Empathy is a key ingredient to making the world a better place. Award winning, Hamsika Premkumar, CEO of DGF / YSI gives a remarkably candid, heart-breaking personal account of her early years, describing how compassionate, deeds formed a career dedicated to sustainability.

Imagine growing up in a world where civil unrest with extreme violence, bombings and shootings are a normal occurrence. A world where not only does each day become an exercise in survival, but you witness sights that as a young child you should not see. Your father, a victim of a war which has claimed over 100,000 lives; your anxious mother trying to bring up a young family is desperate for a better life. There are no safe havens, even hospitals and schools are targets.

Eight year old Hamsika Premkumar bears testimony to the everyday struggles of life in her homeland – war torn Sri Lanka. She revives memories of suddenly being pushed into safety bunkers, a tiny space shared with up to 20 others, including pregnant women, babies and the elderly, united in a common goal – the need to survive.

The start of a new beginning

On Christmas Eve 2001, Hamsika and her mother made the agonising decision to head to Europe in search of a better life. Grateful to now find themselves away from the horrific day to day existence they’d endured, life in a refugee camp in Norway also brought many challenges – not least language difficulties and coming to terms with a new culture. Emotional wounds take time to heal, and Hamsika felt a sense of emptiness, separated from her siblings and a feeling of not really belonging, uncertain, alone, scared.

The settlement programme for refugees in Norway eventually enabled Hamsika and her mother to move to Bergen, where eventually the family reunited as Hamsika’s

brothers were able to join them. Slowly, as Norway became their family home, Hamsika developed an empathetic awareness for those suffering the same plight as she and her family had been fortunate to escape from. People were still suffering and desperately seeking help. She could not sit back and watch, Hamsika’s mission was to change the world into a better place.

From volunteer working as a leader with youth organisations to spending time as an Aid Worker supporting vulnerable populations in Lebanon with Salam LADC, an organisation which empowers refugees and builds bridges between the Lebanese and Syrian communities, Hamsika has dedicated her career to helping others. In 2020, she graduated from the University of Oslo with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, having undertaken roles as President of the UN Student Association of Norway, Project Co-ordinator of a partnership aimed at improving the recruitment of girls to technology study programmes, and establishing Development Goals Forum (DGF).

Development Goals Forum (DGF) and its work

Today, as CEO of Oslo based DGF, Hamsika spearheads an organisation which is committed to spread knowledge, promote action and create a sustainable future for all. The organisation enables businesses and participants to collaborate. With an overall aim of promoting sustainable development, students and professionals are given opportunities to use their skills on projects which have a positive impact, whilst also gaining valuable networking connections. Participating businesses are able to connect with potential employees, ensuring the ongoing vision is maintained.

Exciting expansion news has now seen DG Forum merge with Oslo based, YSI (Young Sustainable Impact), an organisation which gathers young talent from all around the world to develop impactful start-ups. This is achieved through a three-fold mission. Firstly, creating youth focused sustainable business through an online innovation programme. Secondly, establishing a youth-led movement called Earthpreneurs, to focus on sustainability, and thirdly through collaborations with organisations on sustainability-related challenges. 

The new company, operating under the name YSI, has scope to make a real difference in creating and maintaining a sustainable world through their collaborative programmes. The younger generation hold the key. They have been handed the baton to push forward the mission of creating and implementing achievable solutions, and guided by industry experts across many sectors, this is their opportunity. YSI’s mission is to achieve a more sustainable planet by empowering youth and entrepreneurs to create solutions that can tackle a wide range of challenges. For many years we were only able to help 25 entrepreneurs in our programmes. However, our new platform ‘Innovation Engine’ will now enable us to reach a greater number of participants, therefore achieving far more wide-ranging results. 

Innovation Engine – Problems and Solutions

One of the main issues faced by those starting out on the entrepreneurial journey is the sheer amount of information currently in the public realm. Online articles, You Tube Videos, online learning courses can only provide generic advice and guidance. 

YSI’s platform ‘Innovation Engine’ aims to be more relevant and appropriate, helping entrepreneurs to choose the right areas to learn and providing information, tasks and knowledge that fit each step of their journey. It’s a ‘get things’ done platform, focused on moving learners forward without distracting them from their mission, and ensures there are different routes to go down. This may be undertaken via work on physical or digital products, international or hyper-local, addressed with short videos and texts to direct them in a guiding way to solve the right tasks for their individual start-up.   

Innovation Engine is innovative and unique in that it’s geared for success. Information is easy to digest, and tasks are designed to move start-ups forward. Simple to use, the entrepreneur is able to stay in complete control of their start up process through this one system, eliminating distractions and having to sift through a multitude of different pieces of advice from various sources. 

Reflections on a remarkable journey

Hamsika’s vision of changing the world for the better has taken her on a remarkably inspiring journey. As a young child fleeing for safety, and having to adjust to life within a new country and culture, she has remained steadfast to her aims. However, rather than do this by creating UN resolutions for the Security Council as she first imagined doing, her mindset gradually changed.

We’re conditioned into thinking that societal change comes from governments or inter-governmental organisations, yet real impactful change often comes from the most unusual sources – the man on the ground, contributing selflessly and often unaware of the true impact of their actions.

Indeed, when Hamsika was a vulnerable young refugee miles away from her homeland, it was not the big societal changes which shaped her to become the dedicated motivational leader for sustainability she is today. That honour is reserved for the volunteers from the Norwegian Red Cross who showed compassion for the asylum seekers, and selflessly gave their time to help them integrate socially and culturally. Hamsika also gives recognition to a young classmate who despite language difficulties showed friendship and invited her home. Here, this young Norwegian girl’s parents enabled Hamsika to learn and understand Norwegian family culture, integrate and adapt, putting aside any prejudices of race or religion.

These ‘unlikely heroes’ made a difference. They may not have changed the world, but they did change the world of a young Tamil girl in a foreign land. The impact was life-changing, and would eventually lead to an innovative Norwegian based organisation implementing exciting initiatives to make the world a better place for all.

YSI (Young Sustainable Impact – which has merged with DGF) is on a mission to create a more sustainable planet by empowering youth and entrepreneurs to create solutions that can tackle a wide range of challenges. For further information on the Innovation Engine platform, Earthpreneurs, and the mission and work of YSI, please visit the company website – https://ysiglobal.com