Guest post 20 – Mihirini de Zoysa on the I Can project in Sri Lanka

I’m delighted to say that Mihirini de Zoysa has agreed to write a guest blog for me. Mihirini is from Sri Lanka, and I met her last year when she and my daughter Rowan were doing an MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice at the University of Bath.

When I read about the I Can project, I pestered her to write about it for my blog, and she not only graciously agreed, but wrote the following in double quick time.

Mihirini de Zoysa

The power of simple random acts – how the I Can project started in Sri Lanka

It’s February 14th, St Valentine’s Day, and I am browsing the net, going from one link to the other, without a particular destination, enjoying tidbits from the cyber world.

I happen to come across an interesting TED talk It’s about a school in India (Riverside School) that has started a program called I Can, where children aged 8-14, working in small groups, are empowered and inspired to become agents of change.

It’s a simple concept. The children are asked to pick an issue that bothers them, that they want to change, and then they are given a week to make the change.

The impact and results are amazing. From cleaning up garbage, to making cities child-friendly, to stopping child marriages, to teaching their parents to read and write, no issue was too big or too small. Kiran Sethi, the lady spearheading this project, sees the potential and starts taking the idea to other schools in the state and then across India. It gathers momentum and start spreading all over … Pakistan, England, Canada, Bhutan.

Kiran Sethi recording her TED lecture, November 7, 2009, Mysore India

Coming back to my random web surfing. I tweet the link. My dear friend Bishan Rajapakse in New Zealand picks it up and is equally inspired and does more than tweet it. He writes to Kiran praising her for her work and saying it would be amazing to start this in Sri Lanka.

Kiran replies. Of course  – You Can! Bishan puts me and several others in touch with her.

In the meantime, I have been meeting with a group of my friends, who are depressed and disheartened about some of the political and social issues in Sri Lanka. We wanted to get out of the apathy we were in and were looking for practical way to engage with social issues and the community, to bring in values, empowerment and good governance.

I Can seemed like an ideal way to engage with children, teachers and the education system. We pick up the idea, and today we are running several pilot projects – with amazing results.

Children have been involved in teaching English to other less privileged children, stopping bullying in schools, cleaning up a garbage dump and convincing the municipality to give a job to an unemployed person known to them etc.

It’s amazing what children will do when adults believe in them and they believe in themselves. The teachers are amazed, too. Children whom they have hitherto written off as being ‘naughty’ and ‘undisciplined’ have worked the hardest and shown their true potential in their engagement with the project.

Our approach to the project has been quite informal and unstructured. We are not approaching schools through the formal authorities (such as the Ministry of Education). We have used our personal contacts within the school system to gain access to school principals. We then meet them, present the idea and start a pilot project running.

From this our contact base is growing. Our current limitation is the number of us working on this project, just a handful of friends who have ‘day jobs’. So we are talking to extended networks of friends and colleagues and trying to ‘infect’ them to take on the concept and principle. This way the message would have a ripple effect in the system. Where it began (from what we know, it was Kiran in India) would no longer be important. The project would take on a life of its own, and keep spreading as long as the need and energy was there.

So what’s the moral of this story?

A simple random act can often have an unpredictable chain reaction and create change!

A tweet. An email. A contact and introduction. A group of friends.

A change initiative that is empowering children to believe in themselves as agents of change and helping adults to start respecting the passion and action of children.

I did not know at the time I tweeted the link that it would connect me to a social change initiative that is growing as we speak. I didn’t realize that this would be a project that my friends and I would start doing.

What was the link?

Each one of us (me, the group of friends, Bishan, Kiran) in our separate corners of the world had one intention – the intention to transform human society, to empower the good humanness in all of us, to believe in children, to believe in the good in the world. This connected us. And simple random acts with this underlying intention connected us. That’s all. Simple.

I can make simple random acts, holding my intention closely to my heart, and see my intentions unfold, and connect with others.

I am not alone.

You are not alone.

Be brave. Be foolish. Make one simple random act of goodness. Share a story. Help someone. Believe in yourself. Believe in someone else. You never know how far it can reach.

Wishing life and energy to your good intentions!


Please do remember to click this to to watch the TED talk by Kiran. She is truly inspiring and the I Can movement is contagious.


I’m a Leadership Coach, Trainer, Organisation Development Consultant and Facilitator. I live and work from Sri Lanka. I’m lead consultant at Corporate Druids, which I founded 10 years ago. I constantly explore ways to build bridges between ideas and action and to create spaces for authentic dialogue.

My journey and quest is to find a balance between being pragmatic and optimistic about life, humans and the future of the earth.

You are welcome to check out my website for more stories on our learning and experiences and results about the pilot project and how the project is progressing, and for more about my practice, views and thoughts on living meaningfully.



twitter @mihirini   @corporatedruids

12 thoughts on “Guest post 20 – Mihirini de Zoysa on the I Can project in Sri Lanka

  1. Hi Mihirini,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s really quite amazing, as you say, the capacity children (and indeed all humans) have to change and be changed, given a little belief and perhaps a push in the right (or most appropriate) direction.

    My grandma always says to me ‘The more you do, the more you CAN do’ and I’m certainly finding that this year so far. But perhaps it the saying could go further ‘The more you do, the more you and others can do’… Humans have an amazing capacity to inspire as well, after all.

    Best wishes from London,


    1. Hi Mike,

      Many thanks for the feedback. I must say that as much as the children we kept learning about the capacity for creativity and commitment when someone believes in you.

      I love the adapted quote from your grandma. It is true. One of the groups enabled an old unemployed man to get a job in the Colombo Municipality when they implemented a garbage clean-up project. Powerful! So many people ‘can do’ things as a result of a little belief.

      Thank you once again for your feedback.

      Warmest wishes

  2. Another great post in this series. Thanks Ken for introducing Mihirini, it’s fantastic to meet truly inspiring people through your blog.
    I have a few friends from Sri Lanka, and it always disheartens me to listen to them talk about the situation being unchangeably bad there. It was uplifting and encouraging to read about your experiment. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    It’s a good reminder for those who lose faith quickly and the ones who think that their problems are too big for them to cope with. The power is in believing that the ‘random little’ things you do actually matter.

    1. Hi Tamas,

      We were like your friends from Sri Lanka. Wallowing in our despair and self pity. That’s when a group of friends got together and said that we must act. We also decided that we will do simple things and try to stay out of too many controversial activities. Purely because most of them had children, and feared possible repercussions from the ‘authorities’. That’s when we thought we would like to bring in values and ethics in to the education system – hoping that we can at least have some impact with the future generation, and I happen to come across ‘I Can’.

      Thank you once again for your encouragement.

      Warmest wishes

  3. Thank you for what you’re doing Mihirini and for sharing it here. I have a similar story: i saw Kiran’s TED talk one night about six months ago and became so infected with the I CAN virus and so impressed with the Design For Change movement that I, too, contacted Kiran, partnered with her, and since then have gone on to spread and launch Design For Change movement in Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, New Zealand, and most recently in Russia.

    I had a great moment not long ago when things came full circle and Kiran watched my own TED talk, cheering me on as I shared the story about how I became a super-infector of the I CAN virus thanks to her. But the story really isn’t about Kiran or me or you any of the many others now spreading around the world. It’s about, as you say, how you never know really how far a single random act and some sharing, coupled with good intentions will take you or where a good idea will lead. I’m so happy to know your story and to be in a sense, working with you now to infect as many as possible with this beautiful virus.

    If anyone reading this is not involved in Design For Change yet, please visit and click on the link to whatever country you happen to be living in to get connected to someone who can give you information and get you and your students started. If you can’t find the country you’re in on the Design For Change map, then why not start a movement there? You’ll find contact info on the website.

    Also, follow Kiran on twitter @dcfglobal and join the Design For Change Contest 2010 page on Facebook. You’re also welcome to follow me @chucksandy or to contact me via email.

    Mirihini — thanks again for all you’re doing and thank you Ken for giving Mirhani a place to share the story.

    1. Dear Chuck,

      How lovely to meet a fellow ‘infector’. Your story is truly inspiring. Thank you.

      We have been quite slow in our infection process, but are hoping that it will catch on after the summer holidays. We are also talking to a youth leadership group and are hoping they can spread it faster.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences and for your encouragement.

      Warmest wishes

  4. Hi Mihirini and many thanks for this wonderful post.

    Thank you for sharing the “I Can” project with us; it is amazing what children can do and how determined they are to bring about change – and they do it, too. The video of Kiran Sethi is inspiring and so great, I was very moved when I saw it and optimistic that many things can be done through this project. The enthusiasm is so contagious!

    Congratulations to all of you, adults and children, working on this project. Thank you again so very much, Mihirini!

    Hi Ken!

    Thank you so much for having Mihirini on your blog and for introducing her to us first through Twitter and then here on your blog. I have connected to many interesting people through you. I truly appreciate it.

    Kindest regards and many thanks to you both,

  5. Dear Vicky,

    It is wonderful to connect to a movement that is inspiring children to believe in themselves. And reading your words and the feedback from other people, I realize how much we adults also need others to believe in ourselves.

    So thank you for your encouragement.

    with love

  6. Mihirini,
    Your writing was so inspiring as were the acts of the children. We need to look to them as agents of change and value their ideas and what they have to say. Only then can we hope for a brighter future.
    Thank you for allowing us to see what can be done.

    1. Dear JoAnn,

      Thank you for your feedback and words of encouragement.
      I feel I am blessed to be educated and awakened to the possibilities of change and the future through the wisdom and fearlessness of children.
      It is a privilege to share their stories.

  7. hi mihirini – it is true – geography is history 🙂 all of us are connected in ways that seem random….and unbeknownst to us, magic is waiting to happen. a friend of mine once said – it is not proximity that makes people close, it is history! we are all today part of creating history with the worlds largest movement of change by our children….

    thank you and god bless you for getting infected 🙂

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