In collaboration with the New Zealand Centre for Digital Connections with India, we organised an inspiring and dynamic event celebrating the contributions and potential of ethnic communities in New Zealand. The Inspiring Stories – from COBOL to Cloud and CleanTech, part of New Zealand TechWeek 2024, took place on Thursday, 23 May, at the Urban Hub Office in Wellington Central.

With a lineup of distinguished speakers and a full-house room of 60 participants, the event underscored our commitment to fostering diversity, inclusion, and innovation in New Zealand’s business sectors, including the digital industry.

Attendees included new arrivals to Wellington, professionals in cyber-security, SAP, project management, testing, business analysis, recruitment, and representatives from universities, think tanks, and government sectors. Students from Victoria University of Wellington and GovTech interns were also present.

Berlinda Chin, Chief Advisor to the Chief Executive at the Ministry for Ethnic Communities, opened the event with a warm welcome.

"One of our Ministry’s priorities is to develop and support initiatives to improve economic outcomes for ethnic communities, including addressing barriers to employment. This session aligns with this priority through the inspiring narratives of our strong Kiwi-Indian wahine leaders," says Berlinda.

Sunit Prakash and Lalita Kasanji, founders of the New Zealand Centre for Digital Connections with India, co-moderated the session.

Lalita Kasanji, with a Master's in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington, introduced the Centre, highlighting its mission since its launch in August 2023.

"The New Zealand Centre for Digital Connections with India, established August 2023, acts as a focal point to ensure newcomers to New Zealand achieve their full potential, assist organisations in their diversity and inclusion initiatives, and connect businesses to new markets," she explained.

Sunit Prakash, a Justice of Peace and IT professional, emphasised the Centre’s efforts to address the challenges faced by ethnic communities.

"The lightbulb moment was when I mentored a startup at the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator. We found that businesses set up by new arrivals often fail because their overseas qualifications and experience are not recognised," he noted.

Panel discussions and highlights

The event featured two engaging panel discussions, each followed by a Q&A session with the audience. Panellists shared their personal and professional journeys, achievements, and the challenges they overcame, offering valuable insights and advice.

The panellists for the first session were Jayshree Ravi – Head of Strategy and Architecture at Lagom, Anu Kaw – Security, Compliance and Privacy Lead for NZ Public Sector at Microsoft, and Bushra Nur – Board Director & VP Finance Project Management Institute of New Zealand.

Jayshree Ravi, with 40 years of experience in the IT industry, shared her achievements, including being the first architect for digital transformation at Frontera. She faced challenges balancing family commitments as a working mother in a male-dominated field.

With two decades of experience and three technology excellence awards, Anu Kaw discussed the layered challenges of being an immigrant, a woman of colour, and working in technology. 

Bushra Nur emphasised the struggle of being taken seriously. Still, she advised, "Be yourself and pursue your dreams regardless of any challenges."

The second session featured Sridevi Venugopal – Director Sai Tech & Senior Project Manager at the Ministry for Primary Industries, Alpa Chhiba – Customer Success Account Manager at Microsoft, and Dr Shalini Divya – Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of TasmanIon.

Sridevi Venugopal, who comes from a diverse background from south and north India, the United States, and New Zealand, has experienced the challenge of work-life balance, especially for migrants away from their families, cultural barriers, being a woman of colour, and making herself heard.

Sridevi highlighted that New Zealand is one of the best places for work-life balance. She cited her significant achievements, such as mobility for the housing project and the digitisation of NZ travel declaration forms, which she named her 'legacy'.

Alpa Chhiba discussed her challenges, including unconscious bias and cultural differences. She called those challenges the ‘blockers’. Alpa’s advised the audience to "do every job well, go beyond the job description, and help your colleagues."

Dr Shalini Divya spoke about being underestimated due to her youthful appearance. As an entrepreneur, her biggest challenge was to create a job for herself, as her salary should have come from investors. Her company now has three investors, and she was grateful for the support she received from the New Zealand community, especially from Creative HQ.

Dr Shalini's advice was to ask for help and support. This made a huge difference in her journey to starting a successful, sustainable business.


Closing and future engagement

Participants engaged in interactive discussions about creating more allies from outside ethnic communities and breaking the 'glass ceiling' that impedes the growth of ethnic communities.

We received positive feedback from the participants asking for more ventures like these. One of the participants said, “This is my first time to see six Kiwi-Indian panellists in one event in a non-Indian venue or event! Thanks to the Ministry and the organisers for this great event.”

Other work we do to support better economic outcomes for our communities

We have launched a new work programme at the Ministry to support ethnic businesses. Last year, we hosted the first Ministerial Roundtable for ethnic businesses and the inaugural EthnicBiz Forum.

To continue these discussions, we organised the second Ministerial Roundtable earlier this year. Prioritised topics included support for women-led businesses, and we arranged an Ethnic Women's Empowering Leadership and Voice Hui.

We are committed to further initiatives in this area. We will keep updating our communities, so keep an eye on this space.

View more photos from the event on our Facebook album.

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