Feast for the Masters | Daily News

Feast for the Masters

Each one of us is a leader in our own right whether we lead an entire company, a team of people, a group of friends, our families or just ourselves. A leader will be nothing without people. True leaders are forthright with their people communicating with them openly to show that their team is valued and important. Placing others’ interest before his, Toastmaster Balraj Arunasalam has emerged a leader and a mentor to many who look up to him. His dedication to people made him the first ever Sri Lankan citizen to be the International President for the year 2017-2018, the highest ranked officer on the Toastmasters Board of Directors. Toastmasters International is a world leader in communication and leadership development. The organization has more than 352,000 members in 142 countries.

“When all is said and done about communication and leadership, Toastmasters is ultimately about people. As Mahatma Gandhi stated in 1948, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles, but today it means getting along with people.” It means putting other people’s interests first, before our own,” Arunasalam said.

Arunasalam who has been a philanthropist in Sri Lanka has yet again embarked on a new project to develop leadership skills in school children. “Youth National Leadership Programme targeting 1,000 school children is the ongoing project which has immense value for the society. This is a 10-week course aimed to groom confident young communicators and leaders in all parts of the island. Government and other entities should assist and get involved in this programme as it will create quality citizens with the right vision. Inculcating leadership qualities in 1,000 children means building 1,000 future families. If we can continue with more children the country will be a much better place in future,” he added.

In 2011, Arunasalam helped establish an English course `Rural Voices Unlimited’, a project designed to educate youth in rural Sri Lanka funded by the US Embassy in Colombo. Realising the need for the rural youth to learn and improve their English communication, public speaking and leadership skills, which will empower them with the knowledge and confidence to communicate in English without inhibition made him embark on this project.

“Since 1987, I have been actively involved in my community’s association, Aarunadu Velalar Society. It is extremely fulfilling for me to be able to help the underprivileged. Hence I created a Community Education Trust Fund, through which around 2,500 children so far have received scholarships to complete their secondary education. I am happy to note that most of them go on to complete their graduate studies as well,” Arunasalam said. “I am also a permanent volunteer and president of the management board of my local temple. Spiritual development and religious service is essential to my well-being and brings meaning to my life. I have been a Rotarian for nearly ten years. I enjoy merging the Toastmasters and Rotary programs by encouraging Rotary clubs to sponsor Youth Leadership programs for the community,” he added.

Arunasalam says Toastmasters is a way of life and the philosophy of leadership. Joining Toastmasters 28 years ago he steadily gained confidence and took on many leadership positions with the help of fellow members in Colombo Toastmasters, then the only club in Sri Lanka.

He has played a major role in the growth of Toastmasters in the country. He was determined to make a difference and was focused on taking Toastmasters to greater heights. “Since my term as club president in 2002, I have grown in my journey as a leader, serving in a leadership role every year. After my year as club president, I was passionately involved with leading a team of Toastmasters who were united by a vision to spread the movement and create a district in Sri Lanka and India. In 2005, as the Territorial Council Chair for Sri Lanka, I visited the International Convention for the first time in Toronto. The convention connected me to the worldwide fraternity of Toastmasters and exposed me to the larger picture of what the organization was all about. In 2011, I was elected as an international director on the Toastmasters International Board. It fascinated me to work with a diverse and dynamic set of volunteer leaders. Their passion and commitment to achieve a common goal fueled my interest to keep learning and growing as a leader at the international level,” he said.

Arunasalam says as the International President he is looking forward to visiting several countries where there is immense potential for growth for Toastmasters. “I have had the experience of helping build a district from 11 clubs in India and Sri Lanka to what is now more than 750 clubs in four strong districts across the two nations. I will be most happy to meet with leaders in developing markets to share my insights with new districts on how their clubs can expand and flourish,” he said.

During his tenure as the International President Toastmasters’ innovative new learning experience `Pathways’ will roll out. “Our organisation is all about helping people fulfill their potential, and Pathways embodies that concept. It a dynamic program for members: You’ll have the opportunity to develop more skills that will help you succeed inside and outside of Toastmasters. Pathways will offer 300 different competencies which are priceless,” Arunasalam said.

“During my term, I look forward to ensuring a smooth transition of the Toastmasters International headquarters from California to Denver, Colorado, while at the same time preserving the quality of services delivered to our members. I would also like to see an increase in the depth of training provided to our district officers who deliver the Toastmasters program to clubs and members. It is also my desire to expand our network of clubs to countries that do not have Toastmasters presence yet,” he added.

Born and bred in Kandy, Arunasalam received his education from Trinity College and earned a Master’s Degree through the Australian Institute of Business Administration. As the Chairman/Managing Director of Gemtrans Engineering Company, he runs a 68-year-old organisation founded by his father in 1949. Deciding to diversify into industrial belt and power-transmission products in 1992 he started building the business from scratch.

“I am pleased that currently we are the market leader in our field. As the Chairman/Managing Director, I formulate the company policies and help build the strategic direction of the organization. I attribute my career success to the valuable Toastmasters training I have received. As a business owner, I am proud that we have not lost a single staff member in the last eight years. Toastmasters taught me how to build effective teams. I treat my employees as part of my own family,” he said.

In Arunasalam’s life, CEO doesn’t stand for the Chief Executive Officer but its being the Chief Education Officer, Chief Enabling Officer or the Chief Empowering Officer. “Today leaders are not interested in developing their people, they only extract labour. There is no personal growth for employees. Leadership is all about people whether it is profit worth or nonprofit worth. You have to travel the journey of leadership diligently one step at a time. You should assure your people that you are at their back,” Arunasalam pointed out.

“In my personal life, I have realized that the transformative power of Toastmasters is so strong that even if one family member is a Toastmaster, the entire family is positively impacted,”

In 1988, Arunasalam married Sarumathy Balraj and has two daughters Avisha who is a dentist while the youngest, Mahishaa, is an engineer-cum-lawyer.

Arunasalam advises all leaders to understand the people they need to lead and the organization they represent, along with their roles and responsibilities. “It is important that leaders undertake their responsibilities with a genuine spirit of service. Remain a student of leadership and commit to learning as a lifelong pursuit,” he said.

True leaders are able to say “do as I do” rather than “do as I say”, because they lead by example, thus this humble people-friendly leader calls other in the society follow suit to develop the nation and make it a better place.

The Arunasalam Balraj Profile

* DTM Arunasalam Balraj joined the Colombo Toastmasters Club in 1989 and held many positions in the Executive Committee.

* He was the President of the Colombo Toastmasters Club in 2002/2003.

* He then formed a Territorial Council of Sri Lanka and became its Chairman.

* He was the project chairman of Ovation 2006.

* He was elected Lt. District Governor Education and Training of District 82 P in 2007 and was elected as the District Governor of District 82 in 2008.

* He was elected as an International Director of Toastmasters International (TI) in 2011.

* He was elected as the 2nd Vice President of TI in 2014.

* He was elected as 1st Vice President of TI in 2015 and the President Elect of TI in 2016.

* At the Toastmasters International Convention in Vancouver, Canada, he was elected as the President of Toastmasters International in September 2017.


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