Anyone who has worked with Nadini Sahabandu will not be surprised that she won the TechWomen100 Global Award for Achievement 2021. She was nominated by Digital Breakers, a Sri Lankan based digital marketing agency she has helped from inception, providing volunteer support through mentoring and training, helping build skills and innovate. This award winning agency is now representing over 50 brands. But this is only one of the start-ups to benefit from Nadini’s tutelage. As an Executive Committee Member for SLASSCOM, Nadini supports start-ups, SMEs and larger organisations to grow and innovate, educating in Product Management and Product Economy, sharing knowledge and ‘creating the conversation’.
Nadini talks about her early influences, why collaboration is always a learning experience, how small strategic changes can reap huge rewards, and why working at Mitra has afforded her a sense of belonging.
1.Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got into tech.
I think my father had the biggest influence on me by encouraging curiosity and exposing me to tech from a young age. A Telecommunications Engineer and a natural problem solver, he taught me to question everything and use tech, not just for games and entertainment, but to solve problems. I was managing my personal finances, such as they were, from the age of 12! My mother is an amazingly kind and helpful person and her influence means I always look for ways tech can help people.
Initially I wanted to be a designer, but felt tech would give me more opportunities to learn and experience new things across a diverse range of subjects. I studied IT at University including coding, but didn’t want to do that when I graduated. I have always chosen the path least travelled, wanting to try areas and disciplines that were considered more challenging. My Internship, as part of my degree, was with ICTA, a Government Department, and I got involved with IT Procurement, which involved learning about EOIs, RFIs, RFPs, IT vendor evaluations, and how the full cycle of selecting suitable vendors happens, all of which was new to me at the time. After graduation I worked in a variety of roles from Technology Advisory, Consulting, IT Auditing, Quality Engineering to Business Analysis, Project Management, Product Management and Marketing, Sales and Solutioning
2.What is your role at Mitra?
I had been working in Florida and thinking I would like to move back to Sri Lanka. A holiday home early in 2017 meant I got the chance to meet, and discuss my career aspirations, with Dammika Ganegama. A friend working at Mitra set up the meeting and after long and detailed discussions including an introduction to several projects, I felt the ethos and values at Mitra suited me extremely well. It took 4 months, but I started working for Mitra as a Product Manager in May 2017.
As Mitra was just getting started, and growing fast, I got the opportunity to be involved in many different areas in addition to Product Management – including Sales & Marketing, Partnership Management, Business Consulting and Presales. I was given significant responsibility and gained experience and exposure through projects in Healthcare, Disability Insurance, Not-for-profits and Charities, Fintech. (Leap in!, IARD, Decipher). While honing my Product Management and Consulting skills, Mitra gave me the opportunity to travel many times to client sites in Australia and the UK. I now have a dual role as Regional Lead for the Americas, and a Senior Manager in Client Services allowing me to continue with my passion in Consulting.
I feel a sense of belonging at Mitra, of being part of something bigger than myself and of being able to help people through technological innovation. I feel that with Mitra, the opportunities have been endless, if you are ready to take on a challenge.
3.How did you come to be considered for the TechWomen100 Global Award for Achievement?
I have spent a lot of my personal time mentoring and sharing knowledge with Business Analysts, Product Managers and start-ups through various forums and organisations, including SLASSCOM and TechUp as well as on a personal level. One of these is a digital marketing company, Digital Breakers in Sri Lanka. I got involved on a voluntary basis right at the beginning of their journey by sharing my knowledge, and they are now winning awards and represent over 50 brands. They very kindly nominated me for the award.
4.There are many talented women in Tech, what do you think made you stand out from the crowd?
At Mitra I work with many different businesses, and take a proactive role in identifying opportunities for innovation. I try to see the bigger picture, and identify where small strategic changes can have a butterfly effect on their business, launching them to the next stage, helping them provide the best product or service for their customers. My innate curiosity means I do a lot or research for each project or business I am involved with. I then share that knowledge with others, also learning from their experiences, creating an ongoing conversation, and making sure everyone understands the ultimate goal. I think my curiosity, information gathering and sharing, passion for enabling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through tech, and my drive to make tech work for good are perhaps qualities the awards team were looking for. All this is fueled by the variety of experiences I have been fortunate to have throughout my career, by setting goals for myself to work in different areas in the tech industry. I think that played out better than I thought!
5.Why do you think it’s important to have awards specifically for women?
I’m conflicted by this question. I fully support the importance of championing women’s achievements as a way of inspiring more girls and women at every stage of their education and career. Visibility is crucial, and creating positive tech role models is always to be celebrated. That said, I am an advocate of diversity and inclusion, so I would hope that my achievements inspire everyone. Anyone who uses their curiosity and passion to help and support others should be recognised and championed, and this is something Mitra does well. I am involved with a Mitra/SDF education initiative run by one of our very passionate project managers, which offers children and young people from more remote areas of Sri Lanka an opportunity to learn about tech. A big part of this course is around communication skills, English, and office culture. Attracting those with an aptitude into tech is one thing, but we want to give them the skills to be able to shine in the workplace, communicate effectively with colleagues and clients and give them the very best chance of being recognised and applauded for their contribution.
6.What obstacles have you had to overcome throughout your career?
Any obstacles have been around figuring out difficult situations with clients, problem solving and challenging myself. I worked in Sales when I knew it would be a challenge, but my desire to experiment and work in different disciplines has given me a unique perspective. I can see my way around problems much more easily having worked in many of the areas involved.
7.How have you found working at Mitra has developed your career?
At Mitra there are a lot of opportunities, and I was given responsibility from day one and trusted to run with new initiatives. I have had roles in many different areas of the business so have had the opportunity to learn how each job is done. What I have learnt informs each role, increasing my knowledge and confidence to be able to tackle whatever comes next. I have also been given the opportunity to undertake volunteer roles and start my own knowledge sharing portal Ingenium. By strong collaboration I have taught and learnt so much, and this has really driven my career forward.
Working on projects such as Leap in! where I travelled to meet the team in Australia and worked with them as a business consultant. I learnt about the support mechanisms that are in place for disabled people in Australia, and was part of the team which used tech to solve a difficult problem for the charity. I brought this thinking back to Sri Lanka and it made me more determined to use tech for good at home. As an advocate of DEI and enthusiast of “humanised tech”, I got involved with DCLK, SLASSCOM, universities and other groups creating awareness of the role of IT professionals in enabling diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in a wider forum.
8.The number of girls choosing to study STEM subjects is still low, especially in the UK, how would you encourage them to consider these subjects?
I strongly believe that there is a lack of information about job opportunities in tech presented to school children in general. Many will know about coding and possibly project management, but there are so many diverse roles within tech that anyone outside the industry will not be aware of, and they don’t all require a developers skill set. Areas such as Business Orientation and Customer Orientation for example. I think we need to educate teachers and careers’ officers and try to find a way to map early skills to the kinds of jobs available.
9.Is there any one particular person at Mitra you’d like to mention who has been influential in your career?
I cannot mention just one! The three founders are inspirational leaders and I have learnt a lot from them. Dammika has the ability to join the dots of the bigger picture, Derek takes the time to get into the nitty gritty and guides you to a deeper understanding to optimise your efforts and Ashok is a visionary, a strategic thinker with one eye to the future. I have always been inspired by Chinthi’s charismatic and dynamic leadership and by Clayton’s combination of skills in Tech and Sales and Marketing, which elevates Mitra’s Client Services. There are many other people I could mention who have had an influence on my career at Mitra including both past and present colleagues, it is the knowledge sharing and collegiate environment which I am so passionate about that makes Mitra such a good fit for me.
There is one person I’d like to mention that was extremely supportive when I was doing my MBA. Mr Kithsiri Wijesundara was my thesis supervisor and he encouraged me to complete my thesis when working overseas made studying difficult. His words of encouragement, his guidance and the faith he had in me motivates me still, and I’m truly grateful.
10.How will you be celebrating?
It makes all the difference having the right people around you to celebrate your wins. The award has prompted so many messages from friends, family, colleagues and clients, sharing memories from school, university and my workplaces. It has been a trip down memory lane, and I was amazed to hear of the things they remember about our times together. I’m truly grateful to everyone for their congratulations and encouragement and of course the flowers and gifts. This has also encouraged me to increase my activity on my knowledge sharing portal Ingenium, and become more involved in mentoring and training.