From Local Innovation to Global Recognition

“Innovation” is the word on the street, being thrown about at every corporate training, webinar and communication to stakeholders, everyone wants to be the leader in the space of innovation and drive a culture of innovation in their organisation.

Whilst innovation is easier said than done, it is as much a skill to be honed as a personal trait of a person and most of all a cultural mindset. Which is why, when the United Nations Global Compact, network Sri Lanka reached out to our Group on if there was interest in the SDG Innovation Accelerator for Young Professionals programme, it was no surprise that not only one, but two teams from John Keells entered.

The programme was an exciting one from start to finish with the teams participating obtaining access to the UNGC learning platform and several learning modules on the sustainable development Goals (SDG). The highlight of the programmes was the monthly in person sessions facilitated by the UNCG local network, spanning over a period of nine months where the teams had to come up with an innovation that will help their businesses in solving a problem while also contributing to the achievement of a sustainable development goal.

These sessions also facilitated networking with innovators from other top organisations in Sri Lanka and share knowledge and know how. It was interesting to share ideas on how to tackle the problems embarked by each other and discuss the approach taken to solve each problem.

Our team was working on a simple solution for a problem that was affecting Sri Lanka’s internal waterways, whilst the solution itself seemed simple it was able to solve for the issues for multiple stakeholders and be sustainable. The solution recommended was also workable only because of the multiple industry groups the John Keells Group operated in and the strong relationships the Group businesses had fostered with the external stakeholders that would need to be involved.

Our team was able to present a defendable solution to the Sri Lankan network and was invited to make a presentation at the regional network as well. This paved the path to being recognised and invited to participate as speakers for the 2023 UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit, taking place in New York. It was a dream opportunity and one that we were selected to be as one of twelve countries shortlisted from the global accelerator programme.

We were beyond thrilled to know that the Group’s senior management had decided to sponsor the team’s visit to New York and thus began our hardest battle which was to get an appointment for our Visa’s at such short notice. It’s a well-known three months wait time to at least get an appointment and it was nothing short of a miracle and a testament to the capabilities of our Group’s own travel company that we did indeed get our appointments on time to get the Visas.

New York was its own adventure, it being the first time in the big apple for all five of us and an opportunity that may not have been presented if not for being a part of the John Keells Group. We took on the adventure of a lifetime, got lost on the New York subway till a kind stranger took pity on us and gave us his subway tickets, danced in the rain on the Brooklyn bridge and did so much shopping that we nearly missed our flight back to Colombo. But the highlight of the journey was presenting to a global audience a simple story of change in Sri Lanka and being cheered on for it, whilst we also networked with the teams from other communities selected from the accelerator programme as well as met and listened to leaders in the sustainable development space.

My time at the Group has been filled with dream opportunities and learnings that have shaped my corporate journey. The time I’ve spent, I wouldn’t exchange for anything else!