LONDON: Influential and inspirational South Asians in a range of fields in the UK were honored recently, during a prestigious ceremony in London, for their outstanding achievements.
Established in 2000, the Asian Achievers Awards, one of the most prominent and long-established celebrations of its kind, returned for its 20th edition after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers chose to pay tribute this year to the legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, who died on Sept. 8, and renamed the Woman of the Year Award in her honor.
“The aim of the evening is to recognize changemakers from across the South Asian community in the UK,” Pratik Dattani, the director of the awards, told Arab News. “It really is the cream of the community and everyone really worth celebrating.”
This year’s awards were presented in 12 categories: art and culture; business leadership; community service; entrepreneur and professional of the year; media; sports; health; innovation; uniformed and civil service; women of the year; and lifetime achievement.
“It means a lot to have South Asians in prominent positions because it’s about leadership in the community, mentorship, and having visible role models,” Dattani said.
He added that the current mayor and the deputy mayors of London come from South Asian backgrounds, the UK cabinet during the past 12 years has included, on average, four ministers of Indian or Pakistani origin, and the richest person in the UK is of South Asian origin.
“This just shows the immense contribution we make to the cultural, social and economic fabric of the country, he said.
“South Asians in the UK are here to stay but the growth, the economic success and the community success of the South Asian community will grow and the awards will continue to be the place in the UK, and across Europe, where we recognize South Asian excellence.”
Dattani said that the proceeds from the event, held at JW Marriott Grosvenor House, will go to Pardada Pardadi Educational Society UK, a charity that helps underprivileged children across India and South Asia. In all, he said, it raised more than £150,000 ($165,945), with additional commitments of more than £100,000.
UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman received the newly renamed Queen Elizabeth II Woman of the Year award, which her parents accepted on her behalf.
“I think from the start, our mantra has been: ‘Suella you’ve got to study hard and you’ve got to do well if you want to get anywhere,’” said her mother, Uma Fernanades.
“And I think being of ethnic minority, and also being a lady, it’s harder still and (requires) us to work doubly hard, and she has done that.
“Another thing I used to say to her, whenever she passes an exam or she gets a degree, I always used to say, ‘This is not just for you, it’s for the whole community out there and you’ve got to learn to share it.’ And I think I would want to know that she’s setting an example; that she’s just an ordinary woman, just like anybody else, but if you want to achieve something, you can do it.”
Capt. Harpreet Chandi MBE, an officer and physiotherapist in the British Army, received the Uniformed and Civil Service Award. She recently completed a 700-mile solo, unsupported expedition to the South Pole that took 40 days.
“When I had the idea, I didn’t know anything about Antarctica; I literally typed into Google, ‘How do you get to Antarctica as a modern-day explorer?’” she said. It took her about two and a half years to actually get onto the ice.
“I became the first woman of color to do a solo expedition but that was just a journey — then I got back and I did about four months of school talks and reached about 18,000 students, just hoping to inspire the next generation,” Chandi said.
She is preparing to return to Antarctica in a month with the aim of becoming the first woman to complete a solo, unsupported crossing of the continent. She plans to cover 1,100 miles in 70 days.
“My aims are hopefully to inspire people to push their boundaries and show that, actually, it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you’re from, you can go and achieve anything you want and no barrier or boundary is too (great),” Chandi said.
“I really want to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone and do whatever they want and achieve whatever they want.”
Prema Subaskaran, chairperson of Lycahealth and KIMS Hospital, won the Outstanding Achievement in Healthcare Award and said it was a “great privilege” to be recognized for her efforts.
“I’m really passionate about health care and I really wanted to become a doctor and serve the people, but because of the civil war (in Sri Lanka) and family commitments, I couldn’t and I had to stop my degree in the middle,” she said.
“Then I always wanted to set up a business that could facilitate philanthropic work through the field of medicine by working with like-minded people, so this is how I set up Lycahealth in 2015.”
With a focus on providing patients with a complete diagnostic pathway and secondary care, Lycahealth last year acquired KIMS Hospital, the largest independent private hospital in the English county of Kent.
“We play a critical role in Kent to provide outstanding health care to the local community, as well as becoming a big employer in the local community,” Subaskaran added.