This is Svetha. I met her 5 years ago while I was still studying law. I ended up pitching myself to her for a casual job when I was 22 to help the university inspire students to build startups, she pretty much immediately said “when can you start?” I was thrilled and had no idea what I was doing, but I cared deeply about helping students realise they don’t have to keep job hunting at a boring corporate soul-sucking job and should think about starting their own purpose-driven business or joining a cool startup.
One year later she asked me to be the manager, I was 23 years old so I politely declined the offer – I knew nothing about management at a university – ironically I didn’t even have an undergraduate degree. But also partly because I felt bad for my manager at the time who was so kind. I took my annual break for a month and went away to the Himalayas to meditate and the first day I got back to Melbourne she said “You’re the manager now, go talk to Chris about your contract.” I was confused, excited and had major imposter syndrome.
Fast forward to now, I’m 26 still the youngest manager in a university that employes 4000 people and has 60 000+ students. The job has been a dream [I didn’t even know I had] come true, I still pinch myself when I realise I get paid to help ambitious folks bring their startup ideas to life. I wouldn’t be here without her. It was only much later that I realised how brilliant she was. She’s one of the top 15 women in the world for Artificial Intelligence research and the only woman from Australia on that list.
After the tragic London bombings happened in 2005, Svetha and her team were brought in to answer the simple but critical question “did the bomber get off the bus?” Her research ultimately led to what is now an ASX listed company – icetana.
Another spinoff from her team’s research is the Toby Playpad app which provides therapy for children with autism. After a visit to Stanford and seeing the thriving startup community within the university there she established SPARK Deakin – Deakin University’s flagship entrepreneurial program. She’s a genius in her own right and of course her only child ended up a fields medalist – which is akin to the Nobel prize of Maths (you can google him). I’m grateful Svetha and I have a strong bond, I’m her self-appointed CCO – Chief Champion Officer (meaning I do things like this post) and she she thinks that’s ridiculous, my goal is to get a New York Times profile on her (to which she responded “I’m not that good.”). She’s down to earth, non-pretentious and focused on making a difference.
This is an appreciation post to the women who support other women, especially women of colour who defy stereotypes and pave their own path. A rising tide lifts all boats and I’m so fortunate for my luck to run into this generous woman on campus. Serendipity combined with the right attitude is beautiful.
Svetha and I have been talking about setting up an initiative that supports more women of colour in STEM, entrepreneurship, Arts and Literature. We talk about the lack of representation in Australia and across the world. If you are interested in making a financial pledge and be one of our very first donors (the most important) please email us at boldpunjab[at]gmail.com with your name and your pledge. The Foundation will have global impact and primarily support South Asian women and minorities through
- Education Programs in India to empower young women to be their own boss – we’re piloting this already with our own money via Bold Punjab
- A Centre in Australia focused on supporting minority emerging artists, writers, musicians and creatives through mentorship, active outreach to media on their behalf so media is more truly representative of the diversity in our country
- STEM Scholarships in public schools and STEM bootcamps empowering women of colour to engage with Science and Maths
I’ve created this page after all the love via LMBDR and Asian Hustle Network. 💚
You can also always reach her directly via the Deakin – email@example.com (though she is mostly busy in labs and will likely forward your email to me)