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Queen’s Birthday Honours 2022: Asha Bhat, OAM

For service to the Indigenous community of Western Australia

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CEO of Southern Aboriginal Corporation (SAC) Asha Bhat feels her Indian background has helped her connect with Australia’s Indigenous community.

“I have found much commonality with our culture and First Nations cultures in terms of family values, dealing with loss and grief, using informal ways of working etc.”

Asha has been working in Indigenous Affairs for the last 14 years. And for this work, both paid and voluntary, and her dedication and achievements in this field, she has been awarded the Order of Australia Medal this year.

Speaking to Indian Link, she said, “I feel quite honoured and humbled to have won this award. Like everyone else who lives in a regional community, I try to do my bit.”

The Bangalore-born Asha moved to Albany in Western Australia with her husband and son in 2008. Here she took a job as Finance Officer with Southern Aboriginal Corporation. Working at the organisation, Asha not only learnt about its financial management but also about issues faced by the Aboriginal community and their needs.

She was recruited as CEO of Southern Aboriginal Corporation in 2013. It was a time when the organisation needed stability and integrity, and she has been able to bring reliability and accountability to the system.

The organisation provides leadership in housing, homelessness, family and domestic violence, suicide prevention and health promotion.

“These areas disproportionately affect the Aboriginal community. I do not shy away from challenges but continue to look for my next challenge to maximise support to the marginalised group.”

She is a very strong advocate for diversity and inclusion.

“As a migrant Indian woman who grew up in India and witnessed much social disadvantage, I have always been passionate about contributing to a fairer world.”

Asha also volunteers for a number of charities and sits on several Boards and Committees. Living in a regional area, she has experienced discrimination at the higher levels of employment and found it extremely challenging to break the glass-ceiling, she revealed.

Yet she has been able to guide her organisation to much success.

“My proudest achievement is leading the expansion of the Family Violence Prevention Legal Service Program to South West, Wheatbelt and Perth metro regions. This has enabled us to support the most vulnerable group of women who are victims, or at risk of family and domestic violence requiring legal assistance to increase their personal safety and reduce their vulnerabilities.”

For Asha, a natural progression was to become a volunteer team leader (WA) for Share the Dignity, a not-for-profit which provides dignity to women and girls fleeing domestic violence and are at risk of becoming homeless. “I feel very privileged to be contributing to this organisation,” Asha said with much humility.

Like all effective CEOs, Asha is paying attention to management succession.

“I have already started working with Indigenous youth, mentoring them. My aim is to strengthen Aboriginal leadership within SAC and build the next generation leaders to lead the Corporation,” says Asha.

Asha’s commitment to her work has seen her win much acclaim in the wider community, such as Citizen of the Year Award in the city of Albany (2017), Women in Business award (2020) and the Pro Bono Australia Impact award (2022). The local Indian community also felicitated her, giving her the Personal Excellence Award in 2019.

Going forward, she hopes her OAM will help her amplify the voices of Indigenous as well as migrant communities.

“When I came to Australia I found I needed to completely re-establish my professional and personal life in an environment that didn’t particularly support migrant Indian women. My sister Geeta supported my family and guided me initially. An achievement of this level simply would not be possible without the love and support of my family.”

It is clear from the passion with which Asha Bhat OAM speaks, that she will continue her work to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people.

READ ALSO: Dr Smita Shah, OAM: Queen’s Birthday Honours 2022

Vinaya Rai
Vinaya Rai
Vinaya Rai is a counsellor by profession with interests in writing, radio, emcee'ing, organising and attending events.

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