Volunteer Spotlight: Nihal Goonewardene, F73
Longtime volunteer Nihal Goonewardene, F73, spent his formative years in Sri Lanka, where he always dreamed of going overseas. After high school, when most ambitious youth took the traditional route of pursuing foreign degrees at British universities, Nihal set his sights on the United States. Fortuitously, his five-year reign as Sri Lanka’s National Judo Champion led to an invitation to train in Japan, where a chance meeting with a visitor from Detroit led to a job as judo coach—and a scholarship to study—at Michigan’s Oakland University.
As graduation approached, Nihal told his professors that he wanted to pursue an international career as a diplomat, a businessman, or a policy maker. They told him that the best school for his chosen calling was The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He set his heart on going there; was accepted; and ultimately earned master of arts and master of arts in law and diplomacy degrees. Nihal enthusiastically recalls, “The level of academic rigor, fascinating backgrounds, and experiences of the multinational student body, and the dynamite faculty, all combined to create a tremendously enriching environment.” Afterward, Fletcher sent him to the Philippines for two years, where he managed a World Bank-funded agriculture project on the school’s behalf and travelled extensively, finding that Fletcher’s outstanding reputation opened doors for him everywhere he went. Reflecting on Fletcher’s impact on his career, Nihal reports that, “These rich experiences were fabulous preparation for later running my own company, providing consulting services to developing countries in the fields of economic and social development.” He retired as president and chief executive officer of the International Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) in 2012, after 34 years with the organization.
Nihal has been an active Fletcher volunteer for many years, as a reunion committee chair; member of Fletcher’s Development Committee; Class Fund agent; and two-term chair of Fletcher’s annual fund. He has been on Fletcher’s Board of Advisors since 2007 and volunteers for the Brighter World campaign as Annual Giving chair of Fletcher’s campaign committee and as a member of the University Annual Giving Leadership Council.
“I’ve worked on annual giving for a long time,” Nihal remarks, “and my class of 1973 has had the largest number of leadership donors [$1,000+] since 2012.” He sends letters at the end of each fiscal year, describing his three-part strategy as: 1) updating Fletcher alumni on the state of the school; 2) providing a fundraising overview and a list of donors, with leadership donors’ names highlighted; and 3) making a “pitch for money.” Financial aid is a popular giving priority; but Nihal reminds people that, “to run a successful school, you also need to put money into other things like faculty support and sending students to conferences.” His communications always provide information about how funds are deployed, vital facts that inspire more people to make gifts.
Nihal is particularly proud of the Fletcher Alumni of Color Association’s Internship Support program, which is about to observe its 10-year anniversary. He helped design, champion, and run this program from its earliest days. Every November, he begins fundraising for the next round of summer internships, for which any student of color may apply. Since the program’s inception, it has supported 147 interns in more than 20 countries.
Nihal reports that, since retiring, he and his wife Chrystal enjoy travelling approximately four months out of the year. But when he’s at home, a favorite pastime is thinking about ways of inspiring alumni and friends to give steadily, and consistently recruiting a student each year to enroll in the two-year master of international business (MIB) degree program at Fletcher. He sums up his thoughts by declaring, “The urge to reciprocate is bedrock when you consider that my first year at Fletcher was made possible by full tuition support from two families of my judo students from Illinois and California, followed the second year by turbo-charged assistance from both Fletcher and Tufts to round out my student years. So, giving back to Fletcher—and the university overall—is a labor of love.”