Rinku Razdan still finds herself humbled by her astonishing lifepath. Born in India, she first moved to Australia for what became a “highly dysfunctional” marriage – but 16 years ago, she walked away from that marriage with only her son, one suitcase, and $20 in her pocket. Now, Rinku is an in-demand leading consultant in data and digital who is renowned across the country. She volunteers her time to create and run Connections Australia, a ground-breaking app designed to ease the often overwhelming transition into Australian society that new migrants experience. Driven, easy-going, passionate and selfless, Rinku spoke with Inclusive Australia about the power of community, her formidable career, and her ever-growing goals for the future.
Left to her own devices on the streets of Sydney with just $20 and a 3-year-old son to care for, Rinku’s initial “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” excitement for her new country was brought into question. Since her initial impression of Australia was rather sheltered, she says the reality of getting by on her own was an entirely unforeseen and incredibly challenging transition. “I had to completely rebuild my life here,” Rinku says, an endeavour which carried the additional complications of having a child and navigating internally conflicting cultural expectations. She had grown up in a tightknit family in India, a country where marriage is seen as an institution, and now found herself across the world in Australia as a single mother raising a son on her own.
While this was the most difficult period of her life, looking back she feels an immense gratitude for the support and love she felt from her local community. “I felt like Mowgli from The Jungle Book,” she recalls, “I was raised by everyone.” Knowing her struggle, the local grocer would leave left over food for Rinku and her son at the end of each day, when they otherwise would have had nothing to eat. She attributes her success in finding her first job in part to the local dry cleaner, who lent her some professional clothes for the interview. This gratitude for “the communities that raised me” has helped create her philosophy that there are no such thing as ‘stupid questions’; especially if you are brand new to a country, she says “asking things does not mean you are dumb.” And ask questions, she did. Rinku laughs at the irony of reminiscing on her first ever encounter with an ATM – when she exclaimed “there is money coming out of the walls in Australia!” and eagerly asked a passer-by how she, too, could get money from the wall – when 10 years later, she led the deployment of 3000 ATMs across the country. For Rinku, this was a full-circle moment that encapsulated her evolution as a person, and shows that “the world works in funny ways”.
From that first interview in borrowed clothes, Rinku landed a job at a call centre (“like most migrants!”, she jokes). Despite having a university degree, she still loved the call centre job because it allowed a financial independence she had not yet known in Australia. “I was killing it in sales!”, she exclaims. She was awarded salesperson of the month for two years running, an accolade which amounted to over $2,500 in gift vouchers. As a migrant who had started “with basically nothing”, this was a proud moment for Rinku – especially because she was able to shop at Myer for the first time.
Fast-forward to today, and Rinku is a leading consultant across Australia in the data and digital industries who remains highly in-demand despite the global pandemic. She acknowledges her determination and positivity as pivotal in her journey from the call centre. In each successive job interview, she convinced employers to give her just three months, which she says worked in her favour because it mitigated the perceived “risk” of employing a migrant. Rinku was, and still is, motivated by a desire to always do things to the best of her ability: “it’s my fundamental principle, because if you’re driving quality you will excel and get noticed”. This attitude has proven overwhelmingly successful, and has seen her work with some of the largest banks and corporates in the country to lead technology transformations. From this success, she says volunteer work was a natural progression.
Before launching Connections Australia, Rinku knew how comforted she might have felt if she were given a comprehensive guide and helping hand when she was first settling into Australian society. “Nothing has changed for migrants in 16 years,” she says, which serves as a significant indictment on our immigration system. The 90-point application process of a migrant VISA is so thorough that those who apply can only assume that “the country is ready for them and wants their expertise”, Rinku explains, but in reality this is entirely misleading. It sees many leave their home countries with grand expectations of acceptance that is not often present when they arrive. In particular, it becomes very difficult for new Australians to enter the workforce, because the nation is highly networked; companies often hire based on who candidates know rather than what they know, which leaves little chance for a new migrant to find employment. With these issues in mind, Rinku turned her volunteer focus to the creation of Connections Australia.
Completely staffed by volunteers and personally funded by Rinku, Connections Australia is a “one stop portal” with all the information new migrants need to settle into their new country. While Rinku knows from her own experience that organisations working with new Australians often offer information in the form of wordy paper brochures, she says that migrants in emotionally compromised states are not able to properly consume knowledge from a pamphlet. So, combining her background as an Indian emigrant to Australia and her tech industry expertise, she created the Connections mobile app to which her team is constantly adding more data and information for its users.
The app has three main sections to cover all bases. ‘Life’ offers digital content on settling into Australia, with information on universities, for example, as well as extra ‘fun’ information on cultural events. In the wonderfully innovative ‘career’ section, Connections Australia directly links employers with job applicants within the app. This removes bias, is “hugely money-saving” for employers, and works to create a diverse and culturally rich job force. ‘Community’, which is Rinku’s favourite part of the app, gives migrants the chance to seek out places to live, work or gather where they can either meet people from the same countries as them, or move away from these places depending on their preference. This choice, supported by a cultural ‘heatmap’, is a very powerful thing because it gives new Australians unprecedented knowledge, which they can use to build their own optimal lifestyle. Users of the app can also search for key words such as ‘student’ or ‘job’ to trigger the relevant information, making it a very user-friendly program. After launching in November 2019, Rinku is overjoyed that over 6000 people have joined the app at a rate of nearly 1500 people per month.
Since then, the pandemic has temporarily limited the tremendous growth of Connections Australia, but only for the time being. “Unfortunately, there is no point in talking about migration while Covid-19 is happening,” says Rinku, who says the virus has taken public focus away from the issue of migration. However, lockdown has gifted Connections Australia ample time to make the app scalable for the future. As Rinku says, “there have been pros and cons!”. On a personal level, Rinku says the pandemic has forced her to stay at home more than ever before. As a self-confessed target-oriented person who craves something to work towards, lockdown has forced a “much-needed break” from constant work. She feels lucky that in the tech industry, jobs have not been affected as much as other industries because the demand is still there for digital products. She has been using her time to focus on fitness – she loves all sports, but watches and plays tennis “like it’s a religion” – experimenting with new foods from various cultures, and spending time with her son, who is a university student. They travelled to Europe together last year and had “a wonderful time”, so she is looking forward to planning more mother-son trips in the hopefully not-too-distant future. At the end of the day, Rinku says the pandemic has revealed to us the immense value of human connection, and notes that “the important things in life have become more important at the moment”.
Rinku Razdan and the team at Connections Australia are continually striving to grow their membership base and find new corporate partnerships. To find out more about their app and product, visit https://www.connectionsaustralia.com
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