OFBJP Australia took another leap forward towards its commitment to support women’s voice in decision-making, leadership and peace-building as Victoria Chapter kick-started its journey in 2017 by hosting an event dedicated to women achievers in Melbourne.
In what turned out to be a momentous occasion, four outstanding women provided an insight into their journey which made them living symbols of accomplishment. They spoke about their journey, motivations, goal and most importantly how they went about achieving them.
The curtain raised as Mrs Deepika Chandran, OFBJP Australia’s first Woman Leader, stepped forward. As she walked towards the stage, her confident Strides epitomising the giant steps taken by Indian women in the last decade. As she climbed the stage, held the mic, and began proceedings by introducing the first speaker of the evening.
Mrs Div Pillay – “There is a difference between struggle and challenge
with regards to women’s advancement”
CEO and Co-Founder of MindTribes, organisation psychologist by training, Mrs Div Pillay is a nominee for 2017 Telstra Business Woman’s Award and 2016 and Finalist for Telstra Business Award.
Mrs Pillay identified the struggle in her advancement with her South African upbringing and education. With a legacy of Indian indentured labours, Mrs Pillay is a fifth generation Indian South African. She grew up during the apartheid era where Indians were marginalised and restricted to where they lived and were educated with the Group Areas Act and Education Act.
Post apartheid also brought struggles for advancement, and increased violence against minority groups. After surviving a violent attack, Mrs Pillay decided to immigrate to Australia in December 2002 with her husband and being 7 months pregnant. She is now a mother of three beautiful children.
Mrs Pillay identifies the challenge part of her advancement with her 14 years in Australia. After 10 years in Corporate HR, Mrs Pillay recognised the limitations of the glass and bamboo ceiling. She created challenge for herself by starting MindTribes in 2013. In this first year, MindTribes existed in a consulting model and it was a rejection on a proposal that further defined the MindTribes brand in cross cultural performance.
Mrs Pillay’s earliest proposal was rejected based on her being the wrong fit to facilitate a group of senior Australian leaders. The client asked if MindTribes had an Australian partner to work with. This critical incident led to Mrs Pillay repositioning the business brand with her personal brand of being culturally diverse – Indian, South African, Australian.
Her company, is 50% female owned, utilizes only female suppliers, and gives 10% of its revenue to the “Because I am a Girl” Program with Plan International, focusing on girl’s education in developing countries. She says, “Even though we live and work in Australia, never forget how valuable your brand is being both Indian and Australian. Australia will only lean in more to Asia, you have a critical part to play.”
Mrs Pooja Nambiar – “Indians are naturally trained to fit in cross cultural set up”
She is a career driven woman, loving mother, half decent chef and a caring friend. Mrs Nambiar is currently a Director at the Australian Taxation Office with over 18 years of experience in the organization. She eloquently spoke about her growth and success. For her the key is finding the synergy between her Indian and Australian identity. Her comfort level with both the identities, she attributes it to, being brought up in India.
Born in beautiful state of Kerala, being the daughter of an Indian army personnel gave her ample opportunities to live across length and breadth of India. Blessed with fantastic childhood, she changed nine schools in twelve years owing to her father’s constant movements.
She didn’t realize at that stage that these changes were harbinger of the things to come as she became very comfortable with the idea of change, fitting in new environment and co-existing with different people. Thus, she finds herself absolutely at ease with multicultural set up of Australia.
Mrs Pooja Nambiar joined ATO in 1998 and has been part of change that has undergone in the cultural set up within ATO. She started as part of team heavily male dominated, where the meetings would often start with “Hey guys.. ”
From there she has now reached a stage where she is managing a team of hard nose auditors. Although still dominated by males in number, she says ATO is very inclusive towards women.
A practicing Hindu, she is ardent believer of female energy. “Devi”, she says exists in many forms – Lakshmi for wealth, Sarasvati for knowledge, Rudra when angry. This she says underpins the fact woman plays several roles within society.
She says since Hindu scriptures uphold and acknowledge the idea of female energy so that must indeed be true. She thinks she has reached a position where she influences people at her workplace, in family and within Australian community. She invites everyone to think about not just their educational qualification but all beautiful things which you bring from India. Understanding to cope up with different skills is a huge advantage for Indians and employers are looking for such skills.
Mrs Pooja Gupta – “Chase your dreams”
Is training in Indian classical music a liability or liberating force? Do we always know what we want? Do we value the natural gifts we are blessed? Of is it when our vocation miraculously saves us from despondency? These are some of the riddles which Mrs Pooja Gupta could solve in her journey. Growing up in Delhi, her life revolved around music. Her father being a classical vocalist running a music academy, at early age she received training in music. Every evening 4 – 7pm were ear marked for music training.
In her own words the regimented schedule for music would sometimes get to her nerves and there came a point when she felt that she was merely going through the motions for her music training and didn’t really enjoy music.
Then came the marriage and she decided her relationship with music was over now that she wouldn’t have to follow the morning training schedule. In a parting discussion with her father, he insisted to take her harmonium with her. With great reluctance, just to please her father she took the harmonium.
An opportunity to visit Australia came to her doors and she and her husband relocated to Australia. With a degree in psychology from the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, a good job came readily in Australia. Life was really happening for her.
Three months in the job, a bout of anxiety and uneasiness began to set in. Suddenly she started feeling lonely and realized that despite being months in Australia, a good job, a flourishing life, yet she did not know a single person outside her work in Australia. She practically knew nobody, had no friends.
A chance visit of her sister, and they started discussing music. Her sister enquired about the same harmonium which Mrs Pooja had taken with her post marriage. Reluctantly, the harmonium gathering dust was brought and the two sisters started renditions of songs, revisiting old times.
That was the moment when Mrs Pooja Gupta realized what was missing in her life – it was the music! The much ignored harmonium had come to her rescue as the musical notes started reenergizing her and within days the loneliness disappeared, such was the power of music.
Revitalised, she decided to start a music school in Melbourne. A kind Indian grocery story allowed her to put up an advertising poster. Within a day two students signed up – the first two people whom she now knew outside work.
And it kick started a musical journey, which has continued till today. Many challenges came, from pursing her psychology degree to get full psychologist registration in Australia and simultaneously rearing up a young child. There were several testing times such as when her son got ill on the eve of her exams but she kept hanging in there, slowly and steadily chasing her dream of establishing her music school.
She is now a fully registered practicing psychologist and simultaneously managing her institute called Ragas Institute. Her institute imparts training in Hindustani classical vocal and Kathak dance. The school has produced hundreds of students trained in Indian classical music and Kathak, a feat which makes make her proud for not just pursuing her goal but also for a contribution in promoting Indian culture in Australia.
Mrs Deepa Bhatia – “A voice of awareness”
An early settler in Melbourne, a mentor, associated with community with over 25 years, Mrs Deepa Bhatia has been a witness of rise of Indian community in Australia and part of their struggles, dreams, prosperity and has been a helping hand to anyone in need.
Currently, running a very successful solar – electronics business and an organization – Indian Family Foundation, dedicated to promote Indian family value systems. One of her initiatives was the introduction of Hindi books and magazines in several Victorian libraries to assist new migrants from India. She welcomes Indian Diaspora in Melbourne with open arms to take benefit of Indian Family Foundation to cultivate family moral development of younger generation.
There was an air of nostalgia for some when she narrated anecdotes following her arrival to Australia two decades ago. She recalled the time when there was only one Indian grocery shop in entire Melbourne. The shop was 40 Kilometres away and visiting that shop was itself an event. She and her friend would prepare a dossier of items, exchange notes and would travel every weekend for the purchase. If any items escaped the list, then the next opportunity would only be available next week.
She narrated how, back then; it was rare to see Indian faces. Thus, Indians used to carry paper diaries in their pockets and upon meeting a fellow Indian, would ask for phone numbers and meet later. She says this was the customary method for forming friendships among Indians.
Always beaming with energy and desire to do something new, and having being part of Indian Australian community in Melbourne since a long time, she and her friends have been instrumental in setting up some early Indian cultural organizations.
In line with her an indomitable spirit, currently she has trodden an unconventional path for working for the rights of men. She says, just like women there are issues with males. For overall wellbeing of society and to maintain harmonious balance it’s important, issues related to males shouldn’t go unnoticed. She says that this is one area which requires awareness within society and that’s what she endeavours to be – a voice of awareness.
It is fascinating, although not surprising, that these inspirational women have risen to these heights. They are all, in their way, obsessed with the excellence.
A shining example of how perseverance, never say die attitude and courage to make a difference have propelled them to stratosphere of success.
The event culminated with a young budding singer Ms. Malavika Harish. She started learning music from age of three and a half. She is a disciple of Mrs Shobha Shekhar. A multi-talented person, she plays 5 instruments keyboard, flute, guitar , violin (Western & Carnatic) and Veena. She won Voice of Melbourne 2016 and was finalist for Australian Indian Idol. Just 11 years old, she captivated the audience with melodious rendition of a Hindi song. A fitting closure to a spectacularly enlightening evening!
(The writer is a Member of Political Advisory Group, OFBJP Australia)