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Story of DAANA
(First appeared in DAANA "Digital Pencil" magazine, Issue 1, 2009)
By Sarith Mahanama

This is how it all happened. On September 8, 2008, I was surprised to get an email from a parallel classmate who happened to move into DC area. He has found my email address through a Google search. We exchanged several emails that day. During that dialogue I was joking that if we started a Rajans OBA one of us might have to hold more than one office, as I knew very few Rajans in USA. Yet, this conversation gave me the initial impetus.

I set up a simple website using Google blogging tools and launched an email drive on the 21st of October, 2008. Initial invitations were sent to about 4 or 5 Rajans that I knew. They took the message to their friends and so on and the group grew steadily. I had collected about 50 email addresses within a period of 2 months. I thought to myself, people are joining, I need to do something. I thought the best thing is forming a formal OBU.

However, we, old Rajans have been living in North America for several decades peacefully and happily without a formal OBU. Hence I thought we should emphasize that DAANA shall never be a burden to members.

I closely observed East Coast Thomians OBU, DC Trinitians and Mahamaya OGA from their websites. Then I started drafting a constitution for the association. I proposed to keep things simple and offer free membership, by running the association with a minimal or virtually zero cost. The proposed model is that DAANA will be a virtual group linking all the Rajans in the con-tinent of North America. Since an OBU without social gatherings among members is meaningless, DAANA encourages members to form local chapters, and DAANA remains as the umbrella organization linking everyone.

Exactly 2 months after starting the email drive, on the 22nd of December, I emailed the draft constitution to the members and called for nominations to elect a 7-member Board of Directors. Ten candidates were no-minated. The election was scheduled on 3-5 January, 2009. Membership continued to grow and had 62 members on the election day. Geeth Uyanwatte was the election commissioner and took over the job at mid night on the 2nd of January. 44 members casted their votes, an impressive turnout of 72% of the registered members. Nishantha Bandara assisted with counting of votes and verifying results. Thushara Diyabalanage, Kamal Dorabawila, Sajith Ellepola, Dimuthu Jayawickrama, Ashoka Polpitiya, Sarith Mahanama and Sanka Tennakoon were elected to the first BoD.

I had already conducted a survey to choose the name and the member’s choice was "Dharmaraja Alumni Association of North America (DAANA)". What I merely gave to the newly elected BoD was 60+ email addresses and a draft constitution. The BoD quickly reviewed and adapted the constitution. We identified that, 1) expanding the network, 2) registration and related formalities, and 3) building solidarity and invoking Rajanness among members, as the 3 main tasks to build the association.

The BoD’s statement provides a narrative of DAANA activities during the past year (see "Digital pencil", 2009 issue). I don’t want to repeat DAANA accomplishments in this article. Looking back, we have built the association as strongly as we could imagine within a period of one year. We have a network of 128 members and counting (as of March, 2011, we have 169 members), have completed both state and IRS formalities, built 3 thriving chapters, raised Rajan spirit across the continent, established a good working relationship with the school, maintain an effective communication links with all other DRCK OBUs and groups around the world, secured 5 sponsorships, and run an informative website (free blogsite, though). So the infrastructure is ready; processes are in place for the future; and the ship was solidly and steadily built. These achievements are remarkable given the short period. DAANA members are the strength of the association, many of them are doing well in their careers in many different fields (Medicine, Engineering, Academia, Advanced Tech-nology and Sciences etc.), many have post graduate education; they are essentially a huge resource.

We freely admit that our projects and initiatives in the past year brought modest results. DAANA opened the store with the potential to generate more than $3000 to support DAANA projects; we did not get the antic-ipated results. The book drive also could not garner the expected support. Nishantha Bandara repeatedly attempted to build a DAANA chapter in Michigan area and that turned out to be futile. Given that members live in all corners of the continent, email is the only and main broadcasting mode to address the entire membership.

Honestly, we are not sure how much we succeeded in communication with members in the past year. It is just the first year, anyways. DAANA desperately needs your feedback for whatever the initiative DAANA may take. Please feel free to send an email to us to express your thoughts on what we are doing.

In the past year, we failed to form active/working committees to increase member participation. That is an area that future BoDs can look at. There is the po-tential to create few more chapters across the conti-nent, particularly in California, New York, Michigan and Ohio. DAANA is looking forward to organize seminars by visiting members at the school. We are hopeful that we will soon get the IRS determination regarding the tax-exempt status under 501(c)(3). As an IRS registered charity, DAANA will be qualified to apply for educational grants from major foundations in the US like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, MacArthur Foundation - I am the first to admit that I don't know what I am talking about, though. That is an area worth looking at, however.

DAANA was built on fundamentals of democratic norms. We have even put a clause in the constitution that no one can serve in the BoD for two consecutive years. We have seen organizations run by the same bunch of people for years, as if there is no one else can do better than them. Do people like it? DAANA is the association of the Rajans, by the Rajans, for the Rajans - so it is all OURS!
DAANA
is a voluntarily led organization incorporated in the State of Maryland since February 2009 and has Tax Exempt Status in the US as defined by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

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