Getting comfortable outside my comfort zone

Who are the people behind Accenture? What drives Marissa Jaggan and inspires her on a daily basis? How has Mark Ruiter's life, career, ambitions and dreams developed over the years? What difficult choices has Javier Leonor made in his life? Through a series of portraits, we answer these questions and introduce you to our people: those who make Accenture the thriving company that it is.

Introducing Navo Wickramanayake, Tech Consulting Analyst at Accenture

The desire to explore new places and enjoy different experiences is what inspired Sri Lankan-born Navo Wickramanayake to head first to Japan, and then on to Tilburg, where she currently lives. ‘Pushing myself to explore who I am by stepping outside of what’s familiar has been a very interesting process and has helped me form my identity outside of a collective mentality. I have come to be very comfortable outside of my comfort zone.’

‘The first bold decision I made was to move to Japan to study for four years when I was 19. My mom played a big part in motivating me to make the move. As a young girl, she had lived in Japan herself, and she was excited about the prospect of me living there for a while so we could “share” this experience. So while most of my friends took the more common route and headed to the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia to study, I boarded a plane to Japan. At first I was intimidated by the Japanese culture, but after a while I became accustomed to it. I realized how valuable it is to immerse yourself in a culture that’s so different from your own and see both sides of the coin. I definitely did a lot of growing up in Japan.’ 

Terrific Tilburg

‘When I came to the end of my four years in Japan, I just wasn’t ready to go home to Sri Lanka. I had done a fair amount of traveling through Europe and I loved it, so it made sense to pursue my master’s there. I had never even heard of Tilburg, nor had I ever been to the Netherlands when I found out that Tilburg University offered the exact master’s program I wanted to do. So Tilburg it was. I clearly remember the man at immigration saying to me, “So you’ve never been to the Netherlands before, and now you’re going to live in Tilburg?” His confused look said it all. Despite others’ initial reservations, I fell in love with Tilburg. As I come from Colombo, a very busy metropolis, I appreciate that Tilburg isn’t nearly as fast-paced. Amsterdam is a bit too chaotic for me. Daniel, my boyfriend, is originally from Sweden, so naturally, he’s constantly on the hunt for a forest. The fact that Tilburg is home to De Oude Warande – a beautiful forest close to the university – is fantastic; we often go there for a walk, to relax or to have coffee.’ 

‘As much as I love it here, I have to admit that if it wasn’t for my job at Accenture, I don’t think I’d still be living in the Netherlands. Initially Daniel and I had intended to move to Sweden after completing our studies, but life had different plans for me. Landing a job at Accenture had long been a big dream of mine, so when I was offered the chance to work here, Daniel kindly agreed to stay, too. It was a big sacrifice for him and I’m lucky to have a partner who is so supportive of my aspirations. We just moved into our first apartment together, and Daniel is currently doing his master’s here. We don’t know what the future has in store for us, but for now we’re very happy in Tilburg.’ 

A great place to work

‘Why was working at Accenture the dream? Well, when I was applying to study in the Netherlands, I researched companies I might want to work for afterward and came across Accenture. I was immediately hooked. Accenture’s very friendly and open work culture greatly appealed to me. It seemed like a dynamic workplace with a lot of opportunities and a solid framework to continue to develop your skills. Considering my background in communications and artificial intelligence, the company seemed like a great personal fit, too – I liked the idea of communicating with clients and end-users about how technology solutions can improve the way they work. After conversations with several Accenture employees, who all confirmed that it is indeed a great place to work, I was convinced it was the company for me.’ 

‘It’s unexpected, I suppose because I always found consultancy work slightly intimidating. In my mind, consultants were very “dry” people who were primarily focused on profit. It also appeared to be very difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance as a consultant. I never aspired to work in a big corporate organization either. But the truth is, Accenture offers the perfect balance: it feels like a startup backed by a billion-dollar company. In addition, the company really focuses on employees’ holistic growth as individuals. Being a non-EU-citizen does complicate my working situation somewhat because I have to be sponsored by an employer who can “afford” the process. Not only did Accenture facilitate my employment, but also offered me a permanent contract. The bottom line is, Accenture is the reason I can live here, and I am extremely grateful for that. Having this security means so much.’ 

"I was convinced Accenture was the company for me."

The Better Tomorrow Movement

‘I think a lot of what I bring to the table at Accenture is influenced by the experience I've gained at The Better Tomorrow Movement (TBTM), a social enterprise I co-founded in 2016 while living in Japan. I was going through a tough time after losing my dad and wanted to channel my energy into something meaningful. Helping others was one of the things my dad deemed very important – he was involved in lots of initiatives aimed at helping children get access to education. During that difficult time in my life, I was given the opportunity to go to Switzerland to take part in a training program centered on how to start your own social enterprise. This is where I met my business partner Courtney, and together, we pitched the TBTM concept to the organization facilitating the training. They offered us funding, and so it all began. Four years down the line, TBTM is active in 50 countries, and so far we’ve trained over 390 young people from communities all over the world to start and scale social projects. By enabling youth to tackle social issues and challenges in their communities, we contribute to a ripple effect. It makes me very proud to just think about what we have achieved.’

A true accomplishment

‘My dad wasn’t well for a long time before he passed away, which happened soon after I moved to Japan. Although I had a lovely childhood, I can’t deny that living with somebody who is terminally ill is quite emotionally taxing. At times this was very difficult for my mom and me. However, I have learnt a lot from her incredible resilience and courage. Despite the many obstacles we faced, I was able to persevere and not let the fear of failure stop me from taking on a challenge. As I’m a creative person, pursuing a Master’s in Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence was incredibly challenging – none of it came naturally to me. However, successfully completing this program was one of my most rewarding personal accomplishments. I must also say that winning the Queen’s Young Leaders runner-up award for my work with TBTM, and receiving a scholarship to study leadership at the University of Cambridge was also a surreal and incredible highlight in my life.’ 

What I do

I use artificial intelligence, intelligent analytics tooling, and automation to help teams transform and improve the way they work.

A day in my life

I’m faced with new and exciting challenges almost every day. As someone who’s just starting out in her career, I also have the opportunity to work in a very flat organization structure which has helped me build up my confidence in both myself and the work I produce. I also get a lot of freedom from my manager to take ownership of the work I do and sometimes get thrown right into the deep end. While this can be challenging, it’s also incredibly rewarding. 

"I'm very passionate about motivating young women - especially girls and women from Sri Lanka - to move into the field of technology."

One of the most impactful days at the office for me was last year when I was asked to help facilitate a design-thinking event for a group of young girls from Africa and South Asia as part of a Plan International Initiative. The workshop focused on encouraging more girls to join the tech field and imagining their future working in it. After the event was over, one of the girls from Nepal came up to me and said that she thought it was wonderful to see someone that looked like her working in this space. I always knew representation in this field is important, but that was the first time I realized just how much. If we don’t have a broad spectrum of people designing the tech solutions, we use every day there will be inherent biases in how they are ideated, created, and scaled. I think, as someone who is now in this field, it is my responsibility to try my best to create more opportunities for women and girls around the world to enter this space too.  

Advice to future and fellow colleagues

Be bold and be brave. At Accenture, you can always find something that you love doing, so don’t settle until you find it. If you don’t, try to create your own opportunities, there is so much room for innovation and personal growth here.  

Navo Wickramanayake (1993)

Studied: MSc Cognitive Science & Artificial Intelligence, Tilburg University (2019) 

Started working at Accenture: May 2019

Relationship status: Living with boyfriend Daniel 

Loves: Spending time with people who matter to me

Gets annoyed by: Clutter – it drives me crazy 

Favorite food: You can’t beat Sri Lankan cuisine 

On my nightstand: Moisturizer and a bottle of water

Listens to: Pretty much anything on Spotify Discover (depending on my mood)

Last purchase: Pizza

Would like to sit next to in the plane: Melinda Gates. I really admire the work she has done for women, all around the world – it is absolutely incredible 

Life-changing event: My move to Japan and changing my study track from business communications to Cognitive Science and AI – both these things really changed the direction my life has taken

The best lesson life has taught me: Always surround yourself with people who can teach you something new

What I learned recently: I’m constantly learning – I can’t pinpoint one thing in particular

Most beautiful place on earth: Sri Lanka, obviously. That said, The Swedish countryside is beautiful. I also think Iceland looks magical in the winter.

Hobbies/passions: Exploring new places and cultures or working on TBTM

What nobody knows about me: People are often surprised to find out that I am bilingual. All of my education has been in English, and it is also the language I am most comfortable speaking. But I am fluent in Sinhalese and I can also speak a little bit of Japanese. 

Life motto: ‘Good things will always find me’ 

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