Southasiaforce is one of the newest additions to the family of Salesforce Equality Groups here in ANZ. But just a few months in, it has already gathered some 150 members – growth that is testament to the energy and vision of its leadership team. 

Here Ruchir Garg, Dulmini Kotalawala and Bisma Malik share the big plans they have for Southasiaforce and give a welcome to anyone who would like to participate.

Shining a light on taboo topics

Ruchir Garg, founder and president of the local ANZ chapter, has been a long time supporter of the global Southasiaforce Equality Group. However, he wanted to see a local group in action. 

“The South Asian population is growing here in Australia and New Zealand, and unfortunately the global activities don’t take place in our time zone, which makes it really difficult to participate,” he says.  

With the help of the global Southasiaforce community, Ruchir and his colleagues kicked off Southasiaforce ANZ in August. The group includes people from across the region, which encompasses Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, but membership is open to anyone. A big part of Ruchir’s vision for the group is to address issues that are not traditionally given much space in South Asian cultures. 

“I want to bring up the uncomfortable issues, the taboo topics. Southasiaforce is a safe space for people to speak freely about the challenges they face,” he says.

With this goal in mind, the team’s first event was held in partnership with Outforce

“We had a panel discussion about how difficult it is to come out as LGBTQI+ in South Asian cultures. There is a lot of judgement and taboo around the LGBTQI+ community, so that’s something we wanted to address early on,” he says. 

“We love being able to partner with other Equality Groups to really shine a light on those intersectional experiences. 

“We feel strongly that education and openness around difficult topics is a critical role of Southasiaforce,” adds Dulmini Kotalawala, events chair for the group. 

“Next year, for example, we will be partnering with the Women’s Network to run a panel discussion about domestic violence. While it’s a global issue of course, it’s important that we look at it through a South Asian lens so we can explore the particular cultural challenges and expectations South Asian women might be facing.”

Southasiaforce also moved quickly to create an internal equality circle for people to discuss their fears and anxieties about what has been happening in Afghanistan recently. The group also raised more than $1000 for Australia for UNHCR, and eligible donations will be matched by Salesforce.

Uplifting the South Asian community

Just as these serious issues demand attention, so too is Southasiaforce committed to celebrating and uplifting unique South Asian cultures and to helping South Asians in Australia feel welcome, confident and supported. 

“We will aim to focus on supporting immigrants and helping them become job ready,” says Ruchir. 

“As an immigrant myself, I know what it’s like to experience racism and the challenges of arriving in a new country. But I also know that for every bad person, there are one hundred good ones, so we want to break down misconceptions on both sides of the relationship.” 

There are also plans to partner with a not-for-profit so Salesforce staff can help train students from South Asian backgrounds on the tech skills they will need for the future. The partnership would also help prepare students for the challenges they might face as people of colour. 

In the meantime, the group is preparing for Diwali, traditionally a five-day festival marking the start of the Hindu New Year. 

To celebrate Diwali and raise awareness of its cultural importance, Southasiaforce will hold an internal virtual event. The theme of the event is ‘good over evil and knowledge over ignorance’. 

“We’ll be joined by our executive sponsor, Archana Subramanian, who will be sharing a story relating to the theme,” explains Ruchir. 

“Then we’ll be asking people to submit their stories and selecting a few to share at the event.” 

“After the stories, Masterchef finalist Kishwar Chowdhury will join us for a cooking session. She will show the audience how to make Naan Khatai Biscuit and Mishti Doi and then we’ll finish with some virtual games and prizes.”

Raising awareness and reconnecting with culture

Events, sharing stories and inviting others to learn more about South Asian culture are key to the group’s mission of challenging misconceptions and having difficult conversations. 

“People often have such negative associations with South Asian countries,” says Bisma Malik, co-chair of growth for the group. 

“With COVID in India and the terrible things happening in Afghanistan, sometimes all the amazing diversity of culture, food, festivals and religions of South Asia get lost. Southasiaforce is an important platform for us to celebrate that diversity and highlight all the positive aspects of South Asian culture. 

“I’d been really keen to be involved in an Equality Group and was trying to find one I could really connect with. When Ruchir reached out to me, I knew I would feel at home at Southasiaforce.  It’s a very intersectional group and it’s wonderful to come together with people from similar backgrounds or with those who want to be allies. It’s helped me feel that I can bring my full authentic self to work.”

“Southasiaforce has helped me connect with like minded people and realise the value of my own culture and the importance of reconnecting with it,” says Dulmini. 

“I’m excited for it to become a widely known group which can facilitate VTO and fundraising and other events that support and celebrate the South Asian community.”

“Equality groups really are another form of education,” adds Bisma. 

“If you want to expand your horizons and learn how to be a good ally, this is a great way to do it. There are no expectations and you don’t have to bring anything except an open mind.”

Salesforce has 12 Equality Groups – learn more about the importance of workplace diversity and how to make equality a reality here.