An InterNations ambassador and a project manager for Invesco Trimark Ltd, Anjali Benawra is also a self-professed TEDster, shoe-lover and planner extraordinaire. Hailing from a multi-cultural background (British-Kenyan-Singaporean-Canadian), this thirty-something multi-talented multi-tasker shares nuggets about her life in the Diaspora.
Born in England, brought up in Kenya and Singapore, and spending much of her adult life in Canada, Benawra’s background reveals fascinating details of Indian migrant history. She says, “My [paternal] great-grandfather moved from India to Kenya in the early 1930s and then [he] set up a business there. My mom’s dad worked for the British East African Railways… [and] then they moved to England. So, both my parents were born in East Africa. My mom had her first child in England with her parents and that’s how I was born in England. I grew up in Kenya. So, I was in Kenya till I was about twelve years old… And then, my dad got a job with Singapore Airlines. So, we just… moved”.
That must have been quite exciting, I venture. She smiles lightly and shakes her head, “It was a culture shock in the beginning. You go from a very comfortable luxurious sheltered lifestyle [in Kenya] to… a tiny island nation with a lot of different cultures. We became completely immersed in a global culture, because we were expatriates. [Back in Kenya], we lived in a joint family [where] we all lived and grew up together. [In Singapore], my sister and I went to an international school and we had friends from all over the world. Everybody was an expat”. Benawra strongly believes that because of her move to Singapore at that crucial developing age, her “outlook on life” took a 360 degree turn. That she is the person she is today because she went to that school. She also points out that she would have had the same opportunities in Kenya, but perhaps “not the same outlook”.
Moving to Canada “for university”, Benawra feels it was easier to blend into the multicultural society here because of her experience of living in Singapore. Initially a Political Science and International Relations graduate from University of Toronto, Benawra spent her early days in the work field working for Lancôme. But one opportunity led to another, and she has been with Invesco 7Trimark for the past ten years. She exclaims, “It wasn’t really my kind of path. I didn’t plan it that way. It just happened”. However, Benawra believes that these days “there are a lot more opportunities. You can go out and get [into your] niche. Ten years ago, [we] didn’t have that”.
And how has it been being an unmarried South Asian woman in her mid-thirties? She admits that her parents have never pushed her towards marriage. But her grandparents? “Well… my mom’s parents are still alive and … I think their generation is in their 70s and 80s and they believe that you have to get into that phase of your life. That you have to give your parents grandchildren… For them, they see this as the next step in life… I [also] have an uncle in Chicago who is a pediatric doctor and he says that ‘you only have a certain window to have children!’”
As an accomplished strong woman, Benawra has some sound advice for young graduates just stepping into the job market: “You should look at your skills and abilities. You should always be ambitious [and]… reach for your goals. Try to do what you can at the time you can do it. Don’t wait and don’t be held back by relationship issues… Learn to be patient and understand the kind of work you are doing.” She also adds “travel” to the list of essential attributes, as in her words, “you can learn so much from other people… from your experience of being in another country [and] you can also learn about yourself.”