International Grassroots Development Leader Shares Work with UW Community

A champion for children, environment and peace, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, who leads the largest grassroots development organization in Sri Lanka, visits the University of Wisconsin-Madison July 7-14 to teach, meet university and community colleagues and share his work through public lectures.

Ariyaratne is General Secretary of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka, which has received international acclaim for its holistic approach to development, humanitarian efforts and empowerment strategies. His visit is sponsored through a Visiting Scholar Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute. The awards encourage collaboration between UW-Madison faculty and staff and international colleagues.

“Dr. Ariyaratne’s visit highlights the importance and challenges of providing health care during political turmoil, which is relevant in many parts of the world today,” said Sweta Shrestha, GHI education programs associate. “We can’t take political stability and government commitment to health care as a given. We need to be prepared to have a discourse on the provision of emergency, long term and mental health care in times when there is no government or when systems are failing.”

Ariyaratne will present two public lectures:

  • Monday July 7: “Peace, Empowerment and Sustainable Development,” 5 p.m. Union South (See TITU for room)
  • Friday, July 11: “Community Health Amid Violent Conflict: Lessons from Sri Lanka,” 1:30 p.m. South Asia Summer Language Institute, 206 Ingraham Hall

Ariyaratne became executive director of Sarvodaya in the 1990s, directing a staff of more than 800 in more than 50 district centers. The organization, rooted in the traditions of Gandhi and Buddhism, has served 15,000 of Sri Lanka’s villages, building banks, pre-schools and other projects. At the height of the Sri Lankan separatist war, Ariyaratne established a program to address the psychosocial effects among children affected by conflict that’s torn the island nation for most of the last three decades. The community-based, non-medical approach helped thousands of children recover from trauma.

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne
Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne

Ariyaratne also coordinated Sarvodaya’s response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that displaced more than a half million Sri Lankans and killed more than 35,000. The unique approach included relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction, reconciliation and reawakening, and a portfolio of projects worth more than $15 million. In mid-2009, he coordinated Sarvodaya’s humanitarian relief efforts to assist the health Ministry, United Nations agencies and other organizations serving thousands of internally displaced persons. The organization, founded by Ariyaratne’s father, is rooted in volunteerism and delivers services through local networks. Both were recognized by the Schwab Foundation and World Economic Forum as Social Entrepreneurs for 2014.

A physician and facilitator, Ariyaratne has taught peace-building, conflict resolution and reconciliation for grassroots, national and international groups. He has collaborated with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, national and international non-governmental organizations and private groups.

While in Madison, Ariyaratne joins Shrestha to lead a one credit course, “Community Health in Conflict Situations,” that will 18 allow students to explore how conflict undermines sustainable development and how to address key health issues in a post-war environment. He also will meet with UW-Madison researchers and educators to foster collaborations and partnerships in Sri Lanka and beyond.

The Global Health Institute is dedicated to advancing health today while ensuring natural and other resources are available to provide health tomorrow. By encouraging and supporting unique collaboration, the Institute tackles the complex, intertwined determinants of health and disease. To learn more or to make a gift, visit

By Ann Grauvogl 7/2/2014