100 Voices Leading for Change


Charlie Coffey/Iowa State Daily

Onalie Ariyabandhu speaks to students in the Sun Room on Sept. 28. Ariyabandhu is an ISU alumni and leads a United Nations initiative against gender-based violence in Sri Lanka.

Carolina Colon

If you have 100 Facebook friends, you can initiate social change for the better.

That’s what Onalie Ariyabandhu, ISU alumna and social change entrepreneuer, told ISU students at her lecture Monday night at Memorial Union Sun Room. Her lecture, “100 voices leading for change,” discussed United Nations Population Fund’s initiative to combat gender-based violence in Sri Lanka by helping youth advocates empower 100 of his or her peers to initiate change.

She asked the audience to raise their hands if they had Facebook, and then to keep them raised if they have more than 100 friends. Nearly everybody’s hands stayed up.

Essentially, she said students can use social media to talk about issues and be an advocate for issues they’re passionate about. 

Ariyabandhu, who is now a social change entrepreneur of the United Nations Population Fund in her home country of Sri Lanka, graduated from Iowa State in 2014 with a triple major in economics, international studies and environmental studies. As an international student from a country that didn’t provide access to multiple platforms, she said she especially noticed how students didn’t use social media for conversation. 

Ariyabandhu said her passion for social change started at the classroom level. 

“I would take 18 to 20 credits a semester, in every class I wanted to learn beyond what the lecturer said, beyond the textbook pages,” Ariyabandhu, who also served as president of the International Student Council and an LAS ambassador, said. “This started my personal definition of social change.”

Then, when Ariyabandhu went back to her home country after graduating, she felt confident in her new skills and passion, and used what she learned in her job hunt. A quick glance at a newspaper featuring the United Nations Population Fund sparked her interest.

And since then, she has done work to help combat gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. 

Gender-based violence is not easily visible, she said. It can be any form of imbalance that reflects on gender, which raises other types of gender-race balances. Some types of gender-based imbalance are sexual abuse, emotional, cyber harassment and street harassment.

Ariyabandhu encouraged the audience to enact their own social change, even if they aren’t sure how they want to go about it. 

“You don’t need to know everything you want to do,” Ariyabandhu said. “It’s sometimes fine to be clueless but its not fine to be clueless and give up.”

And some in the audience took it to heart. 

“She is persistent,” said Jane Dusselier, professor of history. “She motivates students to find a job that connects with a passion with students.”

Ariyabandhu left with simple, yet helpful, advice. 

“Some lessons will never be taught. You just have to learn them by yourself,” Ariyabandhu said. “Passion, patience and persistence are the most important P’s in your life.”