Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga traveled to India February 7-9th to participate in the 6th Annual International Women’s Conference in Bangalore. The conference brought together delegates from over 60 countries to discuss the theme “Harmony: Evolution towards Perfection”. The platform provided women from diverse perspectives the opportunity to come together to share their different approaches to confronting today's challenges and searching for harmony on both the individual and societal level.
At a session titled “Making a Global Connection” the former Sri Lankan President spoke on her idea of what constitutes a good leader stating “true leaders are those who make better humans of others: giving them vision of a better world, inspiring them to greater heights. True leaders possess the gift to inspire others to subdue and control the animal within others and lift out the good and humane in them. Such leaders have the ability to give a nation the strength to reach unconquered heights”.
The former President continued by remarking on the two aspects most threatening to good leaders—those aspects that pose great temptations to those who hold office.
“First, the greed for power, second the greed for wealth and money. The two are inter-connected...when a leader forgets why he holds power, that the power bestowed on him is held in trust on behalf of those who gave it to him..then begins corruption. Thus all norms of democracy, freedom and democratic governance are destroyed. The soul of a nation is thus destroyed. the ethics, the spirituality, the caring for others is replaced by self interest. The poor can continue to be poor, the underprivileged must tolerate their suffering, What solutions can we employ to resolve this”.
Chandrika then shared briefly with the audience her personal experience as the leader of Sri Lanka, the challenges she confronted and her steadfast effort to not be seduced by power or corruption.
“As a leader like most leaders, especially in our part of the world, in a poor country, and in addition a country which was at a terrible civil war, the challenges were immense. Perhaps first I never forgot that power was a sacred thing I held, in trust for the people who put me there. That I had no divine right to hold that power in any other way, if not for the people’s wish. I knew that I had no right to help myself to state assets or demand commissions for government tenders. Therefore I remember I came in screaming against corruption and we did quite a lot of things for that, within the first few months we brought in laws, we amended the constitution, we brought in regulation, practices , procedures, tender procedures were streamlined and published and all tenders had to be done accordingly. Institutions were built for procurement of governments and of course laws to punish the corrupt and at no point did I influence the judges or the people in the bribery and corruption commissions and such like institutions to change their decisions as I wished. Once they were appointed, I never ever spoke to them”
Finally, the former President reflected on a quality leaders should aim to possess, but one which she like many others often grapples with—being magnanimous.
“The leader has to be magnanimous. Whether I will be able to do that in this life, I do not know. But I did try whenever it was possible. I had to handle a vicious war. I was not the only one. There were many other leaders before me and after me who had to handle it. But at every point I did not forget that those who were waging the war , the important minority community in our country were very different from the civilians who belonged to that community. I never mixed up the terrorist fighters with the Tamil civilians. It was difficult but I didn't”
The next International Women's Conference (IWC) will be held from February 5-7th, 2016 in Bangalore, India and will continue to promote a global network of women leaders, action-oriented leadership, the mobilization of women as leaders, as well as arts and culture.