17th Asian Achievers Awards: glittering ceremony at Grosvenor House Hotel
By James Brewer
British Asians were shown to be not merely forces in the community but ‘forces of nature’ as they were celebrated on Friday September 22 at the Grosvenor House Hotel during the 17th annual Asian Achievers Awards presentation.
The winners were fêted in an evening of high theatricality in the Great Room of the London venue by a crowd of more than 800 guests including business leaders, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians and members of all the main professions.
Bollywood star, Mumbai-born Farhan Akhtar was chosen as international personality of the year; international businessperson of the year was Biren Sasmal; Surinder Arora was deemed business person of the year; playwright Tanika Gupta was lauded for media achievement; and the lifetime achievement award was presented to Lord Indarjit Singh for his contribution to harmonising race relations in Britain.
The event underscored that the ‘talent bank’ of men and women with ancestral roots in the vast Indian sub-continent is making its presence felt at every level of UK society, although there is unanimity that adequate representation and recognition have far to go.
Among those living in the UK with heritage in the Asian region are some 1.45m Indians, and recent surveys indicate that they feel comfortable British society.
There were messages of support to the awards extravaganza from Prime Minister Theresa May; Sadiq Khan, London mayor, who is one of the most powerful British Asians in politics; Keith Vaz MP; and many other leading personalities.
The glitzy event highlighted the great strides made in the fields of the professions, business, sport, media, arts, culture, community service, the uniformed and civil service, and success for women. The awards honour individuals who have brought the South Asian community to centre stage through outstanding work in their career paths.
CB Patel, publisher and editor at Asian Business Publications Ltd, which hosted the event, congratulated the winners and nominees “in another outstanding year of celebrating excellence in our community. In the past 17 years that we have been holding our awards, South Asian achievement in Britain has evolved tremendously and we now have role models in every arena, who are inspirations for the generations who are to follow.”
ABPL publishes Asian Voice, which has more than 20,000 readers, and Gujarat Samachar, described as the leading Gujarati language newsweekly in Europe with 30,000 followers. More than 800,000 people in Britain are Guajarati.
Some of the loudest applause greeted the lifetime achievement award to Lord Indarjit Singh CBE for his commitment to multicultural and multi-faith cohesion
A frequent presenter on BBC Radio, he is editor of the Sikh Messenger, using his platforms to encourage equality and fairness. His posts have included membership of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Home Secretary’s Advisory Council on Race Relations. He has been described as “perhaps the UK’s most prominent representative of the Sikh faith,” and was the first peer in the House of Lords to wear a turban. Among those who have consulted him on matters of religious tolerance are Prince Charles, Anglican bishops and the Metropolitan Police.
Woman of the Year was Jagdeep Rai who heads corporate banking at Barclays. She has been associated with the multinational bank since 1995, when she joined the graduate training programme.
Entrepreneur of the Year was Arjuna Gihan Fernando, a Sri Lankan technology investor and entrepreneur based in the UK who has backed businesses such as Citymapper, BookingBug, Car Throttle, and Plan. Gi Fernando, as he is known, was made MBE in the New Year Honours list in 2017 in recognition of his services to the digital economy.
Business Person of the Year Surinder Arora, founded his firm in 1999 with a four-star hotel at Heathrow, branching out into property and construction and further hotel ownership and management. He and his wife Sunita are founders of a charitable foundation which has raised more than £1.8m.
Kulbir Pasricha, a Kent-based police officer, was top in the category of uniformed and civil services “for her outstanding contributions to minority communities.” Since joining the Kent force in 1998, she has worked as an area diversity manager, making great improvement in how the police engage with minority communities. She has been an Inspector for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, overseeing policing issues at a national level. Among other pursuits, she has been involved in family liaison, trauma, risk management and critical incident advice.
After a welcome speech from L George, chief executive of Asian Business Publications, the comperes for the evening – Bollywood singer and actress Raageshwari Loomba and actor Nitin Ganatra, probably best known for an EastEnders role – unleashed the 18 stages of the programme, including the Oscars-style winner announcements and stage entertainment.
Guests used every second in the intervals between the formal business, even amid throbbing music and the serving of quality vegetarian fare, to mingle and network.
The six-strong judging panel was chaired by Helen Gordon, chief executive of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Winners included Professional of the Year Fayyaz Afzal OBE; Sports Personality of the Year Sivakumar Ramasamy; Achievement in Arts and Culture Amrit Kaur Lohia; Achievement in Community Service Saba Nasim BEM; and Achievement in Media Tanika Gupta MBE. Ms Gupta said that within the mainstream, “people like myself – writers – do not usually get recognised. It is fantastic to get this recognition from my community – finally.”
An auction conducted by Lord Jeffrey Archer, supplemented by other donations, raised £155,000 for the charity partner of the year, the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which seeks to alleviate classroom hunger and to facilitate education by serving freshly cooked lunches to 1.6m children in more than 13,000 schools across 11 states of India every day. The aim is “to eradicate classroom hunger” by dishing up 5m lunches daily by 2020. The charity, which says that it served its 2 billionth meal in 2016, has been praised by among others the Dalai Lama, and Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of the Tata conglomerate.
Bhawini Singh, chief executive of Akshaya Patra said of the charity’s designation: “‘Akshaya’ is unlimited and ‘patra’ is path, the path that never runs out and that’s what we intend… as we serve millions of meals a day.”
Mr CB Patel said he was overwhelmed by the generosity of the guests towards the charity.
EY, a leading provider of assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services, was headline sponsor for the awards event, and other sponsors included Shanti Hospitality and Edwardian Hotels.