Onalie Ariyabandhu

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Photo of Onalie Ariyabandhu
Degree: 
Economics
Year Graduated: 
2014

Current employment/job title: United Nations Population Fund, Sri Lanka/Social Change Campaign Assistant

Other Majors: International Studies, and Environmental Studies

How did you come to work at your current position?

I graduated from Iowa State University and came back to my home country, Sri Lanka with the hope of serving my country with everything I learnt from Iowa State. A few months after graduation and after a very intimidating interview, I was selected as a Social Change Entrepreneur by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Sri Lanka. This was a one-year assignment to develop a social change initiative of my choice. I took this opportunity to develop a youth mobilizing campaign “100 Voices - Leading for Change” against gender-based violence,  to educate, empower and engage young people in Sri Lanka to stand up against gender-based violence.

After completing the first assignment in October 2015, I was re-selected on a second contract in November 2015. Today, I work at UNFPA as a Social Change Campaign Assistant mobilizing multiple social change campaigns developed and implemented by UNFPA. My role also includes analyzing national policies and identifying inter-linkages between government stakeholders and social change campaigns of UNFPA. Working in the development field has allowed me to gain greater understanding about Sri Lankan and global social and economic development. It has also allowed me to be an active part of national policy dialogs and policy development in the country.

How is working in the development world different from a job in the corporate world?

It requires one to think beyond maximizing profits/outcomes, it involves the coordination and cooperation of multi-disciplinary stakeholders to work towards achieving positive social change. Most importantly it constantly reminds us how opportunity costs, labor force discriminations and externalities could make significant differences in the socio-economic development process in a nation. Therefore,  although I didn’t come across economic definitions and lengthy equations at work, we do work around many concepts that Economics classes at Iowa State taught me few years back. This is when the value of understanding the concepts instead of memorizing them for exams came in handy for me!

What advice would you give economics students who want to enter the development sector?

Understand the principals and the key messages of your economics classes. If you have difficulty understanding, go to your professors/lecturers instead of complaining and memorizing by yourself. Finally, read as many journal articles and news articles related to socio-economic development around the world, this is the only way you will really learn what’s happening around the world. These are the few things I did, and I know I did not fail!

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