national levels in progressing governance in Sri Lanka has implications for providing models of bottom-up approaches to good governance. This seminar with Dr. Ariyaratne will focus on lessons learned for development and conflict resolution scholars and practitioners.

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne is the General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, Sri Lanka’s largest non-governmental grass roots development organization. Following a unique model based on Buddhist and Gandhian philosophies, the Sarvodaya Movement serves communities across ethnic and religious divides in Sri Lanka through an integrated approach to development, peace and reconciliation. Dr. Ariyaratne is a physician by training and specialized in Public Health. He obtained his Doctor of Medicine (MD) from the De La Salle University in the Philippines in 1989 and his Master of Public Health (MPH) from Johns Hopkins University (USA) in 1990. He also holds the Degrees of Master of Science M.Sc. (1996) and Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Community Medicine (2003) from the Post-Graduate Institute of Medicine of the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was a Visiting Fellow at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, U.K. (1992) and a Chevening Fellow at the Nuffield Institute of the Faculty of Medicine and Health of the University of Leeds, U.K. where he obtained with Distinction the Postgraduate Certificate in Health Management, Planning and Policy (2006).

Dr. Ariyaratne has had experience in the government health sector and academia before joining the Sarvodaya Movement as its Executive Director in 2000. As the Executive Director of Sarvodaya, Dr. Ariyaratne was responsible for the implementation of the island-wide integrated community health, development and peace building programs of Sarvodaya through a network of over 50 district centers and training institutions with a full-time staff of over 800. He has been extensively involved in health and development programs related to the war-affected communities in Sri Lanka. After the Tsunami disaster in 2004, Dr. Ariyaratne was responsible for the overall coordination of the Sarvodaya’s emergency response and later the entire reconstruction program, which is one of the largest Tsunami recovery programs in the country with a portfolio of projects worth over 15 million US dollars.

In recognition of his dedication to humanitarian causes and peace initiatives, in February 2007, Dr. Ariyaratne was awarded the Degree of Civil Law (DCL) honoris causa by the University of Durham, U.K. When the large displacement from the Northern Province took place in early and mid-2009, Dr. Ariyaratne was coordinating the humanitarian relief efforts of Sarvodaya to assist the Health Ministry, UN agencies, and humanitarian organizations to provide services to the large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Dr. Ariyaratne has also given leadership to civil society-led peace, interfaith and reconciliation initiatives in Sri Lanka. He has been trained as a professional facilitator for peace dialogues and he engages in teaching assignments related to peace building, conflict resolution and reconciliation. He serves as the independent Lead Facilitator for the Sri Lanka One Text Initiative (OTI), a back channel multi-party political dialogue which aims at building consensus amongst key political stakeholders towards meeting the aspirations of all communities living in Sri Lanka. In 2014, Dr. Ariyaratne was awarded the “Outstanding Social Entrepreneur” Award by the Schwab Foundation/World Economic Forum.

Key points about the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement

  • The Gandhian principle of Gram Swaraj: ‘self-governance’ or ‘self-rule’, as interpreted and practiced in the Sarvodaya context in Sri Lanka
  • Deshodaya, or ‘national awakening’. This unit of Sarvodaya was established to promote a culture of democracy, good governance, reconciliation, and sustainable peace. Participation of ordinary citizens on the board and principles of consensual politics are employed to strengthen the people’s sovereignty. There are currently 276 Divisional Deshodaya Forums and 26 District Deshodaya Forums.
  • Sarvodaya Institute of Higher Learning (SIHL): National education center to serve as an internal “Capacity Building” mechanism, accountable for guiding, integrating and further developing Sarvodaya’s educational programs and processes with additional focus on South to South learning. Objectives include:
  • Directly address the educational and learning needs of Sarvodaya as an organization by contributing to the further development of the human resources of present and future generations of Sarvodaya staff, society members and volunteers.
  • Help meet the educational needs of the village and community levels by offering alternative educational opportunities that better address grassroots needs.
  • Create a network and exchange of ideas, practice and research between academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and individual actors internationally.
  • Acting as a catalyst for Deshodaya by helping to train and empower Sarvodaya District Coordinators and Deshodaya leaders and members with the knowledge and skills necessary to support the promotion of good governance, advocacy and meaningful reconciliation and sustainable peace.
  • Sarvodaya Economic Enterprise Development Services (Guarantee) Limited (SEEDS) was established in 1986 by Sarvodaya as its economic empowerment program. Its mission is to alleviate poverty by promoting economic empowerment for a sustainable livelihood and assisting communities in their economic activities, training in entrepreneurship, orientation to business activities, preparation of project reports, etc. SEEDS’ credit-plus approach combines credit with business development services and capacity building – a strategy widely acknowledged by development professionals as a means of reaching out to pockets of poverty.