Ranil Samarawickrema: When you have trust, fellowship and synergy—you can do anythingAs soon as Ranil Samarawickrema returned home, he realised the potential for tourism in the country and began working on budget hotels for backpackers.
Having lived abroad for many years, Ranil Samarawickrema returned to his hometown of Colombo, Sri Lanka after completing his education in the UK and the US. As soon as he returned home, he realised the potential for tourism in the country and began working on budget hotels for backpackers. He even signed up to host Couchsurfers. Samarawickrema is also an active member of Round Table—a non-political organisation open exclusively to men between the ages of 18 and 40, from any profession or trade all over the world. Currently the chairman of Round Table’s Asia Pacific region, Samarawickrema was in Nepal for their regional meeting. Alisha Sijapati spoke to Samarawickrema about Round Table’s initiatives in Nepal and and the broader Asia-Pacific region. Excerpts:
What brings you to Nepal?
I am here in Kathmandu for the regional meeting of Round Table. There are members who have travelled from all over the Asia Pacific region here. There is a meeting every two years. This year, the Round Table regional meeting has 32 international guests, not just from the Asia Pacific region but also from countries such as the UK, Germany and Sweden.
What was your first experience in Nepal like?
I know a couple of Round Table people in Nepal. It’s difficult to explain the fellowship and bonding of Round Table rationally because it is not rational. Round Table members all over the world have something in common—they will go out of their way to help you even if they do not know you. For instance, during the Nepal earthquake in 2015, my wife was here attending a wedding. For three days, I didn’t have any medium to connect with her. Thanks to the help from the organisation and its members, despite facing risks, they went to look for my wife and accommodated her at a safe place. I don’t think anybody would ever want to take such kind of risks.
All the men involved in Round Table come from different professional backgrounds. What is the membership process like?
Round Table is a non-religious, non-political and a non-sectarian group. We are just a bunch of guys from all over the world, who try to indulge in fellowship and through fellowship, we do service. With regards to our professional lives, not all the members are involved in businesses. It’s not a businessman’s club. We have students, priests, doctors, teachers, lawyers, chefs, all kinds of people.
The membership process is simple but can vary from country-to-country. Round Table is an invitee club. A friend of yours will invite you for a meeting. In the beginning, when my friend took me in, I didn’t know what I was getting into. When I entered the restaurant, there were a bunch of men sitting around a table. At first, I was skeptical but later, it sort of blew me off when they started a conversation about providing sewing machines to women who are in need of it. That is the memory of my first meeting. To get in, there are five meetings in five months that give you an understanding of what to expect from Round Table and what they expect from you.
How do you manage to juggle time between your work and Round Table?
I left Sri Lanka when I was 17 years old; I returned after 11 years. In terms of hospitality, the industry was booming. We didn’t have anything that catered to the primary market—the budget traveller. So, a friend of mine and I started a backpack hostel. At present, I have a chain of backpack hostels but we are also moving towards high-end hotels.
At Round Table, to get elected for a position like mine, you have to run for office. So, if you are going to run for something, you have to plan around it. Some things have to be heavily compromised. My wife understands why I am doing what I am doing, and the higher purpose of what we are doing.
How has Round Table help develop societies and communities all over the world?
Round Table was set up in a bid to improve global fellowships. Imagine you are going to a country for business or something else, you meet someone for the first time and you feel like you know them—that’s how it goes in Round Table. When you have such trust, fellowship and synergy—you can do about almost anything. We are now in a world where there are so many misunderstandings, misinterpretation and so many things, people aren’t getting together. But on the brighter side, you have Round Table, which has people coming from different castes, creed, ethnicities, religions and completely different personas, getting along with each other and working together. So, I believe, we are making the world a little better. Of course, it’s a voluntary organisation. Nobody gets paid; in fact, it costs a little bit of money.
Each country involved with Round Table has different projects. Nepal is 30-years-old at Round Table. The biggest project here is ‘Freedom for Education’, where we invest in children’s education and the future of Nepal. I visited a school that was built by Round Table Nepal and saw that the outcome was fantastic. The school was well built and well maintained. They also have another project that includes blood donations and blood transfusions, which are very expensive. They help the communities that can’t afford it. Round Table functions based on the needs of each country.
After the earthquakes of 2015, five clubs collaborated with Round Table International on a project called All4Nepal. Can you tell us about it?
When there is a disaster or a large-scale need, Round Table is available to help and provide any kind of services. It all depends on the urgency. As there is no bureaucracy in our organisation, it is relatively easy for us to invest in development. The All4Nepal project was born out of five sister organisations of Round Table, which includes the Ladies circle, 54 Club, Tangent, Agora and WoCo Foundation. All these clubs came together with a common goal of helping the Nepali community stand up again after the natural calamity. We built 115 classrooms and 50 temporary learning centres in various parts of Nepal. All schools have now been completed and handed over to the community.
How do you generate funds for such big projects?
At the club level, you pay an annual fee to your club and the club pays a percentage of that fee to the national association. The national association will then pay a certain percentage to Round Table International. That pool is how we run the administration. For example, if it’s your birthday, we tell
members not to give gifts but to give any amount for the project you are supporting. So, we use the strength of our network. At Round Table, we aren’t allowed to use any charity money given from outside.
What are your future plans as chairman of Round Table Asia-Pacific?
I will be the chair until August. Then, I would say I am graduating and will move to the 41 club, which is also an extension of Round Table. We are in 54 countries and we hope to get to 60 by the end of the year. The goals for this year are not so much of expansion from my side, but going back to the roots and looking at the existing foundation and making it stronger.