WHO to reach and HOW to reach them

Millennials can no longer be defined by generic terms like ‘unambitious’ and ‘privileged’. They are a part of a new generation of thought leaders who are now taking matters into their own hands. They are no longer satisfied living in the shadow of their parents; they are stepping out into positions of influence.

They do their homework, know the issues and approach solutions in a more thoughtful way, armed with quantifiable research that can no longer be ignored.

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Yudhanjaya Wijeratne

Tech blogger-turned-sci-fi writer Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is one such mover and shaker from Sri Lanka.

He is known in local media circles as the former editor of Sri Lanka’s only tech news network (at the time), Readme.lk, in addition to maintaining a personal blog, icaruswept.com, that covered “politics, tech and the stuff in between”. For this talented writer, capturing the attention of his audience was not a big deal – the challenge was to find the right people.

Also a sci-fi novelist recently nominated for a Nebula Award, the Oscars of the sci-fi world, Yudhanjaya’s approach to being heard is simple –

“Study a phenomenon that you’re interested in – become the domain expert in the subject; figure out where the existing protocols are; identify the problems; talk about them so people know that you have a good understanding of the topic; and then look for concrete and practical solutions.”

For him, that phenomenon was big data – “When I started meeting policymakers, I realized that none of them approached policymaking from a tech-centric view, and this was where I could present an interesting angle,” he says. He cites an incident when local politicians wanted to know how to “control Facebook”, naively assuming that Facebook was the reason for hate speech and racism in Sri Lanka.

“We’ve had racial violence in this country since the 1950’s; we didn’t need something like Facebook that was invested yesterday to spread racism,” he says of their naivety.

His solution: To join LIRNEasia’s big data team and arm himself with the relevant research and data in order to assist in informed decision-making. “When certain policy measures are proposed, like the shutdown of Facebook, I try to see if they are sane and if they will actually have an impact,” he explains his current role at the think tank.

“We often confuse the number of likes we get for who is actually doing the liking,” he says, adding that it’s not the quantity of likes on social media that matter but the quality of those likes.

“If I want to influence a piece of policy, I’d much rather have the president or prime minister reading it rather than getting 3 million likes, as that’s the point of most impact,” he points out.

However, with regard to policy making, bemoans that no matter how tech-savvy the world gets, most local politicians and decision makers are still part of the stone age, making radio and print newspapers still the most effective medium in which to reach policy makers in Sri Lanka.

“If politicians actually responded to the outrage on social media, things will start to be a lot better…”

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