Harnessing the digital world for environmental good

Hasanka planting trees

Gold Award holder Hasanka Pushpakumara, from Sri Lanka, is a driven young man with a keen interest in environmental issues. His passion has motivated him to address Sri Lanka’s growing environmental deforestation problem. Here he shares with us how his Award journey equipped him with the right skills to be an entrepreneur as well as instilling in him a sense of responsibility to give back to the community.

Seizing opportunities 

"My Award journey began in 2005 when I was a commerce student studying at Prince of Wales' College, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. The Award was presented to me as a way of challenging myself and opening my eyes to the community around me. The Award began to change my life because I started to set achievable goals for myself. In 2006, I completed my Bronze Award and applied for university entry. I was a few marks short in my advance level exams when I was applying, however the university granted me additional marks for the completion of my Bronze Award and so I was accepted into my chosen degree, Bachelors of Business Management, at Rajarata University of Sri Lanka. The sense of achievement I felt when I completed my Bronze and got into my chosen university never left me; it encouraged me to further challenge myself and aim for Gold.

Finding my callingraising awareness with the community

I developed a real appreciation for my beautiful country when doing my Gold Award –  the importance of preserving history whilst I was volunteering at an archaeological conservation project for my Service section; completing an exploration to Dambana, a remote village in the Badulla district of Sri Lanka known as the area for indigenous Vedda people for my Adventurous Journey; and doing my Gold Residential project at Haldemulla where I had the opportunity to study Sri Lankan Ayurvedic plants and medicine. These experiences left me with a profound respect for the natural wonders of my country and a strong desire to protect it from harm.

Stark realities lead to action

From where I sit in my office in the country’s capital city, Colombo, you look outside the window and all you see is concrete. The only place there is a little greenery is near Viharamaha Devi Park. If [deforestation] drops below 25% of forest coverage, and more roads, hotels and construction happen without concern for the environment, Sri Lanka will face permanent damage to its biodiversity. 

This got me thinking about what I could do to ease the situation. There is no question that the development of mobile apps has taken the digital world by storm. When I look around, I see how dependent we as a society have become on our mobile phones, particularly our future generation and leaders – they are essentially seeing the world from their mobile phones. 

As a result, I have developed an app, Thuru, which aims to engage the younger generation in helping to tackle environmental issues using their mobile phones.

The Thuru app is a social network platform that brings the community together, in the digital environment, to plant trees in the real environment! The app works by an individual uploading images and providing details of a tree they have planted. It also allows you to geotag the location of your tree. The app gives you points as you take care of your tree, the longer you take care of it, the more photos you upload, the more points you obtain, and you climb up the leader board. The app also guides you on how to look after your tree as well as linking you up with like-minded nature lovers around Sri Lanka and the globe.

Our mission is to plant 2 million trees by the end of 2018. A well grown tree of 30 feet will produce 550 litres of oxygen daily, which is equivalent to the intake of oxygen by one adult person. It is for this reason I believe we all have a responsibility to grow at least one tree! 

The Award’s impact on me

I am really proud of this app and its development and it was the Award which helped me get here. It helped me reach higher goals in my education and complete my first degree; it turned me addressing deforestation one tree at a timeinto a more energetic person, it helped me improve my leadership skills and nurture my entrepreneurial skills. Access to so many life-changing experiences and opportunities has had a significant impact on my attitude towards community and environmental engagement.  The Award allowed me to seize opportunities I couldn’t have dreamt of when I was younger and it continues to inspire me to address my country’s burning social issues and to explore feasible solutions to make our world a better place for all."

Hasanka attended the 2014 International Gold Event in Korea as the chosen Sri Lankan delegate and is an Award trainer on the Sri Lankan National Training Panel.

You can find out more and download the Thuru app here