Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan: From an usher to SFU’s associate vice-president of external relations

Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan
 Photo: SFU

SFU’S new associate vice-president, external, Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan took a chance in 1995 to advance her career in social work to fulfill her passion to help others by immigrating to Canada from India after she earned a master’s degree in social work, but like many immigrants she found it particularly challenging to find a job in her chosen profession.

Her career in Canada began working a minimum wage job at GM place, now Rogers Arena, as an usher after standing in line with hundreds of applicants.

Her career in Canada began working a minimum wage job at GM place, now Rogers Arena, as an usher after standing in line with hundreds of applicants. After putting in hard work, she got her first break in social work when she got hired by the Coast Foundation as an Employment Counsellor, which led to her joining the BC Public Service, where she helped people all over B.C.

Now, she has over 20 years of experience after holding various government positions relating to child welfare, homelessness, immigration and refugee integration, and domestic violence, to name a few.

As SFU’s new associate vice-president, external, Jaya-Madhavan is serving the university community as she works to advance SFU’s mutual priorities with government and community partners.

In India, she worked for Newgen Knowledge Works, an international publishing service company where she was associate vice-president of organizational excellence, and head of human resources.

She completed her PhD coursework in child and youth care from the University of Victoria. She holds a master’s degree in social work (1991) from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India.


Here is SFU’s News Editor Diane Luckow’s interview with her:


Tell us why you are excited about joining SFU as AVP external.


SFU is all about “engaging the world” and I am very excited that as AVP of external relations I will have the opportunity to use my extensive knowledge of B.C.’s public service as I work with government and other diverse partners to strengthen the engagement between us. I am very honored to be part of the SFU family.


Your job experience is extremely diverse. How will your career diversity inform your work here?


SFU values diversity. I think my wide-ranging career experiences in Canada and overseas will help me to always value diversity and remind me to be inclusive and collaborative in the work that I do with government, communities, and faculty, staff and students at SFU.


What has been the most satisfying aspect of your career to date?


I have had the honour of working with the B.C. Public Service (Ministry of Children and Family Development) for two decades and then in India for almost two years with an international publishing service company, Newgen Knowledge Works. The most satisfying aspect of my career, from 1991 onwards, has been holding positions where the main goal has been to strengthen relationships.


What has been your greatest career achievement?


I think that is for others to decide…however, being nominated for the B.C. Medal of Good Citizenship by my B.C. government colleagues in 2015 was a humbling and inspiring experience.


Who or what inspires you?


My two children, Prabhanj and Niranj, inspire me the most, and make me want to be the best I can be in all aspects of my life. In terms of what inspires me the most—I would say it is kindness. I perceive kindness to be a character strength that is deeply rooted in respect.


What is the biggest risk you’ve taken, and did it pay off?


I will confess I am a risk taker! I would say that the biggest risk I have taken was to immigrate to Canada in 1995 and begin my career here with a minimum wage job at GM Place (now Rogers Arena). Yes, I think it did pay off!


What might we be surprised to learn about you?


A lot—you should probably ask my children this question. I first rode a Yezdi 250 cc motorcycle in India when I was 16 and have loved motorcycles ever since.