On social entrepreneurship and design technology: Forbes 30 under 30, AOD Alumna Poornima Meegammana is empowering girls with tech education

Poornima Meegammana, Director of Youth Development at the Shilpa Sayura Foundation and founder of the NextGen Girls in Technology programme, has just made the prestigious Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list for 2022; featuring the most impactful young visionaries, entrepreneurs and change makers in the region. An AOD alumna and lecturer, Meegammana was honoured under the Social Impact category for her work in transforming the landscape of girls’ education in Sri Lanka by empowering them with the tools to advance in the field of IT and technology.

Education Times speaks to Poornima on social entrepreneurship, creating waves in a male-dominated industry, and making it to the definitive list of young people changing the world.

Tell us about NextGen Girls in Technology and what is your role there.

I joined the Shilpa Sayura Foundation as a volunteer when I was 12 years old and have since climbed up the ranks to serve on the board. In 2014 I was part of the team that started an initiative called “Respect Girls on Internet” against cyber harassment and another project on developing skills for mobile app development. I noticed that there were only a small percentage of girls who took part, and researched the statistics: out of 52% of school girls in Sri Lanka, only 8% opt to study ICT as a major subject. Out of Sri Lanka too, there are not enough women in tech leadership positions.

I founded NextGen Girls in Technology as an techno-extracurricular programme in schools to improve analytical, logical and creative thinking of students. This initative also focused on training university girls on-demand skills like IoT, Machine Learning, Cyber security and Design to bridge the skills mismatch and increase their employment opportunities. NextGen Girls in Technology has reached 3988 School Students, 442 university students and over 500 teachers since the beginning of the pandemic, and has received the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2020. As the founder, I develop and oversee the tech design programmes and curriculum.

Why do you feel strongly about empowering women and girls with tech, and what made you decide that this would be your life’s purpose?

Firstly, this is a personal passion. My father is a software engineer and my mother an ICT teacher, so I was exposed to tech and the internet from a very young age. I was never afraid of or discouraged from tech as many girls in Sri Lanka are, so I wanted to also develop that bond with other young girls and women. Also, if you look back at the past 2 years, we survived the pandemic because of technology, and most certainly the post COVID way of life will also be driven by tech. So, if we don’t get girls on board they’re going to be left behind. We also need more women in tech to bring in diversity to the space. Recently, when it was investigated why women would get more injured in road accidents than men, the reason behind it was found to be because seatbelts have historically only been tested on male mannequins. If we don’t have enough women in the rooms where innovations happen, we won’t have solutions for everyone.

How did you come to make the connection between design technology and the grassroots community in Sri Lanka?

I got into the field of social development at a very young age, and at 12 I was already volunteering at a tech-based social development organization. There I was exposed to how creativity, technology, development, and activism can work so well together for a greater purpose, and things just fell together naturally from there.

What at the time made you opt for the BA (Hons) Motions Graphics & Animation Design programme at AOD?

I grew up with technology and was also a drama and theatre-obsessed kid at school. I got into a youth programme with Adobe, were young people were taught to use design and creativity to express themselves. I also loved storytelling, and was making amateur movies at the time, so after I finished school in 2015, I was looking for a degree that had something to do with film. I found AOD’s BA (Hons) Motion Graphics & Animation Design and fell in love with animation; it being the perfect bridge between design and technology. From the beginning, I was always ambitious with my projects, and what I appreciate most about AOD was that my lecturers never hindered me from seeing them through; in fact they gave me all the support they could. I also felt at home with the great design community at the university, and built strong relationships with some of my peers that I still hold on to today.

Can you speak on the versatility of a degree in animation and motion design, especially in light of a precarious post-pandemic career landscape?

Animation and Motion Design is the intersection between art, design, technology, and storytelling.

If you look at the global industry, we’re currently living in a content heavy age, and the animation industry in itself is so vast and offers so much opportunity because we’re constantly attempting to keep up with visual technology. Every film has an element of animation or VFX, and this is one field which is as flexible as it is dynamic. In Sri Lanka alone we have plenty of opportunities for careers in animation.

How does it feel to be chosen for Forbes 30 under 30? How will this acknowledgement help you further your goal?

When I was informed that I had made it to the shortlist I went and told everyone I knew because I didn’t think I would actually make it to the final list! Of course, I’m very happy because this is huge, and unlike most tech-centric accolades, the gravity of this resonates more with others. This isn’t just a win for me though, but for my entire team because I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. For NextGen this is great because it brings a lot more attention to our cause and ignites more serious conversation on the issue of diversity in the tech space that we’re trying to resolve.

Taking from your own experience, what advice would you give the next generation of social entrepreneurs looking to invest their skillset towards community upliftment?

If there is one thing I can say is that investing your passion towards community upliftment is very, very fulfilling. When you’re in the social development space you get to go and make change, and there is no greater satisfaction than seeing that transformation take place. With our programme we’ve had girls going from not knowing anything about coding to winning national awards. There are now more schoolgirls choosing ICT for their O/Ls.

Design technology is not just about making things beautiful; there’s much more to it. Impactful change can take place through design. We need more people in the social development sector and those with a tech design background definitely have that added advantage.

The Academy of Design’s BA (Hons) Motion Graphics & Animation Design programme is directed at potential filmmakers, animators, and those like Poornima, with an interest in exploring the intersection between design tech and social development.

Through this Northumbria University, UK affiliated 3-year degree, students will be able to approach motion graphics and animation from a design perspective and explore their applications in film, television, computer games, advertising, and new media. Here 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 signature projects.

From the leading design academy’s address at the Colombo Innovation Tower (CIT), students will have access to industry-standard tools and facilities, a global faculty of experienced lecturers, and an inspiring learning environment that hones each student’s unique competencies and passions – driven by the goal to create positive change in the world through design innovation.

AOD invites all O/L and A/L graduates looking to pursue a career in motion graphics and animation to learn more about AOD’s BA (Hons) Motion Graphics & Animation Design programme, and how they too, like Poornima, hold the potential to harness their passion and unique skillset to create positive change in their communities and the world. Live your design dream in Sri Lanka,in the UK or anywhere in the world complete your BA fully in Sri Lanka or UK 2+1 transfer programme or international placements. For more information, contact AOD on 0775727772, email info@aod.lk or walk in between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday – Colombo Innovation Tower, No 477, R A De Mel mawatha, Colombo 4 www.aod.lk