Looking back 10–20 years from now, there are things in life that are going to make you feel extremely happy, proud, and accomplished. Because you know the story and how much it means to you.
Well, I am about to take you through one such story. An amazing story where a bunch of individuals (probably the best team I’ve had the privilege of working with) got together and pulled off what is possibly the biggest Virtual Career Fair organized in Sri Lanka.
Let me start at the beginning…ARE YOU READY? is the Official Career Fair of the University of Moratuwa, an annual project which creates a platform for more than 1000 of the very best undergraduates of our University to meet and stand a chance of getting recruited by top-notch corporates in the country. Rotaract Club of University of Moratuwa has had the privilege to shoulder this mammoth task and drive it to success for the last 24 years.
Now coming back to my story, it’s a universally agreed-upon fact that 2020 has been a pretty trying year for the entire world. With COVID-19 taking the world by a storm, pretty much everything that we knew changed. One such thing that took a big hit (for the better or worse, I still don’t know) and got completely disrupted was the “Recruitment Space”. Of course, this holds quite an important place for any business since attracting the right talent is key for anyone. So it goes without saying that something such as Are You Ready? which is in the space of recruitment and talent identification, too had to be disrupted and innovated over the course of 2020. Although I speak very confidently about the subject right now, trust me 3–4 months back this was something that scared the pants off us.
If I take you 3–4 months back (Around August 2020 to be precise) we were at a time when we thought that the pandemic was over. Sri Lanka was recovering (we were one of the countries that responded best to the first wave of the pandemic) and everyone including myself thought life could go back to normal. So, we started having all those things that were normal to us. University was back and so were the exams. Parties, trips, fancy dates, and friend meetups were all back on the menu and life sailed smoothly once more.
Right around this time we as a club too started planning for Are You Ready? 2020. I, being the President of Rotaract Mora, didn’t have any doubts about the project. Cause the project was in safe hands in the form of our very talented duo, Manul and Sachin (who later on went on to become partners for life😋).
The project usually has some important and complex elements such as undergraduate and company coordination, partnerships, logistics, finance, IT, and many more minor elements that are essential for any project. The project usually requires a volunteer workforce of more than 150 individuals, purely down to the scale and the high volume of undergraduates and companies that are associated with it. Even without a pandemic, this is one project that has always brought out hidden talents as well as novel, one-of-a-kind stresses. So the project planning went on and the Manul-Sachin duo, backed by our super energetic RuR (short for Are You Ready?) crew were doing a fantastic job. So far, so good.
When things were looking bright and shiny on all fronts, the dreaded came to pass. Come the first two weeks of October, the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka skyrocketed into unbelievable numbers. Universities closed down quickly, and life suddenly went back to the times where you spent all your days at home under lockdown. And with it, Are You Ready? 2020, too went down the drains. Two of our long-standing partners of RuR were the first to speak to us and convey the idea that “RuR cannot happen physically”. The team, understandably so, was furious and disappointed about everything (mostly about the Pandemic for ruining all our plans since the beginning of the year). I had the difficult task of calling Manul and Sachin and breaking them the harsh truth: “Look boys, we can’t do RuR like this’. I’m sure those two must have scolded me after all those calls but they understood and coordinated without much retaliation.
After deciding on a physical Are You Ready? 2020 is off the books, nothing much happened for the first couple of days. We were honestly tired of working and dreaming too hard and having to flush down all our plans down the drains. But deep down inside, we knew the team had to pick themselves up. Cause “If we are not going to be bold enough to do this, then who else is going to”. For 24 years, the University of Moratuwa, the largest technical university in the Country trusted us to go beyond our ways and to organize RuR for the betterment of our very own sisters and brothers. We just simply couldn’t; say NO, just because COVID-19 was running havoc all around the country.
We knew it was going to be difficult but nevertheless took the first step in the form of a group named “RuR Crisis” figure-headed by none other than the mighty Snowball himself. Resilience was coming and it’s got buck teeth and a cottontail (Yes, that’s a Secret Life of Pets reference)
I remember how our first CRISIS meeting went on. We had a few people from the previous RuR Committees join the meeting and the brainstorming began; at the back of the head, we were confident that this discussion would help us find solutions. Much to our disappointment even after 3–4 hours of picking our brains, we still didn’t have any solid solutions coming through. Looking back, I now understand what fundamentally went wrong there.
We were so hell-bent on converting the physical version of the Career Fair with a virtual one. We looked at every element of the project and only analyzed it as parts that could be virtually converted. Adding to that, instead of breaking down the problem into finer parts, we also focused on the bigger picture way too much. So, the discussion went from being a solution-finding session to one which brought one question after another. While not having many positives to take away from the discussion we did got to know one thing for sure. It’s that the team knew exactly the job they had on their hands. We also got the reassurance of the confidence our team had to “Get the job done, no matter what”.
I remember speaking to 5 of our very best Past Presidents after the meeting. The wisest advice I received was not to try and convert the RuR we have seen over the last 24 years into a virtual project. Going virtual essentially gave us newer options, newer pathways that were yet to be unlocked. So, their advice was to reinvent RuR; make it a Career Fair that is conducted virtually but still produced the same set of values for those who require its service.
Just like that, with a few more words of wisdom from different stakeholders and “few” more hundreds of minutes of brainstorming, RuR ’20 started coming to life. I honestly don’t think I am qualified enough to let you know exactly how things unveiled. (I’m sure one of Manul, Sachin, Nimna, Ramith will gladly tell you that story over another blog). But what I do know is their courage and dedication to work this out and make the seemingly impossible happen was shown in trumps. There used to be a weekly work update Zoom discussion, one which I attended to with the entire RuR team. These calls started at around 9.30 at night and went on till 4.30 in the morning. Most times I was amused by the level of thinking the team had. The complex case studies they came up with and how the team solved every one of them so that the team of geniuses from AI team could put their hours of thinking and coding into building a platform that would be used by different sets of parties like undergraduates, companies and platform administrators.
You probably might be wondering what the AI team is. Well, it’s an upcoming tech startup in Sri Lanka which was co-founded by our very good friends Ramith Hettiarachchi and Pasindu Wijesena. Their team was the brains that co-created the RuR platform from scratch. A gem of a team that is definitely going to be a big name one day in the Sri Lankan tech field️.
Coming back to the story, it was indeed a pleasure to see the RuR team, work. I myself being a past chairperson of the project always have experienced the power of the RuR team. Back in the day, we used to have a small room on our own at University of Moratuwa. That’s where the entire team worked, brainstormed and made RuR a reality (Some ate and slept there as well ). It allowed the team to bond and allow the work to progress seamlessly and tirelessly. That gave us an opportunity to grow our fellowship like no other way. But what made this year’s team even more so special was they didn’t get any of the experiences we used to get. They didn’t get a chance to work together, have all three meals together, laugh their socks off at midnight round table discussions. All they got was to sit behind their computers and work their brains out.
At a time when everyone’s quick to judge that you can’t bring the best out of teams working virtually, this amazing team proved every one of us wrong. Yes, they worked so hard. But till 4.30 in the night, these guys enjoyed their time as well. Most of the time, everyone was trying to be match-makers to all the single boys in the team. At times the team ended up playing Among Us or some other online game. Whichever way it was, these guys found ways to engage and build their bond as a team. Joining in those calls every Saturday night took me back too. Took me back to the good old days when friendships and fellowship were thriving. What I thought to myself after each of those calls was that even if RuR ends up becoming a flop, the way how these guys were going about it was admirable. And for that, the team deserves all the respect they can receive.
By the 15th of December, everything was set up and we were prepared to handle extreme levels of stress and pressure for the next 3 days. We had a fully functioning platform, and more than 100 volunteers to coordinate the companies across the 3 days, well-trained and ready to go. The 3 days went in a flash. A main control panel team worked at one central location (I invited the team to my place and for 3 straight days that was our RuR HQ) while others connected virtually. Every one of our club members chipped in individually and played their part in accommodating over 1800 interviews for close to 990 undergraduates from the University of Moratuwa. Little did we know but by the end of Day 3, RuR ’20 concluded with grand success making it the largest virtual career fair that has happened in Sri Lanka. (Postmortem of the project also suggests that this may well be one of the biggest virtual projects that have taken place in the country).
While we at Rotaract Mora take humble pride in pulling this off, this was in fact something we wanted to tribute to our very own undergraduates from our University. We have so much respect for all that they have achieved, going through the traditional system of education in Sri Lanka and graduating as top graduates in the country. For their years of hard work and dedication, they are the ones who can transform this country and take us forward. They are our very own sisters and brothers and they simply deserve our efforts in making this career fair a reality. We may receive high praise and accolades from everyone, but what really matters to us is the simple yet genuine “Thank you mallila and nangila” that came from our very own final year undergraduates.
Now, when the dust has finally settled, we are super grateful for this edition of Are You Ready?. For it has helped us expand our boundaries and most of all taught us many lessons on our journey. Yes, the project by no means was perfect. There is a lot more to be improved and developed.
I’ve always been a fond believer of words like resilience and resolve. True, for a mildly experienced young undergraduate, I may have not known the true meaning of those words. But this was one time when I truly felt it. The resilience and the resolve my own team displayed to pull off RuR 2020 was inspiring to see. And if there’s one thing that this team of individuals teaches and promise me, it is that “THE VERY BEST OF ARE YOU READY? AND ROTARACT MORA IS YET TO COME”