Hema Goonatilake earned a Ph.D. from SOAS, London, and has served as a gender expert at the United Nations in New York. She was recognized by the Cambodian government for her work as a senior advisor in Buddhist Studies. She founded Red Lotus, an organization that provides humanitarian assistance, and is a past president of the Royal Asiatic Society, Sri Lanka. She co-founded Voice of Women, an organization that campaigns for the rights of women, and the Centre for Women's Research. She has served as the president of the Sri Lanka Social Sciences Association for the Advancement of Science and as national president of the World University Service, Geneva.