HFH Sri Lanka Gets Firm Support From Goodwill Ambassador Otara Gunewardene

ODEL Founder Runs In Benefit Race, Speaks At HFH Sri Lanka’s CSR Forum

COLOMBO, 20th May 2010: Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka had a strong show of support from its goodwill ambassador Otara Gunewardene, founder of retail store chain ODEL, at two recent events. Not only did she run in a race in aid of Habitat but she also shared about her corporate social responsibility experience at a forum organized by HFH Sri Lanka.

Otara Gunewardene with a young participant at the charity race; she was among key speakers at a Habitat corporate social responsibility. Next to her was HFH Sri Lanka national director Tony Senewiratne.

Gunewardene volunteering at the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Andy Nelson.

On the first occasion, the 5km charity race was organized by the Overseas School of Colombo which has plans to set up HFH Sri Lanka’s first campus chapter. Gunewardene was among the 150 participants who ranged from children to grandparents of the school’s students. HFH Sri Lanka’s national office in the capital Colombo also sent a team.

ODEL supported the event by providing bottled water and caps for the runners who endured the sweltering 40 degrees celsius weather.

Earlier, on 7th May, Gunewardene was one of the speakers at a corporate social responsibility forum, “Make the Move from GOOD to GREAT” in Colombo. Corporate social responsibility practitioners from the plantation, apparel, food and beverage and finance and banking industries attended the forum.

Hosted by HFH Sri Lanka, the forum would be the first of a series of programs on strategic and sustainable corporate responsibility. Topics covered at the forum included the evolution of corporate social responsibility, examples of strategic CSR and the impact of CSR practices on corporate culture and brand awareness.

Other presenters were Ravi Fernando, CEO of Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology; Ramesh Schaffter, director of Janashakthi Insurance, and Eran Wickremaratne, former CEO of banking group NDB.

Sharing from their wealth of experience in corporate social responsibility, the presenters provided a motivation for CSR practitioners to partner with Habitat. Ravi Fernando made a distinction between doing good and looking good. The former is necessary if organizations were to sustain their CSR efforts.

Gunewardene, in particular, said that while ODEL has been active in CSR, she would be focusing on HFH Sri Lanka as the store’s two main causes for this year.

There are plans for ODEL to partner with HFH Sri Lanka in a 20-house project to mark the store’s 20th anniversary this year. While ODEL funds the construction of 10 houses, it will send staff on volunteer builds on another 10 houses.

Janashakthi’s Ramesh Schaffter, who also serves on the board of HFH Sri Lanka, encouraged participants to involve their own organizations in the process of doing good instead of merely handing over a check.

Tony Senewiratne, HFH Sri Lanka national director, highlighted the value-added component of volunteering with Habitat for organizations’ staff and how such involvement could be used as a development and training tool for staff.

Last year, Gunewardene was among several celebrity volunteers at the main site of the 2009 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.