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Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan
Keynote Speaker

When she’s not connecting the academy to community as associate vice president of external relations at Simon Fraser University (SFU) or teaching graduate students at SFU’s School of Public Policy, Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan dedicates her life to community service.

Born in Malaysia, Jaya-Madhavan went to boarding school in India at age five and found her calling in community service at the age of 16, when she became the youngest president of the Rotaract club in Kerala, India. Since then, she has never stopped volunteering, whether in a professional capacity sitting on various boards and leading the BC-India Business Network as president, or in her personal capacity, serving as a global youth mentor and supporting National Federation of the Blind (Maharashtra, India) and HashHackCode (Tamil Nadu, India) as chief impact officer.

Her commitment to community service has remained constant. As a graduate social work student in Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences, she worked with the children and women of Film City slum. She then travelled to Malaysia, working to build cross-national connections as part of Third World Network, a research and advocacy agency.

Upon immigrating to Canada in 1995, however, she ran into the many barriers that immigrants still face today. After hundreds of unsuccessful job applications, and doing a minimum wage job, she finally joined the Government of British Columbia. She served in front-line child welfare positions before moving into senior policy and management roles. Jaya-Madhavan has been a champion for public service, working with the BC government for nearly two decades and during her service, got nominated for the BC Medal of Good Citizenship.

After working in India as global head of HR, she returned to BC and joined SFU in 2017. Her inclusive leadership and contributions have received international recognition. She received the global Inclusion Champion Award from NFBM in 2022 and prior to that, the Women’s Economic Forum awarded Jaya-Madhavan with the Women of the Decade (Education) and Iconic Women awards. Always looking to build bridges between people and ideas, Jaya-Madhavan does extensive public speaking, moderates dialogues internationally and continues to be in love — with volunteering!