Ms. Natascha Sennema, a Dutch community development volunteer who headed a group of Dutch volunteers, initiated PALM Foundation in 1985. The organization obtained the first formal registration as an NGO in Sri Lanka in 1989. As most of the isolated communities commonly suffered due to the inadequacy of basic commodities, Ms. Sennema’s primary work focused on satisfying their basic needs.
At the inception level, activities such as the construction of houses, dispensaries and schools, health and education were implemented for which funding support was received from individual donors from the Netherlands. Simultaneously, a small partner NGO was formed, called: Stitching PALM in the Netherlands, who supported with funding for nearly ten years.
In the early part of the nineties, the organization began to realize that long-term sustainability could only be achieved if more emphasis was put on strengthening local capacities both in the organization as well as among the target groups.
A turn towards streamlining the aim of Palm Foundation happened with the enrolment of a Technical Coordinator and a Social Mobilization Coordinator. Initially Mr Saman Wijebandara was deployed as the Technical Coordinator in 1991 to coordinate and assist in the design and construction of the water supply schemes. Basically, this employment became the corner stone for rapid development in the years to come. An evaluation in 1992 clearly proved that health, sanitation and the supply of pure drinking water was going hand in hand and the health promoters soon became mobilizers who looked into the total livelihood needs of the target groups, demanding more programs which could sustain them in many ways. The vision and input of the mobilizers, who were derived from the target groups, added to a new and effective holistic approach for the organization, in which one development aspect could not be seen in isolation, but in a total context of well-being and an uplifted living standard of the target partners.
During 1994, Mr. Sunil Dombepola joined PALM Foundation as a Senior team member. As the Social Mobilization Coordinator he guided the group formation activities which evolved as an added mechanism to unite and strengthen the people’s decision-making as well as for the purpose of creating small loan schemes by collective saving towards a more sustainable development process. This subsequently led to a systematic social mobilization process being the entry point to the development model of the organization.
Organic agricultural programs commenced initially in the Walapane villages in 1993/94. In 1995, the organization developed its first long term plan for five years and completed the implementation successfully. This initiated long-term cooperation with external development partners such as Novib of Netherlands, Helvetas of Switzerland, and Norad of Norway. This five year plan was a major milestone for PALM Foundation in terms of its institutional development which has grown up as a systematic and leading development organization today.
At the organization level a major change happened in year 2000 as the founder member and the first Team Leader of PALM Foundation, Ms. Natascha Sennema, withdrew from her post and subsequently, the Deputy Team Leader, Mr. Saman Wijebandara succeeded to her post.
In 2005, PALM Foundation took a policy decision to engage in supporting reconstruction activities for people who were affected due to the tsunami devastation which occurred in 2004 and PALM’s services were expanded to the Eastern province with the partnership of Mercy Corps USA. As these interventions were successful and the development approaches of PALM were aptly relevant to the northern and eastern provinces, the organization took a decision to continue development activities in the eastern province further. Subsequently PALM Foundation decided to establish an appropriate programme implementation unit which was given more autonomy later on, enabling it to function as an independent sister organization. At present, this operates as PALM Foundation Development Service Guaranteed Ltd (palmsrilanka.com). Similarly, the infrastructure development services unit of PALM Foundation was restructured as a self-supported social business enterprise providing engineering services for community infrastructure activities to like-minded organizations which is called PALM Infrastructure Engineering Development Service Ltd”.