HR & Management

The Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2014: The full shortlist revealed

38 min read

01 April 2014

The 2014 Asian Women of Achievement Awards marks 15 years of celebrating Britain's remarkable Asian women across business, the arts, media, sport and social and humanitarian work.

This year’s shortlist features 54 of Britain’s most groundbreaking Asian leaders who will hit the stage on June 4 at the London Hilton on Park Lane. See all the AWA candidates shortlisted here.


Indiraa Batra, singer/ songwriter, PB Records 

Despite suffering from severe bouts of depression, singer songwriter Indiraa has had top-20 dance hits in the UK and US club charts, using her music as a form of therapy. With a first-class bachelor’s degree in psychology and statistics, and as a qualified gym instructor, chef and passionate animal rescuer, Indiraa is an all-round star.

Preeya Kalidas, actress

Since her years at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, Preeya has showcased her talents as an actor, singer and dancer on stage, television and film. From starring in British hit films such as Bend It Like Beckham and Four Lions, enchanting millions on the BBC’s best-loved TV show Eastenders and embracing London’s West End in Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, Preeya has been a fierce female force in British entertainment and culture over the past decade.

Arunima Kumar, artistic director, Arunima Kumar Dance Company

A young Kuchipudi dancer, choreographer and teacher, Arunima has performed at prestigious cultural festivals in more than 35 countries. Notable performances include: the Sydney Opera House; the Houses of Parliament; and the London 2012 Olympic Torch Parade. The recipient of several awards and scholarships including the 2008 Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar award, presented by the President of India, Arunima is the artistic director of Arunima Kumar Dance Company, focussed on creating innovative performances, artist development and community service.

Nisha Tandon, executive director, ArtsEkta

Nisha is the executive director of ArtsEkta, one of the only organisations in Ireland promoting ethnic arts, culture and heritage. She founded this organisation in 2006 following two decades of experience in the arts. It was Nisha who initiated Belfast Mela, Northern Ireland’s first multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary arts festival, which remains the only large-scale platform for world arts in the country. She is a member of the executive board of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and non-executive director of Cahoots NI Theatre Company.

Nazy Vassegh, chief executive, Masterpiece London

Nazy heads up Masterpiece London, bringing together collectors, exhibitors and curators from around the world for an unparalleled show of fine art, antiques and design at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Nazy has more than 23 years of experience in the art world, nearly 20 of which were at Sotheby’s where, by 2007, she was managing director of the firm’s European impressionist and modern art division. Prior to this she headed up the company’s VIP client relations, launching and running “Sotheby’s Preferred” – a highly acclaimed CRM programme for top-tier clients.


Dr Deepa Apté, director, Ayurveda Pura

Deepa is the founder and director of award-winning Ayurveda Pura, which practices the ancient Indian holistic medical system of Ayurveda. Based in London, the company runs a health spa and beauty centre, an academy and supplies Ayurvedic equipment and products, including its own Holistic Essentials skincare range. Deepa is a fully qualified Indian medical doctor, yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner.

Jagruti Duggal, director, 1Nation Media

As director of 1Nation Media, Jagruti writes workshops for young people, dealing with taboo issues within Asian communities  such as bullying, mixed relationships, domestic violence, sexual health and forced marriages. She is the creator of DVDs “Breaking the Silence” (on drugs and alcohol) and “Inspiration Shines Through” (sexual health). The former Barnardo’s children’s charity worker also teaches Bollywood and Bhangra dancing, and is dedicated to supporting and educating young people.

Romy Gill, chef-owner, Romy’s Kitchen

Originally from West Bengal, Romy discovered her love of food from a very early age as she helped her mother prepare dishes for her family. She opened Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury last year, making her the first female Indian chef-owner in the UK. Alongside running the restaurant, which specialises in nutritious, well-styled and authentic Indian food, the mother-of-two has her own range of chutneys and sauces, and gives cookery demonstrations at events such as the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs, Bristol’s Love Food Festival and Alchemy Festival Southbank.

Jess Jeetly, founder, Jeetly

At 5’1, former optometrist Jess would struggle to find work clothes to fit her petite frame. Last year she launched Jeetly, a clothing brand for petite women, which lets customers vote on which designs are manufactured. As ambassador of International Women in Business and managing director of pitch INDIA, an online platform connecting start-ups in India with investors worldwide, Jess is passionate about entrepreneurship and gender equality in business.

Shazia Saleem, founder, ieat foods

Shazia is the founder of ieat Foods (as in “I eat”), which makes a range of traditional British and Italian dishes, such as shepherd’s pie and lasagne, prepared in the halal manner – according to Islamic dietary law. She came up with the idea for the company when she was at Warwick University eight years ago, feeling fed up with having to buy vegetarian food to avoid non-halal meals. She now has a range of 12 products on sale in Sainsbury’s.

Meeta Thareja, co-founder and director, MetaValue

Meeta started her career in hospitality with The Oberoi Group in India and then worked with India’s largest technology PR firm, managing direct customer engagement programmes for Adobe, Sony Ericsson and Intel. She then headed group PR for business outsourcing group Xchanging before co-founding consultancy MetaValue in 2012. Clients include the University of East London and the William Wilberforce Trust.


Nehal Bhogaita, community support worker and beauty therapist, Action Deafness & Femi Health and Beauty

Born deaf, 25-year-old Nehal has dedicated her life to inspiring people with disabilities and challenging the stigma towards disability in the Asian community. Although she cannot hear music, she has become a professional dancer by learning to feel the vibrations of music through her feet. She recently made history by becoming the first deaf woman to be crowned Miss India Worldwide in 2013.

Shivani Dawett, dancer, choreographer, FatBoyZ Dance

Aged just 15, Shivani is a world champion in street dance and runs her own dance school to pass on her skills to others. She is one of the “faces of Basingstoke” – meaning her image is used by Destination Basingstoke to market the area – and has appeared on Thames Valley TV News, Sky’s Pick TV, Channel 5’s Live with Gabby, CBBC and BBC.

Ling Ge, manager, EPSRC UK National Service for Computational Chemistry Software, Imperial College London

Following her doctorate in quantum computing and nanotechnology at Oxford University, Ling has conducted groundbreaking research in developing computer models for molecular interactions in exotic materials which have the potential to revolutionise battery and renewable energy industry. She writes for the Financial Times and Wired Magazine, promoting science, innovations, public health and policy across the globe. As a world-class technology expert and youngest senior manager at Imperial College London, Ling now oversees all aspects of the NSCCS with a vision to ensure that the UK stays at the forefront of computational research internationally.

Chetna Patel, private secretary to the director general, economic and consular affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Over the past ten years, Chetna has built a strong academic and professional foundation in the public sector. In her role at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, she has made a positive contribution to civil service reform and broadened her impact into the international arena, notably helping to coordinate the aid response during Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year. She graduated in 2006 from the London School of Economics, and has previously worked at HM Treasury, and the Cabinet Office.

Divya Reddy, production technologist, Shell UK 

Divya is a production engineer in Shell UK, one of the company’s youngest ever subsurface field leads. A rare woman in the energy industry, she worked on field in Siberia in minus 40 degrees Celsius conditions, and successfully served as well and reservoir management coordinator for Shell Europe. She believes in leading by example, motivating others and creating high-performance teams to deliver top results.

Smruti Sriram, co-founder of The Wings of Hope Achievement Award and CEO of Supreme Creations

When she was 18, Smruti set up The Wings of Hope Achievement Award (WOHAA), a national social-enterprise scheme for secondary-school students. Nine years on and the scheme – supported by members of the House of Lords and luminaries from the BBC, Saatchi & Saatchi and Clifford Chance – has attracted more than 25,000 students from over 400 schools across the UK, raising awareness and funds for education projects for underprivileged children in India and Malawi. Smruti is currently CEO of sustainable packaging company Supreme Creations.


Nita Clarke OBE, director, Involvement & Participation Association (IPA)

Nita is the director of the Involvement and Participation Association (IPA),which champions and supports good employment and industrial relations. She also co-chairs the national Employee Engagement Taskforce, launched by Prime Minister David Cameron .Alongside this, she is vice-president, employee relations, at the CIPD; a visiting fellow at Kingston University BusinessSchool; and a member of the Mutuals Task Force established by the Cabinet Office Minister. Nita was the adviser on trade unions to then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and was previously a senior official with public services union UNISON. Shewas awarded the OBE for services to employee engagement and businessin the Queen’sBirthday Honours List 2013.

Beryl De Souza, plastic surgeon, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Foundation Trust, honorary clinical lecturer at Imperial College

Beryl De Souza has been actively involved in widening participation schemes at medical schools such as Queen Mary University, London, The Royal College of Surgeons of England and Imperial College. Not only has she carried out research and published widely in her field, Beryl has been a local Trustee at Enfield Racial and Equality Council for  five years, using her medical expertise to implement and promote health projects in the community. She has recently been awarded the Health Service Journal – Black Minority and Ethnic Pioneer Award for her inspiring role for women in Medicine and Surgery.

Faiza Khan, deputy CEO and director of policy and communications, National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS)

Faiza is a skilled advocate for young people, with more than ten years’ experience in improving young lives through better public policy. As a trusted strategic partner to government, she has shaped national programmes and influenced service improvements to place children and young people at the centre of policy formation. She was recently awarded an MBE in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List for Services for Young People.

Shemiza Rashid, teacher/broadcaster, Luton sixth form

Described as a mini media power house, mother-of-six Shemiza is a multi -award winning interfaith art practitioner, part-time teacher at Luton sixth-form college, mentor and passionate community activists for ethical, environmental and maternal child welfare issues. She is also the director of the award winning “The Creative Muslim Network”, a trustee of the Milton Keynes Eid festival and founder of children’s performing poetry club Shining Ummah. A popular community radio presenter and producer, she was nominated for a MOMO (Music ofMuslim Origin) award in 2013 for most innovative radio show and presenter, not to mention producer and presenter of Podcast –JROOM. She blogs her tales of motherhood as #Diary of the Wimpy Mom. Presently, Shemiza is a regular contributor and cover presenter for BBC three counties radio –the Asian show.

Jots Sehmbi, Senior Project Manager, Information Services Division, University College London

Jots is an accomplished IT and Project Management professional holding a First Class BSc in Information Systems and Management, from London School of Economics. Throughout her career Jots has demonstrated that women can be as successful as their male counterparts in a male-dominated industry. In 2012, she was awarded the only female finalist for the prestigious Project Manager of the Year award, by the Association of Project Management (APM) for delivering a pioneering IT project. Jots is passionately committed to the mentoring and development of project managers and is a Committee member and Communications Lead for APM’s Women in Project Management Committee, and a registered Modern Muse mentor.

Anita Sharda Lay Chair/Assessor NHS London Deanery, University of London

Anita, an LSE graduate, is a fierce campaigner for social justice on issues ranging from education, immigration to domestic violence, setting up pressure groups such as Southall Black Sisters. Her career has spanned the NHS, pioneering policies in medical education, employment and service developments for staff and patients. She developed the first radical NHS Equalities Policy at King’s College Hospital, Medical and Dental school; at the Department of Health, working alongside MP Kenneth Clarke on the National Asian Mother and baby Campaign, improving services in maternity departments in England; and later the Home Office, working as independent policy adviser to MP Jack Straw on the Ministerial Stephen Lawrence Steering Group. She is currently an academic at St Mary’s University and laychair/assessor at NHS London Deanery, University of London where she continues to promote transparency and good practice in Medical Education.


Shehneela Ahmed, criminal lawyer advocate/ lawyer football agent, PlatinumFA

Shehneela has made soccer history by becoming Britain’s first female Muslim football agent, and has already signed some of Europe’s top football players. Shehneela, who also works as a duty solicitor criminal advocate in West London, received her license from the FA in September and aims to be a role model for youngsters and an ambassador for sports in the UK.

Samera Ashraf, kickboxer, ISKA

Battling against stereotypes and refusing to be pigeon holed, Samera is a true fighter. She has contributed to the martial arts community for almost ten years, winning regional, national and international titles. Having qualified with a MSc (diploma) in sociology, she works with Shakti Women’s Aid, and combines her kickboxing training with radio work and stints as a stand-up comedian.

Saddiqa Shan, sports physiotherapist, Sporting Pathways Ambassador

Saddiqa has loved the “beautiful game” since she was at primary school. She was the first girl on the primary-school team, captained her secondary school team and went to academies at West Brom, Birmingham and Aston Villa. In 2008, she made history by joining Premier League team Solihull Ladies Football Club as the first ever Asian girl. Now, aged 21, the Coventry University student represents the Coventry University 1st Ladies FC and works at Warwickshire County Cricket Club and Birmingham FC. Saddiqa is a regular pundit for the BBC Asian Network and promotes Sporting Pathways, a scheme set up in the Birmingham area to increase female participation in sport.

Priti Trivedi, senior manager, Scottish Professional Football League

Working as club secretary at Dundee United when they won the Scottish Cup in 1994, Priti was well known for her strong business acumen, tough negotiation skills and being able to “hold her own with the big boys”. She left in 2000 to join the Scottish Premiere League (SPL), where she now serves as the finance, administration and registration manager. Her vision is to see more women become successful at boardroom level.


Poorna Bell, lifestyle editor, The Huffington Post

Poorna is the lifestyle editor of The Huffington Post UK, one of the country’s most popular news and blog sites. She specialises in women’s journalism, health and travel, and is dedicated to nurturing young talent, especially fledgling Asian female journalists, giving them advice and anecdotal guidance.

Shazia Mirza, comedian and writer, BBC/ Channel 5/ Radio 4

A stand-up comedian and writer, Shazia has performed all over the world and written for The Guardian, The Newstatesman (for which she won Columnist of the Year) and The Financial Times. She has appeared on CBS 60 Minutes, NBC’s Last Comic Standing and the BBC’s Have I Got News For You. The Guardian says “her laconic one-liners represent something quite unique in modern comedy”.

Mandeep Rai, international expansion, Creative Visions Foundation

Mandeep went from private banking at JP Morgan to a pioneering ten years of creative activism, journalism and development. She used her degree in politics, economics and philosophy to report for the BBC World Service and has travelled to more than 100 countries, producing documentaries , features and programmes on development issues. She is a board adviser to Start Up Loans, helping young people start their own ventures, and is on the board of the Creative Visions Foundation.

Dhruti Shah, broadcast journalist, BBC

Dhruti has won international awards, broken several scoops and made the jump from a renowned local paper journalist to a respected global news producer at the BBC. She volunteers for journalism charity the John Schofield Trust and is a key member of the BBC’s Global Women in News committee. She is a woman who inspires others.

Sonali Shah, TV presenter

Part of the presentation team for the London 2012 Olympics for BBC One and BBC Three, Sonali is also known for her roles in the BBC coverage of many marquee live events over recent years – including the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee procession, Wimbledon and The Lord Mayor’s Show, all of which have helped make Sonali renowned for her warmth, charm and versatility. Additionally, she has presented for British Olympic Dreams, Watchdog and Escape to the Country for BBC1 and Crufts for Channel 4.

Mildred Yuan-Crotaz, associate, AP Watt at United Agents 

Mildred is second-generation Chinese American who has broken through cultural barriers of gender and ethnic origin to become a rising star in the publishing industry, working as associate to one of the top literary agents in the world. A former management consultant, she now represents writers across all genres. She has a secret double life as a competitive professional ballroom dancer and has represented the UK in global competitions.


Gunjan Chauhan, EMEA head of STM credit and treasury market sales, RBS

Gunjan joined RBS Group’s London-based graduate programme back in October 2003. Starting in payment operations, she has moved up the corporate ladder to become EMEA head of STM credit and treasury market sales: she was the only female in consideration for the role and now manages a team of six. She supports the Windsor Fellowship, an ethic minority charity scheme, and has been instrumental in setting up RBS Group’s women’s network Compass, organising events such as “Bring your daughter to work”.

Indu Deglurkar, consultant cardiac surgeon, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff

Indu decided to become a cardiac surgeon at the age of seven; now she is one of just five consultant cardiac surgeons in the UK. She specialises in high-risk aortic surgery and is the lead surgeon for the innovative TAVI service. She has also performed cutting-edge, award-winning research in gene therapy and myocardial revascularisation in the US. Her main aspiration is to make the University Hospital of Wales a National Referral Centre for aortic surgery.

Yee Yee Low, senior concept engineer, Shell

Yee Yee is an accomplished engineer at Shell. She has worked on several key projects in the North Sea, including projects on the Brent Delta platform and Pierce field. Described as “an inspirational role model”, her work with aspiring engineers means that her impact goes far beyond the energy industry.

Professor Geeta Nargund, consultant, medical director and CEO, St George’s Hospital and Create Health Clinics and Create Health Foundation London 

Geeta is an internationally renowned doctor, innovator and campaigner with an unwavering commitment to making fertility treatment safer, more affordable and accessible both in the UK and in developing countries. She has published pioneering scientific studies on a more natural approach to IVF and has set up several charities to educate women in reproductive health and promote research. She is an NHS consultant and has used her entrepreneurial skills to set up Create Health Clinics, demonstrating that success and ethical care are not incompatible.

Dr Geetha Srinivasan, senior research fellow, QUILL/ QUB

Geetha is an award-winning female chemist (L’Oreal-UNESCO fellow) and an outstanding research scientist with six patents to her name. Few postdoctoral fellows can claim to have taken a green sustainable process from bench to industrial plant winning an unprecedented three IChemE awards for mercury abatement for her team, while at the same time developing a novel medical device for combating urinary tract infections.

Mary Verghese-Dipple, head of legal UK, Aberdeen Asset Management

Mary joined Aberdeen Asset Management in 2011 with responsibility for global derivatives legal matters. She is a qualified barrister and has an MA in Business Law from London Metropolitan University. She has a broad range of derivatives and capital markets legal experience gained from various financial institutions, including JP Morgan, NatWest Capital Markets, Tokai Capital Markets (UFJ), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Calyon Financial (Newedge Group).


Sharmila Collins, co-founder of the Sohana Research Fund

Sharmila is a mother driven by a simple ambition: to see her daughter Sohana suffer less pain. Sohana has a little known but catastrophic skin disorder called recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa that means her skin blisters and tears at the slightest friction. Since 2010, Sharmilla has relentlessly sought to increase the profile of the skin condition and to raise money to fund medical research into treatments and ultimately a cure for the condition. Every penny of the £2m raised has been invested in medical research, much of which is providing hope to the thousands of children who suffer from the condition and who live with pain every moment of their lives.

Rona Kotecha, director, Mara Foundation and Mara Women

Rona is the director of the Mara Foundation, a social enterprise that designs and implements programmes that promote entrepreneurship in Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya. One of the Foundation’s new initiatives is Mara Women, designed specifically to develop the next generation of female African business leaders through mentoring, training and access to funding.

Sajda Mughal, director, JAN Trust

Since 2008, Sajda has been leading women’s NGO JAN Trust, which educates, engages and empowers women from ethnic minorities, developing and delivering programmes on issues such as women’s rights, education and forced marriage. Having had first-hand experience as a victim of terrorism (she is the only known Muslim survivor of the atrocious London terror attack on July 7, 2005), she also works extensively on the sensitive issue of counter terrorism. 

Cauvery Pal, consultant paediatrician and medical director, Dreamflight, Homerton University Hospital

Cauvery is a consultant paediatrician at the Homerton University Hospital in London where she is recognised for the outstanding clinical care of her patients, looking after children in a way that gives them the best shot at being able to lead a normal life and fulfill their dreams. Cauvery is also a medical director of the charity Dreamflight, supported by British Airways, which takes 192 seriously ill and disabled children on holiday to Florida each year.

Rewati Prabhu, Co-founder and Board Member of Jagriti Yatra

Alongside working as a principal consultant at Pell Frischmann, a London-based engineering consultancy, Rewati is one of the driving forces behind Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day national train journey across the length and breadth of India. By inspiring young girls from small towns and villages in India to take part in this national journey – and by crafting a full curriculum of experience, securing sponsorship and setting up a women’s leadership network to support them – she has awakened their spirit of enterprise. As a direct result of Rewati’s efforts, the Yatra has produced more than 290 startups, creating jobs in the smaller towns of India.


Sonia Summan, international new business development professional, Arcadia Group

Sonia has worked in the fashion industry for the past 15 years and is currently head of new business development at Arcadia, the retailing group behind brands such as Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis. Last year Sonia became a professional and youth mentor, supporting and assisting people aged 11-19 from vulnerable backgrounds. She is also the marketing director for the City Sikhs network, an interfaith organisation dedicated to creating a positive change in society.

Karina Govindji, managing consultant, client development, Gallup 

Described as a “strong, smart, bold female executive”, Karina leads Gallup’s client service group across Europe and is a member of the firm’s management committee. Following the loss of a severely disabled child, Karina has been inspired to set up a support group for parents in similar circumstances.

Yoon Chang, sales, marketing and strategy director, Sodexo prestige sports, leisure and travel, Sodexo

Following roles at McKinsey & Company, a Korean SME and Dell, Yoon joined Sodexo UK & Ireland as strategy director of prestige and corporate services, becoming the only non-British member of the executive team and the only one of North Asian decent in a senior management position. Playing a critical role on the company’s Olympic Steering Committee for the London 2012 contract, she helped to place Sodexo and the UK service industry on the global centre stage. Yoon is now responsible for sales, marketing and strategy across the entire business.

Nazneem Grogan, technical director, LondonWaste

As technical director of LondonWaste, Nazneem is the only woman in the UK directly responsible for the operation of an energy-from-waste power station. Still only 37, she is already recognised as an energy expert at a national level and she has ambitions to use her skills to help reconcile society’s need for energy with protecting the sustainability of the planet.

Ritu Mohanka-Vedhara, vice-president EMEA & India global survey, Kenexa

Ritu is behind the success of technology firm Kenexa in EMEA: since she joined the company nine years ago, she has grown her business 20-fold. Promoted repeatedly based on significant business contribution and undisputed leadership skill, she has led from the front, winning a deserved reputation within Kenexa (and now IBM) as “an undisputed genius at building trust and relationships with key client stakeholders in order to win big deals”.

Kamal Parmar, director, Saints of Tarporley Services

Former book keeper Kamal made a bold decision in 2004: she decided to acquire a rundown petrol station in Cheshire and, without any experience in the petroleum industry, set about reviving it. She convinced petrol supplier Power Petroleum (part of Total Group) to sign a dealership contract with her and became the first dealer in the organisation to receive a 100 per cent forecourt audit rating. The petrol station now includes an off-licence and an environmentally-friendly car wash. Alongside running the petrol station, Kamal turned a run-down residential property into a thriving bed-and-breakfast, and started “Saints Indian Cuisine”, providing private and corporate catering services and take-away food.


Laura Chow, head of charitable programmes, RBS

Laura led the RBS Women of Tomorrow Campaign which introduced employees for the first time to the challenging issues being faced by people living in poverty across the world, including child marriage, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. She also arranged for RBS to sponsor and host eight charities at the annual Trust Women’s conference where topics included honour killings and female genital mutilation. She is a powerful force to deliver change.

Valerie Dias, chief officer, risk and compliance, Visa Europe

First as CFO then chief risk officer, Valerie is the most senior woman in Visa Europe and a strong contributor to the company’s business success (turnover was €300m when she joined in 1993; it’s now €1.7bn). She mentors up to four employees every year and sits on the board of World Vision UK.

Sharmila Lakshmipathy, executive partner, IBM UK

Kolkata-born Sharmila joined IBM UK in 2005 as a finance analyst. Racing up the corporate ladder to become an executive partner, she is currently leading a large transformation project for one of the company’s top clients in Houston, Texas. In a career spanning 15 years, she has lived and worked in India, Japan, UK and the US. Outside of IBM, Sharmila supports education for under-privileged children through a charitable organisation in India.

Jean Liao, client director, Accenture

Jean Liao is a client director within Accenture’s life sciences practice, working across global top-15 pharmaceutical companies and currently responsible for a team of 40. She is the practice lead for corporate citizenship and an active mentor. She has been with Accenture since 2002.