As Influence Digest’s editor-in-chief, Samantha Dharmasena has a passion for writing, social justice, international music, event planning, and entrepreneurship. While currently studying in the one-year Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MMIE) program at Queen’s University, Sam is one month deep into her internship.
Why did you join Influence Digest?
You learn by doing.
I figured the best way to learn about entrepreneurship was to dive into a startup. I joined Influence Digest (ID) to get hands-on experience in the startup world and develop my skills in multimedia. I’ve always enjoyed writing, but never pursued it. The Editor-in-Chief position popped up and it was just perfect timing.
I really enjoy pitch competitions so I’m excited for Canada’s Next Top Startup. Being on the other end of things as a host will be interesting. I’m excited to see what people are up to.
What was your educational background prior to Queen’s?
Went into undergrad wanting to be a vet & then completely changed my mind.
Like everyone else at the University of Guelph (U of G), I was dead set on becoming a veterinarian when I started undergrad. I graduated with a Bachelors of Arts & Sciences, specializing in zoology and business.
The summer after second year, I worked as a research assistant for the Office of Intercultural Affairs at U of G and fell in love with the work we were doing. It changed my career goals completely. I worked a few positions at the office; I started with that research position where I worked on U of G’s Report on Supporting the Needs of Black Students. I was doing literature reviews on the university experience for racialized students. It was fascinating and sometimes upsetting to see my own experiences (and my friends’) reflected in scientific data.
After that, I worked on the office’s International Student Services team. One of my favourite projects was co-facilitating START International 2017, U of G’s international student orientation. By the time I came to Queen’s, Diversity and Inclusion (especially race relations) had become more of my professional focus.
How would you describe your childhood?
I was born in Scarborough and grew up in both North York and Brampton.
I’m second generation Canadian – my parents moved to Canada from Sri Lanka only two years before I was born. I’ve basically watched them build a whole new life for us here. Coming from an immigrant family is a pretty big part of my identity. My parents made a point to visit Sri Lanka as often as we could and it’s had such a profound impact on my personal development. I love traveling now and it also helped me recognize my privilege. Among other things, the people of Sri Lanka have gone through natural disasters, years of civil war and genocide– it really puts things in perspective. All those experiences have definitely influenced the work I’m doing now.
We hear you’re into music. Can you tell us a little more?
Last fall, I co-founded a party series with a fellow classmate, Janey Buzugbe.
Together, we host a monthly party in Kingston, Ontario called “Tropic Like It’s Hot”. When we first arrived at Queen’s University in September of 2017, the nightlife wasn’t really our scene. Most clubs play top 40 tracks or 80’s throwbacks but Janey and I are usually listening to soca, dancehall, and afrobeats. That’s why we started Tropic, because we wanted a party that plays African and Caribbean music.
After emailing lots of nightclubs, we had our first event at Trinity Social in December 2017 and it went surprisingly well! Around 300 people showed up. The club enjoyed it too so now we do it on a monthly basis. We’ve actually been getting requests to organize a Latin music night. Tropic Like it’s Hot feels like more than a club night, we’ve been able to create a space for a community that isn’t usually represented in Kingston nightlife. Now we’re looking to recreate that sense of community and belonging through more events. We also want to dive into events outside nightlife too – stuff like film screenings, panel discussions, etc.
P.S. I’ll be playing my first DJ set on Feb 9 at the next Tropic Like It’s Hot at Trinity Social. Be there!
What side-ventures do you have on-the-go?
On the side, I’m the outreach coordinator for a tech company called CommuniHelp. They’re a volunteer-matching platform for the GTHA region. I’m mostly doing social media management for them. We’re starting a pilot project soon and will hopefully launch in the summer. Stay tuned!
This isn’t really a side-venture but I’m writing an academic conference paper right now. I’m really into it – The topic is management education and I’m talking about how we should be teaching business students that diversity drives innovation, but not without inclusive business practices.
Where do you see yourself in the long-run?
I think I’m pretty good at identifying social issues right now but I want to get better at executing and delivering solutions. It’s hard to do that within big organizations so entrepreneurship seems like the best way to create an impact. I also love Sisterhood Media’s saying “raise while you rise” which means helping others succeed while you do – that’s exactly the kind of person I try to be.
What was the last song you played on Spotify?
Don’t Behave – Anik Khan