Birth of the Overseas Chapters of the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL) by Past Chair Eng. Tissa Wijayasinghe
IESL New South Wales Chapter holds a unique place in the history of IESL, being the first overseas chapter of IESL. It was officially born on the 19 July 2009, at Glenhaven Community Centre, NSW, at a General Meeting of Sri Lankan Engineers in NSW. As the current committee is the one to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its birth, it is quite appropriate for this committee to revisit the roots of this inaugural event. I am thankful for the President and the Committee of the 2018/19 IESL NSW Chapter for inviting me to write a brief history of the evolution of the first overseas chapter.
The concept of overseas chapters was the brainchild of the former IESL President (2007/08), Ranjith Gunawardana. In his inaugural speech (Annex-1), at the IESL annual session on 19 October 2007, attended by the Hon. Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, he made a commitment to the formation of, what he referred to as “IESL Overseas Centres”. In this speech he went on to describe briefly the advantages he saw in creating these centres to the Sri Lankan Engineering Community and to the country. He further mentioned about his intention to advice the government regarding two key projects that could utilise the assistance of these overseas centres.
However, well before his inauguration, during his tenure as President Elect (2006/07), Ranjith floated this idea and sought my help for the creation of an Australia centre of the IESL.
In all probability Ranjith sought my help for this task as I was a friend, a former colleague and a batch-mate in the Ceylon Electricity Board 1977 batch of Engineers. Further I was associated with several Sri Lankan Community organisations in NSW Australia during that time, including Lak Saviya Foundation (LSF) of Australia.
Although Ranjith’s intention was to open an Australia wide centre, this idea had to be abandoned in favour of an IESL NSW centre, as the then President elect for 2008/09 of the IESL has undertaken the responsibility of forming a separate Victoria Centre.
How the task was planned.
During the first serious telephone discussions with Ranjith about this project, I proposed the name “IESL NSW Chapter”. Further to this I advised the prudence in seeking assistance from the LSF for the following reasons;
- LSF at that time was fully organised and functional as an incorporated charity organisation in Australia. Its main motto was “Helping the needy help themselves”.
- Majority of its members were Engineers of Sri Lankan background with ample experience with community organisational work.
- For a group working within the umbrella of LSF to establish the NSW chapter of IESL would have the benefit of financial, administrative, organisational, and the moral support of an already well established organisation.
- Also during this period, LSF too was contemplating of organising an annual “Engineers Night” function, due to a desire made known to LSF by NSW Engineers of Sri Lankan origin.
- Finally it would be far easier for me to help IESL as a member of LSF rather than an individual for the above reasons.
During my informal discussions with LSF members, the LSF, although was very supportive for the idea, had to ascertain whether the task was within the scope of the LSF objectives. While it became clear that the task of helping to create the NSW Chapter of IESL was not within the direct aims and objectives of the LSF, the committee took an extraordinary and unprecedented decision to help IESL as the LSF committee recognised that the Engineering profession is at the forefront in making the world a better place for the needy.
Ranjith, having agreed to my proposal, suggested further discussion with LSF in Sydney to coincide with his planned visit to Sydney. An informal discussion was held, on 12 May 2008, between President of the IESL parent body (Ranjith Gunawardana) and LSF President (Tissa Liyanage) & Committee. At this meeting the LSF pledged their support to this worthy cause and on behalf of IESL, Ranjith gave LSF the approval to proceed with the project. I was appointed as the Task Manager and the liaison (with the IESL) to get the process rolling.
How the task was executed
While the project was at the planning stage, Ranjith took an initiative to authorise a general amnesty, which paved an avenue for former IESL Engineers to reconnect with the institution. This was both a crucial and a practical step that aided the growth of IESL and acknowledged the importance of its members.
Formation of the working committee
- While LSF contacted the local engineers of Sri Lankan origin, Ranjith was requested to initiate a letter to known past and present IESL members to support LSF for this task. The intention of this letter was to (Annex 2):
- To introduce LSF to IESL membership
- To give legitimacy to LSF for the “IESL NSW Chapter creation” operation
- To present the benefits of this action and summarise some relevant achievements of IESL such as the membership of the Engineers Mobility Forum and provisional membership status of the prestigious Washington Accord which were directly relevant to present and future overseas engineers of Sri Lanka.
- Groundwork was made for a meeting to form a working committee from the general engineering personnel of NSW with Sri Lankan background.
- This meeting was held at the Crestwood Community Centre, Baulkham Hills, on 29 October 2008, with a view of forming a working committee for the establishment of the NSW Chapter of the IESL. Thirty eight engineers of Sri Lankan background were present.
- A presentation was made, (Annex-3; Presentation-LSF) and with the unanimous support of the membership present, a working committee was appointed for the task.
Up and until the formation of the working committee the background, objectives, intentions and the work carried out are given in the presentation titled “Presentation-LSF”, Annex-3. The composition of the committee is given in the above presentation.
Working committee actions
This working committee operated under the administrative umbrella of the LSF and met four times over a period from 29 October 2008 to 14 June 2009. Amongst many activities carried out by this committee, which is given in detail in the attached second presentation titled “Presentation-WC”, Annex-4; the following were the salient items.
- The development of a draft constitution
- Development of a working structure for future committees,
- The development of the operating guidelines.
- Development of draft funding mechanism.
Armed with above, the general engineering community of Sri Lankan origin was invited for a meeting to be held on 19 July 2009, at Glenhaven Community Centre, NSW.
At this General Meeting of Sri Lankan Engineers in NSW, the first overseas chapter of the IESL was formed.
The Chapter started with 32 members including the following first committee of the IESL NSW Chapter.
|2||Tissa Wijayasinghe||Vice Chair|
|6||Athula Amarasinghe||Committee Member|
|7||Anuradha Wijayasinghe||Committee Member|
|8||Shantha Fernando||Committee Member|
|9||Yaso Yasodharan||Committee Member|
|10||Prathapa Ravindra||Committee Member|
Aftermath and conclusion
The IESL NSW Chapter, thus established on the 19 July 2009, as an unincorporated body was made an incorporated organisation of NSW Australia, as planned, under the first committee. Further the IESL parent body recommended that the IESL NSW Chapter constitution to be the model constitution for future overseas chapters.
This event was celebrated passionately by way of “The Engineers Night” held on 20th March 2010, at Castle Grand, Sydney Australia, with IESL President Dharmasiri Alwis and former President Ranjith Gunawardene as special guests.
As of today there are four more overseas chapters in Western Australia, Queensland, New Zealand and Qatar. I am sure many more are to come and would be of great potential to IESL and for Sri Lanka to tap.