Whether they are advocating for equity for Indigenous artists or maintaining an independent press in Malaysia, the winners of the year’s Alumni Awards have shone a bright light on the commitment and achievement of humanities graduates.
The University of Sydney’s annual Alumni Awards recognise graduates who have made clear impacts in society across every stage of their career. As ever, the humanities are strongly represented.
The 2020 award-winners include Premesh Chandran, a leader of independent media in Malaysia’s largely state-owned and influenced news industry, Dr Hussain Nadim who is informing policy in Pakistan through a recently established think-tank and digital publisher, and Dr Brownyn Bancroft, whose art and work has widened the representation of Indigenous artists at home and abroad.
Once again, this year’s alumni award-winners reflect the extraordinary impact that humanities graduates have around the world. At a moment when our current government seeks to downplay the worth of an Arts degree, the diverse and impressive achievements of these graduates demonstrate the persistent value of such an education.
Premesh Chandran (MIntS '96) is the co-founder and CEO of Malaysiakini, once a small news service facing constant government harassment, but now the most popular news site in Malaysia. Chandran co-founded Malaysiakini in 1999.
The fearless reporting of Malaysiakini during the last elections is widely credited with helping end Malaysia’s long history of being a one-party state. Chandran is also a TED Senior Fellow and speaks around the world about the sustainability of new media.
“Establishing Malaysiakini and becoming the most popular news site in Malaysia is my proudest professional achievement,” he said. “We’re an independent voice, among mainstream media that are mostly owned or aligned with the ruling regime.
There’s a clear through-line from Chandran’s research as a Master of International Studies student at the University of Sydney to his questioning of established state narratives. His masters dissertation focused on the impact of rapid industrialisation, in South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore on human rights, Chandran applied his findings to Malaysia.
“The accepted idea is that modernisation leads to more human rights, so looking at whether that was true for rapid industrialisation, I concluded that it was not necessarily the case,” he said. Chandran’s research also explored trade pacts in East Asia.
The Sister Alison Bush Medal for contribution to Indigenous community has been awarded to Dr Bronwyn Bancroft ((MSA ‘03, MVArts ‘07, PhD(Research) ’19).
“The world is a very complex place and you in turn have to learn to simplify it to survive. While you are synthesizing this complexity, never, ever give up on your dreams, no matter how difficult it becomes,” Dr Bancroft told students, after receiving her award.
An experienced artist and proud Bundjalung Woman, Dr Bancroft’s work is held in collections at the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of Western Australia, the university, Parliament House Art Collection, State Library of New South Wales, State Library of Victoria, Australian Museum, MAAS and Artbank.
Dr Bancroft has illustrated and written more than 40 children’s books and was among the first Australian fashion designers invited to show her work in Paris. Her advocacy roles in championing and supporting Indigenous artists and creating equity in the marketplace for all working artists have been life-changing for many contemporary artists.
At a time when the Australian fashion industry was starting to thrive, it was also noticeably bereft of Aboriginal imagery, which led Bronwyn to establish Designer Aboriginals, a store staffed by her Indigenous students, which sold and elevated her own designs and the works of her Indigenous design peers.
Striving for support and equity for Indigenous artists, Dr Bancroft was an integral founding member of Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Cooperative in 1987. More than 30 years later, this organisation is recognised for its important work in representing indigenous artists and Dr Bancroft continues to support it through her work as a volunteer senior strategist.
An effective advocate for Indigenous voices across a variety of industries, she is also a Director in Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), and member of the Commonwealth Bank Indigenous Advisory Council. Dr Bancroft completed two master’s degrees with the SCA, before returning to conduct her PhD Research in 2019, with the title of her research “Passion, Power, Politics: Does inequality exist for New South Wales Aboriginal women Artists?” Her dissertation explored inequality for Aboriginal women artists in New South Wales.
In 2010, Dr Bancroft received the Dromkeen Medal for her contribution to Australian Literature and in 2016 was the Australian Finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, as an illustrator. She was also among 12 Australians nominated for the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Her latest children’s book, Coming Home to Country, was published by Hardie Grant earlier this year.
Dr Hussain Nadim (PhD (Research) '19) is the Head of the Nerve Center, Pakistan-based data analytics firm that advises the Government of Pakistan on security and peace. The Nerve Center is think-tank and digital publisher, conducting research and analytics to for use in media and policy.
His work in his home nation has seen him receive a government award for outstanding service in 2015 and a placement on Forbes magazine’s annual 30 Under 30 list the following year – recognition for his efforts on peace and development in Pakistan.
While at the University of Sydney, Dr Nadim’s research looked at the politics of US foreign aid to developing countries. He also advised the Australian Federal Police and other governing bodies about addressing the causes of extremism, while contributing regularly to national media coverage of the issue.
He credits the influence and support of his research supervisor, Associate Professor Sarah Phillips, during his time at the university. “She didn’t only guide me in my research work, but her training and mentoring allowed me to develop some core life skills including patience, ability to appreciate criticism, and most importantly, never giving up. She’s a wonderful person.”
Dr Nadim received the award for outstanding achievement of a young alumni at this year’s alumni awards. “I was never able to attend my PhD graduation ceremony, so this award is very meaningful,” said Dr Nadim. “More than anything, however, it is a humbling reassurance to continue on the path of public service that I have chosen for myself. It is also a reminder that there is still much left to do.”