Nilesh Makwana, founder of Perth-based ICT consultancy Illuminance Solutions, has been named a Gold Disruptor in the Australian Computer Society’s CXO Disruptor of the Year awards this year. A true change-maker who believes in harnessing the power of technology (IT) to change society for the better, Nilesh has won acclaim for his project AvantCare. The platform is designed to help local NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) service providers comply with the changes in the regulations while delivering quality service for their customers.
The platform won him Microsoft’s Partner for Social Impact Award, earlier this year. Nilesh encouraged Microsoft to reduce their software licensing costs for Not for Profits organizations (NFPs) who struggle to make their dollar stretch.
“Initially they did not like that I was lobbying against them after they gave me an award, but they listened and agreed to release ten free Office 365 licences for NFPs,” he told Indian Link when visiting Sydney to listen to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote address at the Innovate conference.
Nilesh has consistently used technology to provide solutions to societal issues. His company and the University of Notre Dame (UND) joined forces to launch an initiative designed to boost digital literacy in the Indigenous community in Broome, WA at the 2019 West Tech Assemblage held ON 18th Nov ’19 .
Nearly 50 per cent of Indigenous households in remote Australia have no access to the Internet, resulting in increasingly low digital literacy rates. Communities there report difficulty in accessing vital services related to medical needs, finance, housing, mental health and legal matters, most of which can be accessed online.
“Technology should be an enabler; instead, it is currently unintentionally marginalizing some people in our society,” says Nilesh.
This free initiative is focused on providing a practical understanding of a range of Microsoft business programs and is open to all public, not just UND students. “Digital literacy played a big role in my life, so I know the difference this project can make.”
A Year 10 drop out, Nilesh’s IT journey started when his father got him to train at his friend’s shop, to ‘learn computers’ for a year. He wasn’t paid but quickly got the hang of technology and soon started his own website business.
“Then the dot-com bubble burst, so I decided to finish school. I had a real-life context now, and it all made sense.”
Nilesh went on to complete his education in England and also worked there for a bit. In 2012, he moved to Perth to pursue Masters in Information Management Systems and stayed back to start Illuminance Solutions.
He observed that the most disadvantaged in terms of technology was the NFP area as most companies in Perth were focused on mining or the government sector. “Doing something meaningful and purposeful drives our organization,” says Nilesh who believes in the karmic philosophy.
Nilesh believes that IT should be “a cost savings centre not a cost centre.” Better technology can free NFPs to be more productive, efficient and deliver improved services to society, he adds.
Since its inception in 2015 Illuminance has grown from a four-person company to a 26-employee workplace that embraces diversity. It employs staff from 19 nationalities, people with disabilities, Indigenous Australians, people of varying ages (between 19 and 67) and is also gender-balanced.
Yet, winning the 2019 Business News Rising Star Award for Diversity came as a surprise. “We always look for people who we think can deliver on their promises and whose values align with ours. I don’t think of being diverse but rather of being inclusive,” says Nilesh who asserts that his team’s diversity happened organically, without any deliberate intention.
Besides the award-winning AvantCare platform, Illuminance also designed the Aboriginal Trust Management System which helps Indigenous people manage royalties for land titles from mining companies. Previously records were kept manually, and there were issues of corruption and governance.
When invited to speak at the Australian Computer Society’s Young ICT conference as a keynote speaker recently, Nilesh asked his audience to work on their eulogy rather than their resume. “When you die, people will remember you for being a good father, mother, husband, friend, community member, neighbour, colleague, boss. They won’t recall that you were the CEO of XYZ company or that you owned a BMW. Your resume builds when you focus on your eulogy.”
“If you are ridgy didge, a good bloke, Australia is very welcoming,” says Nilesh who loves the culture of mateship and volunteering here. When mentoring international students and new migrants in Perth, Nilesh advises them against complaining about not finding a job; instead, he asks what can they offer this country that has provided them safety, free parks, clean water, health care and so much more.
“You get a lot already just by landing here” he says, encouraging all to make volunteering a way of life instead of a pathway to a job – sage advice from someone who has himself walked the talk.