CEOs pledge support to children
Close to 100 CEOs of some of Sri Lanka's top corporates came together last week at a crucial meeting in Colombo to pledge their support towards needy children in Sri Lanka.

Dawn Austin

Brought together by the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and UNICEF, the CEOs including business leaders like Mahendra Amarasuriya, Chandra Jaya-ratne, Tilak de Soysa and Chrisantha Perera listened to appeals from prominent personalities urging a committed effort towards providing for underprivileged children.

While keynote speaker Greig Craft, founder-president of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation who flew down from Vietnam for the event, said investing in children made business sense, perhaps the biggest and most fervent appeal came from Dawn Austin, director at Nisol and an exporter of fruits and vegetables.

Austin, who decided to speak off the cuff as her prepared text contained much of what had been said by previous speakers, made a passionate plea for the business community to help in providing for children. Speaking of her own experiences, she said her company was helping a children's home in Jaffna and "the effort, I must tell you is extremely rewarding."

She spoke at length on ways in which the private sector could help needy children in the country and said she was prepared to do her mite in bringing the community together. Speakers, while acknowledging the support by individual companies towards social causes in recent years, said the private sector could do much more as an organised group.

"There are many humanitarian needs of children. Take those children who walk to school without shoes, in a poor village in Anuradhapura. What of the nutritional needs of children in a village in Jaffna or drinking water for a family in drought stricken Hambantota? Health, nutrition, education, emotional needs - the list is endless," said a CMF spokesman.

Making a plea for help, he said; "children from affluent homes get a decent education and good care. The children of poor families will always struggle, unable to get out of that vicious circle, unless we make an effort to change it for them."

The Colombo summit which was a brisk, 90-minute presentation of key issues facing children in Sri Lanka like education, social and humanitarian needs, followed a UNICEF-organised summit in Kathmandu last year which brought together children, business leaders from the South and NGOs working with children.

An action group or steering committee, guided by the chamber, was announced at the Colombo meeting which would work towards mobilising the business community towards issues like education and other needs.

Renton de Alwis, Chamber CEO and Secretary General, while thanking the CEOs for their presence announced the list of volunteers on the action group. They include Hemaka Amarasuriya, Dawn Austin, Ken Balendra, Shiromal Cooray, Raaj de Silva, Shehara de Silva, Hussein Esufally, Chandra Jayaratne, Ranjith Page (as facilitator), Kavan Ratnayake, Dr. Hans Wijesuriya and D.A.S. Wijeratne.

"Any other CEO willing to join this group is most welcome," he said adding that interested people could also express their views and support through the e-forum at

UNICEF Representative in Colombo, Ted Chaiban said Sri Lanka had successes in social needs while the challenges that need to be addressed are malnutrition as well as the quality of education. He said the conditions of children in the war-affected northeast were a major source of concern.

"The Sri Lankan business community's immediate priority should be improving the quality of education with child-friendly schools as well as promoting conflict resolution among the children to prevent an ethnic conflict in the future," he said adding that by 2015 South Asia would be home to the poorest, most illiterate and most malnourished children in the world.

Craft, whose "Helmets for Kids" initiative is getting recognition across the world, said he was a once a CEO working for profit but decided to go the other way by setting up a not-for-profit organisation towards preventing kids from injury or death due to rapid motorisation in Vietnam.

The foundation has set up a non-profit (motorcycle) helmet factory in Hanoi which is "a truly successful business. Profits from the factory are sent back to the foundation to support public education and advocacy programmes and are also helping provide some 50,000 free helmets to kids. Craft is also Vice Chairman of the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce.

Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Tilak de Zoysa stressed the need for a focused and concerted effort by the private sector to resolve issues affecting children. He said there was a need for an alliance of business leaders for children. "We may be taking small steps but those must be taken by all together," he said. The Colombo conference was preceded by a concert of country and folk music on Sunday night organised by the CMF in association with UNICEF.

Craft's mission towards protecting kids
When Greig Craft, a US businessman who has travelled across the world, went to Vietnam in the late 1980s looking for business opportunities, he ended up founding a charity for kids that's spreading its vision across Asia.

"I was not satisfied with what I was doing. I got up one morning realising that I wanted do something for society," he said, recalling how he first started setting up the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation or Asia Injury as it is called. Craft, keynote speaker at the historic CEOs roundtable on children held last week in Colombo, said Mother Teresa was responsible for pricking his social consciousness.

"I was astounded when Mother Teresa sought my support to establish her operations in Vietnam in the early 90's. She needed my intervention with the government, my organisational and implementation expertise and my ability to marshall all the necessary players to realise her vision. In short she needed my business acumen and experience," he said, adding that he was able to support the Nobel laureate's dream and vision.

Craft, whose Craft Corporation led to the development of Vietnam's first direct reduced iron plant - a $300 million project which was the first US involvement in Vietnam's emerging steel industry in 1990-, is now a fulltime charity worker bringing in his business skills to run a charity as a successful business venture.

"I realised that I could never change the world like Mother Teresa but that I could instead focus on a few issues that were impacting society around me. In my case it was motorisation in a developing country and its devastating effects on the lives of children and the nation."

"You have the ability to do the same thing. Beyond financial contribution, I respectfully challenge all of you to consider using your considerable skills and expertise to change conditions here," Craft urged Sri Lankan business leaders at Monday's meeting.

A personal friend of President Bill Clinton, he was able to persuade the latter to visit Vietnam and initiate the "helmets for kids" programme which has now provided 50,000 free helmets to children as a safety measure.

Asia Injury is involved in raising awareness of the social, economic and human impact on children of the rising number of road accidents in developing countries. Craft, also a long-time business consultant in Hanoi, is planning to set up offices in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other Asian countries in working towards curbing traffic-based disasters affecting children.

"We need to help needy kids and the business community can do it. Investing in children makes a lot of business sense," he noted.

Czech Airlines adds Colombo to network
Czech Airlines (CSA), the national carrier of the Czech Republic represented in Sri Lanka by International Airline Service (Pvt) Ltd, a subsidiary of Expolanka Group, will add a new destination, Colombo, to their route network from October 29.

The airline is one of the oldest in the world and has a modern fleet of aircraft comprising Airbuses and Boeings with state of the art cargo terminals in Prague.
Czech Airlines Cargo flies to 54 destinations in Europe, USA, Canada and the Middle East. Czech Airlines flies to all major cities in Europe. CSA Cargo is a member of the 'Sky Team' comprising Air France, Delta Airlines, Alitalia, Aeromexico and Korean Airlines.

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