Inspirational! Asian women of achievement

Kate Youde and Andrew McCorkell profile this year's nominees for the prestigious awards

Sunday 15 May 2011 00:00 BST

A 15-year-old novelist, a police sergeant and a TV chef are among the inspiring figures whose contribution to British life will be recognised at this year's Asian Women of Achievement Awards on Thursday.

Now in its 12th year, the ceremony acknowledges "often unsung Asian heroines" and champions their work in fields such as the arts, media, business and public sector. Previous winners have included the comedian Shazia Mirza, BBC news correspondent Razia Iqbal, and Ruby McGregor-Smith, the first Asian woman to head a FTSE 250 business.

This year's judging panel – which includes Margareta Pagano, this newspaper's Business Editor, and is headed by Sir Nicholas Young, the chief executive of the British Red Cross – has shortlisted 44 women across eight categories from several hundred entries. There will also be a chairman's award presented to another inspiring woman at the ceremony at the London Hilton Park Lane hotel.

Organisers say the event, which will be attended by Shami Chakrabarti, the Liberty director and civil rights activist, and James Caan, the former Dragons' Den panellist, aims to bring to the attention of the public some of the incredible achievements by Asian women.

This year, judges were particularly struck by how often nominees had struggled against the odds to succeed, and also by the youthfulness of many of those involved.

Shazia Awan, the founder of the underwear brand Peachy Pink and winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year category at the 2010 Awards, said the event provided a "fantastic platform for young women".

Here, we profile a candidate from each category and list the others.

Arts & Culture

Mina Bint Muhammad

15, of Stratford, east London, is studying for her GCSEs at Sarah Bonnell School, Stratford. Her first novel, See Red, was published last month. She wrote it after winning the Best Short Story category in the 2010 Young Muslim Writers Award

"See Red is about this girl called Jenna. She's just been kicked out of her Islamic boarding school and goes to this new school in Newham and doesn't like it there. Everyone sticks to their racial groups, it's a girls' school and there's lots of fights. It's like World War Three... I'd like to be a writer but I also want to have something a bit more secure as a career. I want to be a barrister when I am older but I want to have writing to fall back on as a hobby rather than a career."

Also shortlisted

Anjali Bulley, managing editor of V&A Publishing at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Kishwar Desai, writer whose Witness the Night won the Costa First Novel Award 2010.

Kanika Kapoor Chandok, singer, designer, model.

Anusha Subramanyam, artistic director of Beeja Dance Company.

Shalina Taneja, international photographer.


Dr Aisha Gill

40, of south-west London, is a senior lecturer in criminology at Roehampton University, specialising in health and criminal justice responses to violence against black, minority ethnic and refugee women in Britain. She has co-written two books on violence against South Asian women and forced marriage and is working on another about "honour" crimes against women in Iraqi Kurdistan. She has acted as adviser to the United Nations and the Government

"Growing up in the 1980s in an inner city in the West Midlands, it was a background of racism, of poverty, social exclusion, inequalities. I always wanted to make a difference, challenging views about South Asian women's agency, that South Asian women are passive, but at the same time recognising there are inequalities and seeing how these can be dealt with. I wanted to ensure there's a debate around the need for violence-against-women services, because my mother's generation never had that and suffered in silence. I want to contribute to breaking that silence."

Also shortlisted

Su-Man Hsu, body and facial therapist and practitioner of Shiatsu massage, Su-Man Ltd.

Madhur Jha, global economist for HSBC.

Pavani Reddy, managing partner at law firm Zaiwalla & Co.

Meena Upadhyaya, professor of medical genetics at Cardiff University.

Nilufer von Bismarck, partner at law firm Slaughter and May.


Jyoti Deshpande

40, lives in London and is group chief executive and managing director of Eros International, the Indian film studio

"I was born and brought up in Bombay. We had very little money, but those were probably the happiest days of my life. At six months old, I had polio in my left leg but told my dad I wanted to walk without the callipers. My parents made me focus on what I could do well: beautiful handwriting, chess, reading, essays, writing, to focus on the positives. My childhood defined me.

"The whole journey with Eros has been unbelievable. The Indian film industry up until 2001 was a cottage industry. Today it is worth $17bn. Eros has been the pioneer in making Indian film international and was the first company to bring Indian films into UK multiplexes. We were the first to approach the big cinemas to showcase Bollywood films and we've been instrumental in taking Indian films to the non-Indian diaspora audiences."

Also shortlisted

Sophia Ahmad, head of finance at BSkyB.

Noor Ali, ethnic buyer, Asda, and member of Ethic Minority Advisory Group.

Sabrina Dar, Cisco head of marketing, London 2012.

Sangeeta Desai, chief operating officer at Hit Entertainment, became a board member in September 2010.

Young achiever

Shireen Irani

29, is London lawyer and founder of the non-profit website i-ProBono, connecting civil society organisations to lawyers and students

"My parents are from Bombay. I grew up in Dorset and from 14 to 18 attended an American international school in India. I started i-ProBono because lawyers get such a bad rap, and are vilified as ambulance chasers and money wasters.

"The people I know went into law believing in social justice, wanting to make a change and wanting to do something positive in society: i-pro-bono allows people to participate and contribute skills. So the real estate lawyer who is doing corporate work can now help an orphanage in India. We help an African prison project which recruits young lawyers and students to go out to a prisons in Uganda, to make sure prisoners' rights are being upheld."

Also shortlisted

Swati Bhargava, CEO and co-founder, Pouring Pounds, an innovative cash-back website.

Akanksha Hazari, MBA student, University of Cambridge.

Priya Lakhani, MD, Masala Masala, who left her legal career to become an entrepreneur.

Meheen Rangoonwala-Damal, director, trustee and founder, of charity Multi-Agency International Training and Support.

Divya Talwar, broadcast journalist, BBC Asian Network.


Ching-He Huang

33, from London, born in Taiwan to Chinese parents, is a television chef and cookery writer who has just released her fourth book, Ching's Fast Food. She ran a ready-to-eat meal business, Fuge, for nine years after leaving university in 1999, and broke into television in 2004, going on to have series on UKTV Food, BBC2 and Channel 5

"I was always cooking in my teens because my mother was away a lot; she was a busy working mum. I actually really resented cooking at home because it became a responsibility, and then later on I grew to love it. After university I was desperate to do something. I was so broke and I thought, 'What can I do?' Then I passed a sandwich shop that was rather fancy and spent £2.50, a lot then, on a noodle box and had high expectations... but I was really disappointed and thought, 'Hang on – I can do better than this'.

"If I'd known then what I would have to do, I don't think I'd ever have chosen to do it. But it gave me what I am doing now, which is cooking, showing my ideas, TV cooking and writing books."

Also shortlisted

Yasmin Diamond CB, director of communications at the Home Office.

Samana Haq, Westminister news editor for ITV News.

Angela Saini, science journalist and author.

Ritula Shah, presenter of BBC Radio 4 show The World Tonight.


Leyla Edwards

60, from Afonwen in north Wales, founded KK Fine Foods in 1987 from her kitchen when she was a housewife caring for three children. Inspired by her Saudi Arabian heritage and the release of The Cranks Recipe Book, she made Middle Eastern vegetarian food and turned over £25,000 in her first year. Now, she employs about 200 people has an annual turnover of £15m

"I got married at 19. I had a place at Leeds University but never went. I wanted to do something but I wasn't trained for anything, so the only thing was to start my own business. Middle Eastern cuisine is so beautiful – I liked eating it and wanted to bring it here. It's hard [being a woman in business] because you still have your children at home, you have still got to be at sports day and everything else. You just manage; women do manage."

Also shortlisted

Kamal Basran, founder of the Authentic Food Company.

Dr Rabinder Buttar, CEO and president of global clinical research organisation ClinTec International.

Poonam Gupta, founder and managing director of PG Paper Company, which exports materials for recycling.

Rita Sharma OBE, founder of the travel company Best at Travel.

Public sector

Khizra Dhindsa

31, is a police sergeant who has won accolades for life-saving bravery and community leadership on a tough housing estate in Birmingham, which saw crime fall by 43 per cent. She is now the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on women's engagement in preventing extremism

"We used had all sorts of novelties in a community project on the Matchbox Estate. I wasn't popular when I started. I was punched and spat on. But by the end of it, a lot of those same kids were cleaning off the graffiti, picking up litter, mowing lawns and serving tea at elderly residents' homes.

"I am Muslim and I went to college in Pakistan. While I have direct family links, my family are first-generation immigrants. I consider myself a Muslim and jihadist, very much so – jihad is about personal struggle. It isn't something to be frightened of. My jihad is to serve Britain to the ceiling of my ability, for the rest of my life."

Also shortlisted

Rushanara Ali, MP Bethnal Green and Bow.

Rekha Bhakoo CBE, headteacher, Newton Farm School is a leader supporting underachieving schools.

Sherry Malik, chairwoman of Essex Cares.

Amerdeep Somal, commissioner, Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Baroness Warsi, cabinet minister and co-chairman of the Conservative Party.

Social & humanitarian

Shezmin Madhani

25, founder, trustee and fundraiser of the Nia Children's Foundation, a charity set up in 2007

"I went to Kenya when I was 21 after university and visited the Kibera slums. I saw how children were living and just decided that one day I would like to do something to help. I registered the charity when I was 23. We started off with just food, but they needed other things too, like books and stationery. Now we are helping teachers to get qualified. At the end of this year we are taking on a second school to help another 100 children.

Also shortlisted

Dame Indira Patel has spoken on discrimination against widows and forced marriages.

Andleen Razzaq, senior adviser, Department for Communities and Local Government.

Christine Yau, managing director, Y Ming, known as "Steel Rose".

Zeenat Islam, founder of social justice group YOU*th Inspire.

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