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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
When Kumudu Gunasekera (Pardee’00) was growing up in Sri Lanka, development around his homeland was exemplified by dirt roads and mud huts. It’s different now.
“Even as little as ten years after my childhood, things were starting to change. The roads got bigger, the huts are now small shops,” said Gunasekera. “The first wave of development was unplanned and organic, which has caused environment and social issues for the country.”
Addressing those issues has become Gunasekera’s life’s work. After a successful career as an economist, the alumnus of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University has become a force for sustainable development in Asia as the Director of Stax Inc., a global strategy consulting firm.
What did you study?
“I arrived in the U. S. for my undergraduate degree, and obtained my Masters at the Pardee School in environmental policy,” Gunasekera said. “I originally focused on economics. My interest in international relations was sparked by an internship with the World Bank.”
Gunasekera then obtained a PhD in Geography from Boston University before becoming an economist specializing in infrastructure development for the global firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. One of his proudest accomplishments there was working on the financing model for the expansion of the Panama Canal, a globally significant project which will change international shipping when it opens in 2016.
Tell us about your career path?
It was at Parsons Brinckerhoff that he further refined his philosophy of sustainable development that he had begun formulating at the Pardee School.
“Economics and environmentalism have many relationships, particularly in development as it’s promoted in the developing world. We must have the resources to sustain growth and don’t want to make the same mistakes as the developed world,” Gunasekera said. “You can’t use the same yardstick for all societies.”
Armed with this insight, Gunasekera moved to Stax Inc., which at the time was a firm strongly focused on development in the United States.
“I received permission when joining Stax to develop a practice in Asia, which operates out of Sri Lanka and Singapore. I wanted to go back because there will be so much growth in Asia over the next 10-15 years, with lots of innovation and other interesting stuff happening,” Gunasekera said. “The opportunity to develop this practice has been wonderful. We hope to expand even further, eventually promoting sustainable development in Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand.”
Your advice to aspirants?
Gunasekera said that his advice for current Pardee School students was to take advantage of as many opportunities for travel as possible.
“The world is a small place,” Gunasekera said. “In international relations, we theorize a lot about different countries and their problems while sitting behind desks. It’s important to visit these places so you’re not just theorizing, via work or internships. You only learn a culture by living in it.”
Gunasekera lives with his wife and two children in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was the founding editor (2006-2013) of the Economic Forecasting Review and a monthly columnist (2007-2013) of Roads & Bridges. Additionally, he has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals and industry magazines; has presented at conferences, workshops, focus groups, and stakeholder meetings in Canada, Pakistan, Panama, Scotland, Sri Lanka, and the United States; and has instructed numerous undergraduate, graduate, and professional courses.