Sonali Ratnasinghe — Founder, Tar Heel, Goodmon Fellow.

Leadership Triangle
5 min readFeb 6, 2023

Sonali is the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Ambassadors of Service (YAS) and a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. She’s also a non-profit board member, speaker and connector for youth wanting to make a difference. In this conversation, Sonali shares with us how Transforming Leaders (Fall 2022) impacted her as a person, professional and student. Sonali Ratnasinghe is a 2022 Leadership Triangle Goodmon Fellow.

“I remember seeing all these unfamiliar faces, maybe one I recognized within my cohort when we first started, but by the end, I knew everybody’s name. I knew where everybody worked. I knew what everyone’s passions were and different things about their identity. And that was super exciting. These are people that I know I can come to when I need support. And during our graduation conversation, it was something we all talked about and how we all grew together.”

Owen Jordan: For you personally, what was the primary impact of the Transforming Leaders Program?

Sonali Ratnasinghe: I see it as a program that helped me develop what I want out of myself but also out of the organization that I founded. I joined the Leadership Triangle’s Transforming Leaders Program in the first place because I wanted to create good infrastructure within our organization, leadership-wise. And if I didn’t have the right skillsets to put that in place, how could I expect that from other leaders and students? So, that was a pretty big deal to me. And I feel like that was something I did get out of the program. After every single class, I would make sure to take one or two things I learned and try them out for our organization. And it worked. For the most part, I was able to take things such as being able to delegate better, teach others how to be their own leaders, and do more within our programs that could benefit others. And that was all because of Leadership Triangle. So that was super exciting, and I hope that by taking this program at 18 years old, I’d be able to take the skills I have and use them for a lot longer than I would if I did this program later in life. So, instead of honing my skillsets and leadership skills that I already had, just creating strong ones from the start is essential for me.

Sonali with team member at mini-library

Owen Jordan: How did the program impact you as a student?

Sonali Ratnasinghe: It was the little things. Leadership Triangle did give me a lot of time to grow with a cohort. So public speaking, even with a team, ended up becoming much less uncomfortable with time. And now that I’m in college, I can better advocate for myself: going to office hours, asking teachers and professors questions, understanding that they’re people too, and seeing their perspective from a teacher’s lens and what they want from us. It’s also helped me have difficult conversations with teammates when they’re not pulling their load and keeping them accountable but not putting them on the spot where they have to get defensive. It’s just about being intentional about all I do.

Polarity management was likely the biggest takeaway for me. I knew polarity management was a challenge for me. For example, work-life balance and who I become when I don’t have that balance, but then who I become if I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum as well, where I have no focus on school or work or my professional life. And so really navigating those dimensions has been super supportive by this program. It’s allowed me to be very thoughtful about who I want to be and who I want to represent Youth Ambassadors of Service (YAS) as.

Sonali and team members holding a check with Maggie Kane (Goodmon Fellow — Transforming Leaders ‘18)

Owen Jordan: Did you make any meaningful connections during or after the program?

Sonali Ratnasinghe: I think with the entire cohort, honestly. How Leadership Triangle’s Transforming Leaders program is structured really allows you to get to know everybody. I don’t think there was a single person I hadn’t talked to or I didn’t get to know better by the end of the program. I remember seeing all these unfamiliar faces, maybe one I recognized within my cohort when we first started, but by the end, I knew everybody’s name. I knew where everybody worked. I knew what everyone’s passions were and different things about their identity. And that was super exciting. These are people that I know I can come to when I need support. And during our graduation conversation, it was something we all talked about and how we all grew together. We took the start on our journey together and we’ll still be able to take that network that and connect those connections that we’ve built with us into the future, whether it’s just having conversations about mental health partnerships in the nonprofit world or so many other different things.

Sonali with students.

Owen Jordan: How can people best support you in your work with Youth Ambassadors of Service (YAS)?

Sonali Ratnasinghe: I think there are so many ways I’m thinking of joining us in our different endeavors. First, if you know of any high schoolers in the Wake County area looking to get involved in service for more than just volunteer hours, they can join us by signing up as a member. And as for adults, my ask is to follow us on social media, sign up for our newsletter, come out to events, and support our students where they can or where you can, whether that’s fundraising or donating to their initiatives — going out to the different things they’re hosting and supporting them to realize that there are adults in the community that back youth empowerment and youth-led projects is helpful. Because, at the end of the day, Youth Ambassadors of Service (YAS) is a student-led nonprofit — run by students currently. So we hope that we can keep that going. We can keep students engaged with the nonprofit sector, create opportunities for career development, do more and provide them the resources they need to make it happen.

If you want to support Sonali and her endeavors, connect with her and Youth Ambassadors of Service.

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Leadership Triangle

Leadership Triangle builds leadership capacity and promotes regionalism across the separate communities of the Triangle (Chatham, Durham, Orange, Wake County).