Citizen of the Year

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Asha Bhat’s work in empowering Indigenous communities in WA continues to win her accolades

Albany is a small city in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, about 418 kilometres south east of Perth. The estimated population of Albany in 2015 was about 34,000 of which people of Indian birth were 0.3%, or just 102 persons!

In this city, with a little over 100 people who were born in India, the Citizen of the Year Award went to Asha Bhat.

Asha says she is deeply honoured to have received this award. “I am humbled to be the person who has been singled out from the thousands of volunteers in Albany who do great things in the community.”

Asha Bhat.Indian Link

Asha Bhat has lived in Albany for only eight years and in Australia for 12 years. Hers is a typical migrant’s story with the same struggles we all have for employment, skill development etc. However, she has shown that with hard work and dedication, we can reach extraordinary heights.

In a chat with Indian Link, Asha speaks about her work in her current role. “As CEO of the Southern Aboriginal Corporation (SAC), I am passionate about empowering and building the capacity of this Aboriginal community organisation through improved governance and innovation. SAC represents the interests of over 3,900 Noongar people of Great Southern and South West regions of WA providing services and programs in areas such as indigenous training and employment, a free family violence prevention legal service,  advocacy and referrals, health promotion, and a housing program. The Corporation also has approximately 83 houses, two super-2,000 hectare farms and other commercial building assets.”

Asha works closely with the SAC Board of Directors, all elected Aboriginal community members, providing the strategic direction to the organisation and ensuring outcomes are achieved. She won the ACCI Business Award for not-for-profit organisations for SAC last year and this was considered quite an achievement.

Apart from her regular job, Asha has been on the Board of several organisations. She is currently on the regional committee with the CHIA (Community Housing Industry Association) and has been elected as an executive member on the Albany Chamber of Commerce Industry (ACCI).

The City of Albany website states “Asha was selected for her amazing achievements within the community since moving to Albany in 2008. Under her leadership, Southern Aboriginal has gone from strength to strength. She demonstrates the contribution that migrants can make to growing our community.”

Asha was nominated for the awards by a well-known local businessman, Paul Lionetti. “I have nominated Asha Bhat for the Citizen of the Year award due to her accomplishments as a leader of the local and regional Aboriginal Corporation. Asha has made significant impact in the community and has implemented a fair and transparent process in her workplace,” he says. “She also works on several boards and brings awareness among people that migrants are capable of taking up higher level jobs. She stands up to racism and demands mutual respect. It is a pleasure to know her.”

Asha Bhat, who hails from Uttara Kannada in Karnataka, was born in Bangalore and grew up in Dharwad. She came from an academic family and her father, the late Sri R.K. Hegde was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharwad. She undertook a Master’s degree in mathematics and worked as maths teacher in India before moving to Australia, with her husband Vivek and young son Vikas, in 2004.

Asha Bhat.Indian Link

They first arrived in Sydney and then moved to Adelaide once Vivek found a job in his line of expertise. After a few months, Asha also found employment and then went on to work at a multinational company. They had to move to Albany as Vivek found better work in his profession there.

In Albany, Asha had to start afresh. She started as an accountant in a small firm and then won the accountant position at SAC. Going on to becoming Management Accountant and Finance / HR Manager and then, Corporate Secretary, she was appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in 2013.

All along, Asha studied to get the qualifications needed to update her skills. Like many of us, she decided to acquire Australian qualifications and completed a Cert III in Financial Services from TAFE SA. After moving to Albany she gained a Master of Business in Professional Accounting from the Uni of SA. Currently she is studying for an MBA from Kaplan Business School.

Asha’s career graph shows how much one can achieve if we just try our best and work with passion and drive. Awards or not, success will be yours.

Asha’s husband, Vivek Bhat says, “To be honest, I just couldn’t help be a spectator in her journey. Living away from home in Alice Springs for over three and a half years, I could not help her nor even assist her in the household. She was a single mother for all practical purposes during that time but, in spite of working in a highly demanding role, and studying, she attended to the needs of our teenage son without compromising on his aspirations at any time. I just can’t get my head around how she did it all and achieved what she has. All I can say is ‘she did it’ and made us all very proud indeed.”

As for Asha, she is magnanimous about it all. “It is very hard to balance life when you are actively involved in various boards and offering your expertise on a voluntary basis. I thank my family for their patience. I would not have been able to do it without the support I got from my husband Vivek and son Vikas.”