Stephanie Rajalingam: Feeding her curiosity

Stephanie Rajalingam never expected to study social impact within a school of business. With a background in art and design, her career has been driven by the pursuit of “compassion, caring and making a difference” - values she upholds both in her work and in raising three children with her partner.

“The way I work is very intuitive and organic,” Stephanie explains.

“I didn't put much thought into the fact the context is a business college. I just saw the words ‘social impact’ and that was the drawcard. It's fitting though because I had just come out of a management position in an organisation. I'm someone who's just curious about everything, and I think that that's what's been stimulating for me.”

The management position she refers to was at Warmun Art Centre , an Indigenous owned and controlled organisation in Western Australia where she spent three years reporting to a board of Gija elders and directors, artists and members.

Despite Stephanie’s assertion that she isn’t experienced in business, the organisation saw impressive growth in those three years, reversing a deficit, expanding on artistic and cultural programs, and getting recognised as the Winner of the WA 2019 Telstra Business Award, in the Social Change Maker category.

“I saw this opportunity [to study the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact] when I came back to Perth, transitioning out of the Art Centre,” she explains.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to continue learning.”

“Learning about social impact and being mindful about it as a science, these things can definitely be applied in my work context in the future. I know that what I'm learning is of interest to my peers and colleagues. So, it's actually not a thing that I'm doing just for myself. It's for the field, it's for applying that knowledge in the future and sharing it with other people.”

The Graduate Certificate in Social Impact at the Centre for Social Impact UWA also appealed to Stephanie because while she found the content challenging, the schedule was flexible to allow her to fit around caring for her family.

Being selected for a scholarship was then “the difference between maybe doing the course, and actually doing it.”

“When things like that happen I feel really grateful, and I just know that it gives me more of a drive to really apply myself and make sure that it does get carried forward and I can bring that back to community, and the people I've been working with,” says Stephanie.

That sense of responsibility to community and learning is intergenerational. Growing up, Stephanie’s mother maintained a yoga and meditation practice that saw the family travel to India from their home in Singapore when Stephanie was very young.

“She would travel with three children under the age of 10, often alone because my dad would work. Mum was quite independent.”

Stephanie says time management in the area of self-care has stopped her developing a meditation practice of her own, though with such a busy work and life schedule it’s something she’s been reconsidering.

“What I've learned in this course as well, in one of the leadership modules, is to really understand yourself as well as the context you're working in. You have to know both sides of the coin in order to function optimally. So, being mindful of all the decisions, actions, ways of working and just being reflective about it - not just doing but thinking as well.”

While Stephanie may not always have time for herself, her work has offered her the opportunity to impart a similar sense of adventure and engagement with her own children.

“I'd go somewhere for an art sale or market, I'd bring the kids with me,” she recalls. “My daughter was two when I got the job [at Warmun] and they were just always living my life with me. So, I think that's where my children have seen how it all fits in - the values, the beliefs, the action.”

“And they'll pull me up on stuff. If they know that I value something or say I value it, and if I'm not really embodying that, I think they're smart children. They'll pick up on things...I think when you value something, it's a long process of demonstrating that value. It's not one day, it's the whole lifetime.”