Nalaka Gunawardene is a science writer, journalist and development communication specialist with over 25 years of professional experience in Sri Lanka and across Asia. He has made a career out of asking questions, connecting dots and helping audiences make sense of complex technical and policy issues.
Nalaka holds journalism and mass media qualifications from the University of Colombo and the Open University of Sri Lanka. He initially worked as a journalist with English language newspapers and magazines, and also freelanced on local radio and TV. At various times, he has been a news reporter, feature writer, columnist, science editor, foreign correspondent, and radio/TV programme host.
After winning three national awards for outstanding science journalism, Nalaka moved to the development sector where he worked as a communication specialist with agencies like UNEP, UNDP, UN-ESCAP and IUCN, the World Conservation Union. From 2002 to 2010, he headed TVE Asia Pacific, a regional non-profit entity that was engaged in communicating sustainable development issues through audio-visual media and the web.
Working with the media, civil society groups, research institutes and inter-governmental organisations has given Nalaka many insights on the role of science and technology in development, public communication of science, challenges of sustainable development, and the emergence of information society.
Now working as a freelance communications consultant, Nalaka continues to explore these issues. He blogs on media, popular culture and development at http://nalakagunawardene.com, and is a columnist or regular contributor to several mainstream media outlets and citizen journalism initiatives in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.
Having been an English language journalist all his career, Nalaka took up a new challenge in 2011 when he started writing a weekly Sinhala language column on science, development and media issues for Ravaya independent Sunday newspaper in Sri Lanka. Now in its sixth year, the column is highly regarded for its informed opinions and critiques on a broad range of socio-political, cultural and technological topics. The column won Nalaka a literary award in 2013 as Columnist of the Year.
In early 2015, Nalaka became involved in a multistakeholder process for media sector reforms in Sri Lanka. He was chief editor of Rebuilding Public Trust – An assessment of the media industry and profession in Sri Lanka, released in May 2016. From February to September 2016, Nalaka served as a member and secretary of the (voluntary) Right to Information (RTI) Advisory Task Force at the Ministry of Mass Media. He remains a critical cheerleader of Sri Lanka’s new RTI Law adopted in mid-2016.
Part of Nalaka’s time is devoted to non-profit entity governance and capacity building. Nalaka serves on the Board of Management of Panos South Asia, a regional non-profit committed to nurturing public interest journalism. From 2005 to 2015, he served as a trustee (and later Vice Chair) of the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net) anchored in London, UK, which is now the world’s leading source of authoritative news, views and analysis about science and technology for global development. He was a founder trustee (2011-13) of the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust that promotes a culture of innovation in Sri Lanka. He is a member of the International Advisory Council of the Arthur C Clarke Foundation in the United States.
Nalaka has travelled widely on work, visiting over 50 countries. He is a regular speaker, presenter or moderator at international conferences on topics related to: the public understanding of science and technology; science journalism; chronicling information society; social and political dimensions of social media; and communicating research to policymakers and public. He serves on regional or global selection panels for various media awards, and on juries of international film festivals.