By: Valerie Handunge, Founder, Malini Foundation
I don’t think that my story is a unique one for a career professional but I may have somewhat of a different ending. My name is Valerie Handunge and I’m a management consultant – or at least I used to be until three months ago. I was at a top firm, traveled weekly to exciting cities and worked on intellectually challenging strategic projects with incredibly bright colleagues. I loved most aspects about my work but deep down I felt like something was missing. I craved meaning beyond career growth.
I thought about the path I was on and saw myself in 10 years and then again in 20 years and while I’m sure I would have moved slowly but surely up the corporate ladder, it didn’t appear that I was happy or fulfilled.
So after much thought, I made a drastic decision to quit my job to pursue an initiative that I have been passionate about for more than half my life – to foster girls’ education and women’s empowerment in Sri Lanka.
Being originally from Sri Lanka and growing up in the Middle East, it was not uncommon to hear “girls don’t, can’t or shouldn’t do this, that or the other” from teachers, friends and other role models. However, my grandmother, who was married at the tender age of 17 or 18 through an arranged marriage, was generations beyond her time. She was a strong and jovial woman, who had learned many lessons throughout her life. She encouraged my curiosity and somewhat unorthodox independence, saying,
“Girls can do anything that boys can do.”
In mid-2013 I decided to start the Malini Foundation, a non-profit social enterprise, named after my grandmother as she embodied the spirit of the type of organization I wanted to create.
Our mission is to advance the interests of girls and women in Sri Lanka to help them unleash their potential and transform their lives through quality education, empowerment and by bringing their voices to the international community.
Our goal is to implement three programs in the next two years:
1) A unique model to serve talented and gifted orphaned girls
2) Community outreach programs that engage and empower local women leaders to address issues surrounding girls’ education, child marriage, child domestic labor, sexual abuse/ incest etc. and
3) A women’s livelihood program that also serves as a self-sustainability effort for the organization, where profits made will be used to run and grow our programs.
All this sounds great in theory! Yet, implementation has presented its own set of anticipated and unforeseen challenges. From the complexities of attaining the appropriate provincial legal approvals to the occasional self-doubt that arises, there are many bumps on the road.
In fact, just a few days ago I woke up and realized that it has been three months to the date that I had stopped working. I couldn’t help but calculate the salary that I would have made and the many comforts that I took for granted that I no longer have.
Yet, I thought, I go to bed at night excited, with a sense of purpose, peace and satisfaction that I’ve taken this leap of faith to work towards a childhood dream that could yield incomparable rewards to what I’ve left behind.
Please join me on this incredibly humbling and gratifying journey as I document it on Girls’ Globe.