For Natasha Munasinghe, a lawyer turned entrepreneur and workforce expert, polymath is a label that does not quite cover her achievements.
In 2003, the University of Sydney alumna founded FRANK Team with little business experience. An education and training company, it has since advised Westpac, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Australian Institute of Management, the Australian Federal Police, Group of Eight (Go8) universities, and community organisations.
“The most important thing business has taught me is that it’s always about people,” says Munasinghe. “If you treat people well and communicate openly and authentically – especially when times are rough – most people are willing to work with you and support you. Australia is a great place to build a business. Other businesspeople are very giving with their time and help.”
Since founding FRANK Team, Munasinghe has become a role model for entrepreneurial international students, a trusted industry advisor and respected media commentator. Her collaborations with a diverse cross-section of employers makes her well-placed to identify desirable workforce skills for Australia’s dedicated international students.
The biggest challenge for millennials is to be able to live in a new reality where you will continually need to learn and upskill.
“Be an agile learner and get used to being outside your comfort zone throughout your career. It’s a valuable skill set but not necessarily an easy one. Most people will need to be entrepreneurs, with their own career as their own business – whether they know it or not.”
Munasinghe is taking her own advice, too. By 2020 she will have completed a Stanford University program in innovation, entrepreneurship and design thinking. All while learning to code – a skill that she sees as key to lifelong learning.
“Coding for me is necessary to thrive in the world we live in today and more importantly the world of tomorrow. It’s an essential skill set. Learning how to code, I have come to realise, is not [only] about learning a programming language. It’s actually about optimising your own learning process.”
The University of Sydney and Stanford University are but the latest staging grounds for this remarkable entrepreneur. Munasinghe was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Fiji. Her family moved to Australia for work and her education.
As an international student at the University of Sydney, she did placements in Canberra and Sydney, worked in administration at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and in a call centre.
Humility and hindsight are hallmarks of the best business leaders. So, it is little surprise she takes lessons from even these earliest working experiences.
MS provided a grounding in office life, workload prioritisation and time management. Call centre work was “incredibly tough”. But it was also useful training in key performance indicators and sales methods.
She recalls her time at the University of Sydney Law School as one of “high quality opportunities”. Today, she is giving back to her fellow alumni, as a University of Sydney alumni council member.
Of course, her day job puts her in a prime position to help young students and lawyers too – and she is warm in her encouragement for those starting out in a pressurised, perfectionist world.
“I would tell [law students] to explore, experiment and be bold, especially in their younger years. I would also tell them to accept failure as a necessary part of life and to create for themselves a process for overcoming failure. This is important,” says Munasinghe.
“We are living in an uber exciting era where technology is going to make a lot of what was impossible previously, possible. And we all get to be part of this creation – so embrace that fully.”