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“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.” Malcolm Forbes

Who am I? I am confident, an initiator, a problem-solver; I use my communication skills and emotional intelligence to motivate others to attain goals. The constant in my life that has shaped how I act, react, and make decisions – diversity.

I grew up immersed in two cultures with very different traditions. My father’s side of the family is Welsh. On my mother’s side, my great grandfather was the second Prime Minister of my country. We are also diverse in our wide range of talents, from architecture (my dad) to music (my mother is a professional pianist) to wine (my uncle, an INSEAD alumnus, heads a well-known local wine label).

As a child I watched each one’s uniqueness enrich the whole. For example, our extended family, all 40 of us, has a special April tradition; we build a camp in the desert for 8 days, our own Burning Man festival. Each one contributes from his strengths; my father plans the tent construction, my uncle creates a special wine for the occasion, my mother is in charge of music, and as the years have passed I find myself ‘producing’ the event, from arranging food and supplies to creating galabias (long, flowing Arabic robes) with a family logo for us all.

This tradition taught me that finding and utilizing the strengths of each team member not only maximizes productivity, it creates synergy, strengthening the group dynamic and enriching all members of the team through exposure to others’ expertise.  My happiest moments professionally are seeking patterns to structure a team that will cultivate the individual while helping everyone to share the big picture, our mutual goal. That is why I’ve given each salesperson in our store a camera, to view our merchandise and clientele through their own lens and express their personal vision of our brand.

The amazing diversity I’ve experienced in my life has shaped me in other ways as well. At 14, I was accepted to a choir that traveled abroad 3 or 4 times a year to perform in communities around the globe. I loved getting to know people from countries including Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Peru, Japan, England, Italy, France, and the USA. Moreover, working intensively with our small group of 20 and managing the logistics of travel as a teen gave me problem-solving skills and the ability to forecast long-term consequences, as well as a lesson in how devotion to a goal can motivate a team.

When one of my younger sisters was diagnosed with anorexia, my ability to understand, motivate, and put the strengths of others to good use was truly put to the test. It hit my family so hard that suddenly I found myself in charge. Navigating that challenge was the most difficult and important thing I have ever accomplished, a trial by fire that has given me the strength going forward to take on herculean tasks.

In terms of weaknesses, I know that I can be impatient. Once I ‘get the idea’, I’m ready to move forward and I want everyone around me to be as ready and as enthusiastic as I am. I manage this tendency through awareness and analysis, working to recognize when my impatience is rising, and stopping to consider whether ‘pushing’ will help or hinder the situation. Am I with a client who needs kid gloves? Am I with my employees? I am honored that the excellent teams I have built understand and appreciate my management style, and find my direct approach motivational rather than off-putting. And they freely remind me that my impatience often results from bogging down in detail. Trusting my team to do their best work always solves the problem.

It is very nice meeting with you on my way to Kampala. I have a meeting tomorrow with the largest water company in Uganda. Out of all the sectors that I cover at the World Bank Group, water is the most exciting, due to the inherent challenges and the significant positive social impact that can be made in it. I have managed water purification projects in India, Uganda and Ghana and played a key role in financial engineering and structuring aspects of these projects.

One of the greatest challenges in the sector is limited capital availability, and I intend one day to set up a Private Equity fund focused on Africa and Asia in order to attract private capital to the sector. In order to achieve this long-term goal, I plan to spend 5 to 10 years post-MBA at a leading PE firm, and eventually move into a Director role at a water sector-focused company in Africa. After gaining the skills I need to run an investment fund, I will start working towards launching my own PE fund.

I come from a humble background in Sri Lanka, and if education had not been affordable in my home country, I would not have made it to where I am today. I am grateful to society for that, and feel I owe a whole lot back. I believe that the best way to give back to society is by making people’s lives better. Over the last decade, I have led several programs to bring sustainable development to the community. In these challenging programs, I have managed teams of 10-20 members in design, implementation and fundraising activities, including establishing a scholarship fund for students from low-income families. I also had the privilege to host a weekly live finance TV show on Sri Lanka’s national network, and to found a venture involving polythene recycling to address a growing social issue of waste management in the country.

I am always exploring ways to bring sustainable impact to society, and establishing and managing a water sector-focused PE fund would be my ultimate professional and personal goal.

Harvard U

Harvard University

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