Nuffic — the Dutch organisation for internationalisation in education — provided us financial support to conduct a ‘Thematic Alumni Event’ (TAE) in Sri Lanka. The purposes of this novel type ‘thematic’ events are (a) to contribute to the professional development of alumni and the development of the organisations they work for and (b) to stimulate the set-up and maintenance of thematic networks and create clearer links between Nuffic, alumni, relevant (Dutch) educational institutions and Dutch organisations. These events provide an opportunity for mutual-learning for all relevant stakeholders.
We proposed to hold the event within the theme of ensuring sustainability, resilience and livability of the rapidly developing cities of the world. Hence we chose the theme “Livability in cities of the future” – here livability is seen as a vehicle for enabling sustainability and resilience.
The TAE on livability was held during 27th and 28th of July, 2017. The first day of the event was planned as a public seminar. In addition to the 22 IHE alumni selected from those who applied, we invited a broad range of urban water professionals from almost all the major water and related organizations. The second day was exclusive to the selected Alumni and several invited professionals.
Day 1: Seminar on Livability in cities of the future
The response of the professional community was phenomenal. We initially expected about 70 participants, but ended up having 140 participants attending the seminar! This was of course a surprise for us, the organizers and sent us scurrying over to arrange extra orders of refreshments etc! But, it was really a nice kind of surprise to have and convinces us of the importance of organizing these type of events.
The chief guests of the seminar were H.E. the Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Mrs. Joanne Doornewaard and the secretary of the ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Mr. Nihal Rupasinghe. Ambassador Doornewaard opened the seminar.
The event consisted of two talks by IHE staff and two by Sri Lankan professionals (Mr. Nihal Rupasinghe and Dr. Srikantha Herath). The talks were followed by a panel discussion participated by the speakers including the Ambassador. William Veerbeek of IHE Delft conducted the panel discussion.
The event ended with a networking lunch.
A participant said“This is the first event in Sri Lanka, as well as first alumni activity had after 2004 of my graduation. Had the opportunity to meet many alumni and exchange ideas and also a network among us”
On the afternoon of 27th of July, the TAE participants visited Thalawathugoda Wetland Park, an urban wetland being developed and maintained by the Wetland Management Division (WMD) of Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLR&DC).
The 25 hectare wetland is an interesting example of how an urban wasteland can be transformed in to an oasis nature: This location was used as dumping ground for dredging material during the construction of the parliamentary complex of Sri Lanka which is built on an island, surrounded by the Diyawanna Oya (river). Ms. Chethika Gunasiri, the resident expert explained to us though the soil was too acidic to grow any plants in the beginning, the nature has succeeded in giving back life to this barren piece of land over time. Today it is home to 50 species of wetland birds, over 25 butterfly species, many types of fishes, dragonflies, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and many terrestrial and aquatic plant species, this park indicates high biodiversity value especially remarking the value of urban wildlife. The most interesting species found in this park are fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus globally and nationally threatened), otter and the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). The Purple-faced leaf monkey, a long-tailed arboreal languor endemic to Sri Lanka is also seen here.
After the field trip, the participants travelled to Negombo (about 40 km north of Colombo) where they stayed overnight.
“I like the panel discussion very much. It explored vast knowledge on one stage. It was very interesting due to participation of professionals from different sectors.” — A participant
Day 2: Alumni workshop
22 IHE Delft alumni and some invited experts attended the second day which was an largely interactive workshop focusing both on the theme of the event (Livability in cities of the future) and other important issues like future activities for IHE-Delft Alumni in Sri Lanka and gender issues in the urban water sector.
During the first part of the workshop was three interactive presentations by Mr. H.N.R. Perera (CEO of Lanka Hydraulics Ltd.), Mrs. Mangala Wickgramanayake of Coast Conservation Department and Mr. P. P. Ghnanapala (formerly at SLLR&DC). These were followed by charrette style group-based workshop on the topics of future activities for IHE-Delft Alumni in Sri Lanka and gender issues. After a late lunch, some social activities took place. For these in addition to the Alumni, some of their family members also participated.