Sherine Bandara is the Client Services Manager for Mitra Innovation based in Martlesham in the UK. Her hard work, tenacity and flair for sales has taken her from technical Project Management in Sri Lanka to a senior client facing role in the UK. It’s not only her can-do attitude but also her strong communication and collaboration skills, her astute problem solving and a genuine warmth that makes her so popular with clients. We catch up with Sherine and ask about her life, her time at Mitra and why nurdles are so important to her.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
Born in Kandy, in the very heart of Sri Lanka, Sherine spent much of her childhood on the move due to her father’s work as a tea planter and farm manager. Although many would find changing homes so often disruptive and difficult, Sherine saw it as an opportunity to explore and make friends all over the country. As she says, “I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world”.
What subjects did you find interesting at school and was there a favourite subject or teacher?
For anyone who knows Sherine, it will come as no surprise that she describes herself as “a bit of a naughty student” especially in the latter years of her education. In school, Sherine loved languages, literature and logic, following that through with her A levels. With encouragement from her father, Sherine chose to take a more technical route at university. Sherine studied Technology at the Sri Lankan Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT). Her qualifications and interest in technology would eventually lead her to a job with Mitra Innovation.
What kind of work do you do at Mitra, and how has it changed?
By 2019 Sherine was working at Mitra as a Project Manager in the technical department in Sri Lanka. “We worked extremely hard, with long hours, but there was great team support and I really enjoyed the challenge. Bivendra in particular helped me to gain confidence and experience on several high profile projects.” Through her passion and hard work Sherine was offered the opportunity to leave Sri Lanka for the first time for a new challenge in the United Kingdom. The move offered Sherine the opportunity to develop and improve her skills with a new role in Client Services. “I was good at selling – who knew?” Sherine has had huge success in her client services role working with clients such as Philips, IE, Brunswick Group, Buzz Bingo, Infix, TAG, and Travis Perkins. Sherine credits the move to the UK for a great improvement in her people and language skills and says she has enjoyed exploring her new environment.
Who said work can’t be fun? Sherine second from right
Tell us about one of your favourite projects?
Infix is described by Sherine as one of her favourite clients to work with due to a great reciprocal relationship where ideas are generated both ways and shared with ease. The Scottish health-tech start-up wanted to change the management of patient waiting lists and improve the use of operating theatre capacity. Sherine worked closely with founder and clinician Dr Matthew Freer, a consultant anaesthetist. Sherine says “Waiting lists have never been great in the NHS, but the Pandemic has made everything worse and improving the efficiency of operating theatre use made such sense.” The highly sensitive and challenging nature of the project demanded a partner with strong experience in healthcare, who could deliver enterprise-class scalability and the security required around patient data. Matthew Freer says of the project, “Mitra have helped us develop a prototype software product into a robust digital tool being used securely and effectively in the NHS. Their professionalism, creativity and skills are of the highest quality and have helped us grow and develop our business.” Sherine says, “There is a trial based proof of concept being undertaken right now, the results of which will determine whether the application can make the operating department more efficient, and improve patient outcomes.”
The project has been a resounding success due in no small part to Sherine’s expert management of the client relationship.
What do you enjoy most about working at Mitra?
“Without doubt, the people! Mitra has attracted an amazing array of talented individuals with disparate skill sets and experience.” Sherine also cites cultural diversity as one of the most interesting aspects of working at Mitra. “The flat organisational structure means you have direct working relationships with the Founders and Senior Leadership meaning you learn so much more about the ethos and direction of the business directly from those who are in the driving seat.”
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect you?
As we know in 2020, the world went into lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the planet. The separation from friends and family during the lockdowns was difficult for everyone but especially for Sherine, recently arrived in the UK and far from home. Sherine was effectively stuck in the UK, unable to return home to her family and friends in Sri Lanka. It could have been worse, but Derek Bell and his wife Jayne added Sherine to their quarantine bubble offering real contact with familiar faces and taking her mind off her family on the other side of the world. Once travel was possible again, finding a way to get home with very limited space on infrequent flights was extremely difficult. Although almost everyone would have a negative view of the pandemic, surprisingly Sherine shone a light on the positives saying that the pandemic had given life new meaning and new purpose. “Before the pandemic we would just work to live, but now we have had an imposed pause and time to examine our purpose and think about what’s important.”
Tell us about Nurdles?
In mid June 2021, the MV X-Press Pearl, a cargo ship laden with chemicals, ran into trouble off the Western Province. The ship blazed for days, leaving in its wake an environmental disaster that will affect Sri Lanka for years to come. The ship lost many of its containers to the sea, including highly toxic chemicals and billions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles, which are killing marine life and devastating the beaches along the island. Tons of plastic nurdles have already washed up on local beaches, along with dead fish, dolphins and sea turtles. Like many Sherine was moved to do what she could to help. She says “Like many other disasters and crises Sri Lanka has faced, volunteers, non profit organisations, and communities have come together to clean, donate, and look after people and places that are affected. This time our beautiful oceans are screaming for our help, our fishing communities are starving and our helpless marine life needs to be saved.” Sherine, and her friend Tiara, became part of the planning group at The Pearl Protectors, a youth-led marine conservation organisation and as such, took the call for help to the leadership team at Mitra. Mitra have responded by becoming major sponsors of clean up equipment, and Mitra staff have volunteered to help cleanse the beaches of the nurdle blight. “The response from Mitra Leadership and staff was fantastic, and goes back to what I was saying about the amazing people that work for this organisation!”
Teamwork – Sherine, left of the group
Is there anyone at Mitra you’d particularly like to thank and why?
Sherine would like to thank everyone at Mitra for their continued support and the opportunities she has been given. Specifically, thanks go to Bivendra who was Sherine’s first manager and gave her difficult and complex tasks which always tested her abilities and helped her develop her skills quickly. Thanks also go to Derek, Ashok and Dammika for the opportunities that they have given Sherine from her first job in Sri Lanka to being able to travel the world and grow her knowledge and experience.