This profile was prepared when Sanjana Hattotuwa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Sanjana saw both a lost opportunity and great potential in Sri Lanka’s recent investment in telecommunication infrastructure. While huge sums of money were invested throughout the country, little or no thought was given to how the available content could support social justice, peace, reconciliation, and democratic governance. In response, Sanjana designed tri-lingual Citizen Journals (CJs) as a means for social activists, rights-defenders, youth, Diaspora groups, and average citizens to discuss difficult issues without facing persecution for having differing views. Sanjana has created a safe space for a young group of bloggers to freely express their opinions about the war and to have an open dialogue on the issues they personally face due to on-going ethnic conflict. His use of instant follow-up and links to related web-material keep the internet savvy generation engaged with accessible, action-oriented, and precise information on topics they would otherwise have no forum to discuss publicly. In a country where so many journalists, activists, and citizens face security threats, Sanjana is able to build trust and ensure a free and open flow of information by vehemently protecting the safety and identity of his contributors through technological encryption and the use of pseudonyms among the participants. In addition to providing a forum for citizens to express their views, these Citizen Journals have begun to move the conversation surrounding conflict and social justice away from reactive commentary and towards informed discourse. In doing so, Sanjana hopes to create a new generation of well-informed and socially responsible citizens. Sanjana’s work is recognized both by media and civil society as groundbreaking in Sri Lanka. It is looked upon globally as a potential model of the use of new media to promote peace in violent locales.