Updated: Jun 22, 2021
This is a transcript of the podcast interview. Listen to the episode here.
RINKU RAZDAN: I feel like I'm Mowgli from Jungle Book. I was raised by a lot of communities, if that makes sense. I don't have this strong affiliation towards just the Indian community because I'm Indian. I have a strong affiliation towards all communities because from my perspective when I asked for help, they didn't judge me for who I was. They just simply gave help and that's why I think I am where I am and I have this strong desire of giving back to the community.
PREMA MENON (HOST): On this first episode, I interviewed Rinku Razdan, Founder & CEO of Connections Australia, Australia’s first migrant and refugee onboarding app.
What Can We Do?
In this podcast, I meet people who are putting their ideas into action, and focusing on the good they can do for their neighbours, communities, citizens and the world.
PREMA: Rinku was born in India, and was the youngest in her family. Everyone doted on her, and did things for her. She began her migrant journey the same way many Indian women do, by getting married to an Indian man living overseas, through an arranged marriage.
RINKU: I came to Australia because I got married to someone who lived here. I was married for 7 years to this person. It didn't work out for multiple reasons. The person had significant mental issues. So it didn't work out and I literally, to give my son the best chance I could to make a better life, walked out with 20 dollars in my hand, a suitcase full of clothes and my then three and a half year old son. It was the only option left for me at that time to make a better life for myself and my son. And that's how I think. I really think my journey started in Australia.
PREMA: The life she led in Australia was very much confined to her domestic life and her work life. She had no autonomy, or a social circle of her own. When she made the difficult decision to leave this marriage 15 years ago, the stakes were high. She found herself stranded, with no money, no home, no family support or a network of friends to call her own, no one to help her navigate her life in Australia, as a newly single mother.
She had to start rebuilding everything from scratch, an experience that has influenced not only her approach to life, but her desire to help others going through the same type of experience. Connections Australia
RINKU: It's an organization which is formed by the migrants for the migrants and it's Australia's, if not the world's, first digital platform. It's a one stop multilingual digital platform that uses data and API to instantly connect any new arrival in a city or a country to key services you need to settle, like settlement information, your community events, services around you and jobs.
PREMA: We did this interview at Rinku’s house. The first thing I noticed when I walked into the living room, is a huge framed candid photo portrait of her son. When she talks about how she struggled in the first few years as a single mother, you realise that it was her singular focus on her son, that kept her going.
RINKU: I've always been very determined or some people say almost dogmatic. So what I did is I instead of trying to completely turn my life around from the day 1, I started setting small goals for myself. So like first year, we pretty much lived on a loaf of bread peanut butter and a jug of milk for I think about six to eight months. We had nothing else. We had one mattress. We slept on that mattress. But my aim at the end of that year was to increase the food intake that we were taking so we could actually have decent food. Then the year after, it sort of became bigger. The year after was I want to buy some decent jackets and decent clothes for my son because you know I had seen him previous winter. He was constantly sick because we didn't have the clothes and all those sorts of things. So there were small goals but I continued to set them and I still am like that in my personal life. I still have goals and I continuously push myself to achieve those goals and then slowly those goals became bigger.
PREMA: It was as recently as 3 years ago that a sense of normalcy and stability crept in for the family. Instead of taking it easy, Rinku began focusing on a bigger purpose.
RINKU: Three years ago I came to the realization that my son will be fine and I have achieved what I wanted to achieve as a main goal in my life - my son's security or financial security, mental security, emotional security. And me and my son are very very close and I realized that he was going to be a fine young man. And that's when I thought okay I don't have to put as much effort into my son as I did growing up so I can perhaps think of now giving back to the community that has been absolutely wonderful to me. It was initially just a thought and I wasn't really sure whether it was just me who was hit by the wrong end of the stick or there were more people out there like me. So I started by just having a lot of friends over. I am blessed I have a lot of multicultural friends so I just had them all over, cooked a big pot of curry and we started talking about just background and information that is hard to talk about but we did. We talked about settlement challenges, emotional challenges, financial challenges and challenges to the second generation, how they are trying to sort of understand what their parents are going through while they are trying to adopt Australia and become Australian at the same time. And I think that was eye opening to me because I realized that it doesn't matter what country you come from. It doesn't matter whether you come in a boat or on a plane.Everyone was struggling with sudden resettlement challenges in Australia.
PREMA: I can relate to resettlement issues. I am a recent migrant to Australia myself. I had the good fortune of studying here in the early 2000s, so I had a basic understanding of how a few things worked, like drivers licenses, medicare cards before I made the big move. But even with all of this, I still found it quite daunting setting myself up here. I wouldn’t know if I’d made a mistake until I made it, and sometimes those mistakes cost money and have consequences. Now imagine you’re someone who’s arrived here for the first time from a very different country. Where do you even start?
Rinku’s strength was two fold, firstly, her own experience with “resettlement” helped and secondly, she worked in data professionally. She got to work talking to various communities.
RINKU: So then I started on this market research where I started meeting a lot of communities background. And because I'm blessed with multicultural friends so I always had someone to take me along. If I was going to a Chinese community I would take a Chinese friend along if I was going to a Lebanese community I would take them along and that I think gave me a bit more buy in to the people that I was talking to. And and and in my professional I work in digital and data. So I was then collecting data while I was talking to the communities. And we realized that this problem was much bigger than anyone was aware of. Of all the data that we collected and all the conversations that we had and all the communities that we met we realized it doesn't matter how you came to this country but you struggle with two significant things. One is around social isolation, a really really high degree of social isolation, because there's a lack of integrated framework. And you will see that on a day to day basis you know when you go out you see Chinese people with Chinese people, Korean people the Korean people, so on and so forth because there's that lack of integrated framework. And the second one was underemployment. Really, really high degree of underemployment. Not as much unemployment but underemployment. And underemployment is defined as I'm qualified for something, and I know that I can do that really well but I have never had an opportunity to showcase what I'm qualified for or what my skills are. Therefore I have settled on either the first job that I got or any job that I got. And that leads to multiple issues like there is mental stress, there's emotional stress, there's financial stress, there's stress to the family which then results into a stress to the next generation. And I think that was quite eye opening for me to realize to what degree it existed. And that then led to initially me just trying to help people and you know people are constantly asking me or how did you turn your life around and I was trying to speak to them and then I had like an FAQ happening and but I realized that demand for a one place support or something people can just go and get that support was so high that I decided that I will take the technology out because what technology does it it accelerates anything you want to do. So I used my professional IP of a tech consultant and then I used my personal IP of a migrant and all the market research that I had collected and we started building Australia's first multilingual one stop platform where we can connect people instantly to community. Settlement information. Events and services around them and jobs. My vision is that any time anyone is even thinking of coming to Australia and they pick up an immigration application Connections is on there so they can download the app they can apply for everything they can find out about Australia before they step foot into Australia. So that's my vision. That's where I would love to work with the Australian Government to take it.
PREMA: Once fully launched, Connections Australia will tackle 3 key areas, through three key apps. Life, Community and Careers. The Life App takes the user through an interactive settlement guide, and useful information on how to get a Medicare card, or an Opal card.The Community App connects the user with a community they identify with or would like to connect with, and the apps tells them which suburbs to visit.
The Careers app matches the user is matched with jobs based on their interest and experience.With these 3 apps, Rinku is confident that the package will alleviate social isolation and underemployment.The Careers app sounds very promising, and extremely vital, but are local employers ready to hire new arrivals?
RINKU: That's the hardest part to get employers to give people of international background a go. We haven't had such a great conversion in employer perspective through that because I think it's a new concept for them. So we are finding that it's really when you go and speak to them that they are more approachable.
PREMA: Even though employers might be taking their time to warm up, the reception with its intended users has been phenomenal. Connections Australia launched a beta version that was meant for about 50 users.
RINKU: We had a pilot in January. It went gangbusters overnight so we knew that we had legs in what we were trying to do. But the most important thing is it gave us some really valuable feedback to not only improve the product to some extent pivot the product.
PREMA: Building this app was just the first of many steps to come. It took several rounds of testing, to really ensure that the product would serve the population that Rinku cares so deeply about.
RINKU: The biggest learnings for me was people said jobs are fine but you need to make us job ready. And there are other challenges that we are facing in settling into Australia that need to factor into it. So we are constantly asking people and getting information. That's what gave birth to the two other services that we are providing from connections which is connecting them to community in events from a social perspective so they can make friends and make fast and giving them an interactive guide and a life which gets them ready when they want to be. To then apply for a job through future use.
PREMA: Connections Australia is aiming for a full launch late this year. Rinku and her entire team are volunteers who also juggle full time jobs. Rinku funds the entire business, while her team and her navigate the funding available for this type of social enterprise.
RINKU: It's a very new concept of using tech for good. Generally you will say technology companies they have a commercial purpose and generally you will see people who are driven through purpose they don't use technology. So we are sort of bridging that gap. We are in that niche area where we are using technology for purpose. Most of the community grant applications, they are for a tangible thing like you know you're building a park or your building a community centre or stuff like that. Whereas we are building a digital power platform. It's not a tangible thing. And it will take time, iteratively to make it better. So I think we miss out on those community grants because we're a digital platform therefore we are seen as a tech platform before everyone in the community sector assumes that we will get a backing from venture capitalist (VC). But then when you speak to investors they see it as a charity they go "Well this is a charitable thing you're doing something good. So really you should go to the Australian Government for funding and they should be funding it as a grant because it's a charitable thing". So we are absolutely stuck in the middle because we have investors telling us you're a charity and we have grants telling us you're a tech platform and and and I would love for someone to bridge that gap for me because without any support look how far we have come we've in the last two and a half years we have worked every night and we have worked every weekend except for Christmas. So that's the level of dedication the team has. And I would love for someone to acknowledge that. And about time pay them a little bit.
PREMA: The cost of funding this isn’t just financial it’s also personal. Rinku reflects on some of her unique challenges.
RINKU: I say this all the time, I said a real understanding of what it is to be in a country because more generally if you're not born in that country you don't have extensive network and I feel like I'm in this absolute niche category because one I'm a single parent two I'm a woman, three I'm a migrant. So I think I'm in a very niche category and I'm not one of those young startup people. So I think all of these put together I'm sure people look at me and go "What is wrong with her?". I didn't see it coming. That being a woman entrepreneur provides a different lens than being a young male entrepreneur. I didn't see that coming. I didn't I certainly didn't see it coming that there's a, there's a taboo attached to the word migrant because all my life I have proudly said that I'm a migrant and I bring so much to this country. Vice versa, the country brings a lot to me too. I did not see that coming that if we create a platform for migrants and refugees we would be treated as marginalized. Whereas I think about it unlike if you look at Australia pretty much everyone is almost a migrant. Whether you're a first second or third generation you're still a migrant. I didn't see that coming. And hence I see this all the time in terms of challenges we've had numerous amount of challenges and we still do. But the only thing that keeps us going is that we are absolutely determined to drive the difference and do it well.
PREMA: Rinku represents that difference, and being a migrant Indian woman in the tech industry, she has stayed true to her purpose.
RINKU: Always have values and integrity always. Nothing in your life should be able to compromise your values or your integrity. to be a problem solver. Don't be a problem be a problem solver. It doesn't matter what jobs being given to you. Be respectful and do the best that you can do at the job. Come up with ideas on how you can make anything better. It doesn't matter whether it's a small problem or a big problem. Constantly think of ways you can make it better because when you do that you get noticed. You stand out from the crowd. and when you stand out from the crowd you get opportunities. So I would say don't think too much about if I do this degree it's going to get me to this position. Think about. if I do the job that I'm given and I do it really really well. It will lead to an opportunity.
PREMA: Rinku said that she never dreamed risking everything to start a life with her son, would lead to her helping so many others start their own. And she feels that taking a risk is the only way forward sometimes.
RINKU: I would say go for it. That's what I would say. When you start young. No one knows how your life is going to turn out. There's no crystal ball that's going to tell you if you take this part.So if I would not have made the changes that I did or taken the risks that I took I wouldn't be here. There's always pros and cons okay. But the more you mull over it the more you are losing time in trialling what you want to do. So my advice to anyone who wants to try something different whether from a career point of view or a personal life porn point of view it's go for it. There is no silver bullet. You may or may not succeed at it but at least you won't die wondering that you didn't do it. So absolutely go for it.
PREMA: Rinku’s interview left me feeling like I could conquer whatever I set my mind to. To focus on a solution rather than problems, and to just do the best I can with whatever I undertake. That’s exactly what this podcast is for me - my way of contributing to a more positive conversation, on how we can look at making life a little better in this world. Thank you for listening to this first episode, and I hope you’ll tune in for the future ones.
What Can We Do?
Ideas in Action