Interview: Ruvinda Pilapitiya from Bangkok, Thailand

OID: Thanks for talking to OID today! Can you start off by telling everyone who you are: Where are you from, what made you passionate about development, and what is your area of concentration?

Ruvinda Pilapitiya

Ruvinda Pilapitiya

Ruvinda Pilapitiya: My name is Ruvinda Pilapitiya and I am originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Whenever I tell people that they just stare at me until I tell them that I’ve lived in the US for about 7 years now though. I’m a UN kid so I’ve done a bit of traveling during my childhood and I just always felt a pull towards getting into development; it just felt like the most useful thing I could do with my life. Concentration? I’ve worked with contractors on project recruitment, my classes are in post conflict governance/security and my current internship is in trade policy, so…take from that what you will.

(Editors note: please don’t stare at Ruvi. We’ve included a map in this post so that you can nod knowledgeably and ask him intelligent questions about the country, and this vibrant urban center, and/or just nod. Seriously, don’t stare at him unless he grows a third head or something. That’s right, keep talking when he grows the second one and just stare at the third.)

Can you find Sri Lanka on a map?

Can you find Sri Lanka on a map?

OID: Where are you this summer and what are you doing?

Ruvinda Pilapitiya: This summer I am in Bangkok, Thailand interning at the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific. Specifically, I’m in the Trade and Investment Division (ESCAP-TID) working on the gravitational model of Aid for Trade. I am studying the policy decisions which relate to aid for trade in the ESCAP region.

OID: How did you get this internship/opportunity?
Ruvinda Pilapitiya: I had been applying to positions in Bangkok for about two years now so getting this has been a long process of cultivating relationships and getting the right recommendations. Only one intern I have met got this position without talking to/emailing/knowing someone in UNESCAP and there are about twenty interns on my floor alone!

Being at GWU has gotten me a lot of respect; people came to find me and speak to me for being a GWU Master’s student in addition to other consortium students being interested in meeting up with me before they even met me. I have met upper management staff who, as soon as they hear I go to GWU, raise their eyebrow nod their head and feel the need to tell me they went to the Kennedy School. Definitely staying in contact with people over email and getting face to face interactions going at events is very important.

Ruvi with fellow Aid for Trade interns in Thailand

Ruvi with fellow Aid for Trade interns in Thailand

OID: Many students in the IDS program pursue a variety of different areas within development. That said, you seem to be in a more unique niche than others we’ve spoken to. Has it been challenging to be engaged in economic trade policy and analysis within the IDS framework?

Ruvinda Pilapitiya: Well, it’s not as different as you would think. Aid for Trade has done a quick evolution by incorporating the Paris Principles and really focusing trade which will align with partner country created strategies/priorities for addressing poverty alleviation. The focus on infrastructure is a little old school, but integrating PPP and being serious about south-south trade makes the donor-partner dynamic more equal.

OID: Do you have any recommendations (for courses, internships, or time management…whatever you think would be useful!) to the incoming first years?

Ruvinda Pilapitiya: Never forget a face.

OID: Was it difficult to find a position outside of the US this summer and are you happy you made that leap?

Ruvinda Pilapitiya: I feel like being at GW gives us a huge leg up when it comes to finding things to do abroad, like I’ve already said though I have been looking to get this internship for a while now. But it has definitely been worth it after spending so much time in working in DC. Being out of the country looks a lot better on a resume if you’re looking for a non-HQ position. Also it’s nice to be out of DC for a little while.