“Everything you do in life adds up to who you are today,” Randhula De Silva says thoughtfully. I’m seated next to her on a comfy couch in the lounge area of Hatch Colombo, chatting about her very colourful professional background. She tells me there have been a few instances where her life has changed. “I’ve always wanted to do something impactful in life. The choice to study at the University of Colombo changed who I am. It exposed me to a diverse society, and it was a good eye-opening experience, moulding how I work today.”
Right after university, Randhula joined Verité Research as the Head of Information Intelligence Services, working on its signature product, Media Analysis. “I was 24-years-old and to work amongst so many researchers, academics and analysts gave me an in-depth understanding of society’s cross-cutting structures and functions.”
While Verité Research was fulfilling, Randhula knew she enjoyed working with people and moved from a desk job to one at the SME sector development program of GIZ that took her into the field. “With my background in business economics, I worked well with the private sector, speaking their language and understanding the business sentiments. I’m always drawn towards working with change makers on the ground, so I connected my two passions.” Her work took her to Jaffna and soon realised they have a big innovation scene. In her attempt to see what communities are out there, she stumbled upon the Yarl IT Hub on Facebook. What started as writing a quick line, asking how she can help, blossomed into a strong relationship with this group.
“Here’s the thing, many people have experienced donor money coming in for the sake of ticking the boxes,” Randhula explains. “And, there’s a lot of young, passionate people doing amazing work, resistant to any outside influence. It took a year and a half for me to prove the work I do is different and build that trust before forming an official partnership with them.” During Randhula’s work with GIZ, she crossed paths with Jeevan and Nathan, the co-founders of Hatch. Seeing the opportunity to connect the dots, she started the partnership with Yarl IT, GIZ and Hatch. This made way for the first space for entrepreneurs in Jaffna, Hatch Kalam, which changed the innovation landscape of the North significantly, uplifting the communities to new heights. “That’s how I came to Hatch Colombo, the thriving hub full of opportunity for entrepreneurs from all walks of life.”
Throughout the years Randhula has been working closely with the Colombo business community, and there’s an apparent difference between the vibe in this city compared to what’s outside of it. The talent and passion are similar, she shares, but elements like mindset, exposure and drive are different. “With entrepreneurship, one size doesn’t fit all. Through our varied incubator and accelerator programs carefully designed at Hatch, we always support the growth of entrepreneurs, and it’s altered how they work. But, changing the approach to business and solving meaningful problems is the underlying element of what I do with Hatch and GIZ,” she reveals.
Randhula experienced this in different instances. The space in Jaffna attracting eminent people made the traditional parental community more open to their kids doing something unconventional, like coding. In Colombo, Hatch, as a dedicated hub that’s all about entrepreneurship changed the way the international community sees the Sri Lankan startup culture and its potential. “There are minuscule, intangible ripple effects in everything we do that will create massive changes in the long term,” she explains. “This is my passion. Sri Lanka is small, but our people and skill sets are unique, and we can nurture how we bring our best together, to shine as a nation.”
Disrupt Asia, Sri Lanka’s premier startup conference is another of Randhula’s passion projects where she had a positive influence in changing the face and approach of it to be more innovative and disruptive. “We’re all trying to create change, and there are many people like you if you’re willing to work with them and listen to what they have to say. Building those bridges is what I enjoy doing,” she says.
Closest to Randhula’s heart is the Good Life Accelerator, a platform that fosters ethical and sustainable businesses in agriculture, travel and wellness to grow and improve the quality of life of the larger society. “It was a big dream for us,” she tells me. “And, to pull the strings together to do something for the first time, and see it finally lift off, was an amazing feeling. So blessed to have such an amazing team with me!”
Her passion for change, innovation and growth isn’t limited to the entrepreneurial backdrop. She’s also an advocate for social and cultural change and is a strong promoter of homegrown artists. Her latest work on the Sri Lankan feature film, Avilenasului, premiered in March 2020, where she was Executive Producer.
If you’re considering taking on an entrepreneurial journey, Randhula’s advice is to be humble and open. “Listen to learn, not to respond. Everybody has something to give back if you really listen. Don’t be afraid to change and adapt—it’s amazing. If you’re holding back, you’re just standing in your own way.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.