People of SFU

Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan recognized for lifetime of leadership, community service and volunteering

August 17, 2023

For Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan, being honoured with a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards is a moment to look back on her journey to Canada and on the value of authentic leadership, volunteering and community service.

“It is a moment for reflection,” says Jaya-Madhavan, SFU’s associate vice-president of external relations. “It is a time to think about the journey so far, to go over and above to help Canada enhance newcomer experiences and to inspire newcomers to give back to Canada and commit to reconciliation.”

The Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards is an annual honour that highlights inspiring stories of immigrants in Canada from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

Born in Malaysia and raised in India, she arrived in Canada in 1995 with a master’s degree in social work. Her credentials, which included field work in India’s second largest slum, were not recognized and she found doors closed to her.

Out of necessity, she began working at GM Place (now Rogers Arena), making minimum wage as an usher. She eventually found a job in social work and parlayed that in a two-decade-long career with the provincial government, working first in front-line child welfare, then policy and senior management positions.

Her advice to her younger self: Volunteer more and think like an entrepreneur.

“I think the immigrant experience ends up being a very positive one when one asks – what can I do for Canada, rather than asking, what is Canada doing for me?”

Throughout her life, Jaya-Madhavan has found value and connection in volunteerism, making friendships, and creating partnerships. This love of community service began in India, when – at 16 – she became president of her town’s Rotaract Club. Over the years, she has volunteered for organizations in India and B.C.

Jaya-Madhavan is an advisor to the International South Asian Film Fesitval and the National Federation of the Blind (Maharashtra, India) and Chief Impact Officer for HasHaskCode, India. She is also president of the B.C.-India Business Network, a director with the Burnaby Board of Trade, a board member of The Inclusion Project and a member of the United Way B.C. Campaign Cabinet.

Joining SFU in 2017, she is an adjunct professor in the SFU School of Public Policy and an instructor in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. She works to engage government and fosters partnerships in the community. Her efforts have been recognized by the Women Economic Forum in 2019 and 2022 with Woman of the Decade and Iconic Women awards. In 2022, she also received the International Inclusion Champion Award from the National Federation of the Blind Maharashtra in India.

“My outlook to life and the sense of awe I have is enriched by my immigrant experiences,” says Jaya-Madhavan. “It has helped me realize how important it is to appreciate diversity of people, cultures, ideas and to continuously work to make a positive impact.”