Design, Technology and Social Innovation

Design & Tech Trailblazer Poornima Meegammana on using animation and motion Graphics for positive social change.

Design crosses a diverse range of subject fields and disciplinary borders; from interior spaces to architecture, textiles to Fashion. However, animation and motion graphics are fast emerging as among the most versatile and impactful career choices for the 21st century. While the growing appeal of visual communication incorporate product design and marketing may have a lot to do with this demand, young graphics and animation artists have also discovered design technology as a critical imagining tool and its potential to generate meaningful social change.

Poornima Meegammana is one such trailblazer; now having made a name for herself as a social entrepreneur, educator, designer, and filmmaker working towards empowering youth with knowledge, skills and leadership to face 21st-century challenges through social innovations and media powered by cutting-edge technology. Poornima has produced several award-winning empathy-driven short films addressing different social issues in Sri Lanka (ranging in topic from cyber harassment, gender equality, environment, street harassment, etc.), and over the years has been internationally recognized for her creative and social development work. 

More recently, Poornima’s was awarded UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education for her NextGen Girls in Technology initiative for making a difference for girls’ education through developing emerging technology skills among school and university girls.

In an interview for The Sunday Times, Poornima Meegammana, former BA (Hons) Motion Graphics and Animation Design student at AOD & current Design Innovation student at AOD Graduate School, discussed how design technology, especially in the form of visual communication can be optimized as a driver for good & shared her work and about what she is building as a future Innovation at AOD Grad school - Start Up School.

You seem to have always known that you would shape the course of your life around digital entrepreneurship and activism. What was it that gave you this certainty?

My mother is an ICT teacher and my father an IT professional, so naturally technology was central to my childhood and older years. Additionally, I have always been inspired by women making change in the world, and this too shaped what I wanted to do with my life. In 2007, at age 14, I won the Microsoft Software Competition – my first major award. My first international recognition was winning the Adobe UNICEF Award in 2013 for The “Child Soldier” short film I directed. Then went on to win the Adobe Creativity Scholarship in the same year, and became the only Sri Lankan to have received this accolade to date.

You have won several awards and been featured in many international publications and competitions for your creative and social development work, proving that design and digital technology can be harnessed for the greater good of society and community. What are the projects you’ve initiated to further propagate digital media skills in the youth of Sri Lanka?

In 2012 I founded YES (Youth Empowerment Society) with the aim to create a technology-based platform to empower youth and encourage participation in policy and development in Kandy City. Based on my own experiences of online harassment, I initiated Respect Girls on Internet in 2014, to address harassment of teenage girls on social networks and make the internet a safer space for young girls. My most recent project however is NextGen Girls In Technology, implemented by the Shilpa Sayura Foundation of which I am the Director of Youth Development. Here we aim to increase women participation in emerging technology careers by introducing a techno-extracurricular program in schools and training university girls in on-demand skills like IoT, Machine Learning, Cybersecurity and Design; helping bridge the skills gender divide and increase their employment opportunities. Now through AOD Grad School - Start up School, I'm working to expand this work focusing on girl’s technology education. 

How did you discover that motion graphics and animation could be harnessed for youth empowerment and to activate social change?

The power of design, especially animation, is that it has the capacity to create engaging stories and build empathy, reaching out to both individuals and communities in different ways. Particularly in our current fast-paced world, visual communications in the form of animation, film, and motion graphics, can help make complex theories and messaging more digestible and stimulating; significantly impacting a wider audience. It is a unique way to communicate in that it brings characters and stories to life; making the content more relatable, and as a result, helps to create empathy and inspire action.

How has your experience at AOD helped shape the trajectory of your career?

As I mentioned earlier, my passion always lay in using technology and storytelling and the impact it can have in creating positive social change. I needed a globally accredited design university degree and a sound design educational foundation to develop my career. From the start, I was encouraged by my professors to fully explore my interests, and this only fuelled my enthusiasm for the work I planned to do.

Through my learning experience at the Academy of Design’s BA (Hons) Motion Graphics and Animation Design programme, I was also given many opportunities to showcase my work on both local and international platforms.  During my time at AOD, I was featured on BBC News for ‘Respect Girls on Internet’ project among the "Women making Technology work for them”, won the international Internet Society 25 Under 25 Award, and created  ‘Voices of the Sea’ documentary, which was later selected for international Community Films Summit film festival by Adobe and TakingITGlobal.

Do you think the potential for the digital technology space has increased or decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic?

In terms of film, production was forced to be suspended throughout the world at the onset of the pandemic. As a result, interest in 2D and 3D animation and motion graphics increased, and so, unsurprisingly, demand skyrocketed.

Personally, I feel that the post-pandemic world is driven by technology and will only make more space for future animators and motion graphic artists to come in and leave their mark. 

The Academy of Design’s BA (Hons) Motion Graphics and Animation Design programme is directed at potential filmmakers, animators, and those with an interest in exploring the many avenues that visual communications opens up.

During this 3-year degree course, students will be able to approach motion graphics and animation from a design perspective and their applications in film, television, computer games, advertising and new media. A Northumbria University-affiliated programme, future designers and animators will be first introduced to the fundamental principles and core processes of motion graphics and animation design, before eventually being guided on how to conceptualize and eventually execute their own projects.

As with all AOD design courses, students in this degree programme too will have access to industry-standard equipment and facilities, a qualified faculty of experienced tutors, and an interactive and engaging learning environment that caters to each student’s unique requirements and competencies and encourages them to pursue their own passions.

Poornima is one among many AOD graduates have made a name for themselves in their own spaces, through serving the greater good - a testament to the academy’s exceptional educational model and the many pathways it opens up for its growing list of successful alumni.