Elite Athlete, Coach, Future Chiropractor & Entrepreneur Abirami Shanmugaratnam Is Making Waves In The Athletic Performance Industry

Abirami Shanmugaratnam is an elite athlete who plays sports like badminton, rugby, cross-country, ice-hockey, netball, soccer, track & field and flag football and is currently a Chiropractic student. She is also a personal trainer & coach, starting a business called Skyhigh Performance which she started as a result from being turned from opportunities for being “too overqualified” or “not having enough experience”. She is looking to expand her influence through her role as a educator/mentor especially to Tamil youth in athletics so they won’t be faced with as many barriers to performance as she was.

You were and still are quite the athlete (sports including badminton, rugby, cross-country, ice-hockey, netball, soccer, track & field and flag football) – what was your favourite sport to participate in and why?

My favourite sport to participate in currently is flag football recreationally.  This is a sport where I am able to excel and push my sprinting capabilities, along with my soccer footwork, my hand eye coordination nurtured through football along with the combined technical elements of rugby (although I do miss the feeling of tackling and contact sport). Flag football is a great sport to transition into post varsity which really requires the athletic capacity of an all around athlete. 

Why are you so passionate about strength training as a personal trainer, especially as a female?  Common misconception around strength training specifically for women, is that they should minimize this and focus on cardio – how do you address this?

As a Tamil women of colour growing up with little to no guidance in sports, I faced a lot of challenges along the way, for example a lack of resources. I only was formally introduced to weight lifting and Olympic lifting in university where I was already behind in comparison to other athletes who were provided opportunities and resources to build their strength windows. Being a student to the game and weight room helped me build my repertoire and knowledge.  As a result I started to see how this elevated my performance on the track and in sport. 

A very common misconception around strength training for women is the idea of “getting too big” or “looking too masculine”, and rather focus on just cardio which is a very negative mindset. As a sprinter, I use my experience to educate my clients, friends and family that this is an ideology that limits us from true holistic health. I feel from former client experiences, the fear of the unknown and societal standards along with main stream fitness culture, that strength training gets a bad reputation as “weight loss” is the standard that is sold. However, this has been changing over the last couple years as women in sport is gaining momentum and as more women start to tap in performance over aesthetics or “weight loss” goals. 

You’re currently a personal trainer, coach and chiropractic student.  How do you view all these things fitting together or will you be focusing on just one of these moving forward?

I take pride in all of these roles and as I progressed in my professional career, I started to see all of these roles becoming interconnected as I searched for answers in my journey on how I could better serve my clients and community at large. I’d like to think each role as a thinking hat I would put on which not only offers a unique perspective when problem solving, but also in having a range of tools which helps me to be a more critical thinker whether that is in the health & wellness or fitness industry. 

Have you ever felt like you got treated differently as a female as a trainer or coach, especially when you work with athletes?  If so, how did you address those situations?

There have been several instances where the colour of my skin and gender identity played a role especially in a male dominated industry. However, I strongly stand by the idea that knowledge is not gender-based nor does it discriminate, which is why I have been able to excel in this field and given opportunities to work with professional athletes and network with world-renown coaches. Some of the first athletes I worked with were male varsity athletes, who respected the very technical skillset I brought to the field as a coach and they saw this through my ability to analyze, and coach them to improved performances. Having the capacity to showcase/demonstrate exercises and drills were definitely an asset, but more importantly listening to and understanding my athletes played a huge role to being accepted by athletes. I have been fortunate enough to work with respectful and hardworking athletes early on in my career from a personal training and coaching perspective. 

What do your family think about the work you do as a coach and personal trainer?  (as being a chiro is more of a known/acceptable career choice in Tamil households)

I can safely say my family is proud of the work I do as a coach and personal trainer with all the people and community I serve whereas early on this was questionable because it was a foreign career path. They have come to realize that coaching and personal training can be a career as I can overhear my parents proudly tell their coworkers, family and friends “my daughter is a coach who works with professional athletes”. It is very true that being a chiropractor comes with the prestigious ‘doctor’ title which definitely is an added bonus; however, they have come to understand the work I do as a trainer and coach is just as important.

How do you find the learning process (being a chiropractor student) during the COVID-19 pandemic?

There are definitely benefits to online learning such as saving money and time from the commute to school, watching lectures at 2x speed which gives me some free time to squeeze in a mid-day workout + run and being able to enjoy fresh homemade curry & rice in between classes! However, as technologically forward virtual schooling may be, taking 14 courses at once online which is over 40 hours of school and all of life being online from school to work with virtual coaching has made all this screen time along with sitting major stressors. However, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to attend practical classes in person where I am able to build the practical skills to help me excel as a chiropractor as well as safely connect with my peers and mentors for support. 

What has the impact of social media been on your work?

I officially branded my small business Skyhigh Performance in 2016 to share my knowledge for health and strength education with the larger community after being turned down from opportunities for being “too overqualified” or “not having enough experience”.  I was told this early on in my career which left me feeling like there was no space for someone that looked like me in the industry. It was probably one of the best decisions I had made from lack of opportunity, failure, and passion, as I felt I needed to take up space in a male dominated industry. Since then, I have been able to network and connect with a larger target audience from beginners to elite athletes. Through my content and drive for learning, I have been able to connect with professional athletes and coaches who engage with my content which has led me to opportunities. Social media allows me to now connect with, inspire and be inspired by other women like me who continue to take up space in this industry and I do believe it is here to stay. 

What is a failure you’ve experienced in the last 3-5 years that you’ve learned the most from?

I would say that being selective of the environments you choose to place yourself in has a huge impact on your focus and direction. Coming out of varsity athletics, I was in a search of finding a recreational space where I would fit in, but it was a challenge as I started to see how sporting spaces became a social grounds for social exclusion and status. I am highly critical of sporting environments having negative experiences as a youth athlete early on in my community. Fortunately, I learned to find my voice in a system that is not designed fairly and learned to advocate for others as a leader whereas I once took on a more passive approach. In my Tamil community, we often revere sports leaders as the one who has the loudest voice and can argue the loudest (have the most influential status aka who you know to be able to maneuver the system).  However, certain experiences have taught me that being true to yourself, not following the crowd and most importantly having the desire to help someone feel included especially in developmental sporting spaces is leadership. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Toronto’s OG Food Writer Suresh Doss Is Using His Reach And Voice To Help Engineer A Comeback For Beleaguered Restaurant Industry

Suresh Doss is a household name and an OG in terms of the food scene in Toronto. He’s about to launch a food section for a national newspaper, has a segment called “CBC Food Guide” in CBC Radio’s Metro Morning and he has helped pioneer the street food movement in Ontario for close to 20 years. 

You worked in the IT industry for 16 years before you started really focusing on your food passion.  How did you make that transition from working full-time for someone else to working full-time on monetizing your passion for food?

I had an interest in food at a young age because of the influence my mother and grandmother had on me. They were very well respected cooks (non-professional) in the community, and babysitting almost always was in the kitchen or adjacent to it.  As a result, I had a lot of food memories and cooking was engrained in me at an early age.  This naturally evolved when we moved to Canada and being exposed to many different cultures, most for the very first time. My early career in IT allowed me the privilege to travel, which incubated this idea to learn more about food and document it. I would find myself travelling alone, without a smart phone, but with a camera and an appetite. Eventually though the appetite won over, while my IT career was very rewarding, I wasn’t happy.  Consequently, I started a website to document my eating and I was in a unique position to be able to have the tech skillset to do everything myself, from coding to design to running a site. After a few years of moonlighting as a food writer, I decided to leave IT altogether to focus on this new passion of mine. 

You now work for the government again (indirectly) as a Content Editor at LCBO.  What attracted you to this opportunity?

My mother first introduced me to the magazine about 20 years ago. I think we were in the LCBO to buy wine for a family and I noticed that my mom was browsing through it. Years later after I started writing about food, I started to regularly pick up the magazine as a source of inspiration. Food and Drink has a large and incredibly diverse following, I felt that it would be a challenge as a writer to contribute to a print publication that has the ability to shape cooking culture in a province. 

I remember first hearing about you as the guy who pioneered the street food movement in Ontario, launching the “Food Truck Eats” movement to support this.  Tell us what prompted you to do this and the impact of your work.

10 years ago, I was cementing a reputation as a food writer that didn’t always focus on the “new and shiny” aspects of dining culture. I would tell stories about neighbourhoods outside of the downtown core, and small food places that barely got any attention. Shortly after the recession, there was a rift in the food scene,  and there was a moment in time where it seemded like anything was possible outside of white table cloth dining. Chefs and cooks were ditching fine dining establishments and opening small restaurants with low overhead while still offering interesting/progressive menus. A byproduct of this movement was the food truck. Even less overhead depending on how you look at it, and the ability to take your concept or brand on the road. We’ve had food trucks in Toronto for decades before, but the food was pedestrian at best. What I saw 10 years ago was a breed of food trucks with talented chefs in the kitchen. The rules with menus and plating were different, there seemed to be more freedom in the way chefs expressed themselves. That was exciting at first. But also simply, I think its fair to say that all great food cities have great street food. I wanted Toronto to play in that league. So I got involved as a festival planner, a lobbyist and organizer.

How did the opportunity to have your own segment called “CBC Food Guide” on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning come about?

Matt Galloway, the former host of Metro Morning, was always a fan of my work. He would always comment on my work (on Twitter), and we shared a few meals together. His producers reached out to me and we started a conversation about what a weekly segment would look like.

Even though being a content creator is considered more “cool” now, back when you started this wasn’t the case.  How did friends & family view your decision to focus on food and content creating when you first started?

They weren’t supportive at first because being a writer, especially a food writer, as this was a very foreign concept. Maybe its more fair to say that they didn’t understand it. There were a rough few years at first, and then when my parents saw my face in a mainstream paper, it all changed as my work was externally validated. 

I believe in the power of networking (authentically) and I imagine in the space you are in, the opportunities you come across are more about “who you know”.  Was this the case and if so, how do you approach networking?

It took me many years to get to where I am today because of the barriers that were in place in media and lack of diversity. I didn’t know enough about the industry to know that I needed to network so I just did my own thing. However, I would not be where I am today professionally, if it weren’t for the people that vouched for my ability and my voice. Still, I’m not really a person that networks unless I have a specific project that I know fits a specific platform. I let my work speak on my behalf. I’m sure this can be seen as a weakness but it works for me. 

COVID-19 obviously negatively hammered the hospitality industry including restaurants which had to pivot very quickly to take-out only and using delivery platforms (which many may have detested before).  How did it impact you since your career revolved around restaurants which includes the ability to dine in and take in the experience/ambiance of restaurants?  How have you adapted?

Aside from not being able to dine in restaurants or be in the kitchen to photograph/video, my work was not affected much. I found that I worked harder. I have a platform, privilege and power, so I tried to amplify whatever I could to help an industry that I dearly love. I know what my platforms can do to positively affect restaurants, so I have just tried to exercise that muscle whenever possible. 

Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?

Leaving food writing and spending more time creating and producing visual work. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Former President Of The University of Alberta, Indira Samarasekera, Co-Authors Book “Nerve” To Help More Women Answer The Call To Lead

Indira Samarasekera is a Tamil Sri Lankan who was the president of the University of Alberta, and is currently on the board of directors for Magna International, TC Energy and Stelco. She has also served as a director of the Bank of Nova Scotia and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. She recently co-authored a book called “Nerve” which highlights what you and your co-author (Martha Piper) had in common was your gender, your willingness to take risks when leadership opportunities presented themselves, and a work ethic second to none. It was not always easy, pretty, or fair, but it was always the result of choosing to answer the call to lead. A call that in the authors’ view, too many women still turn away from.

Tell us about yourself including your family + upbringing, and how that helped shape your career path.

I was born in Colombo,Sri Lanka in 1952 to Tamil Christian parents, Dr. A.C. And Mrs Balasundari Arulpragasam. My Father was an ENT Surgeon, and practiced in Galle, Jaffna, Kandy and Colombo becoming the Chief ENT Surgeon at Colombo General Hospital. I have three siblings: a sister Dr. Ayesha Muthuveloe who now lives in the UK, Mr. Amal Arulpragasam who lives in Malaysia and a brother Mr. Rohan Arulpragasam who lives in Abbotsford, BC.

My family went to England in 1955, when I was 3-years-old, so my father could complete his specialist training. Britain had a profound influence on me, since I learned English, and attended school there. I have vivid memories of my time in the UK as a child enjoying the history and beauty of London, its culture and monuments. We returned to Sri Lanka and settled in Galle, but had to leave because of the 1958 race riots.

We moved to Jaffna and I attended Chundukuli briefly before going to Vembadi Girls School (which was next door to my home in Jaffna) and have very happy memories. I was immersed in Tamil culture and learned the language while appreciating all the Hindu festivals & fabulous Jaffna cuisine. My parents owned a coconut plantation in Pallai and I have wonderful recollections of holidays on the plantation. 

My maternal grandmother, Lolita Paul, who married Dr. Gunaratnam Cooke, was daughter of the first Sri Lankan British trained surgeon, Dr. S.C. Paul and his wife Dora Paul (Aserappa). They had ten children and my grandmother being one of them. So I grew up in a large extended family in Colombo, who were successful professionals, and leaders in their fields. We were raised in a “village” of elders as my grandmother’s siblings all lived next to each other in Ward Place and Kynsey Road. The benefits of having such a strong family culture, support in good times and bad, shaped my views of the importance of family and community. My paternal grandparents, Dr. and Mrs Arulpragasam, were from Jaffna and spoke Tamil fluently. My father’s family, the Arulpragasam’s, also excelled in their chosen fields, so high achievement was expected from both sides of my family.

I moved to Colombo in 1964 and attended Ladies College, graduating in 1968. It was a marvelous school, with very high standards and I participated in debating, athletics and was a school prefect. I had wonderful teachers, and Mrs. Gnanalingham, my mathematics teacher encouraged my ambition to pursue an engineering degree as did my parents. I finished a four-year engineering degree at University of Ceylon (Peradeniya campus). After my engineering degree, I worked at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, got married to Harindra Samarasekera, and went to the University of California,  Davis, on a Hayes Fulbright Scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Engineering.

My career choice was shaped by having an outstanding education in science and mathematics in Jaffna and Colombo at outstanding schools, and having access to a first class engineering program in Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time). 

Tell us about the transition from Sri Lanka to Canada.

My transition from Sri Lanka to Canada, via the US was relatively easy. Being fluent in English, and raised a Christian, it was easy to fit in culturally. I went to graduate school to do a Ph.D at UBC soon after I arrived with my husband and we lived on the UBC campus which made my integration relative seamless. We made many friends of every nationality which helped us enjoy Canadian society. Having children has been a wonderful way to integrate into Canadian society as their best friends’ parents have become my close friends. 

Why did you decide to write “Nerve”?  Why did you choose Martha Piper as your co-author?  What end result are you hoping for by putting the content of “Nerve” out into the world?

Martha Piper and I are close friends having worked together from 2000-2004, while she was President of UBC and I was the Vice-President Research. After we both retired, she from UBC (1997-2006; 2015-2016) and I from being President of University of Alberta (2005-2015) we would meet often and exchange stories on our experiences as female leaders. We were being frequently asked for advice by women, on leadership, not only in academia but on non-profits and the corporate world since we had sat on large market cap company boards. We thought our experiences and the lessons learned may be of value to the next generation of women leaders so we decided to write the book. We think it takes Nerve for women to succeed as leaders and hence the title. 

Choosing a career in academia takes some serious commitment, especially with respect to time spent in school.  What made you choose this path?

I have a curious mind and also liked intellectual freedom. It appeared to me that an academic career, where one had the opportunity to think, make new discoveries, develop new ideas and teach the next generation would be most suited to my personality and interests. I never thought of it as a lengthy commitment, since I finished my Masters and Ph.D in 4.5 years. During that time I also had two children which was easier as a student. However an academic career involves serious commitment, if one aims to to become successful at research and teaching, obtain tenure and supervise graduate students. One spends long hours to achieve international excellence in one’s field. Publishing articles in peer reviewed journals, teaching undergraduates, supervising graduate students, consulting for industry, participating in professional activities all require a high level of dedication, but with it comes satisfaction and fulfillment. 

How did you make that transition from research into more of a leadership role?  It seemed like a lot of your role revolved around fundraising – how did you learn this skill?

Making the transition from research to a leadership role is not as difficult or as different as it may appear. In research, you have to come up with ideas to advance the field, find money to fund your research from external sources (universities do not provide researchers funding for their research) in a competitive landscape, recruit and oversee graduate students and technicians and deliver results. In a leadership role, you are also envisaging the future, gathering and building on the ideas of others, motivating people, finding resources and delivering on goals. As the president of a university, it’s your job to help develop a vision for the institution that improves the experience for students, provide the support so faculty can do cutting edge research, get buy in from stakeholders, find resources from governments and private donors. In a sense its a larger landscape but it calls on your skills of influence and persuasion. 

How do you see the future of education playing out, especially Post-COVID?

There are some deep trends that are reshaping the world post-Covid and education has to respond to these trends. They are the growth of disruptive technologies which include Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, climate change and a low-carbon economy, the rise of Asia (China in particular), a rising threat to democracies in the face of increasing authoritarianism, the need for greater diversity, inclusion and equity (in the work place) to name the major shifts. The Future of Work is changing, as a result of the internet where workers can work from anywhere, and are being valued for outcomes and not hours. Furthermore post-Covid has placed higher value on front-line workers whose work cannot be outsourced, whether its in health care, and delivery of essential services. Thus education, primary and post-secondary must shift both content and delivery to prepare citizens to find fulfilling work and make contributions to society in the light of rapid change. Some of the changes will include the appropriate use of technology in the class-room with some on-line teaching, utilizing face-to-face experiences to foster critical thinking and creativity, enhanced experiential learning, ensuring students are equipped with the skills that machines will not have, empathy, judgment, problem solving, greater imagination and ability to manage technology and information. Finally to be life-long learners. 

How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?  Did you have any doubters?

I have been very fortunate to have grown up in a supportive and loving family, and had the benefit of friends, mentors and sponsors along the way. My parents and extended family were truly extraordinary in nurturing me and my siblings to help us become caring, and conscientious adults with strong values. In the book “Nerve” co- authored by Martha Piper and myself, we detail how are early experiences in life, and in fact throughout our careers, key individuals have made an enormous difference to our journey as leaders. 

What advice would you give 16-year Indira looking back?

In the book “Nerve”, co-authorized by Martha Piper and I, we have identified “Lessons Learned” after every chapter. These lessons comprise advice I wish I had been given at age 16! Overall I would have said to the 16-year old version of myself, “Dream more, Fear Less, and have the Nerve to take on challenges you could never have imagined”.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Sibi Selvanathan Published an Amazon Top 5 Epic Fantasy Book in 18 Months During the Pandemic, Fulfilling a Childhood Bucket List Item

Sibi Selvanathan has worked in various technical roles across industries including banking and tech.  During the pandemic with some newfound time and passion, he decided to get a bucket list item completed and 18 months from when he started, he is now a published author that has a book that is a Top 5 book in the Epic Fantasy category on Amazon!  Additionally, he is a fitness enthusiast who enjoys being active doing things like soccer & hiking. 

Congrats on the launch of your first book “The Demon’s Return”!  What made you decide to write a book?  Why is it a fantasy-based story?

I’ve been reading and writing since I was a kid. I could go through several Goosebumps books in a week and then some. All these stories stuck with me and I started creating my own in my head. Some of them I wrote down and others I just spoke aloud to anyone that wanted to listen. As the stories began to get more complicated and the ideas started evolving, the dream of walking through Chapters and having my own book on the shelves started to grow too. Eventually having a novel out with my name as the author topped my bucket list. It had to be a fantasy story because that meant the world could be anything that I wanted it to be.

Adding all the Tamil elements (Kumari Kandam, Ilemuria, the five different landscapes, Mullai, Marutam, Kurinji, Pallai and Neytal) just gave the story that personal and cultural touch that I wanted. I added the Tamil character names and locations so that readers could identify with each of the main characters of the story. 

Tell us a bit about your upbringing and how that potentially played a part in your decision to write this book?

I was an active kid, could not sit still even for a few minutes. I always had to be doing something, whether it was reading, playing soccer or any sport really. It helped me strive to always finish what I started. I walked to the local library a lot and borrowed whatever I thought I could finish. Even going to Chapters seemed like a great thing to do. It’s crazy how every time I would meet up with some friends at Yorkdale mall that I would get there early and the first place I would go is Chapters.  I would go find a book and read it until everyone arrived. Being surrounded by the words of different authors growing up I knew that I had to add my own story to the archives.

How long did it take you to write this book?  What was the most challenging part about the journey?

I was super busy before the COVID pandemic hit. I was on a soccer field or at the gym 5-6 times a week. When the schools were shut down, my coaching program was as well. I remember finishing work one day and just thinking what do I do for the next 6 hours. I started reading again, but I wanted something more. I knew I would never get this time again and I started my research on getting a book published. A week later I had all the information I needed and I started. Eighteen months later my book was hitting Top 5 in Epic Fantasy on the Amazon charts.

The hardest part was getting started. I tried to write the perfect book from the first word. It wasn’t until I read online tips where I realized that nobody was ever going to read my first draft. They would only see my final version. The first draft was me telling my story to myself so it could be as boring as possible. When I took away that pressure, the words began to flow and I had a rough first draft finished quickly. After many edits, the second draft followed. Then the third and the fourth. The fifth I sent to a professional editor and the sixth is what is being sold online. 

How does writing fit with your full-time job in the tech world?

It keeps my mind creative. If I need a break from coding or being in meetings, I could use 15 minutes to brainstorm and write down ideas. I’m an early riser and I like to use this time to be productive. It helps set the tone for the day. I get in an hour in the morning before starting work and it eventually became a habit. 

Can you tell us about 1 major win and 1 major loss you’ve experienced in the last 3-5 years?

The major win was of course getting this book published. I know very few people that can boast the same thing and it feels great to be part of such an elusive group.

I quit a great job to take a risk at a startup company a couple years ago. I thought it was my chance to work for a San Francisco based tech company, get my shares, have the company be sold for millions and I could retire into writing. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect and the company did not last long. Six months later 75% of the employees were let go. Luckily enough, I was able to find another job rather easily that I was able to start a month later. I was getting married at the time too so it was good to be fully committed to the wedding and reception without having to worry about work. 

What advice would you give to someone out there considering writing a book?

Do not worry about the first draft and how it sounds. No one is going to read it. They are only going to be looking at the finished product. Keep your discipline and power throughout the process.

What role has your family played in the choices that you’ve made in your life so far?

I always make my decisions based on what’s best for not just me, but my family as well. It helps that we all look out for one another. My wife has been super encouraging throughout this entire ordeal. 

Do you feel like social media is a necessary “evil” in the line of work that you do?  Has it been useful as a networking tool or generating opportunities for you?

I do indeed. I barely used social media before I started promoting my book but now I check it much more often. My siblings have been helping with the Instagram page and I’ve been getting a lot of traction on LinkedIn and Facebook. LinkedIn was surprising in that I had so much support. 

What do you do outside of work for fun?

I like to play sports (especially soccer), hanging out with my friends of course and anything active, such as hiking and working out. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Ballet And Kung Fu Trained Australian Actress & Writer Rubi Balasingam Is Promoting Tamil Voices In Aussie TV & Film

Rubi Balasingam is an Australian-Tamil actress and writer. She chats with TC about her journey to date and where she’s headed next!

Tell us about your upbringing and how that sparked your love of film.

Honestly, I thank my parents for my love for film. They introduced me to Tamil language films and music at an early age and encouraged my love for Tamil films as a connection to the language and the culture. It’s why I can speak the language fluently!  My parents also unknowingly enrolled me at a primary school known for emphasizing the arts and that meant they had to come and see my school musicals each year, even though they had no idea what was going on. 

What was the process like finding an agent to signal that leap from acting as a passion to more of a viable career opportunity?

It was such a long process! I started off knowing agents existed when I was doing study abroad in London and my drama teacher let me know that I should find an agent.  A lot of research later, I went back home to Australia, got some head shots done, did a terrible short film, and used these materials to email just about every agent I could google in Australia. 

After many rejections and many would-be scammers trying to make e pay for their services (never pay for your agent!), I ended up at a low-end modelling agency that had an acting division. With this agent, I got like an audition every three months, which was okay for me as I was still in uni. After six months, I sent out some more emails and worked my way up to another agent, a little bit higher up. Then, after another six months I got an even better agent, it was with these agents I managed to book my first paid short film, and got auditions for my first guest roles in TV. After a year with these agents, and with new head shots, a better demo-reel and more credits to my name, I got my current agent, who is at the level of getting me even higher-level productions, and we work great as a team. The difference from the first agency to the current agency? The first agents knew this was a side hustle for me, my current agent is trying to make it a career. This means establishing relationships with casting directors, keeping up best practice and turning down roles that don’t pay well or are done by questionable people. 

Acting is a tough business where everyone is a 10-year “overnight success” because you have to typically really spend time in it to give yourself a chance to get opportunities.  Are you able to focus on acting full-time?  If so, how do you fill in the “income” gaps to make it work?

I wish more big name actors would speak openly about their journeys and why they were easy. When you discover how many Hollywood and Bollywood actors are where they are because of nepotism or economic status, it’s no wonder they got big in two years! This is not how it goes for the daughter of immigrants, you either need a role that just so happens to fit you perfectly, or you have to work hard! 

In my case, pre-COVID I was heading to a place where acting and screenwriting were almost able to be my full-time job. But now, with COVID kicking the industry’s butt, there’s no way that is viable. Nowadays I lean on my degree (thanks mum and dad for making me go to uni!) and work part time from home as a content writer. It sucks to not be able to do what you love full-time, but I acknowledge I’m in a pretty good place, all things considered! 

Living in Australia, do you find it tougher to pursue your acting/writing dreams?  Any consideration to potentially move to a city that is considered a major hub for film/acting (ie. New York, LA, London, etc.)?

Many people have said this before me, but the Australian industry is very limiting. We’re about a decade behind Hollywood and so, there are not many roles for South Asians going around. However, the financial leap (during the COVID pandemic no less) to move overseas can be crippling to actors. You only hear the success stories out there. Thankfully, my agent let me know before I hopped that plane to LA, that I was likely to fail due to simply not knowing anyone.

In the meantime, despite COVID, there are heaps of opportunities right here in Australia, with international projects coming to film locally. We’ve seen Thor 4 and La Brea to name a few. Meanwhile, there’s always the hope of getting a US based manager and other ways to break into the international market such as Australians in Film’s Heath Ledger Scholarship and other similar competitions out there. Although it’ll definitely take more time to cross over, I don’t think it’s worth the risk for me personally. I haven’t really explored the UK market, but that’s a lot less risky for Aussie actors and so much easier to get a visa for! 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Australian-Tamil Entrepreneur Sujan Selven Is Creating Economic Opportunities For Remote Villages In Northeast Sri Lanka Using Upcycled Devices & Improved Connectivity

Sujan Selven is a serial social entrepreneur aiming to create businesses that make money but also have some element of driving social good to them as well. He started Space Comms and Civil with his brother which focuses on telecommunication builds, electrical services and civil construction. He went on to co-found Upcycled Tech which has a goal of lifting the Northeastern part of Sri Lanka into the digital economy by providing internet connectivity as well devices (recycle) to the population there to open up economic opportunities. He is also passionate about the arts, human rights and is an advocate for refugees and asylum seekers.

I absolutely love the work you are doing with Upcycled Tech (https://www.upcycledtech.com.au/) where you are collecting 2nd hand tech devices and donating back to people in Northeast Sri Lanka. Tell us why you started this and the impact you’re hoping it has.

I was in Jaffna from 2019 to 2020.  While I was there, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak.  Schools shut down from a face-to-face perspective for months and I found out that kids still wanted to access education but the majority couldn’t.  I did some research and discovered a few facts (as per the 2020 census):

– Only 18% had access to a device, digital literacy is 18.8% and only 8.2% of households connected to the internet.

– The usage of computer devices are minimal, and access to the internet is even less (8.2%).

I strongly felt like we had an opportunity to improve education, create job opportunities and open up a wide range of digital businesses via this project.  

Do you have plans to make this a social enterprise that’s for-profit or will it remain a non-profit?

We want to make Upcycled Tech into a social enterprise in the future to make this a sustainable project financially and be able to provide additional services.

How did you bring the team together along with advisors (some impressive people on that list)?

When I was in Jaffna, I had the idea of connecting people with a device and connectivity. When I told my friends about this project, they understood the concept and wanted to be part of it. I worked with Niro previously on some tech projects, and he is a creative guy; he also connected me with some impressive people.

You’re the definition of a serial entrepreneur as you also run Yaarl (1st Tamil-focused event centre in Australia) and Space Comms and Civil (provider of Technology and Communications Services). Tell us a bit more about why you started these businesses and how are they going today.

Yaarl started as a family-owned business.  My mother is a fantastic cook who really enjoys her craft and I love running events (part of a previous non-profit that I ran).  I was coordinating a minimum of 4 events per year while helping out with a number of other events, leading me to eventually study an Advance Diploma in Events. 

Space Comms and Civil focuses on technology and electrical construction. My brother and I had an excellent opportunity to be part of the National Broadband Network rollout in Australia. We just grew organically from there to where we are now. We focus on telecommunication builds, electrical services and civil construction. 

Tell us more about the experience you had with Event Boss (ticketing platform streamlining processes for organizations to sell tickets for community events, etc.). What was the result of that experience, and what did you learn from it?

We had the Tamil community here still selling tickets phsyically at grocery stories and we had multiple events on the days/weeks.  We had so many charity events in the Tamil community to help raise funds for projects in Sri Lanka, but the events weren’t really coordinated because of this manual selling process.  I wanted to change this.  I started the first online ticketing platform EventBoss.com for the Tamil Community in Australia, purposely build for the Tamil Community to make our Tamil events more effective financially. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Yathusha Kulenthiran’s Marketplace For Environmentally Sustainable Palmyra Products Empowers Female Artisans In Sri Lanka

Yathusha Kulenthiran is the young entrepreneur, based in Sri Lanka, behind Olai Shop, a marketplace for palmyra products made by local female artisans and sold to both local customers as well as foreign clients in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Denmark. She is a graduate of the Uki Coding School (part of the Yarl IT Hub) which was instrumental for her career, as otherwise, due to finances and other reasons, she would have not been able to attend state university. She is also the sister of another entrepreneur we featured in Gobinthiran Kulendran.

How did your life change in 2009?

I was in my primary grades when a war broke out. Given the chaotic situation then, we were frequently displaced from one place to another to live another day. We often ran out of food and water. Obviously, during this period I was unable to continue my education properly and focus on a constant path. There was always fear and depression at every turn, till it all came to an end in 2009. Yet, for those of us affected by war, life was never the same with the loss of loved ones and more.  Going back to “normal” with war trauma was not easy, but then one has to move on and start afresh with whatever we have. I had left my village as a little child and returned as a teenager, about to sit for my GCE OLs and ALs. It was a new phase in my life as I set out to find my path.

Why did you start Olai.shop?

I have always been keen and curious in learning about computers and technology. However, I was unable to enter the state university and also couldn’t afford to go for a private university after my ALs to pursue my passion in IT. So I decided to learn programming and coding through online sources. It was then, my brother recommended that I try out at Uki coding school. I was selected at the interview and got the opportunity to follow a 6-month full stack course.

It is during this period we were assigned to work on a project which required developing a software solution. Most of our village folk have always depended on agriculture and selling products made out of palmyra to earn their living. However, I noticed that their skillfully crafted palmyra products were not marketed sufficiently. This influenced me to come up with the idea of a platform to increase the visibility of the products to a larger audience through Olai Shop. It was highly appreciated and welcomed by the panel. Soon, with their mentorship and expert guidance. I was able to launch Olai shop into a successful startup. 

What is the significance of the palmyra trees in your life?

Born in an agrarian society in the North where 90% of our landscape is rooted in palmyra trees, most of our village folk have always depended on seasonal agriculture and selling products made out of palmyra to bring food to their plates. This Palmyra tree that is also known as “katpagatharu” (meaning “tree of life”) has helped us in more ways than one: from providing us with shelter to food. Most of our houses had roofs weaved out of palmyra leaves; sweets made out of the pulp extracted from the palmyra fruit; The tree is so valuable that everything from the crown of the tree to its roots can be used for something essential.

Even during the war, palmyra trees came to our rescue. Our survival depended on their fruits and roots to fill our stomachs while the palmyra trunks came in hand for building bunkers to shield ourselves from attacks. In 2009 among the debris of war, only the palmyra trees remained standing and were our ray of hope.  Today, they are the backbone of my success as an entrepreneur. 

How does the business make money?

Olai Shop is an ecommerce based online platform developed to sell diverse palmyrah-based products to a broader customer base. There is an increasing demand in the global market for these products as they are great substitutes for plastics and are environmentally sustainable as well. Currently we have several local customers and foreign clients from the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and Denmark.

Customers can order these palmyrah products via our online platform. We have a dedicated team of local women artisans who do a marvellous work in customizing these products to meet the demands of our customers.  We also take bulk orders from individuals. We earn a large income from the market upon doorstep delivery of the final products.

What was the impact of the Yarl IT Hub on you personally as well as the business?

I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for Yarl IT Hub. Uki coding School was also an initiative of Yarl IT Hub.  Thus joining Uki Coding School where I initially launched my Olai project,  gave me the valuable opportunity to interact with Yarl IT Community. They were of immense support and strength throughout my entrepreneurial journey, guiding me every step of the way. I also got the opportunity to pitch my idea at Yarl Geek Challenge and was awarded as the Runner Up. I was able to meet a lot of encouraging business professionals and was fortunate to meet foreign investors who were really interested in my idea. In time they also allocated me a temporary workspace to carry out my business activities. Later I was also selected for the YGC Accelerator program where I gained an exposure to the foreign market and gained a vast amount of business knowledge.

I am forever grateful to the Yarl IT Community who are always there to support me at any time.

Describe the entrepreneurial scene that you see in Jaffna.

Talking about Jaffna, today there is an increasing startup culture fostered by several organizations such as Yarl IT Hub, government institutes and more.They play a major role in providing guidance and mentorship, encouraging youth to innovate and inspire.Yet, there are still a few people who are ignorant and dismiss these opportunities. However, the increasing rate of success stories of entrepreneurs are a great influence in motivating upcoming young entrepreneurs.  It is also my aim to reach greater heights in my journey and become an inspiring role model to the younger generation especially girls.  

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Serial Entrepreneur Andrews Moses Created Tenantcube To Help Landlords Find Great Tenants And Create Amazing Renting Experiences

Andrews Moses is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor based out of Niagara, Ontario. He is currently the CEO & Co-Founder of TenantCube, which is on a mission to help every landlord find the right tenant and keep them longer by providing an amazing renting experience. To learn more about Tenantcube, visit https://tenantcube.com/.

How did you come up with the idea of Tenantcube?

I rented a house to a drug dealer in Canada and found there were no help for landlords. I wanted to build something for myself but realized that it was a bigger problem so I decided to solve it. 

How did the founding team come together?

I actually found my co-founder through a Tamil WhatsApp group. Vijay is a friend of a friend.  I posted in a group looking for a co-founder and he reached out. We are great buddies now and he is family. 

How long did it take for you to generate revenue?  What is the revenue model?

We just launched our product and signed our first contract this week. We charge by the number of units/doors managed. 

Are you a bootstrapped company? If so, are you looking to raise money?  What would make you raise money?

We are an angel-funded company and we are currently looking to raise our pre-seed round. We wanted to have customers and some revenue before we raised.

How has COVID-19 impacted your businesses?  How have you adapted?

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed our product development so Vijay moved backed to Chennai from Toronto to run our dev centre.  Since our dev team was based in Chennai, we had to adapt to working with our development team remotely.  It was a challenge on the business side but customers are quickly adopting to technology changes as the pandemic has actually accelerated the digitization of the traditional rental process/business.  

Where do you see Tenantcube in the next 3-5 years? Where do you see yourself in that same time period?

We want to grow to serve thousands of landlords and property managers. Tenantcube should become a platform trusted by both landlords and tenants while making the renting experience as simple/easy as shopping on Amazon.  

I see that you are the Founder/CEO of CloudChoice – how does that fit into the big picture for you?

Cloudchoice is a consulting business I used to actively run and it’s now being run by another Tamil friend of mine, Ramesh.  The business has a steady flow of revenue which is great, but I’m completely hands off as I’m focused full-time on Tenantcube.   

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

I play squash, cricket in summer along with haning out with my family and friends. 

What’s one goal that, if you were to accomplish it over the next three months, would feel like a big win for you?

If we can help landlords avoid the mistakes I made when I first started renting out properties, we will be happy.  We are already getting emails from landlords on how we’ve helped them with the rental process which includes finding great tenants (which is not easy).  

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Crypto Tinhorn & Former Journalist Anand Venkateswaran Talks About Buying A $69M Digital Art Piece, Collecting Stories & Catalyzing Change

Anand Venkateswaran, also known as Twobadour, went from working as a journalist to virtual shopping with artists for the world’s largest NFT fund, Metapurse along with his business partner Vignesh Sundaresan (aka Metakoven).  The fund is estimated to be worth $189 million and is known for buying the $69 million Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 days” at Christie’s auction house.  Now, Anand uses the concept of storytelling to proliferate information about crypto and NFT to make it more available and accessible irrespective of your circumstances and geography. 

How did you get from being a journalist to running the world’s largest NFT fund?

Well, the reason I became a journalist is because I had very little academic skills. I was not good at subjects likes math, physics and chemistry. The only option open to me and the only thing I was decent at was communications. I could write because I enjoyed it and so journalism was open to me. It took me about 8 years before figuring out that journalism wasn’t my true calling but communications was.  Since then, I started looking for other avenues to express myself. I stumbled into corporate communications and wrote pretty much about everything before I stumbled into crypto. I started working with Metakovan (Vignesh) in 2017 where I found my groove after years in 2020 when I discovered NFTs for the first time. 

I read about the serendipitous nature of how Vignesh got to participate in the ETH ICO because of his work with the Bitcoin ATMs.   I bring this up as you weren’t as convinced right off the bat as Vignesh.  How do you put yourself out there to create opportunities? 

To be honest, I don’t think there’s any other choice but to look for these tiny elements of serendipity in our lives because the way the world works right now, you can’t depend on a linear path. Let’s say take a very narrow slice and examine it. My father spent 27 years in the same job and it wasn’t his true calling, he’s a poet at heart; a poet in Tamil.  I spent about a dozen years in a career that didn’t speak to me at all before I discovered NFTs. The people I work with might have wasted their lives into pursuits that didn’t lead them to pursuit of happiness but that cycle is gradually becoming smaller.  It is  because there are so many other opportunities out there and obsolescence is creeping up extremely quickly. 

How did you and Vignesh meet?

I met Metakovan when I was a journalist at The Hindu way back in 2013. He knew a little bit of information about crypto and Bitcoin. This soon led him to land in Canada on a crypto entrepreneurial journey. A few years later in 2016 when we reconnected, it started to make a lot of sense.  By that time I wrote about financial technology, and I started to understand what he meant when he spoke of uncensor ability or financial independence.

Why do you call yourself Twobadour? 

One of the reasons we adopted pseudonyms,  I suppose, is for abstract reasons and instead of saying our full names, you could just our pseudonyms.  Not that the pseudonyms are any easier to pronounce on a stretch, but at least they’re more fun to have. As far as origin stories go, mine is pretty boring. I had an idyllic childhood. I was born in Madurai in 1983, and I grew up in Vizag, which is a coastal town in Andhra Pradesh in the south of India. 

What did you and Vignesh (aka Metakovan) decide to make the $69 million Beeple purchase? 

My only job here is to find creative ways of spending his money.  I’m just a devil on his shoulder egging him to go and complete things.  However, the purpose of this fund is something that we’ve been trying to discover ourselves. In the six to eight months preceding the setting up of Metapurse, both Metakovan and I were on our independent journeys in the NFT space. We found out at some point our theories about the NFT space converged. The theory I just described is that NFTs are going to be the primary vehicle for crypto. That converged, and that’s how Metapurse was born.

The purpose of Metapurse is to collect stories and catalyze change. Collect interesting stories from the metaverse which would then inspire other people like us to converge into this renaissance and to catalyze real-world change.  The reason why we want change to happen is this idea of decoloniality, which Metakovan spoke about recently. It’s an interesting concept which I think people of our background can relate to. The idea is to increase representation of underrepresented cultures, which is currently not possible, not just financial opportunities but cultures, practices and forms of expression which were buried under the bulldozer of modernity. 

Now that a lot of people know who you are because of this purchase, how are you finding the experience of dealing with the fame/notoriety?

It’s a mixed bag of feelings. There’s no point in complaining about the bad press that comes. It’s impossible to tell everybody every nuance, aspect of my story. However, as far as I see it, I think it has been overwhelmingly positive.  The big thing is really the opening up of more serendipitous doors. It forged relationships with some incredible people from all over the world, which we would not have met probably if this hadn’t happened. I think it’s worth it to just open some new doors, open up some new possibilities of collaboration and to help ourselves grow individually.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Swiss-Tamil Music Artist Priya Ragu Is On A Meteoric Rise To Global Fame

Priya Ragu is a Tamil-Swiss artist making uplifting R&B that explores her independence while remaining true to her Tamil heritage. Her overnight success took years to develop and her career has exploded in the last few years with her being featured in Rolling Stone India, BBC Asian Network and Vogue. Priya is also  being named as an artist to keep an eye on in 2021.  

Priya used to only perform in front of a small audience back in her home country of Switzerland which isn’t exactly considered a hotbed of music activity (at least that spills over into the global music scene). For a long time, she suppressed her talent because of a lack of self-confidence, but eventually her love of music helped her overcome this. She was always half-in with music because of her full-time job working for an airline. Everything changed when she turned 30, quit that job and left for New York to make that “all-in” move on music. Her plan was to write 10 songs and go from there. The rest is history as they say.

You talked about your parents being super strict when you were younger (typical of immigrant Tamil parents).  I know I used to resent my dad about this, but looking back, my perspective has changed.  Do you feel the same way?

Even during that time, I kind of understood why they were strict but I wasn’t happy about it and at times wishing I had non-Tamil parents who would be more lenient on me. Now I can look back and be like, “Okay, I understand”. Although, it may affect other people differently, I felt like my character & resolve were strong enough that I could hande it. They were also very much against me pursuing music at the beginning but eventually realized that they had to let it go. They were like, “Hey, as long as you have a safe job, you can do whatever you want” and that’s what I did.

I could have been like, “Whatever. It’s my life and I’m going to do whatever I want to” but I also just wanted to have their blessings. So, I just balanced both worlds together as best as I could with my full-time as well as pursuing music.

I sometimes forget how blessed I am to be in Toronto, which seems to be the epicentre of Tamil activity outside of Sri Lanka & India in terms of business and the creative arts.  You mentioned that a family trip to Toronto really opened your eyes about Tamil culture.  Let’s talk about that some more.

When I was growing up there weren’t many Tamil families around me, so, I wasn’t able to connect with most children around me because it somehow felt like it was a different world. I only had one or two other friends from different backgrounds. My parents wouldn’t let me hang out with them.

When I went to Toronto, I had much more family. In Switzerland, I only had a few aunts, but in Scarborough, I had my grandparents as well as other relatives. It felt like home. I was able to speak more Tamil and go to Tamil events like soccer games in Toronto. That was an important phase in my life.

I know historically, the creative arts were often looked down on, in the Tamil community in terms of as a viable career option.  Did you experience this or do you see this changing?

We’re not in the US or UK where things are a bit more possible when it comes to music. I was constantly bombarded with messaging from everyone around me who were like “Hey, I think it’s really difficult in music. Where do you want to go with this?” They viewed music as something that couldn’t have a big future in their eyes because my music was in English and in Switzerland, German songs were much more successful than English ones. Also if they want to listen to English music, they would rather listen to musicians from the US or UK rather than music from a Swiss artist. 

I only ask as I know your dad had a band (as he loved singing) and you guys would do jam sessions (your brother on the keys).  Why do you think your dad (given his love for music) was against you making it a career?  

My parents, especially my dad, were like, “Not one child, but two children of mine are into music. What the hell!” They came in the early ’80s to Switzerland when they didn’t speak the language and created this life for us. Then one day we approached them and were like, “Hey, we both want to be musicians.” Essentially I had never really wrote any songs before 2017 so this added to their worry about me pursuing music as a career. One cool thing my dad said to me was that what AR Rahman did with bringing Western elements into Indian music, I was doing the same by bringing Indian elements into Western music.

What inspired your song “Good Love 2.0”?

It was inspired by my parents. When they got together in Jaffna (their hometown), their parents were totally against it. So, they really had to fight for love. When we wrote the song, we wanted to actually shoot the music video in Jaffna but the director who is from Mumbai thought it might be difficult for us to shoot down there given the political climate.

We thought of places that were closest to Jaffna and thought of Goa. I scouted the talent, the stylist, the producer and pretty much everyone else via Instagram. The first time we met was actually in Goa itself. There were about 10 peoplein total and the experience of shooting the music video was one of my favourite memories.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***