Celebrating, empowering the Diaspora

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Indian Executive Club chairman Vinay Sharma talks to Alys Francis on how the organisation seeks to be a conduit between the Indian community and wider community in Australia. Our next focus is to take the awards Australia-wide. We plan to engage with an organisation that also runs a very successful awards for the Indian Diaspora in New Zealand, to explore possible collaboration opportunities. 

Alys Francis

Founded with a vision to support, profile and recognise Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and executives from the growing Indian Diaspora in Australia, the Indian Executive Club (IEC) has come a long way. The organisation was established following the successful launch of the Indian Executive publication in 2011, after which the IEC Awards were set up as its signature event, to recognise the Diaspora’s achievements.

This November the milestone fifth IEC Awards will not only reveal a new crop of winners but also exciting initiatives to power the Indian business community for years to come.

The Indian Sun caught up with IEC Chairman Vinay Sharma to hear how the Awards have raised the profile of the Indian Diaspora in Australia. And plans for IEC to step up as a much-needed advocate for Diaspora businesses and executives and play a key leadership role in building a socially cohesive multicultural Australia.

Why did you first launch the Awards and how have they evolved?

After we had set up the IEC and its vision, we needed to implement key activities to bring our vision into reality. The IEC Awards was one of them, starting in 2011 and has evolved today to be the signature event of the IEC.  

Each year, the Awards have evolved, guided by robust feedback sessions from nominees, sponsors, members and networks that have supported the IEC. In the second year, we made changes to strengthen the awards, appointing independent judges with whom we worked with to implement a structured process; from inviting nominees to complete and submit nomination forms, through to a vigorous and independent judging process against a defined judging criteria. This gave an enormous credibility to the awards and confidence for people to nominate. In terms of our profiling objective, in the second year, we also introduced the Who’s Who of the Indian Diaspora publication to make an annual record of the community.  

In the third year based on feedback we introduced female categories in the Executive awards platform, to ensure women entrepreneurs received due recognition. Another exciting addition was the introduction of the keynote address. The fact we secured former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard to give the first address suggested IEC had gained recognition as a credible organisation, not just for the Diaspora but wider Australian community too. Last year, we made some changes to administration, introduced education and hospitality chapters.  The hospitality chapter was set up as a large part of the growing Indian Diaspora was engaged in the hospitality industry, and we needed a chapter that was able to cater for the specific needs of this industry. A second major event called Spice Out came about, and a publication Spice Out, the most talked about Indian Restaurants was released.  Again to give enormous credibility to this initiative, the most famous face of Indian cuisine, Mr Sanjeev Kapoor accepted and launched the Spice Out event and the Spice Out publication. 

This year, following increased demand and feedback, the People’s Choice, Café and Restaurant Awards were moved to the Spice Out event, which was successfully hosted on 15 August, Indian Independence Day at Werribee Race Course. Blake Collins, the regional head of Zomato, delivered the keynote address and launched the second Spice Out publication.  It was interesting to note from Blake that Zomato had done research on Indian restaurants, and found there are around 600 in Victoria alone.  This further confirms the growth and entrepreneurship of the Indian Diaspora in Australia.

The Indian Sun community awards have also moved to a separate platform, and event to be held in December. 

This leaves the milestone fifth IEC Awards to focus purely on Business and Executive awards to strengthen the focus on Diaspora business and entrepreneur success. Another key change this year relate to the judging processes. After the judges selected the finalists, they will be personally interviewing each finalist to determine the winners of each category. And on the nomination form we made the judging process more transparent by showing the percentage weighting of each criterion.

What have been the key achievements over the years?

The IEC has consistently found traction in the market, whether it’s to increase membership, build engagement, earn the confidence and buy-in from our valued sponsors, attract quality, passionate and energetic people who wanted to be part of our team and our vision or attract high-profile keynote speakers for the Awards. 

We’ve also found ourselves becoming a crucial conduit between the Indian community and wider community in Australia. IEC has been called on to provide subject matter expertise and guidance to some of Australia’s biggest institutions, for example, the Australian Football League (AFL), Asian Football Cup, Melbourne Victory Soccer Club and Cricket Australia, as well as major corporates and local government councils. We’re looked at as a credible organisation that can provide advice on how organisations can engage with the growing Indian Diaspora in Australia and especially the SME businesses.

It’s no secret the Indian community is the fastest growing migrant group in Australia along with the Chinese. Because that’s happening on a macro-level we at IEC automatically become a useful organisation to support and engage with.

As the Indian population has increased what is also becoming very clear is that you now really need Indians to play key roles; firstly to look after the interests of the growing Indian Diaspora in Australia and secondly, in building links between India and Australia, and at IEC we will continue to play those roles. 

What’s the future plan for IEC and the Awards?

Our focus now is: how can we grow more and deeper engagement and increase the support of the Indian Diaspora in Australia?

The IEC Awards have become a very important platform to recognise the Diaspora. Before that many great achievements went unnoticed. So far we’ve only focused on Victoria, although we’ve been getting applications from interstate. So our next focus is to take the awards Australia-wide.  We also plan to engage with an organisation that also runs a very successful awards for the Indian Diaspora in New Zealand, to explore possible collaboration opportunities for an Australia-New Zealand awards.

The second key vision is to continue to grow membership. And the third is for the IEC to step up and become an important advocate for the Diaspora community – as we have the ability to stand up in business forums and influence policy decisions to help our members. 

What I am also really looking forward to in terms of the future evolution of the IEC is getting key ideas and guidance from this year’s keynote address by Mr. Ahmed Fahour, Group CEO and Managing Director of Australia Post.  We are very appreciative that Mr. Fahour has taken time out of his extremely busy schedule to deliver this year’s address. Mr Fahour was only 4 years old when he migrated with his parents from Lebanon, and will share his story – talking about his passions, businesses, leadership, and building a socially cohesive multicultural Australia. It is this vision, to build a socially cohesive multicultural Australia, that IEC wants to strongly advocate, support and play a key role in, today and in the future.