Asian Women of Achievement: the full shortlist


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The Independent Online

Shalini Bhalla, creative director and founder, Just Jhoom!

Just Jhoom! is the premier Bollywood dance fitness instructor training scheme in the UK. Bhalla set up the company in 2010 after recognising that there was a gap in the market and has since trained more than 200 instructors, who run classes across the UK, for all ages.

Lolita Chakrabarti, actress & writer

Chakrabarti is an actress and writer, who represents a unique and insightful voice on the theatre scene in London. Her most recent triumph, Red Velvet, has earned her critical acclaim including winning the 2012 Evening Standard award for Most Promising Playwright.

Nileeka Gunawardene, artistic director, Bollywood Dance London

Law student Gunawardene set up Bollywood Dance London (BDL) in 2009. It is now known as the home of Bollywood dance in London, teaching more than 150 students each week. Through dance, BDL creates an appreciation of Asian culture among both mainstream and minority audiences.

Parvinder Kaur, IT lecturer and manager-founder, Eternal Tall

Kaur established Eternal Tall in 1999, a leading Bhangra entertainments team. With a love for music since childhood, she became the only female Dhol drummer to performing on the UK’s biggest stages. She expanded her passion and started to the teach students all over Birmingham.

Divya Mathur, senior programme officer, High Commission of India

Mathur is a poet and story writer, also well known for her community work. She promotes Indo-British dialogue, and provides a platform for the artistic aspirations of people from a south Asian background. In 1992, she helped establish the Nehru Centre in London and won the Arts Council’s Arts Achiever Award for outstanding contribution and innovation in the arts. She is also founder of Vatayan Poetry on London’s South Bank, each year organising a fabulous event at the House of Lords.

Sukki Singapora, burlesque artist, The Singapore Burlesque Club

Asia’s first international burlesque star, and the world’s first from Singapore. She trained in classical ballet from an early age and started performing Burlesque in 2011, turning away from her family and upbringing to pursue her dreams.


Yonca Brunini, VP marketing emerging EMEA, Google

As vice president of marketing for Google in Europe, Middle East and Africa, Brunini is responsible for Google’s growth through marketing in this region, as well as its growth in emerging markets globally. Since joining Google in 2006, she has been responsible for marketing across Google’s consumer and business products, including Search, Mobile, Chrome, YouTube, AdWords, Display and Google+. She is also the executive sponsor of Google Zeitgeist in EMEA and a board member of Google’s Cultural Institute.

Viney Jung, solicitor, notary public and tribunal judge, Jung & Co Solicitors

Jung set up Jung & Co Solicitors in 1997 in Southall. Having worked as a solicitor for three years, she decided to open her own firm to give her community the service she knew was needed. Her firm was the first in west London to achieve the Lexcel Quality Mark. Her firm now offers free advice sessions since the closure of the local law centre. She has overcome personal tragedies, and gives up her time to run law workshops at local schools to encourage students into the legal profession.

Sue Kukadia, director, global immigration, Ernst & Young

kukadia started her legal background at a small immigration practice and then worked at Deloitte, BDO and Braithwaite solicitors where she built up successful international immigration practices. Sue subsequently joined Ernst & Young in 2010 as a senior manager and was promoted to director in 2011. She was instrumental in growing a team of eight to 30 people in under 12 months and secured many new clients to develop long-term revenue plans.

Shahin Virani, group COO, Bonhams

Virani is the group chief operating officer for Bonhams, the fine art auction house. She directs client relations, HR and operations for Bonhams, managing a staff of 700 on four continents. She has been a key player in moving the company from the fourth largest in Britain to the third largest in the world.

Grace Wang, managing director, JP Morgan

A Harvard MBA graduate, Wang is passionate not only about her day job – developing a global sales platform for the investment bank’s investor services business – but also about supporting her peers, those she mentors, and her community. She has founded and is actively leading an effort to empower the women MDs at her firm and is a strong senior sponsor for JP Morgan’s women’s network.


Shaheen Bhatia, pharmacist owner, P&S Chemist

In 1987 Bhatia and her husband converted an old grocery shop into a successful pharmacy that has since helped pioneer health services in Ilford, Essex. Widowed in 1995 with two children, Bhatia has continued to take the pharmacy to the leading edge by helping to pilot and roll out vital local services in drug addiction, teenage pregnancy and sexual health. Shaheen’s innovative ideas have helped local people and she has established a pioneering centre for community healthcare.

Jaya Chakrabarti, CEO, Nameless Media Group

Chakrabarti founded Nameless Media Group in 1999 with an £8,000 investment. Fourteen years later, Nameless was recently valued at just over £3m, and is one of the leading creative digital agencies in Bristol, with clients including Orange, Dyson and HSBC. She is passionate about the use of digital technology to empower people and improve the quality of their lives. She chaired the “Mayor for Bristol” campaign that achieved the only Yes vote in the country in May 2012. She also chairs a local democracy organisation, Bristol Manifest, aimed at ensuring that the disengaged are re-engaged and empowered.

Sipra Deb, director, The Play Arena

The Play Arena is Sheffield’s largest and most innovative indoor play centre, created by molecular biologist Sipra Deb. Her vision is to improve the whole experience of family entertainment centres in the UK. Deb set up the business 18 months ago and it has since exceeded all forecasts. With a strong drive and passion for developing her staff, she is now involved in supporting several small ventures run by ethnic minorities and by women.

Helen Dhaliwal, director, Red Hot World Buffet

In 2004, Dhaliwal founded the Red Hot World Buffet restaurant brand, now the UK’s fastest-growing restaurant chain; in 2012 it opened a £2m new Nottingham restaurant. She has helped revolutionise affordable city-centre dining through combining a person-centred philosophy, the best of world cuisines, motivated staff and formidable business acumen. She is also committed to giving something back to the communities surrounding her restaurants.

Shalini Khemka, chief executive and board director, E2Exchange

Khemka is founder, chief executive and board director of E2Exchange, a not-for-profit organisation “for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs” that seeks to formulate partnerships with entrepreneurial organisations and corporate institutions to promote entrepreneurial activity. Her board of directors includes entrepeneurs such as Richard Branson and Lornamead founder George Jatania.

Lisa Tse, founder, Sweet Mandarin Sauces

Tse is head chef and CEO of Sweet Mandarin restaurant, cookery school and gluten free sauce manufacturer. Her sauces are supplied to 500 Sainsbury’s, Selfridges and to the Queen. Her Manchester restaurant was crowned by Gordon Ramsay’s F Word as the Best Local Chinese Restaurant beating 10,000 others. Her cookbook, co-written with her sister Helen, will be published in January 2014. She is also a visiting fellow in enterprise at the Manchester Metropolitan University.


Rahila Bano, senior news reporter, BBC

Bano is a senior news journalist for the BBC. Her aim has always been to serve the Asian communities and to offer them a platform to air their concerns. She has covered many issues of relevance to the UK’s Asian communities and also brought them to a mainstream audience. She is not afraid to put her head above the parapet and has no hesitation in pursing the truth and in highlighting injustice. She is able to bring to the fore stories that would otherwise, in many cases, go unheard.

Ravinder Bhogal, broadcaster and writer

Food writer, journalist, stylist and television personality, Bhogal was propelled into the culinary limelight when crowned Britain’s New Fanny Cradock by Gordon Ramsay on Channel 4’s The F Word. She has travelled the globe as roving reporter for Channel 4’s magazine show Food: What Goes in your Basket? She has also presented a special two-part documentary The Great British Curry Trail for BBC2, and has appeared on Market Kitchen, Inside Out, This Morning and Perfect. Her debut cookery book Cook in Boots (HarperCollins 2009) was published to rave reviews both in the UK and US.

Reeta Chakrabarti, education and social affairs correspondent, BBC

For the past two years, Chakrabarti has been the BBC education and social affairs correspondent. In that time, she has covered many contentious issues such as schools and the exam system, higher university tuition fees plus stories to do with adoption, poverty and social mobility. Previously Reeta was the political correspondent for the BBC, where she covered three general elections. She also spent time reporting on community affairs and reported at length on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. She’s also a presenter on the BBC news channel, BBC world and Radio 4’s The World Tonight.

Dina Medland, independent writer/ editor/ consultant

Medland is a journalist who contributes regularly to the Financial Times and the FT-NED website, among others, is a columnist for Chartered Secretary magazine, as well as writing a popular blog on boardroom issues. Born and raised in India, her family moved to the US when she was 11. Following Wellesley, Oxford and Cambridge universities, she has had a very successful media career. She brings a unique cross-cultural insight to her work as well as a diversity of international experience.

Sandeep Sidhu, UK producer, ITV News

Self-proclaimed “ITV News foot soldier”, Sidhu ensures news of the biggest breaking stories reaches our screens. Sourcing interviews, she has made a significant contribution to the coverage of ITV News in recent years, working on home coverage and also special events such as the Royal Wedding and 2012 Olympics. She was recently made UK producer, working on crime and home affairs stories.

Kalpna Woolf, head of production, BBC

Woolf is head of production across two Bristol departments – factual Bristol and the natural history unit, with a combined annual income of £70m. It is her role to work in partnership with senior editorial colleagues to deliver distinctive multi-platform content by formulating the strategies and providing the ways to realise editorial ambitions within operational and financial constraints. She also leads the governance group for the Anchor Project, representing the BBC in partnership with Bristol City and local media groups.


Ishrat Bano, postdoctoral researcher, University of Cambridge

Bano has broken gender barriers with tremendous dedication, bravery and courage, by pursuing education in a very dangerous society. She has set an example for the women of her country, Pakistan, that they can pursue a career in science. She is a multi-award winning scientist, most recently selected for the UNESCA-L’Oreal Fellowship. Her ambition is to make a difference to society and to continue supporting and mentoring women for better education.

Farah Bhatti, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, NHS

Bhatti is an inspirational figure who manages to combine a busy clinical job with a deep commitment to the education of tomorrow’s doctors. She was only the fourth female consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon appointed in the UK in 2007, and the first in Wales. She is also curriculum director for the innovative Graduate Entry Medicine programme at Swansea University and is inspirational to medical students and trainees. Farah is passionate about improving the opportunities for disadvantaged people, in education, medicine and health. On the Opportunities in Surgery Forum, she works at many levels: empowering young people.

Sadi Khan, head of training, Nobel Khan

Khan has overcome many obstacles in her life, and today leads a business delivering cultural training. Noble Khan, a company that she set up after going undercover, creates courses that raise awareness and build confidence and lasting community cohesion. Sadi set the company up in 2004 and today provides training to clients such as Thames Water, the British Army, NHS and BT. She is an outstanding teacher and trainer and was recently awarded Trainer of the Year by the Learning and Performance Institute.

Usha Menon, professor of gynaecological cancer, University College London

Arriving in the UK in 1990 to take up a registrars post, Menon has since become one of Britain’s foremost specialists in gynaecological cancer. Her work involves her in a range of research, clinical, teaching, advisory and public engagement roles, most recently updating the all-party parliamentary group on ovarian cancer. However, her main focus of her work remains to improve the outcome for women at risk of developing gynaecological cancer and those diagnosed with this disease. She believes that everyone has a right to good medical care.

Payal Vasudeva, managing director, Accenture

Vasudeva is both a trailblazing consultant and champion of diversity and inclusion. While running very successful client sales and delivery at large banking institutions, Payal also conceived and launched a mentoring programme within Accenture, supporting more than 300 colleagues and leads in developing capability globally across the organisation. Outside of Accenture, she sponsors an education programme to support young girls in India.

Audrey Williams, partner, human resources group, Eversheds

Williams joined Eversheds as a qualified solicitor in 1989 and was promoted to partner in 1993. She is now one of 350 partners in a firm of more than 6,000 staff worldwide. As a partner, she specialises in discrimination law (representing employees in of the UK’s first transsexual discrimination cases) and is closely involved in the firm’s strategic and business planning. In 2007, she transferred to the London office after 17 years in Cardiff in order to head up the firm’s national discrimination team and to develop the Eversheds London employment law practice.

Public Service

Dr Husna Ahmad OBE, chief executive officer, Faith Regen Foundation

Ahmad is the group CEO of the Faith Regen Foundation and holds leadership positions among various different councils and organisations. She is committed to promoting the harmonious co-existence of all communities and has dedicated many years to the empowerment of disadvantaged BME and faith communities; she is a national and international speaker on faith and regeneration, peace building, women’s issues and climate change.

Tab Ahmad, founder and managing director, EmployAbility

Ahmad is the founder and managing director of EmployAbility. Set up in 2006, EmployAbility works with disabled students and graduates to ease the transition from education to employment; and with top global employers, to help them become more disability inclusive. Ahmad’s work has changed the lives of thousands of disabled students. With 20-plus years’ of experience, her pioneering work has been vital in increasing disability awareness among employers.

Dr Bela Arora, academic, University of Wales Newport

Arora is an experienced, internationally recognised academic and policy shaper in higher education, holding a PhD in arms control. She has worked in some of the UK’s top ranked universities, where she has engaged in lecturing, research, strategic planning and policy development. She has been invited to present at conferences across the globe. She also is commonly called upon for advisory work with the government and in recent years has been a member of the ethnic minority advisory group, the learning innovations experts group and the open education resources steering group.

Raj Bhamber, director of workforce and organisational development, Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Bhamber has been unfailing in her pursuit to ensure that staff and patients are the priority in the National Health Service. Her ability to find and bring out the best in people is key to her creation of a culture of equality and diversity. She selflessly champions others while achieving great successes of her own, with boundless energy and passion.

Karenjit Clare, junior research fellow, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

Clare is the youngest junior research fellow in management studies at Green Templeton College, University of Oxford. She conducts research on work, employment and labour with a focus on gender and class relations, group dynamics, inequality, power and identity. Her work combines insights from sociology, economic geography, socio-cultural anthropology and organisational behaviour in order to illuminate how micro-level processes of interpersonal evaluation and interaction contribute to macro-level labour market inequalities.

Zehra Zaidi, national programme lead, Uprising leadership programme, The Young Foundation

Zaidi has a record of excellence and creating change across sectors. She has acted as an international mergers and acquisitions solicitor, before being headhunted to work on an Asian Development Bank reform project. She has worked in international development and held political roles including advising Andrew Mitchell MP, then shadow secretary of state for international development. Zehra stood as an MEP Candidate and is lead for Women2Win. She helped set up an education charity, is the director of a social enterprise working on employability programmes with HM Prison Service and schools, and a trustee and ambassador for two other charities.

The Social & Humanitarian Award

Samsunear Ali, deputy chief executive, Bawso

Ali is deputy chief executive at Bawso, an all-Wales, Welsh government accredited support provider, delivering specialist services to people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds who are affected by domestic abuse and other forms of abuse. She is passionate about her work, which makes a difference to some of the most vulnerable women in society. She has overcome cultural barriers and personal challenges and continuously strives to achieve and motivate others to enhance their lives.

Puja Handa, art of living teacher, Art of Living Foundation

With a master’s degree in psychology, followed by a teaching qualification with the Art of Living Foundation, Handa has taught courses in slums, universities, youth centres, hospitals, prisons and Fortune 500 companies, all with the same overall objective: to overcome stress and lead a happier, healthier, more mindful life. With her diverse background and professional experiences, she interacts effortlessly with children and adults alike, regardless of background or creed giving them tools to create a more purposeful and contented life for themselves.

Polly Harrar, founder, The Sharan Project

Having left home at the age of 17, Harrar’s charity The Sharan Project has been helping South Asian women who have been disowned, or have voluntarily or forcedly left their familial environment. As an advocate for change, Polly has worked tirelessly to provide support for countless women. She has a natural gift of gaining confidence and trust and instinctively understands her client’s needs. She is always willing to support others and share her knowledge and experiences freely; she is a strong believer in partnership working and never gives up.

Hani Law, trustee, Golden Lane Housing and trustee, Outward

Law was a leading figure in both the marketing and IT industry in Hong Kong and retired when she moved to London in 2003. She has since been a dedicated contributor to public life in the UK, using her skills to support multiple charities and programmes to support the next generation. She believes acquiring knowledge, skills and values throughout life enables her and other women to make positive and rewarding contributions to sustain the environment, community and the economy. She is committed to sharing her skills with other women (and men) and help improve people’s quality of life.

Malini Mehra, founder, Centre for Social Markets

Mehra is a civil society leader and non-profit founder who has played a prominent role in global social movements for close to 25 years, including working as adviser to former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. Crossing the line from activist to policymaker, adviser and entrepreneur, she has worked at the highest levels of government, multilateral agencies, business and NGOs worldwide. She created, and is still chief mentor of, the Centre for Social Markets, which works on sustainability projects in India.

Ahmereen Reza, honorary chairperson, Developments in Literacy Trust

Thirty years ago, as an architect, Reza decided to channel her passion for advocacy and community participation to improve the lives of the world’s underprivileged. Her belief, that sustainable solutions come through direct interaction has led her to live with squatter settlements, photograph the state of “black housing” in communist Yugoslavia and visit schools in Taliban areas. She established DIL Trust UK, where her commitment to literacy has rallied support for young girls in Pakistan. She has a passion and drive to help under -privileged communities to help themselves. Ahmereen strongly believes in being and making ‘Agents of Change’.


Aisha Ahmad, CEO, All Sports Women

Ahmad is an international sports academic and an avid footballer, with three caps for England. She has spent more than ten years actively promoting sports for women and girls from minority ethnic communities, and established an inter-faith sports charity for women – All Sports Women. She has continuously challenged stereotypical notions of the “Asian woman” through her sports and academic career and her community involvement.

Rimla Akhtar, chair, Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation

A chartered accountant by profession, Akhtar has been making her mark in the sports field for over 12 years. As chair of the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation (MWSF), she has led the organisation to one with an international reputation for its work in women’s sport. She single-handedly worked to obtain £235k for the MWSF to set the standard and drive the agenda for this industry.

Manisha Tailor, football coach and sports journalist

A primary school teacher by profession, Tailor works tirelessly to promote football to the local community, working hard to reach families and encouraging children to be more active. She has a passion and love for the game and everything that she is doing within it.

Monica Thandi, chairperson and founder, Netball Development Trust

Taking time off her hectic work schedule as a lawyer in London, Thandi has brought sports, and happiness, to many girls and boys in Uganda and India. The netball coaching programme that she bravely launched in 2010 has reached more than 2,700 girls and boys who would otherwise have no access to sports in rural areas of Africa and India.

Young Achiever

Roma Agrawal, associate structural engineer, WSP Group

At 29, Agrawal has already worked on the most iconic tower in the UK (the Shard in London), won awards for her work and is a leading light in the engineering world. She is passionate about promoting science and engineering careers to students and graduates, and communicating the value of engineering in our society.

Megha Goel, fuel oil trader, Trafigura Pte

Goel has made her mark in a male-dominated industry. Currently a fuel trader at Trafigura, she previously worked at Merrill Lynch where she ran a $2bn credit derivatives book within 18 months and led the Barclays Asia oil options business. In her spare time, she coaches children at Bow School, Tower Hamlets as well as raising funds for children’s education in India via Pratham and Eureka Superkidz.

Angela Jhanji, sustainability consultant, Accenture

The eldest daughter of Indian parents, Jhanji has sought to break boundaries, challenge norms and drive accountability from an early age. Today working at Accenture, she is an experienced and charismatic management consultant specialising in sustainability strategy and social justice policy. On top of her work, she is committed to empowering young people, changing the dialogue of good business, and is a UK Youth trustee.

Romana Karim, management consultant, PwC

Karim’s career has ranged from the United Nations, to working for a UK feminist domestic violence charity, a boutique change management company and now as a management consultant at PwC in the government and public sector. At Cambridge University, she campaigned to get more ethnic minorities into Cambridge. Outside of work she volunteers as a school governor, a non-executive director for Havas UK and as an ambassador for the global youth movement One Young World.

Vidhyalakshmi Karthikeyan, senior researcher, BT Group

Karthikeyan is a senior researcher at BT. At 25, she has filed for 11 patents with cutting-edge research on exploiting artificial intelligence to improve communication networks. She is BT’s most successful graduate in this field. She is actively involved in the community and performed in the Olympics Opening ceremony. She has overcome challenges her in life to become a role model to other young scientists and, most important, to young Asian women.

Sanju Pal, founder, RISE

Pal is the founder of Rural India School Enterprise (RISE), a charity she set up at the age of 26 to address educational disadvantage in rural India and promote global citizenship in the UK. She also works as a management consultant at Accenture. She previously qualified as a teacher through the Teach First graduate programme and taught Maths at Mulberry School for Girls in London, where her students achieved outstanding results that contributed to the Maths Department’s improvement from 51 per cent A*-C at GCSE in 2007 to 63 per cent in 2008.

Community Award


The Home Office

Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation