15 September 2023, LONDON: Attendees from around the world gathered in London for the 21st annual Asian Achievers Awards, which saw leading South Asians from across the UK honoured for their contribution to building British society. The event was hosted by Eastenders actor Nitin Ganatra alongside Pakistani Balu Mahi actress Ainy Jaffri Rahman, with more than 500 attendees from business, entertainment, and public service.
Amongst the winners was WBC silver middleweight champion, Hamzah Sheeraz, coming hot off the 18th knockout of his career the previous weekend. In an exceptionally difficult time for healthcare workers in the UK over the last few years with the COVID-19 pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and historic pay disputes, the night saw three NHS workers win coveted awards.
Former paramedic Salman Desai BEM was awarded for his outstanding work for the North West Ambulance service, and Dr Lalitha Iyer for her dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic targeting a reduction in deaths for ethnic minorities. Chief Clinical Officer of NHS Bexley CCG Dr Nikki Kanani won Professional of the Year.
Music composer Jasdeep Singh Degun was commemorated for his contribution to the Art and Culture category, Dr Harren Jhoti FRS OBE won the Business Person of the Year award for being at the forefront of British science and innovation, particularly his leadership in discovering and developing drugs in oncology and diseases of the central nervous system. Other victors included Tani Dulay as Entrepreneur of the Year, artist and photographer Poulomi Desai for Community Service, and ITN presenter Anila Dhami in the Media category. For his work in the British real estate industry and the charitable sector, the Lifetime Achievement trophy went to Shashikant K Vekaria.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The Asian Achievers Awards provide a great opportunity for us to recognise the outstanding accomplishments of British Asians in the UK. It is good to celebrate the positive impact and contribution all the nominees have made in creating a more modern, dynamic and globally-facing economy in the UK.”
Indian singer Kanika Kapoor was bestowed with the Special Award for Contribution to Music honour as her songs have been streamed nearly 200 million times just on Spotify. She said: “After more than a decade in the film and music industry, I am delighted to receive this special recognition at the Asian Achievers Awards. With the Prime Minister of the UK himself commending these Awards, it gives me great pleasure to be in a room full of change-makers.”
The event was organised by global advisory firm EPG alongside bridging loan company Market Financial Solutions (MFS). Paresh Raja, CEO of MFS, said: “We need to celebrate British South Asian successes given just how unlikely they could have been. It takes a lot for generations of families with overseas roots to adapt and fit in with a different society. Not to mention all the other civil challenges they may face such as culture clash, or potential xenophobia. Yet, even with odds against them, we’ve seen British South Asians not only integrate but thrive.”
Attendees included Deputy Mayor of Business for London Rajesh Agrawal, the first Gujarati to represent the Conservative Party in the Upper House Lord Dolar Popat, and novelist Lord Jeffrey Archer as well as several stars of leading Marvel, Netflix, Nickelodeon and BBC shows.
Lord Archer ran a charity auction on behalf of charity partner One Kind Act, which provides grants for poverty alleviation and education causes across Africa and South Asia, raising nearly £200,000. The charity said this figure would help uplift several thousands of young people out of poverty in the neediest areas of the world. With this fundraiser, it takes the total amount raised for good causes by the Asian Achievers Awards over the last two decades to over £5m.
Pratik Dattani, Managing Director of EPG, said: “The last year was a watershed for South Asians in the UK. Leaders of the government or main political parties in Westminster, Scotland, Ireland and London are all from a South Asian heritage. It was important for this year’s Awards to recognise the gems in our community across the country. Our community is leading the way in helping Britain to level up, something sorely needed in a cost-of-living crisis.”
The event was organised with support from the Royal Air Force, bank SBI UK, clothing leasing firm Ayrela, translation specialists Language Interpreters, Moussaieff Jewellers, as well as think tank Bridge India, media partners Asian Voice, Gujarat Samachar and Sunrise Radio.
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Art and Culture: Jasdeep Singh Degun
Degun is a virtuoso sitarist and composer who skilfully merges Indian classical and contemporary music, transcending cultural confines with his exceptional artistry. He unveiled his debut album Anomaly last year, under Real World Records. Jasdeep’s cross-cultural production Orpheus earned secured him the 2022 Critics’ Circle Music Award. He is also the first Indian classical musician to be artist-in-residence at Opera North.
Business Person of the Year: Dr Harren Jhoti FRS OBE
Since co-founding his biotech company Astex Pharmaceuticals in 1999 to discover and develop of drugs in oncology and diseases of the central nervous system, CEO and President Dr Jhoti was presented with an OBE in 2023 for his contribution to the industry. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2018, the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2016 and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015. He is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the UK BioIndustry Association.
Community Service: Poulomi Desai
Desai is a British artist, photographer, curator and activist community worker. Poulomi’s work spans multiple mediums, including performance, photography, language and sound, blending digital and analogue elements in innovative ways. Her artistic practice is characterised by its performative, textual and image-based nature. As an activist community worker, she actively engages with her local community, using her art as a catalyst for social change.
Entrepreneur of the Year: Tani Dulay
Dulay is the CEO of Woodbourne Group as well as the visionary behind Woodbourne Ventures, an early capital and pre-seed accelerator fund that supports ambitious fellow entrepreneurs. He is also the driving force behind Curzon Wharf, the £360m, world’s first mixed-use net zero carbon ready masterplan.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Shashikant K Vekaria
Vekaria is the co-founder and Chairman of Vascroft Contractors Ltd, with over 50 years of expertise in the construction field. He has helped organise and deliver Prime Minister Modi’s events in the UK and Europe and has constructed numerous luxury hotels, community buildings and high-end residential projects in and around London and the home-counties.
Media: Anila Dhami
Dhami is an award-winning presenter and journalist whose career spans ten years at some of the biggest media companies, also freelances with C5 News, ITV London and LBC. Anila covers local, national and international news; interviews MPs, experts and celebrities; and provides the space for people to share their stories. She is the Ambassador of charities Barnardo’s and Binti.
Professional of the Year: Dr Nikki Kanani
Dr Kanani is a GP and Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England and NHS Improvement. She was Chief Clinical Officer of NHS Bexley Clinical Commissioning Group. Nikki has held a range of positions within healthcare to support the development of innovative models of care, and highly engaged clinical, patient and public leadership. She is a member of The King’s Fund General Advisory Council and co-founded STEMMsisters, a social enterprise supporting young people to study science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine.
Special Award for Contribution to Music: Kanika Kapoor
Kapoor is a singer born and raised in Lucknow and her debut music video ‘Jugni Ji’ in 2012 was a commercial success. In 2014, her Bollywood playback singing career launched with ‘Baby Doll’ from Ragini MMS 2. After topping the charts, Kapoor received wide critical acclaim and accolades for her singing style, including the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer. Since then, she has sung many hit songs including ‘Lovely’ from Happy New Year and ‘Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan’ from Roy. Kanika has also been a judge on the Indian reality show of The Voice and runs her fashion brand named ‘Kanika Kapoor: House of Chikankari’.
Sports Personality of the Year: Hamzah Sheeraz
Sheeraz is a British professional boxer and with an undefeated professional record, he has won all 18 of his fights with an impressive 18 victories coming by knockout. Hamzah holds the WBO European light-middleweight title, which he has successfully defended since 2019. He was awarded the 2021 British Young Fighter of the Year award.
Uniformed and Civil Service: Salman Desai BEM
Desai is the Deputy CEO and Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Transformation for the North West Ambulance Service. Salman joined the Ambulance Service in 1997 as a Paramedic. From 2007 to 2015 he was Head of Service Development, undertaking a number of roles transforming services for patients. In addition to this, he provided Commander Support in response to the Cumbria shooting and flooding (2010/15). Representation from ethnic minority communities is traditionally low in the ambulance sector and Desai has worked hard to redress the balance.
Woman of the Year: Dr Lalitha Iyer
Dr Iyer is the Chief Medical Officer for NHS Frimley, as well as a Queen’s Award winner for inspirational voluntary work with ethnic communities. She has over 25 years of hospital experience looking after women as an obstetrician and gynaecologist, followed by a career change as a GP. Lalitha was the leader of the COVID-19 national pilot in Slough, targeting the reduction of deaths in ethnic communities, followed by a national roll-out saving thousands of lives. This combination of experience has made her acutely aware of the impact of language barriers, deprivation and cultural aspects on the health and well-being of women.
Established in 2000 and held annually since then, the Asian Achievers Awards are organised by global advisory firm EPG and are consistently recognised by the South Asian community as the most definitive and respected such Awards for the community in the calendar. Before this year, the Awards had raised more than £3.5m for charitable causes. Find out more at asianachieversawards.com.
EPG is an economic and strategy consulting firm with offices in London, India and Uganda. They offer market entry advisory and strategic communications support to businesses and governments around the world. Find out more: www.economicpolicygroup.com.
One Kind Act is a dynamic charity that has transformed innumerable lives. It is a charity that supports working effectively at the grass root level, with those that may have fallen through the net of larger organisations. Run by volunteers, almost 100% of funds reach the needy, ensuring maximum possible impact of each penny. With a focus on poverty of health and education, our impact is a long-term solution. Find out more: www.onekindact.org.