From her earliest days growing up in Colombo, Sri Lanka, entrepreneur and philanthropist Tushara Canekeratne understood the power of relationships to change lives. Raised in a home and a culture that highly valued collective well-being and education, Tushara grew up with an expectation that she “had to do things for others,” a commitment reflected in her long-standing support for City Year.
“I believe that City Year is a life-changing year, as much for the AmeriCorps members as the students they serve,” she says. “And I believe, just as my parents did, that education can change lives. City Year puts that belief into action.”
Tushara’s own life was transformed by her sixth grade math teacher who recognized Tushara’s potential and pushed her to excel at a time when girls were not always encouraged to master math and science.
This experience influenced Tushara’s decision to attend university in the United Kingdom, where she became one of only a handful of women to graduate with a computer science and mathematics degree in the 1980s. She later cofounded several technology companies in Massachusetts and became founder and CEO of Nadastra, Inc., a global services company focused on business operations transformation. Actively involved in the Boston-area philanthropic community, Tushara also serves on several of City Year’s national board committees.
Over the years, Tushara has invested in initiatives designed to make social impact on young people, leadership and education. She is focused on building the capacity of young adults to excel; she also cultivates mentoring relationships that can support organizational excellence, accelerate personal growth and give back to the community.
“I really believe that a core aspect of leadership is making the people around you feel valued and empowered,” she says. Tushara recognizes these same values in City Year’s appreciation and respect for its staff and AmeriCorps members who model and share these priorities with the more than 200,000 students they serve every day.
“My heart warms up every time I see a red jacket,” she says.
Tushara’s focus on investing in people and building strong connections has inspired her to make significant philanthropic investments in City Year, including the LEAD program, an executive leadership development program that trains a small group of high-potential City Year staff each year for leadership positions in the organization.
“Tushara is a tremendous champion – of City Year and many other causes that she believes deeply in. She has an almost magical way of connecting with people wherever she goes, and of inspiring them to do good, and to do more,” says City Year CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown. “She knows first-hand from her own leadership experience that any organization is only as effective as its people, and her strategic philanthropic investment in City Year has been transformational for our ability to provide rich professional development opportunities for our leaders, so that they, in turn, can continue to refine and expand our work to serve even more students.”
“To scale for impact, you need leaders,” Tushara says. “As City Year gets closer to its 30 year anniversary, the organization’s impact keeps growing, and it’s important that City Year cultivate and retain its incredible talent.