Subagini Sivapatham is the Director of Marketing & Communications at Futurpreneur Canada. She spends her days promoting stories of entrepreneurial innovations and success, connecting Canadian achievements, and sparking ideas with leading edge change makers across the country. Subagini is also passionate about empowering youth with an emphasis on young women to bring better balance in the workplace and at home. She serves on the Advisory Board for both the Women’s Economic Council and the Access Employment Entrepreneurship Program. Subagini says, her vision of leadership is constantly creating space for dialogue and a focus on inclusion and diversity in leadership, to expand possibilities through collective thinking.
Early Life – Growing up in South Africa & Canada
As is the case with many who left Sri Lanka during the Civil War, Sivapatham’s path to Canada has slight variations. With conflict and chaos an arm’s length away, the family of four found themselves posed against unique experiences and risks of their own in South Africa.
Growing up originally in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, close to Mvezo, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, Sivapatham says life was a balance of fun amongst a partly sheltered existence, due to the Apartheid.
As a child, the family moved often to accommodate her father’s teaching posts in local schools.
With worlds colliding outside her door, Sivapatham recalls a sense of being surrounded by diverse experiences that ranged from being taught by nuns at school (she attended a catholic school) to coming home and having travelling tribes take shelter and water in the shades of their house, to learning to speak Tamil with her parents to better understand her birth roots in the evenings.
With a declining economy in South Africa, the move to Canada was a significant shift of scenery. Technology, temperature, environment and culture were all changing again and Subagini felt another moment of adjustment. She reflects on Canada in 1989 and mentions it was still working on its multicultural identity and the hurdles of racism that she faced. “It was like moving from a country where the majority was people of colour to a place where you are isolated for your colour.” Subagini told us.
And so Subagini still finds (like many Tamil Canadians) that, though her geographically dispersed childhood provides a unique perspective and outlook, it comes with the challenge of answering one question, “I struggle when answering where I’m from. – Well, I’m Canadian, but born in Sri Lanka and raised in South Africa. I guess my identity is what people relate to in that moment.”
Early Life – Teenage dreams
Growing up in a traditional Tamil household, Sivapatham says poetry was a useful outlet, drawing inspiration from the likes of Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, Leo Tolstoy – something she describes as contradictory (given the vastly different writing styles and approaches taken by these authors on similar subject matters) but authentically her. Having said that, Jane Eyre is still most likely, her favorite novel of all time.
“I was such an idealist but still very naïve. I always wanted to write, I’m a poet at heart. I used to write a lot of poetry growing up.”
This love for the Liberal Arts was often downplayed by Subagini’s parents as they wanted her to focus on what they perceived to be the most lucrative fields for their daughter. “My dad and I fought a lot about this but, eventually as my voice and dream got stronger, he became okay with it and today is one of my biggest advocates to pick up writing again.”
Career Starts – Discovering Non-Profit & Communications
Gaining exposure to community development and engagement that spawned an internalized feeling of wanting to do more for her peers, Sivapatham fondly recalls one of her first jobs with The Canadian Red Cross Society in Hamilton, ON. Maintaining this position, while attending McMaster University, she learned the fundamental instincts that undoubtedly led her to her work at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, diving head first into Marketing and Communications. Sivapatham says she credits great leadership at the organization with helping her gain a deep understanding of the industry while delivering multiple successful campaigns.
When Life Pivots – Rock bottom
They say things often happen in threes. For Sivapatham it was a chain of events that would force her to re-evaluate her next steps.
Newly divorced, laid off and recovering from a debilitating car accident, 2011 will go down as one of the hardest years on record. It was during this time that Sivapatham says she felt like she had hit rock bottom. It was in her natural character to be resilient to whatever came across her path; however, this level of intensity took a lot of deep reflection. It was during those moments that she discovered where she needed to focus her energy. She needed to look inward, find the strength to rebuild and create a space for herself. This will be the foundation she will stand on to help navigate the next chapter of her journey.
The journey started again in 2012 when she joined Futurpreneur Canada, then called the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. She credits the personal and professional experiences she has had with preparing her for this more leadership-oriented role. “I moved away from a very naïve, selfish feeling of what I want, to stepping out of my space and tapping into what it meant to show up as a leader and channel that on a daily basis. It came naturally to me to be able to create space for others and to empower them to be their best.”
Subagini shares her thoughts on how aspiring professionals should tackle their dreams.
“The more you deny yourself of what instinctively and naturally fulfills you, the more lost you become. Passion comes first. The moment you deviate from that, no matter what you are tackling, every challenge and failure will feel dire and impossible to recover from. When you live with passion and when you lead with passion, you will find the source to regroup, reinvent and redirect your journey so that it remains meaningful to you. Stay consistent and persistent and most of all, reflective. Where you feel risk, navigate around it accordingly, and, understand that there is no harm in having something in your back pocket for security – a back-up plan. This is just another route to consider to help you reach your goals. The paths may be different, but the journey is still the same, it is still yours. When I see people, day in and day out, fueling their passion, being authentic and turning their dreams into realities–that’s what gets me out of bed and going every morning. Lead and live with passion. It also doesn’t hurt to have some key mentors in your life as well. People you aspire to be or learn from. “
When asked about pursuing an unconventional career and facing barriers, here’s what Subagini had to say.
‘Education is critical. We assume everyone understands everything that is happening the same way we do. The state of work is shifting so we need to take the responsibility to educate and inform our support system to get their buy-in and confidence. Our parents’ lived experiences are quite different from what we are seeing in today’s job market. They had their own struggles and their journey, most of which came out of necessity. Our generation is well positioned to understand how privileged we are in relation to our parents. We’ve seen their struggles and we should acknowledge them but, also realize we play a totally different game – our possibilities are completely different.’