Exceptional women named nominees for Women of the West Awards

Winners from last year's Women of the West Awards

Western Sydney University is proud to announce the outstanding nominees for the University’s 2021 Women of the West Awards.

The annual Awards recognise the significant contribution women are making across Western Sydney in the categories of Woman of the West (Business), Woman of the West (Community) and Young Woman of the West (18 to 30 years old).

This year, more than 30 inspirational women have been recognised for their efforts working across a wide range of sectors, including community wellbeing and health, social justice and education.

Professor Deborah Sweeney, Western Sydney University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research, Enterprise and International), congratulated the exceptional nominees.

“The University is pleased to highlight the important contributions women are making in our region through the Women of the West Awards,” said Professor Sweeney.

“As a global leader in gender equality, the University is committed to supporting all women. The Awards are an important platform to celebrate and give a voice to those who are doing so much for our local communities.”

Winners of this year’s Women of the West Awards will be announced Friday, 12 March as part of the University’s celebration of International Women’s Day. The awards will be presented in collaboration with the Coleman Greig Women in Business Forum at a special event to be held online and at Waterview in Bicentennial Park.

Coleman Greig’s Women in Business Ambassador, Caroline Hutchinson said: “Alongside raising much-needed funds for OzHarvest, the International Women’s Day forum will celebrate and shine a light on some of the incredibly inspiring work being undertaken by women living and working in Greater Sydney.”

As part of the event, Australian Mars One astronaut candidate Dianne McGrath will provide the keynote address.

Ms McGrath said: “I feel honoured to share my story with the Women in Business community and can’t wait to celebrate the Women of the West Awards and look forward to hearing from the nominees and winners on the day.”

For event information and tickets, please visit the Coleman Greig website (opens in a new window).

Woman of the West (Business)

Aimee Paananen

Aimee Paananen grew up in Western Sydney. Recognising the impact of anaphylaxis from her own experience, Aimee established a nut-free beauty salon, The Elegant Life and launched a nut free skincare line FACEKISS. In 2019, Aimee grew her business by launching a training academy. She now helps women develop confidence, self-esteem and financial independence all over Australia as they undertake their own journeys to start home-based businesses or by helping grow and expand new services to their businesses. Aimee is a nine times multi award winning national in:

  • 2020 Women of the West Awards – highly commended, Young Women of the West
  • 2020 Hawkesbury Local Business Awards winners
  • 2020 AusMumpreneur Beauty winner
  • 2020 Roar Silver Award
  • 2020 Pineapple Award for standing tall and standing out
  • 2020 Western Sydney Award for business excellence finalist in micro business.

Cassandra Kalpaxis

Cassandra Kalpaxis is a professional working in the legal industry with a strong background in family law, separation and divorce. She is a passionate advocate for amicable and peaceful resolution of separation and for the voice of the child to be heard during the coordination of parenting arrangements. Cassandra also empowers people to take control of their separation and assists parties to come to a resolution that best meets the needs of the individual family members involved.

Donna Sillett

Donna Sillett is a multi-award-winning ‘mumpreneur’, transformational business coach, International awards judge, #1 best selling author, guest speaker, inspirational weight loss blogger and sustainability advocate. With over 26 years’ industry experience, Donna has been operating international multi award-winning eco and sustainable salons across Western Sydney since 2004 and has since launched PRIMA DONNA which helps women in business gain national and international recognition for their own entrepreneurial achievements and community contributions, whilst on a mission to squash the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ culture in Australia. Donna’s proudest achievement is seeing her own seven-year-old daughter recently win the 2021 Camden Young Citizen of the Year Award.

Eileen Rossall

Eileen Rossall has a strong background in education and alternative and holistic health. She is a passionate advocate for health and wellbeing spiritual as a whole, whilst promoting personal growth and development in clients and within the community. She is currently a psychic, hypnotherapist and coach at Love Angel’s Light, and has created multiple successful programs designed to help people shift themselves out of their circumstances and focus on their own goals and achievements to create a better future. She has also created a community online and locally for people to support each other, especially during the turmoil and uncertainty of COVID-19.

Emma Macfarlane

Emma Macfarlane is a Macarthur lifetime local whose passion for supporting community is demonstrated by her strong involvement within it. In addition to running her own law firm, she is a founding Director of Victress Connection, a non-profit organisation established to enhance the skills of businesswomen and bring them together for shared inspiration and success. For 14 years she has also been a Director of Youth Solutions, a drug and alcohol prevention, education and health promotion service for young people. Emma sits on the Ingham Institute Charity Luncheon Committee, who have raised over $1million for the Ingham Institute.

Gina Field

Gina Field is the Founder and Managing Director of Nepean Regional Security. Commencing in the late 80’s as a security officer, Gina identified the limited career platforms for women in a male dominated industry such as security. Through running her own security company and winning a myriad of over 30 industry awards including the NSW Premier’s Businesswoman of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year, Gina advocates through sponsorship, mentor programs and public speaking about the options to encourage young women to think about non-traditional employment options as future careers.

Judith Viado

Judith Viado is a mum, an entrepreneur and a health advocate of toxin-free cooking and the co-founder of Nutricraft cookware. For more than 10 years, she has not been herself due to the grief of losing her mother from health complications including aneurism, diabetes, pneumonia and heart disease. Judith’s family also went through numerous health complications and she was desperate for solutions searching every possible reason including her cookware. Together, Judith and her husband asked themselves if others could be experiencing it too. Judith’s husband suffered from high blood pressure, her son had chronic skin disease, her daughter had digestive problems and she suffered from irritable bowel syndrome. Judith’s mission was to educate as many people as possible in preventing them from potential poisoning from their common household cookware and the nutrition leakage from their food due to bad cooking methods and toxic cookware. Judith wants to spare families from the pain and sufferings her family has gone through.

Julie Hughes

Julie Hughes is a Founding Director of the Michael Hughes Foundation, a registered social enterprise focussed on cardiac arrest. Their mission is to turn bystanders into first responders in medical emergencies. Her journey started after being the first responder to her husband Michael who passed away in 2013. Julie is a leading advocate in NSW for improvements in the community response to cardiac arrest and is creating HeartSafe Communities in Western Sydney. Julie is a member of the NSW Health Expect Panel for the Prevention of Premature Cardiac Mortality and was named 2016 City of Parramatta Citizen of the Year.

Nicole Mulholland

Nicole Mulholland a proud mum of four, is the founder of CORE Kids Health and Education. Nicole’s nursing career has included paediatric oncology, research, education, management and her current role as Clinical Nurse Consultant in Child and Family Mental health. Nicole holds a Master’s degree in Child and Family health and a Diploma in Childhood Care and Education services. She is a kid’s yoga and mindfulness teacher, and advocates strongly regarding the importance of developing an early secure attachment to promote long term positive mental health outcomes for children and their families. She has won a national Ausmumpreneur award and regularly fundraisers for different charities.

Prabhleen Dua

Prabhleen Dua is a young entrepreneur, who dares to believe that she can bring a meaningful difference in the fast-paced food services industry through a self-developed framework of PFSS (Product Focused Scientific Selling). Prabhleen’s background as a financial portfolio analyst in investment banking sector, has helped equip her with many skills in developing this framework. From predicting dollar value, to strategising on how to offer consistently competitive prices to customers and stabilising their businesses, while maintaining quality, are some of the skills that her financial background have helped guide her in with her new venture.

Rebecca Raad

Rebecca Raad has been the Executive Director of BNI Sydney North West and Penrith since October 2018. Her region has been named the number one BNI Franchise in Australia in 2019 and 2020. In November 2020, Rebecca was the proud winner of the highly coveted Global BNI CEO Award. Rebecca is passionate about creating community in the diverse melting pot of Western Sydney. She works to establish a sense of belonging in each of her members and strategically builds her business network to include and embrace all professionals, from self-employed mothers and young entrepreneurs to experienced business experts, all with the same dream. To make a difference in the world.

Rosalind Chia

Rosalind Chia is known in the community for her agenda-free contributions to the arts, media, disability advocacy, and community NFP groups. Herself a DV survivor and advocate for Australian families living with barriers to health and equal access to opportunity, she is the definition of resilience. Her goal is to perpetuate healthy morale and essential connection within the community. She says, “‘West of the River’ Magazine is my way of modelling healthier, more prosocial and evidence-based conversations that begin with the individual but take responsibility for a wider social effect”. She has formed an inclusive work environment via her new social enterprise (established in 2019) by employing people of all abilities whilst delivering fabulous true stories and mental health awareness through her magazine.

Woman of the West (Community)

Belinda Leonard

Belinda Leonard is a purpose driven individual, bringing the skills and experience gained in a blue-chip corporate career into the not-for-profit sector. She is a passionate advocate for improving the health and wellbeing of our community. Belinda is currently the CEO of Noro Music Therapy, an organisation providing music therapy and community music programs assisting over 1300 people a week. Belinda chairs and participates in a number of executive level health committees in Western Sydney and has a passion for improving health literacy and ensuring equitable access to health services for all, especially those least advantaged.

Catherine Duffy

Catherine Duffy has worked within the disability sector for the past 25 years. She has a strong passion for helping people in the areas of mental health,
homelessness, employment and assisting those people who have been incarcerated. Catherine’s wish is to see that every person has the support they deserve to ensure they are able to live their best life, and to assist them in achieving their goals. Catherine lives and breathes to be the voice for those who have none and to advocate for those who need assistance, she wants them to experience all the best qualities of life, no matter their disability. At Costello Consultancy, their main goal is to assist in improving the lives of all our clients. It is the reason Catherine set up this company and it is the reason her employees all come to work every day, providing support coordination to their clients who are eligible for a NDIS plan. Not only do they work with clients who have an existing NDIS plan, they also work with and helping clients get access to NDIS, aiming to help improve their quality of life through a variety of functions.

Jane Stratton

Jane Stratton is the CEO and founder of the Think+DO Tank Foundation, where she works at changing the world through creative thinking with communities. In 2017, Jane established the highly successful social enterprise LOST IN BOOKS, a multilingual kids’ bookshop and creative community hub in Fairfield, South Western Sydney. Jane has an accomplished background in law, human rights and social policy, working for organisations such as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Jane’s intelligent and empathetic approach has fostered her reputation as an intrepid leader at the forefront of courageous work with communities, inspiring those within them and beyond them to broaden the horizon of what feels possible.

Kerrye Katz

With a strong background in coaching Judo, former National Coach and current NSW Head Junior Coach and Junior Development Coach, Kerrye Katz is passionate about the development of children, particularly girls in participating and competing in Judo. A Special Education Teacher at The Ponds School, Kerrye runs several Judo classes per week at Budokan Judo Club. As a former Olympian and international competitor, Kerrye is proud of the club’s achievements under the guidance of both her and husband Rob. She feels inspired by the diversity and development of her athletes. This award would be recognition for all her club’s members.

Khrise Toledo

Khrise Toledo has a strong background and has over 15 years’ experience in social welfare, case management and community development. She is a passionate advocate for improving and further developing community capacity and improving the lives of people with disability. She is currently a Community Development Team Leader at Peppercorn Services Inc, and the Director of Aspire Disability Services. Khrise is about to complete her Bachelor of Social Science majoring in social welfare and has attained a Diploma in Community Services, Case Management, Leadership and Management, and is a certified Case Manager. Khrise’s passion for working in the community stems from her determination to help those that are disadvantaged and vulnerable. She believes that due to her own personal experiences as a migrant and living in a low-socio economic area has given her the drive to do better for her community and for its future generations.

Kit Ng

Kit Ng has a background in dietetics and theology, along with a strong interest in mentoring and coaching. She has a passion to take ancient truths and make them relevant for today’s youth, to provide them with spiritual support and guidance, and to develop them into leaders of their communities in the South-West for the future, with an emphasis of helping others. She is currently working as a mentor at the organisation called AFES, and has two trainees to share her vision.

Kylie Pussell

Kylie Pussell has a strong background in not-for-profit and community roles. She is a passionate advocate for premature and sick babies and their families and is CEO and Co-Founder of Miracle Babies Foundation. Kylie was announced the Community Woman of the Year in 2020 by Western Sydney Women, has been with Miracle Babies Foundation since its beginning in 2005, is a Founding and Chair Committee Member of GLANCE and a Life Member of Camden RSL Netball Club and past president and committee member.

Lena Nahlous

Lena Nahlous is an experienced CEO, producer, curator, artistic director and facilitator with a long-term commitment to equity in the arts and creative sectors. She is currently the Executive Director of Diversity Arts Australia and host of The Colour Cycle podcast. She has over 20 years’ experience in arts, cultural and media organisations where she has developed artist brokerage and training programs focusing on creatives from culturally diverse, refugee and migrant backgrounds and young people. She established initiatives like the Arab Film Festival, Switch digital media centre and Artfiles, an artist employment and brokerage program. Lena’s recent projects include the After Australia anthology, the Creative Equity Toolkit and Pacesetters.

Linda Strickland

Linda Strickland is the co-founder and CEO of Hawkesbury’s Helping Hands. She has been instrumental in setting up a range of community initiatives for those in need and disadvantaged. She is a passionate advocate for Australia’s disadvantaged groups, including those experiencing homelessness and Aboriginal Communities. She has received numerous awards for her tireless volunteer work, including the National Pride of Australia Medal for Community spirit.

Melissa Monteiro

Melissa Monteiro is the CEO of Community Migrant Resource Centre. Melissa has over 25 years of experience in the community sector. Melissa has managed CMRC,  a not-for-profit community organisation based in Parramatta providing settlement services to refugees and humanitarian entrants. Melissa is currently involved in empowering refugee and migrant communities and has mentored many not-for-profit organisations and individuals. Melissa is passionate about migrant and refugee women, humanitarian resettlement and social justice issues. Melissa is an IMPACT25 Australia winner in 2019 and was awarded the Pro Bono Australia Collaborator Award. Melissa serves on various local and national committees. She is currently Chair of Settlement Council of Australia, Director Anti-Discrimination NSW and Police Multicultural Advisory Council.

Pratibha Bhanushali

Pratibha Bhanushali is an accountant by profession. With 32 years’ experience in corporate and entrepreneurial environment, Pratibha is passionate about connecting and supporting women in business and community. She is also passionate about supporting community. Pratibha has been  actively into JP service for the last eight years. She is a Founder and President at a community organisation called Powerful Empowered Women Inc, an initiative to create a platform for women to support Women In Business and Community since December 2019. There are 955 women members in group. She is also the Founder and President at the community organisation Brighter Stellar Inc. Pratibha was recently honoured for her outstanding contribution in The Hills community by Hon David Elliott, Police and Emergency Minister. She has recently become the Treasurer at Hornsby Chamber of Commerce. Pratibha joined the NSW Rural Fire Service in 2020, and has contributed to fundraising campaigns for Cancer Council, Hills Relay For Life, Hills Winter Sleep Out.

Rukhshanda Zaman

Rukhshanda Zaman is a meticulous IT professional, working as an ICT Integrator at International Grammar School who plays a colossal role in the lives of many people in the community around her. She is a prominent and an active member of the Pakistan Association of Australia (since 2017). As Information Secretary for 2021, she has been leading a variety of projects such as organising food drives, initiating fundraisers, emotional support for domestic violence victims, arranging workshops, running a WhatsApp group and a Facebook Group for women looking for work, and women struggling with workplace issues. She is always there to lead and inspire other women of her community. Rukhshanda led a huge campaign for international students, specifically Pakistani students, during the pandemic and inspired many of her fellow community members to take the same initiative. Besides being a fulltime working woman, she spends time working for the community, especially ladies in the community to speak up and have a voice of their own. Rukhshanda is also raising awareness for breast cancer by hosting an annual Pink Ribbon Breakfast (registered with the National Breast Cancer Foundation), to raise money for Breast Cancer awareness and research. Rukhshanda uses her influence and intellect to empower and inspire members of the community and help improve the positive image of Pakistan and Pakistanis in Australia.

Sarah Cassim

Sarah Cassim, a Bowen Mountain mother of three, is the founder of Hawkesbury Women in Business and Little Bluebird Books. Sarah has strived to assist a diverse range of families within the Hawkesbury and surrounds in establishing a clearer direction towards building their professional businesses and personal well-being. By connecting the community, she has seen incredible success in women returning to work, women becoming major parts of a community after being isolated or bound by their fears and anxieties. She works alongside many members of the community and believes in the power of collaborating in the community. Sarah has inspired many to achieve what they want to achieve and give hope. Sarah and her husband formed a Christmas time giveaway, where they delivered hams and vegetable boxes to families who had been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was incredibly helpful for many families who had been through extreme hardship throughout the year.

Saroni Roy

Saroni Roy is an Actor, Co-Chair, EquityDiversity-MEAA and Social-Entrepreneur. She has created Saroni Roy Foundation (SRF), a social-enterprise perpetuating socio-economic-environmental well-being, creating a peaceful, inclusive ‘one-world’ to live and love. And its work is based on three core values - diversity, sustainability and social-justice. She was awarded the 2021 City of Parramatta Young-Adult Citizen of the Year Finalist for noteworthy contribution to the City of Parramatta and has conceptualised and hosted several community-cohesion programs, including the commemoration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth-Anniversary, drawing active participation from Indigenous and International communities of Greater-Western-Sydney. Saroni was named Ms India-Australia Goodwill Ambassador in 2018. Her food donation drive for Addison-Road-Community-Organisation provided food to 100,000 under-privileged Australians and rescued 100 tonnes of food from going to the landfill.

Young Woman of the West

Elyse Powell

Elyse Powell is the owner of Bells Line Legal. She is a lawyer with a passion for ensuring legal services are available and easily accessible to all members of her community and works hard to fulfil this vision whilst encouraging other local businesses to do the same. Together, Elyse and Bells Line Legal have received many accolades in a short time of operation including two local business awards, WSABE Awards finalist and Telstra Business Women’s Awards finalist.

Genille Gordon

With a gift for writing, Genille Gordon is a self-published author, and uses profits from her books to support one of her projects, ‘Serve the Community’. Genille has managed to provide over 900 meals for the homeless while living on a university student’s budget. Genille was born in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to Australia four years ago. Genille earned her a dual master’s degree in International Communications and International Relations from Macquarie University in 2019. Her passion for homelessness led her to working with Mission Without Borders in Australia, where she empowers people living in poverty to become self- sufficient. In addition to this, Genille is working with the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) to spread awareness and to advocate for human rights for marginalised groups. Genille is finalising her non-profit organisation, Future Life, with a focus on strengthening the community. Experiencing homeless and poverty firsthand, she is committed to bridging the gap between homelessness an sustainable life in Western Sydney and eventually throughout Australia.

Kavika Singhal

Kavika Singhal is a Bachelor’s student in Cyber Security and Behaviour at Western Sydney University. Kavika is a constant academic achiever; member of the Academy and Golden Key International Society and was awarded the Dean’s Merit List Award for 2019. Her work as the Microsoft Student Ambassador, President of the Cyber Security Association, International Student Ambassador for the University involves bridging the gap between industry, with a particular focus on creating representation for women in security. She is a passionate advocate of cyber awareness-volunteer for noble initiatives such as ‘Be Connected’— an Australian Government program and NGOs to educate the elderly about cyber safety. Her security awareness gamification app for young kids gained international recognition when she won the Kaspersky’s Secure’ IT Cup 2020. She was awarded ‘Best Undergraduate Computing Project’ Award by the University’s School of Computer, Data and Mathematical Science as part of its end of the year showcase 2020. She was selected as Semi-Finalist for the Seven News Young Achievers Award 2021.

Natalie Wadwell

Natalie Wadwell is a creative instigator who advocates for meaningful community engagement. She has a background in the arts and social entrepreneurship, having created her first project at the age of 18. In 2019, Natalie was invited to participate in the International Visitors Leadership Program with the US Consulate. She is currently a Community Engagement Officer in local government.

Priyadarshini Das

Priyadarshini Das has a strong background in construction management. She is a passionate advocate for technology integration into construction businesses. She is currently a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Smart Modern Construction at Western Sydney University. Leading the first and only CIB student chapter in NSW, co-building OkayMate, a digital tool that crowdsources safety experiences on a construction site to achieve zero harm
or teaching a classroom full of master’s students advanced contract management, her contribution to research, outreach and quality of teaching of the School of Built Environment at Western Sydney University as a young professional has been noteworthy.

Rose Lewis

Rose Lewis is an award-winning researcher, mentor and advocate for gender equity, diversity in leadership and access to education. In addition to studying a double degree (Business and Law), volunteering in the community and creating digital content, she represents 32,000 students on Western Sydney University’s Board of Trustees. Rose is also an Analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Multicultural Youth Ambassador for NSW, a Wellbeing Health and Youth Commissioner and a member of FECCA’s National Women’s Advisory Committee. Rose is the 2020-21 Blacktown Showgirl, 2020 Blacktown Young Citizen of the Year and the 2019 Western Sydney Women’s Outstanding Young Woman of the Year.

Sophie Wills

Sophie Wills has a passion for community and improving sudden cardiac arrest outcomes. As a student paramedic, Sophie founded the not-for-profit organisation Community Defib Project. Sophie as chair developed the project to reach more than 10 communities. The organisation is responsible for the installation of more the 30 community accessible defibrillators for vulnerable communities. These devices are available 24/7 for access by members of the community and provide the tools for community members to save the life of someone in cardiac arrest. Sophie is currently working as a paramedic for NSW Ambulance.


9 March 2021

Ali Sardyga, Media Officer

Photo credit: Sally Tsoutas