Priya Ramsingh is a well known name in the communications industry. Owner of Arka (meaning sun for clarity) Communications, Priya was born in Trinidad and Tobago from parents of 5th or 6th generation South Asians.
Armed with a BA in English Literature from Carleton University, a certificate from Ryerson in Business Communications and currently working toward French language certificate from Humber College, Priya has experience in education, healthcare, school boards, municipality and private sector marketing and communications.
Published in Hospital News, Electrical Business, The Toronto Star , Priya has also worked as a freelance writer with Metroland Publications.
Generation Next brings to its readers Priya Ramsingh’s thoughts and views:
Why be an entrepreneur, especially when it could be very risky?
I’ve always been interested in having my own business. There are pros and cons of course. The pros being that you run the business and can choose the projects you want to take on, set your own hours and manage all business decisions.
The cons being that it is risky because business is not always steady. There are times when you are working seven days a week on several projects for various clients and then you won’t have a project for three months. Sometimes, you must take projects that may not be very interesting just to stay afloat.
What’s the difference between being a journalist and to be on the other side of the spectrum, meaning receiving and interpreting information versus giving out the news?
I was lucky to be hired as a reporter because I didn’t have any formal journalism training. I was given the opportunity based solely on my writing ability and the editor taught me how to write news. My experience as a beat reporter has helped me tremendously in my communications work because I understand what editors and reporters are looking for. I have a sense of what makes a good news story and what doesn’t, so I use this knowledge to pitch stories, and it has worked really well.
Given that you have been in communications field for quite a while, how has communications changed especially in terms of institutions’ outreach to South Asian community?
There has been a lot of change because the audience has changed. Communications is all about understanding your audience, their needs and reaching out to meet their needs whether it’s for profit or not. South Asians represent a large percentage of the audience now, so organizations are looking at ways to reach this particular demographic.
Do you think companies really understand or attempt to understand their South Asian clients?
I definitely see an attempt. Organizations have little choice because they cannot choose their audience, so they must make attempts to learn, understand and reach their audience or they run the risk of falling behind the ones who do.
How integrated is structural racism in our society?
To me, the term racism is about hate…and I don’t know that society still hates. What I see is discrimination based on fear of losing privilege. Unfortunately, based on my own experience, this type of discrimination and fear is more integrated into our society than most people want to believe or admit. I grew up in Rexdale, a very diverse community, and all of my friends were from various cultural backgrounds. I wasn’t that aware of discrimination until I joined the workforce.
Does it to certain extent mean that politicians’ claims to multiculturalism and inclusiveness are a bit exaggerated given that hiring practices are prejudicial, there isn’t nearly enough visible minority representation at the levels where it really makes a difference or in public service.
I believe you’re talking about the ‘diversity’ message that’s being used today.
Messages about diversity and inclusiveness are intended to influence behaviour and change mindsets. They [politicians] also have the power to implement legislation in order to create change. So I don’t believe they are exaggerating as much as they are using their voices and profile to create change, which is not easy. Implementing legislation is one thing, but changing the mindset of people who don’t want to change is a big challenge. A law can bring someone to trial, but if every juror is influenced by their own biases, then suddenly the verdict is based on a mindset and the law becomes skewed.
Legislative changes can also bring resentment to so many who feel it’s working against them, like affirmative action. The ones who are hired based on affirmative action may get the job, but what kind of work environment will they endure? Will they have a chance to move up and ahead? I’ve been hired in the past for ‘diversity’ reasons but the work environment was far from inclusive.
Politicians cannot get involved in hiring or operations. I’ve heard about a case where a politician tried to get involved in what appeared to be discriminatory practices in an organization based on several complaints from constituents, only to be reprimanded for overstepping his bounds.
What needs to happen is that Boards of Directors and heads of organizations need to be responsible in hiring strong leaders who are visionaries and create a workplace that’s inclusive and not discriminatory.
Does community reciprocate well to the institutions’ like TDSB, LHIN, Brampton Civic and companies outreach especially in public arena?
In my work at the TDSB, I’ve seen how well the communities respond to their Trustees because the work of the elected official is to represent their constituents, and that’s exactly what they do. It’s more difficult for the community to relate to an organization if the one-on-one interaction is not there.
What do you find are the strengths and weaknesses of the South Asian community?
Based on my own experience, I really don’t see a bond within the community. I see a lot of competition to get ahead even if it means pulling someone from the community down to save oneself.
Also, I’ve seen the fear that if we do get into a leadership position, we will start hiring only people from our cultural background. To me, this is just a tactic to further deter change. I’ve been in that situation before and just shrug it off, because while I don’t want to hire based on pigment and culture alone, I am a firm believer in giving someone a chance who deserves it and may not get the chance otherwise.
Why do you believe communications should be simpler?
To me, simple should be synonymous with communications. The purpose of communication is to reach the audience and if the message is simple, there is a higher chance that the audience will pick it up.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
Most people see a communicator as someone who develops brochures and writes copy, but the strategic skills that a communicator brings is only just beginning to get notice.
A strong communicator reads the audience and advises the client how best to reach the audience, what tactics to use and what messages will be most effective. Strong communicators also understand the need for change in order to meet the changing audiences. Sometimes it means saying that the brochure or newsletter is not the best tactic and this doesn’t always go over too well. I’ve been fortunate to have many clients however, who are open to my recommendations and advice.
How has social media changed the communications industry?
We are moving away from paper and long-winded prose into short, real time, quick messages in a very fast moving environment. Organizations need to learn to adapt quickly or run the risk of falling behind.
What’s also interesting is that everyone who is on social media takes on the responsibility of communicating whether they understand this or not. An incorrect tweet or biased blog that goes viral can really blur the lines between fact and fiction and that can be a bit concerning. I’m not sure that everyone recognizes the power in social media communication.
But it’s important to know how to harness it as a strong communications tool because you can reach a wide audience if you are open enough to convey messages that get noticed. Organizations just need to be open to changing their traditional way of communicating and learn how to be a bit more unconventional while still maintaining integrity. I’ve had opportunities to work in a few environments with open minded leaders who were open to creative change.
Now that I think about it, social media seems to be a metaphor of inclusiveness or ‘diversity’ in the workplace – either get on board or fall behind.
How much are you influenced by your heritage?
I consider myself a Canadian because I came to Toronto when I was five, and my parents brought us up as Canadians. But I am influenced by my own heritage more and more lately because it’s a tiny island where diversity is not a novelty, it’s a way of life. I like telling the story of the Trinidadian culture however because Trinidadians have been living in a multicultural society for generations, and while it’s not without its own biases, the people of the island come together as one culture. Marriage between cultures and races is also very common – you should see my own family! It’s a beautiful example of what a melting pot is really about.
How important is your religion to you and how do you strike balance between maintaining your cultural traditions and Canadian identity?
I am not really a religious person but I do have spiritual beliefs. I was brought up with Hinduism and I believe in the philosophy of the faith but not the traditions or rituals. So what I believe is pretty much the ‘trend’ these days – karma, reincarnation, etc. Lately I’ve been more interested in Buddhism because of the philosophy. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism are a way of life and easy to live by.
How do you spend cultural celebrations?
I celebrate Diwali with my family by having dinner together and lighting candles or diyas. Trinidadians celebrate Diwali a bit differently than South Asians because I believe it is one of the few celebrations brought over to the island from the first settlers. So we celebrate Diwali as a religious holiday and not necessarily a party. In fact, it’s a time when we abstain from eating meat in respect for the religion’s vegetarian guidelines. In Trinidad, the tradition calls for inviting non Hindus to one’s home for Diwali dinner, in order to share the meaning behind the celebration.
What do you do in your idle time?
I like to be outdoors so I do a lot of hiking, walking, skating in the winter and biking in the summer. I’m also working on a novel, a couple of novels actually, so I try to write as much as I can in my spare time. I also love to cook, especially for friends and family. I’m also an avid animal lover but I’m not without my superficial side – I have an incurable shoe addiction.
What’s the key to success?
Being in a place where you are happy with what you have.
Share with us the most valuable lesson you have learned at a personal and a professional life?
What resonates with me the most is the connections we build through relationships. Too often there is judgement without investigation.
Every time I’ve stood up for myself, I’m forced into change, but I’ve learned that change is simply evolution, which may seem hard at first, but always necessary.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Hopefully as a published author. I am a fiction writer first and I hope to finally finish my novels, find a publisher who believes in me and helps me share my work.