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South Asia

Thiloka Yapa: bringing the ideas of liberty to new audiences in Sri Lanka

When Thiloka Yapa entered an essay contest in 2019, she had no idea it would set her life on a new course. With SFL behind her, she is bringing the ideas of liberty to a new audience in Sri Lanka.

She told us about her experience:

“I had been exposed to certain facets of the concept of liberty, especially the concept of economic freedom, back in 2019 when I decided to submit an essay to an essay competition. The essay, “What Economic Freedom Means to Me,” won third place. This exposed me greatly to the concept, where I was able to understand the rationale behind it.”

“The essay competition sparked my interest in liberty. I studied economic freedom by myself and it was a very good starting point. It was organized by the Advocata Institute (I work there as a research analyst right now). That was where I started and, after that, I was a volunteer for the Asia Liberty Forum in 2019 when the Advocata Institute hosted it. I also met a lot of people from Atlas Network there, and I met people who spoke about liberty and economic freedom. That’s where I got the chance to know about Students For Liberty.”

Why Thiloka Yapa joined Students For Liberty

I realized SFL would be a great place to discuss these ideas with like-minded people. Hence, I wanted to get involved. The extensive training and opportunities it provides to its young leaders makes it stand out greatly from other student organizations. The fact that there are student groups in different parts of the world working toward a common goal also made me interested in joining SFL.

“I’ve had several memorable SFL moments. First would be organizing the online leadership retreat for South Asia Students For Liberty together with my fellow regional coordinators and, secondly, the South Asia SFL debate I had the opportunity to be a part of. I also enjoyed the monthly meetings we had with all the leaders in the region. It was refreshing to see what everyone is working on and aiming to achieve regionally.”

As for her greatest accomplishment with Students For Liberty, Thiloka Yapa recalls the journey she undertook, alongside her team, to bring the Sri Lanka SFL chapter to where it is now.

“We started to become more active in Sri Lanka in 2020 when we had several media hits, and also an audience interested in the work we did. Another big accomplishment is getting exposed to a group of like-minded people and the opportunity SFL gave me to develop while helping others develop as leaders. I’ve seen people do their first event moderation at SFL, writing articles on their own, leading teams, taking initiative and so much more.”

“Throughout my time with SFL, I had the chance to work with an amazing bunch of individuals who took responsibility for their actions and worked hard toward the cause. I also received the Student of the Year award at South Asia Students For Liberty, which I consider another accomplishment as part of being a student leader with SFL.”

Opportunities for personal growth

“SFL shaped me to be a person who is inspired to take responsibility and work toward creating change in society. SFL helped me develop my leadership skills and expand my network. I had the opportunity to work with individuals from diverse backgrounds, which gave me the chance to learn how to tackle diverse ideas while being open to them and working toward a common goal.”

“Working with a team requires a lot of dedication, commitment and a sense of responsibility that should come from within, to make sure your organization and team benefit from the work you do. One valuable takeaway from my experience is while you benefit from a particular opportunity, there is also a responsibility to give back.”

“I need to first thank my team for winning student of the year because they were the ones who supported me throughout. We were able to organize our target of three events per month. Then, we also organized a regional debate competition where teams from different countries in south Asia and Afghanistan and countries like that joined us. That was one of the biggest events. Apart from that, we had a lot of media hits. We didn’t have to reach out to national media — every weekend we would see an article or two about some of the events we organized. I made a list at the end and there were a lot of media hits! I think the region went on to the next level.”

A vision for the future

Thiloka Yapa is currently studying to become a lawyer. She aspires to work in the areas of economics and legal policy research. She highlighted that:

“When it comes to Sri Lanka, we have a lot of laws, discriminatory laws, when it comes to land rights and labor rights, so these are inherently discriminatory against women. I currently work at a free-market think tank called The Advocata Institute. We are researching all these laws and figuring out ways we can improve the situation to empower women to join the labor force and own property.”

“There are a lot of outdated laws and I would like to see those laws updated in Sri Lanka to create a favorable environment for small businesses to thrive and for women in Sri Lanka to own land. Also, to create a country where every individual is given the opportunity to do what they like as long as they don’t hurt another person or negatively impact another person’s rights.”

“I would like to encourage everyone to use the opportunities SFL provides to budding leaders, critically discuss ideas of liberty and work together. SFL comes with a lot of opportunities for personal development and expansion of knowledge through the unique training opportunities available. So I encourage current leaders to utilize them effectively.”

“My vision of a freer future would be a future where every individual is given the opportunity to pursue what they like without any barriers as long as they don’t harm the rights of anybody else and also take responsibility for their actions. So, that’s something I would like to see.”

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.

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