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“Pay It Forward”: Veena Sahajwalla at UIA Women’s Day Event

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“True empowerment comes when you uplift others.” That was the simple but profound message that Professor Veena Sahajwalla, NSW Australian of the Year, brought to a recent Women’s Day rally.

Hosted by Sydney’s United Indian Associations Inc, the event saw the celebrated scientist, inventor, science communicator and champion for women in STEM, deliver a TEDx-style talk about her pioneering work in sustainability.

The main theme of his speech was “pay it forward”.

“If privileged people have inspired you, use that experience to uplift others,” she said. “Pay it forward. It’s truly empowering – not just for them, but ultimately for you as well. »

Her well-known story started at IIT Kanpur, where she was the only girl in her metallurgy class. She was already breaking down prejudices. It may have become a habit now for Professor Sahajwalla, but she admits it hasn’t always been the case.

She told the UIA Women’s Day event of being perpetually ready to sneak out a back door, until a reputable teacher singled her out for cheering from the audience.

Professor Sahajwalla receives his NSW Australian of the Year 2022 honor from Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet. (Photo: Salty Goofy 2021)

It is an experience she will never forget and which allowed her to open giant doors.

Today, his work transforming waste into steel, ceramics and asphalt is impressive, and he is credited with new terminology like “green steel” and “green ceramic”.

In her speech, she detailed the process by which waste should be seen as a precious resource, reinvented into new life in what she calls “micro-factories”.

The underlying technology aside, Professor Sahajwalla’s main goal is to improve people’s quality of life.

“I see my work not just as science and engineering, but as broader social reform.”

An example of such a reform is Andrew de Cootamundra, who set up a micro-factory with the help of Professor Sahajwalla. “He has gone from waste collector to manufacturer – he now transforms discarded tires, mattresses and glass into tiles, furniture, roads and playgrounds. And that’s why I want to include a fourth R, Reform, to the three Rs of sustainability – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

An impressed Julia Finn, NSW MP for Granville, noted in her own speech: “I am not surprised… that multicultural communities are doing a better job of representing women. These are the other prejudices that we must break down.

Julia Finn, MP

Understanding Professor Sahajwalla’s initial hesitation, Ms Finn lamented that women don’t celebrate each other often and are a bit shy about their own successes. “We should be proud of our accomplishments and the hard work that has gone into them.”

She acknowledged the hard work that women in general have undertaken during the pandemic. “We have borne the brunt of job losses in retail and hospitality. We have taken on more of the burden of frontline work in hospitals and schools. We caught fire in the challenges of homeschooling and caring for children and elderly parents. It was much more difficult for women. It helped us understand how important women’s work is and how undervalued it is.

Women’s work during the pandemic also caught the attention of UIA President Dr. Sunil Vyas. “Women innovators have led the development of COVID vaccines, such as Dr Ozlem Tureci (founder of BioNTeach) and Professor Sarah Gilbert (of Astra Zeneca fame). Local health specialists such as Dr Kerry Chant, Professor Jeanette Ward and Professor Catherine Bennett have become household names as they have kept us up to date on COVID trends and the government’s health advisory.

Dr Sunil Vyas, UIA President, with (from right) Dave Passi, Dr Rama Mahapatra and Prof. Veena Sahajwalla

Nevertheless, Dr. Vyas stressed, there is still much to be done for the empowerment of women. “Maybe some of it should come from the men themselves. There is still a long way to go to achieve pay parity and eliminate domestic violence. Men Homework denounce such discriminatory behavior; we need to hold ourselves to better standards.

His sentiment was echoed by Dr. Hari Harinath in his speech. The chairman of Multicultural NSW urged the public to stand up and adopt the #BreakTheBias position by crossing their arms across their chests.

Dr. Hari Harinath speaks

In a wonderful congratulation from the women of our community, the UIA encouraged its Member Associations to identify important agents of change within their ranks. Recognized for their work on Women’s Day were Dr Palu Malaowala (Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association); Dr Nagamma Prakash (Sydney Kannada Sangha); Beena Ravikumar (Sydney Malayalee Association) and Bharati Parasu (Sydney Telugu Association).

The winners of the UIA Women's Day 2022
Female Awards (L to R) Dr Palu Malaowala, Beena Ravikumar, Bharati Parasu and Dr Nagamma Prakash with Dr Sunil Vyas

Photos: Kian Desai

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