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Uncovering the human element in ESG at Kelani Valley Plantations

The challenge of driving meaningful progress in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards hinges on people more than it does processes or policies. That is why organisations that can understand the human element in driving change tend to set the pace in their respective industries.

As a true pioneer among Sri Lanka’s Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) in Human Resources and Sustainability, Anuruddha Gamage, made this realisation early in his career. For more than two decades, he has helped redefine sustainability among one of the largest and most respected Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs). At the core of his approach: people.

A second upper class B.Sc. Agriculture (Hons.) graduate from the University of Peradeniya, Anuruddha joined Kelani Valley Plantations PLC (KVPL) as a Plantation Management Trainee in 1999. During the early stages of his career, Anuruddha developed an interest in Human Resources and Sustainability and the need to adopt best practices in the sector, given the unique dynamics of Sri Lanka’s RPCs during this period. 

Commencing his MBA specialising in HR Management at the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, he soon sought opportunities to incorporate academic learning into his work. Currently, he is reading for his PhD at the Postgraduate Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (PGIHS), University of Peradeniya and is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Professional Managers of Sri Lanka (FCPM).

Currently functioning as the General Secretary and an Executive Council Member of the Japan Sri Lanka Technical and Cultural Association (JASTECA) and the Chairman of the JASTECA Institute of Management, Anuruddha was also ranked among the 100 most influential HR professionals in 2018 from World HRD Congress. He is the winner of the “Most Talented HR Leaders” Award from Asia-Pacific HRM Congress Awards in 2017, where he was named a “Catalyst of Change” and “Most Outstanding HR Leadership in Plantation Industry” Award from the South Asian Business Excellence Awards in 2017.

Empowering change

The challenges faced by RPCs are unique. Environmental conditions have a significant impact on performance. At the same time, given its labour-intensive nature, social harmony is essential. The highest possible governance standards are also essential in translating strategy into impactful action on the ground and enhancing the confidence of all key stakeholders.

“When it comes to ESG, each area has to be carefully maintained relative to the others. A really simple way to think of sustainability is like a tricycle. Governance is the front wheel providing direction. Social and environmental factors are the rear wheels – to be equally balanced for momentum,” Anuruddha explained. 

“Within this framework, effective knowledge management is critical to create awareness and enhance support among key stakeholders. Without their support, you are just an individual attempting to drive an agenda and are unlikely to achieve sustained change.”

An unprecedented opportunity for transformation 

In 2013, his mentor and veteran planter – Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, took over as Managing Director of the Hayleys Plantation Sector, driven by a mission to transform the industry by revolutionising its approach to human resources management.

With the support of his team, guidance and backing from Dr. Rajadurai, one of Anuruddha’s priorities as General Manager – HR and Corporate Sustainability were to develop a comprehensive Strategic HR Plan for KVPL – among the first for Sri Lankan RPCs. After years of patience and persistence, the results of the initiatives he was a part of now speak for themselves.

These programmes have won prestigious global, regional and local acclaim and recognition, including most recently being presented with the ‘UNV50’ award in December 2021 by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) for their contribution to ‘promoting the value of volunteerism through citizen engagement, within the corporate sector in Sri Lanka.’

Creating a knowledge bank

An eternal student at heart, Anuruddha continues to expand his understanding of sustainability, driven through effective human resources and knowledge management.

A series of well-coordinated activities have been carried out as part of the knowledge management efforts. Seeking to motivate learning and knowledge management across all levels of the organisation and even to the public, Anuruddha commenced the “Evening with an Expert @ Hayleys Plantations” micro digital learning series – a programme that is now available online for the public. 

Reputed global and local experts, including leaders from Toyota, Japan, have addressed employees on various topics of vital relevance to their work and everyday lives, covering over 2500 effective training hours with the highest training yield ratio of 60%, more than the mean average of the last six years. The first 25 learning sessions are expected to be concluded by April 2022.

Anuruddha’s drive to deliver progress on SDGs 4 and 17 – quality education and partnership, respectively – has been fast-tracked with the ‘Hayleys Plantations Technical Skills Development (HPTDP)’ initiative. The first batch of field staff members graduated from the internal certificate programme, accounting for more than 4,500 effective learning hours and a 95% success rate. This led to Sri Lanka’s first-ever NVQ qualification and Skills Passport for field staff members in tea and rubber estates. 

Moreover, Anuruddha leveraged his close relationship with reputed local and international organisations such as AOTS Japan and JASTECA to execute the ‘Global Learning Series’ to provide plantations and corporate management professionals exposure in Japan. 

Multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve environmental SDGs 

Setting his sights on achieving environment-related SDGs in clean water and sanitation (goal 6), life on land (goal 15) and life below water (goal 14), Anuruddha partnered with key local and international partners such as the IUCN and the Ministry of Environment. 

The partnership has led to the development of a new framework on sustainability at KVPL and the launch of the ‘Kelani Valley Protectors’ initiative, which supports the protection of the Weoya catchment in the Kelani river basin under the national ‘Surakimu Ganga’ initiative. 

Looking ahead, Anuruddha aims to continue leveraging his vast experience in support of Hayleys Plantation Group’s trailblazing initiatives to set new benchmarks in sustainability and Human Resources Management. 

“As a Hayleys Lifecode Champion, my vision is to maximise value for those who depend on us through economic development or by improving the quality of life for our employees, community and society at large.  

“As a catalyst of change, it is truly inspirational to work with this passionate team to establish an inclusive working culture, integrate sustainability into strategy and build partnerships that can drive a bigger impact on-ground to make lives better.”



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